ASSESSING TWO YEARS OF SAMUEL IORAER ORTOM

By Ede Ogeba EdeThe clock has been ticking. So it has been since Friday, May 29, 2015 when Samuel Ioraer Ortom, a 51 year old industrialist, farmer, politician, publisher, philanthropist, statesman and friend of the poor took the oath of office and oath of allegiance before the State Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Iorhemen Hwande and thousands of jubilant Benue people as the 5th democratically elected governor of Benue state.

That historic event which terminated the rule of the terminally ill Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party that was fast mutating into a Frankenstein monster ushered the state into an era of great expectancy. This was anticipated. The high hopes raised in Rt. Hon Gabriel Suswam’s first 9 months had been dashed, most unexpectedly and replaced by a drift least imagined.

The performance index of the government took a plunge down the valley of anonymity as everything grinded to a halt. On-going projects for which monies had been paid were abandoned; workers went to work for months on end without pay while primary and tertiary schools remained closed ad infinitum. While these happened, Czars and cronies of the government expanded the frontiers of their ill-gotten estates and publicly and recklessly flaunted these acquisitions as if doing otherwise was foolishness.
The government threw away its development blueprint, “our Benue, our future” and started implementing a new one, “our Benue, my pocket”. Consequently, the people lost confidence in the government and the ruling PDP and thereafter chose the nascent All Progressives Congress (APC) and the “workman” from Guma local government area as governor.

Two years after, how has Governor Ortom fared? Has he met the huge expectations of the people or is it another case of hopes dashed? Though the answer you get would depend on whom you meet, the preponderance of opinion is clearly one of positive acclamation for the former Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment.
As hard as they have tried, even the harshest critics of his administration admit the difficulty in finding any other sour point for criticism apart from the irregular payment of workers’ salaries and the problem of wanton destruction of lives and properties by Fulani herdsmen; problems that were inherited from the previous government.
Difficulties in salary payment began with the Gabriel Suswam administration. At its exit, workers were owed 5 to 8 months’ salary arrears with little prospects for payment. The problem of salary payment is therefore not a creation or error of Governor Samuel Ortom neither is it confined to only Benue state. Today, 27 other states of the federation are facing the same difficulties.

The same is true for the killings and destructions caused by Fulani herdsmen whose activities are felt throughout the country, posing great security threat to the entire nation, Benue state just one of the states. One of the most striking things about the present administration is the solidity of the platform on which it is anchored – fear of God.
Governor Samuel Ioraer Ortom, a born again Christian has never failed to use every occasion to tell the story of his life and how an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ changed the course of his life.  For the very first time in the history of governance in Benue state, a government took the bold decision to hand over the state to God for divine guidance and direction. The dedication of the state to the Lord on 30th May, 2016 transferred spiritual powers from the forces of darkness to that of Light. One of the most visible fallouts of this highly significant action was the stoppage of wild parties, sexual orgies and all forms of absurdities by top government officials in and outside Government House. Before now, the Government House, now rechristened Benue Peoples’ House was turned into a nest for evil, where contracts for iniquity were arranged, sealed and executed while hotels and sequestered guest houses became slaughter slabs for hapless little girls.

Under the new direction, Governor Samuel Ortom has turned the state around; God now leads with Ortom the battle axe. There is more transparency in the conduct of government business. Jobs are no more awarded at over-bloated cost and 10% or more paid upfront into the accounts of top government officials who do very little to ensure the completion of such works.
Similarly, unlike in the past, contracts are no more awarded verbally and monies paid the same day without any form of bidding, documentation or work done. Also, state assets are no longer sold and the monies pocketed as everyone is conscious of Governor Ortom’s warning, “if you chop money, money will chop you”.

Though payment of salaries have been irregular with workers groaning in great pain, the open and transparent manner the administration has handled the finances of the state and the knowledge that Governor Ortom is not hiding anything has dissuaded organised labour from embarking on any strike action over it. The governor made leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress and the Nigerian Union of Teachers part of the Committee that sits on a monthly basis to look at the income that comes to the state and how it is appropriated with regards to salary payment. That way, organised labour in the state knows the true financial situation of the state.

Another significant departure from the past is the reconstitution of the Joint Account and Allocation Committee (JAAC) to include officials of NULGE, NLC, NUT and treasurers of the 23 local governments in the disbursement of funds accrued to the third tier from the federal allocation. This is to ensure more transparency in the management of the funds that comes to the local government councils.
In the past, the monthly joint local government account meetings served as a bureau de change for laundered money and the premises of the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs turned into a market for all sorts of transactions.
In the name of technicality, the Chairmen held meetings separate from treasurers and what we had was the ‘panel beating’ of what comes into the state. The local government councils were mere appendages of the Bureau with the Special Adviser, the imperial Lord of the Manor with the powers to deal as he wished with the councils and their finances.
Today, Governor Ortom leads by example and at every forum, enthuses the people to embrace the core values of his administration which are transparency, accountability, fairness, justice, humility, selflessness, discipline, integrity, forgiveness, reconciliation and integration.
He has laid the needed solid foundation for his administration’s walk up the top. He has also recorded a number of modest achievements. These achievements could be seen in the areas of education, health care delivery, agriculture, road construction, rural electrification, industrialization, water supply, youth and sports, women and youth empowerment, access to justice, security delivery, trade and investment and local government administration.
With his experience, vision and drive for achieving set goals, Governor Samuel Ortom could have by today taken the state to the front row of the leading developed states in the country but for the myriad of problems that welcomed him on May 29, 2015.
Governor Ortom met a deficit treasury, a staggering debt of over N140 billion, over 4000 staff that were illegally employed by the last administration on the eve of its departure even when it was owing those already in its employ 5 to 9 months salaries; tertiary institutions that were all closed down due to strike actions; students of the medical school, Benue state University that were stagnated for years without any hope of graduation and hundreds of government licensed thugs and killers on the prowl extorting money from innocent people and frustrating them from carrying out needed development projects.

Governor Ortom also met a culture of looting where taking what belonged to the people by those in governments was seen as a norm. It is not surprising therefore that the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Commission of Enquiry found that over N107billion was unaccounted for; allegedly looted by the immediate past administration.
He also met a state that was on a downward slide in revenue allocation from an average of N5 billion in the past, to less than N2 billion per month; a state in deep security throes occasioned by herdsmen invasion, kidnapping, cultism and other ugly trends.

Today, Governor Samuel Ioraer Ortom might not have accomplished all his heart’s desire, yet, he has done exceptionally well. The obstacles on his path were frightening but he has plodded on, believing that the end of a thing is greater than the beginning.
The celebrated American artist, Florence Scovel Shinn was right when she said that “every great work, every big accomplishment, has been brought into manifestation through holding to the vision, and often just before the big achievement, comes apparent failure and discouragement”.  Yes, Governor Ortom might be facing some discouraging moments now; yes, it is true that many people might even be criticising him for owing workers even though they know it isn’t his making, yet the point must be made like Chris Hadfield, the Canadian Astronaut did that “leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine”. That is what Governor Samuel Ortom is doing at the moment and he is doing it with all his heart, soul and mind. Thankfully, with God behind him, it shall only get better for Benue state and its people.

Happy Democracy Day, Benue!

Congratulations, Nigeria!

One Response to ASSESSING TWO YEARS OF SAMUEL IORAER ORTOM

  1. TYONA SIMON BUTERWASE says:

    May God bless our amiable GOVERNOR Ortom,I Wwant the governor to know that P.D.P will not go and relex for him to success.

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