22 September 2017

Nigeria: Ortom Seeks Lawful Conduct of Agitation, Wants Transgressors Punished

Abuja — The Governor of Benue State, Mr. Samuel Ortom, thursday called on security agencies to live up to expectations by bringing those who have breached law and order as a result of their disruptive agitations to book.

He said though individuals have freedom of expression, particularly the current campaign for restructuring, but these must be conducted within the ambit of law, adding that only strict adherence to law had served to unite the country.

Reacting to the recent agitations in the South-east by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) which has now been proscribed by the federal government, Ortom said security agencies should ensure that impunity does not prevail in any part of the country.

He said those who erred should be sanctioned while every Nigerian should be encouraged to embrace the rule of law.

He also called for concerted efforts by stakeholders to positively engage the youths in productive ventures to minimise similar agitations.

Speaking at an interactive session with journalists in Abuja, the governor who also provided an update on the recent flooding in his state, said the dredging of River Benue remained a permanent solution to the incessant flooding which had caused wanton destruction to properties and displaced many.

While expressing gratitude to the federal government, corporate individuals, civil society and media for their prompt response to the natural disaster, he said a lot remained to be done.

He said the state government had spent N50 million to provide temporary relief to affected persons.

He said 21 local government areas out of 23 were affected by the flooding which literarily washed away roads and bridges, rendering them impassable.

Ortom, while appealing for more support, admitted that the state lacked the capacity to restore the wanton destruction.

Nonetheless, he said his administration had been able to cut a total wage bill of N8.5 billion which he inherited from his predecessor to N7.8 billion through the elimination of ghost workers.

Yet, the government is still unable to pay salaries largely as a result of revenue shortfall from the monthly federation account which stood at about N6 billion on the average.

The state currently has at least six months salary arrears for state civil servants and nine months for local government workers.

The former Governor, Mr. Gabriel Suswan had effected a wage increase before leaving office, but the current fiscal crisis pose a great challenge for the incumbent governor.

An attempt to review workers' wage downwards is unlikely.

A state of emergency had since been declared on salary payment while key projects had been delayed to the dismay of the governor, who appeared helpless over the daunting liabilities. He insisted payment of salary remained a priority for his administration.

Ortom said he is uncomfortable with the state's inability to pay salaries though no fault of his- but he must take responsibility as a leader.

"I am looking for everything under the sun to surmount this challenge of payment of salary," he said.

Effectively, the state is running on a N1.8 billion deficit on monthly basis.

The state university has a wage bill of about N600 million- but paid to date.

He said he inherited N29 billion in salaries, pension and gratuity.

He, seized the opportunity to dispel accusations from labour unions that the state may have misappropriated the N28 billion bailout funds from the federal government to reduce the liabilities stressing that "No single kobo was diverted from the bailout account".

He said the account was open to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for necessary scrutiny.

He said though the state assembly had given the nod for him to borrow but this requires approval from the Federal Ministry of Finance and vetting by the debt management office (DMO).

Ortom, also took time to address the alleged misappropriation of N107 billion Ecological Fund by the previous administration. He said a report had already indicted the previous administration which has been mandated to make a refund.

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