- Inherited N69Bn salary arrears
- Got N28Bn bailout
- Got N19.1Bn in two batches of Paris Club Refund
- Took Loan of N8Bn in anticipation of more refunds
- Got the refund but used it to offset more salary arrears
By Codratus Godson
Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, has opened the accounts books of his administration to show that the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, was wrong in accusing him of being the cause of non-payment of salaries in the state.
Ortom however hit back at Oshiomhole, saying his state had no clearance from a joint committee of the ICPC and NLC clearing him on how he deployed the bailout and Paris Club Refund the way he said Benue got.
The account was released in a letter of demand for N10Bn payment sent by Ortom’s lawyers, Irabor and Associates, to Oshiomhole, for allegedly disparaging the Benue Governor’s name.
In what Ortom called setting the records straight before demanding the claims and retractions and apologies in top national print and electronic media, the embattled governor said there was need to show the APC national chairman that there was huge malice in what was said about Ortom.
The letter which was made available to Silver News said: “Since an often repeated lie, if unchallenged, will assume the status of the Holy Grail, it is imperative that the records be herein set straight as the deliberate, wicked and mischievous falsehood that you spewed out has gained undeserved traction.
As a former public office holder who coincidentally was on seat as Edo State Governor at the time the bail out funds were extended to states nationwide, it is taken for granted that you were fully abreast of the fact that the funds were meant to cater to the humongous arrears of entitlements that the states faced at the time. It is on record that Edo State under your watch also benefited as it had accumulated a lot of unpaid arrears to various workers at various levels with Edo local government workers been owed salaries of upward of 18 months not to talk of Edo State judiciary workers who had to take your government to Court over humongous unpaid wages. Workers of the Edo State owned University of Education were also owned arrears of salaries while your government owed the long suffering Edo pensioners upwards of 41 months arrears by the time you left office. These arrears in Edo State were accumulated in spite of the fact that Edo has a far less wage bill than Benue and administers just 18 Local Governments while Benue is saddled with 23 Local Governments including a far larger land mass with attendant security challenges yet collects far less allocation than Edo State. These facts are out there and verifiable at the click of a button and it is imperative to re-state them in the manner we have hereinbefore done because of the sanctimonious postulation that threaded through your entire press conference.”
ON THE ISSUE OF SALARIES & EMOLUMENTS
In contradistinction to the not too salutary workers’ record that you attained while you held forte as Edo State Governor, the Samuel Ortom administration on coming into office met a humongous liability for salaries, pensions, gratuities and leave grants standing at a whooping N69Bn at a time of rapidly dwindling cash flow. This dire financial situation was not helped by the fact that by the actions and inactions of administrations gone by, Benue State had the unenviable position of been No. 1 in terms of wage bill commitments in the entire northern Nigeria and No. 3 in the entire nation in spite of its relative low revenue allocation. This huge wage commitment was also not helped by numerous judgments from the law courts against the state government which meant that the accounts of the state were encumbered by various garnishee orders.
It was in this parlous state that the Samuel Ortom led administration applied for the said N69Bn as bail out funds but it received N28Bn of which N12.5Bn was meant for the state and the balance of it was meant for the Local Government Areas. After carrying out staff verification, the State paid 4 months arrears for January 2015 – April 2015 and was able to save N1.6Bn as a positive consequence of the verification exercise. Unfortunately the N1.6Bn saved from the verification exercise was garnished by the workers of Taraku Mills Ltd who had earlier secured judgment at the National Industrial Court before our client became Governor.
On the issue of Paris Club refund, the expenditure profile by the Benue State Government is also in the public domain as our client in the spirit of transparency, probity, honesty and accountability has variously engaged the Benue people through several interactive sessions entailing phone-in programs vide the state media. The records show that the 1st tranche of Paris Club refund amounting to N12.7Bn was received in December, 2016 and used in facilitating two months salaries across board. The 2nd tranche came in June 2017 amounting to N6.4Bn and was also used to offset salary, pension and gratuities while the Benue State Government in agreement with the Labour Congress in Benue State took an overdraft of N8Bn in anticipation of the 3rd tranche which was also utilized to settle indebtedness to workers.
It is very imperative to state that the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), working with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), monitored the disbursement and utilization of the bail out funds nationwide and at the end of the exercise, the ICPC issued a report which it also published on its website () for access by members of the public including your good self. The ICPC report gave the state a clean bill on the utilization of the fund save for issue raised about the double payment of #37.7 million to the office of the Deputy Governor. Even that grey area was later resolved as the said “double payment” was for 2 months arrears owed the staff of Lobi Stars Football Club of Makurdi as the club is under the purview of the Deputy Governor’s office, Engr. Benson Abounu who doubles as the Chairman of the football club. A copy of the ICPC report as downloaded from its website is also hereto annexed and marked as Annexure 2. It is instructive to let the members of the public know that by that same ICPC Report, Edo State under your watch was one of only 4 states whose utilization of the bail out funds remain opaque as it was unavailable at the time for whatever reason known to your then government.
Since your charity appears not to begin at home, it smacks of gross mischief for you to begin to make unsubstantiated allegations against our client in the way and manner that you did. To deter mischief makers like yourself, the ICPC Report was very clear when in item 2 of its closing remarks it noted that “This report has been published to assist all parties eliminate unsubstantiated allegations”. Our client therefore considers it very unfortunate that you would seek to discountenance the admonition of even the ICPC and proceed to play jejune politics with salary and emolument issues that continue to plague 35 of Nigeria’s 36 states including Edo State.
On the issue of security votes, it is amazing that having held public office as an Executive Governor with the benefit of appreciating the multi dimensions that security matters take and the multitude of executive approaches to such dimensions, your proclivity for sophomoric politics has far outweighed the decency, decorum and civility expected of public officers with regards to their public utterances. For the records, the Governor of Benue State is not under any obligation whatsoever to render account to you on how he appropriates his security votes.
Despite your provocative grandstanding on the issue of security votes, it is amazing and symptomatic of your widely acknowledged hypocrisy that no record exists that you ever rendered such account to the good people of Edo State in spite of the humongous amounts that you appropriated in office as security votes when in contrast your security challenges did not approximate to a tad of what Benue people have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of unprovoked persistent attacks with the attendant burden of having over 180,000 internally displaced persons scattered across various IDP camps in the state.
For the records, our client came into office with a solid pedigree as one of the outstanding entrepreneurs in Benue State with businesses spanning agriculture, publishing, processing and manufacturing directly and indirectly employing thousands of workers spread across the vast spectrum of those businesses. Dr. Samuel Ortom is in all ramifications very much unlike those who went into governance without verifiable means of expensive livelihood only to retire into ostentatious life styles with billions worth of mansions, villas and boulevards not backed by any legitimate earning(s) in or out of public office. You certainly cannot hold a candle to our client or be in any position whatsoever to run commentaries about him.