By Comrade Emmanuel Akade
Benue state government workers got two months salary arrears of June and July 2017 today, a day shy of November 2018 and this development was greeted with jubilation and relief. Workers whose children are at home over lack of school fees can return to school, those who incurred debts to keep life going can now pay back and all that. Even though the governor is still owing several months of salaries, the have some reprieve from poverty and hardship. Benue civil servants have suffered untold hardship.
Before today, they were being owed wages of upwards of 7 months salaries; local government staff upwards of 10 months, not to mention pensions and gratuity. This is despite concerted efforts by the federal government (FG) to ensure that salary arrears were cleared. In 3 years and 6 months, the FG provided bailout of N28 billion, budget support of N13 billion, Paris club refund of over N33 billion making it a total of N74 billion. The debts incurred by Ortom, not including the bailout funds, amounts to N28.5 billion. All these don’t include regular monthly allocations to the state and Internally generated revenue which averages 300 million monthly.
These funds under a prudent leadership would have transformed Benue state and put it on the path of development but with Governor Ortom, the case is different. His administration runs at a monthly cost of N7.8 billion naira as wagebill.
At this rate, Ortom is happy and enjoys paying salaries because it ensures that nothing less than N3billion ends up in his insatiable pocket on a monthly basis. When civil servants accounts goes “Gbagam!”, the governors account goes “Boooooommmmmmm!!!!!!!” and he can’t help it. Several committees set up to reduce the wagebill have been nothing but hogwash and proven that the temptation of pocketing N3 billion monthly is too cool to resist. Paying salaries has never been this personally lucrative in the history of Nigeria albeit at a cost to the development of the state.
During an impasse with Governor Ortom, his predecessor Ex-Governor Gabriel Suswam said, “It is rather funny and absolutely ridiculous that the government would claim it is paying over N7.8 billion as wage bill. At the time I left office, I paid N2.7 billion. I have the document of what this government paid from June to September 2015 and it is not different from what I paid. So at what time did they start talking about N7.8 billion which is rather too ridiculous. There is something fundamentally wrong with that.”
Definitely, there is something wrong. Benue state has the highest wagebill (N4.2billion for state and N3.6billion for local government), in Northern Nigeria, the third highest in the entire country behind Lagos and Ogun states. In acending order, these are the figures civil servants wage bills for some states across the country…Kebbi: N1.02bn; Yobe: N1.3bn; Sokoto: N1.6bn; Plateau: N1.7bn; Taraba: N1.85bn; Adamawa: N1.9bn; Niger: N2.1bn; Nasarawa: N2.45bn; Ekiti: N2.6bn; Kwara: N2.8bn; Kogi: N3.2bn; Kaduna: N3.5bn; Osun: N3.6bn; Kano: N3.7bn; Ondo: N3.8bn; Benue: N4.2bn; Bayelsa: N4.5bn; Oyo: N5.3bn; Ogun: N6bn; Rivers: N7bn and Lagos: N9.1bn.
Benue State, one of the poorest states in the country is up there with economic heavyweights in the southwest like Lagos and other oil-producing counterparts. It will interest you to know that Kano state which has more than twice the population of Benue State with 44 local governments, still has a wage bill of N2.1bn for local government workers while Benue stands tall at N3.6bn.
States under prudent financial managers as Governors have cleared salaries and are using their funds for projects and other progressive ventures, but what do we got in Benue state? Nothing but a fraud masquerading as a government. Governor Ortom has failed us. He has milked the state dry with nothing to show for it. He has degraded leadership in the state to the bottom rung of mediocrity. He has set the bar of leadership in the state so low that anything besides death will be celebrated as an achievement.
For salaries of June/July 2017 to be paid 15 months later and celebrated as an achievement goes a long way to show the depth of mediocrity we have sunken to under Governor Ortom. American communist, Maureen Dowd said, “The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.” With the Paris club refund all gone and the evident lack of ingenuity in this government, things are gonna be alot more worse with Governor Ortom going forward. Benue State deserves far more than this level of leadership and operation.
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