You lied about Benue’s debts, revenue – Ortom tells Alia

You lied about Benue’s debts, revenue – Ortom tells Alia
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Former Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, has asked his successor, Hyacinth Alia, to prove his claims about the finances of the state including incomes, the wage bill and debts.

Ortom, who was reacting to Alia’s recent interview, accused the governor of embarking on embellishments and shocking fabrications.

A statement issued by Terver Akase, Ortom’s media aide, said: “We read an interview granted by the Governor of Benue State, Hyacinth Alia which was published in Vanguard newspaper titled ‘Father Alia’s shocking revelations: In Benue, we had more ghost schools, workers than real ones’.

“In the said interview, the Governor was quoted to have stated that the government of his predecessor, Chief Samuel Ortom left arrears of salaries running into hundreds of billions of naira; “I have not been able to offset the arrears. It is in hundreds of billions of naira, I can not take care of that now…”

“Governor Alia was also quoted to have claimed that he inherited “more ghost schools than the existing functional schools”.

“We find the above statements not only false and misleading but also wonder why the Governor would embark on embellishments and shocking fabrications to sustain such a narrative, in continuation of his smear campaign against his predecessor.

“Interestingly, Governor Alia made the allegations without substantiating any of his claims with figures.

“It is simplistic to state that the present government inherited arrears of wages in hundreds of billions. The question is; what is the overall wage bill of the state if the arrears of workers’ emoluments run into hundreds of billions?

Does Governor Alia want the people to believe that his predecessor did not pay salaries even for one month in eight years?

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“It is on record that in his 2024 budget speech, Governor Alia said his government would spend the total of N56.4 billion for the year on personnel cost (salaries, pensions and gratuities). He also admitted in the same budget speech that in the 2024 fiscal year, “Personnel cost as a component of the recurrent cost is expected to increase by 17.1% as against the provisions made of the same votes in the Revised 2023 budget”, implying that his predecessor was also paying workers wages.”

Continuing, the statement added: “It has to be emphasized that despite the two recessions Nigeria went into (2016 and 2020), the Ortom administration was able to pay salaries in an uninterrupted manner between January 2018 and the end of 2022.

“But even if we were to imagine that the Ortom administration did not pay wages for a whole year, the figure would never have run into hundreds of billions. So what really did Governor Alia hope to achieve with such a weighty but unfounded narrative?

“Governor Alia yesterday, while responding through his Chief Press Secretary, to the sub-national debt report by the Debt Management Office (DMO) that Benue was among 13 states which have borrowed money from domestic and external financiers between June and December 2023, blamed the Ortom administration for the debts that were reported to have been incurred after his predecessor left office.

“It will be recalled that Governor Ortom, in his handover speech on May 28, 2023 was explicit that though the debt situation of the State Government at the time of his exit from office might appear to be on the high side (N187.56 billion), his administration had taken proactive steps to negotiate and ensure significant debt reduction/reliefs leading to Debt Swap Between Benue State and Federal Government as facilitated by the Nigerian Governors Forum. Total Debt Swap for State and Local Government Councils stood at N71.6billion.

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“The inflows Benue State was expecting at the time Governor Ortom was leaving office were: (a) Backlog of accumulated Stamp Duties – N48billion, (b) Refund from Debt Swap with Federal Government – N22.95 billion. Total = N70.95 billion. When the negotiated debt swap and the expected inflows are discounted, the State was set to attain a significant debt reduction, bringing down its debt profile to N45.2 billion.

“It should also be noted that owing to the efforts of the Ortom administration, Benue State as at May 29, 2023, had outstanding approvals awaiting disbursement from the Federal Government including the balance of Bailout – N41 billion and a N20 billion Central Bank of Nigeria facility. At the same time, the Benue State government was expecting N9 billion as refund on withdrawals for subsidy and SURE-P.

“We expected the Governor to demand evidence from the Debt Management Office to prove that Benue is indeed one of the states which have incurred debts from June 2023.

“We challenge the Governor to make the following public:

“i) The figures/total of arrears of salaries he inherited on May 29, 2023 with evidence/documents supporting such statistics.

“ii) A list of the ghost schools that his government claims to have discovered and a list of the existing functional ones.

“iii) Throw light on his statement that he has “saved close to N3 billion from ghost workers”. This clarification should specify the wage bill of the state at the moment, after ‘N3 billion has been saved from ghost workers’.

“iv) The debt profile of the state between May 28, 2023 and March 31, 2024.

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“v) Monthly allocations from the federation’s account that have accrued to the state since June 2023.

“iv) Demand proof or retraction from the Debt Management Office over their inclusion of Benue on the list of states which have incurred debts between June and December 2023.

“While we don’t want to comment on Governor Alia’s advertisement of Benue as the least developed state in the country, we make bold to state that Benue people are still acknowledging and appreciating the Ortom administration’s unprecedented record of constructing more kilometers of roads in Makurdi, Gboko, Otukpo Vandeikya, Ukum, Agatu and other parts of the state.

“The Ortom administration also delivered over 1,000 school projects across the 23 local government areas, particularly the construction and equipping of modern primary school facilities, dozens of health infrastructure, including primary health centres, numerous rural electrification projects, over 1,000 rural water projects, first-of-its-kind, Benue State Geographic Information Service (BENGIS) centre for land digitization which was completed and equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, and built magnificent palaces for the Tor Tiv and Och’Idoma in Gboko and Otukpo respectively.

“Though Governor Alia announced during the interview with Vanguard newspaper that “since the creation of Benue State, it has been a glorified village,” we must state unequivocally that Governor Samuel Ortom handed over a state and not a village to his successor, the statement submitted.”

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