..I met empty treasury, Govt House vehicles looted – Alia alleges
..You’re looking for scapegoats through spurious allegations, media trial – Ortom replies
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
The raging war of words between former Governor Samuel Ortom and his successor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia has continued to fester following the latest allegation by the present administration that the outgone government left an empty treasury and supervised the looting of official vehicles in Government House as it exited on May 29.
The allegation came on the heels of an earlier press briefing by the State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. Isaac Mffo who among others lampooned the Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia led administration for sacking Benue civil servants recruited into the state service from May 2022 by the last administration as well as the reversal of promotions to the rank of Permanent Secretaries made by the same administration describing it as unlawful, insensitive and callous.
Reacting to the allegations raised by the PDP, Governor Alia in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Tersoo Kula, issued weekend in Makurdi urged the PDP in the state to seek forgiveness and stop playing to the gallery after its years of maladministration plunged the state and its people into penury.
The statement noted that “it is rather pathetic that the PDP, the same party whose maladministration imposed untold pains and penury on the people of the state, had during a Press Conference on Wednesday, June 7th, 2023, called for the reversal of the same decisions that their leader, former governor Samuel Ortom, took shortly after assuming office in 2015.
“For a start, the PDP as the main opposition party in the state must be commended for settling down quickly to play the role of the opposition.
“But the party should not go overboard to make the Benue people angrier, bearing in mind that the party has not been forgiven for the unprecedented devastation it caused the people of the state. It must only raise issues that will contribute to reclaiming the lost glory of the state, an unfortunate experience that was perpetrated by their leadership.
“The PDP is not ignorant of the fact that all the appointments and recruitments that were carried out by former governor Samuel Ortom at the twilight of his administration, were not done in good faith.
“Is it not curious that for more than 7 years, Ortom could not employ indigents of the state into the Civil Service, until a few months to the expiration of his tenure?
“This suspicious move should prick the conscience of the PDP to question the motive of the former governor rather than shift the blame to Rev Fr. Alia and his new administration.
“Thankfully, Governor Alia warned about it before and after he was elected into office.
“It is even more ironic that the PDP, that is now crying wolf, left government house owing salaries of Benue Civil Servants from December 2022 to May 2023. The same PDP administration left salary arrears of 5 months for state government workers in 2017; 10 months for Local Government workers in the same year, 2017. Under this same PDP government, pensions were last paid in the year 2021.
“Additionally, the PDP government presided over a severely demotivated bureaucracy in the state. Yet, all former governor Ortom and the PDP could do was to conduct a sham recruitment exercise, instead of clearing the pending arrears. This is a moral burden that should worry the former governor and his conscienceless adherents.
“We believe this is the hardship the PDP satirically spoke about during their press conference.
“This, we are very certain because the PDP looted Government House to a point that the new government under governor Hyacinth Alia, met no single car or truck in government house. The governor’s visits to agencies and Parastatals have uncovered the highest level of rot ever witnessed in the history of Benue State.
“Yet, the PDP apologists who should claim responsibility for being architects of the locusts days in Benue have turned around to shift the blame to a committed democrat who has credibly commenced the process of resetting the state.
“The same party that left an empty treasury in the state and ripped off the economic system of the people is now claiming to be standing on high moral grounds to offer untenable and ill-motivated criticisms to undermine the collective wisdom of the Benue populace.
“The level of decay caused by the immediate past administration stinks in the severely vandalized offices of state civil servants, such that the new government must have to start from the scratch to acquire the necessary equipment for the system to start working again.
“The PDP should rather apologise to the Benue people, seek forgiveness and stop playing to the gallery to mocking the badly deprived people of the state.
“It is even more laughable that while in government, the PDP deliberately refused to perform its mandate of delivering democratic dividends to the good people of Benue state, only to now turn around to blame its failures on former president Muhammadu Buhari.”
While reassuring the people of the state, the Chief Press Secretary said “We advise the good people of Benue state not to lose any sleep over the actions so far taken by Governor Hyacinth Iormem Alia, as the governor is only out to sanitise the rotten system created by the outgone PDP administration in the state.
“The good people of the state should never be swayed by the gimmicks of the PDP, as the party has never meant well for them.
More importantly, the party’s Wednesday press conference should serve as a message to the Benue people that PDP will perform better in opposing the actions of the government in power (whether good or bad), especially now that the party has better ideas including those on how to secure the state, more than when they were in government.”
But in a counter statement in reaction to the issues raised by his successor, former governor Ortom through his media aide, Mr. Terver Akase urged Governor Alia to desist from media trials, making spurious allegations and looking for scapegoats but concentrate on governance and executing the mandate given to him by the people.
Akase in the counter statement said, “We read a statement issued by the present Governor of Benue State, Rev Father Hyacinth Alia in which he leveled all manner of blames and accusations on his predecessor, Chief Samuel Ortom. It was not the first time in less than two weeks of his assumption of office that Governor Alia would resort to using the former Governor as a scapegoat.
“In his latest outing, the Governor has accused his predecessor of carrying out recruitment into the civil service without due process; handing to him an empty treasury and looting government vehicles, among several other unfounded accusations.
“The present Governor did everything to frustrate his predecessor to the point of writing to banks not to honour any transaction by the outgoing government. Even at that, the Ortom administration still funded the May 29 inauguration.
“While we won’t go into a war of words with the Governor despite the media trial, it is pertinent to clarify that the Ortom administration followed due process in recruiting the workers whom the present government sacked a few days ago. Vacancies were duly advertised in national newspapers and those who applied for the jobs were properly interviewed/screened and the successful ones were given appointment letters as required by civil service rules. Promotions were also carried out according to the laid down service regulations.
“We expected the Alia administration to specifically point out the areas where it claimed that due process was not followed in the recruitments, instead of making sweeping statements and spurious generalizations.”
On the issue of vehicles, Akase explained that “the present administration may wish to be informed that it was the decision of the Benue State Executive Council that government officials including the Governor and his Deputy be given waivers to enable them to go with the official vehicles allocated to them. Governor Ortom therefore did nothing unlawful by leaving office with the official vehicles allocated to him.
“It is a tradition that an outgoing Governor leaves with vehicles given to him. Perhaps we should add that the Ortom administration offered to buy vehicles for the incoming government but the present Governor declined, saying that he would prefer to buy vehicles for his administration after the inauguration.”
On the issue of finances, he said “it appears that the Governor is yet to take time to go through the handover notes that his predecessor presented to him. Whenever he does, he will realize the efforts that the Ortom administration made to reduce the indebtedness of the state in the following ways.
“Governor Ortom was explicit in his handover speech on May 28, 2023 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.
“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 would 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.
“Governor Alia may further be informed that in the Ortom administration’s commitment to finding a lasting solution to the problem of pensions, the State Government domesticated the Federal Government reforms in pension administration through the Benue State Pension Law, 2019 which introduced the Contributory Pension Scheme. Our administration met most of the requirements for full implementation status of the Contributory Pension Scheme. At the time Governor Ortom was rounding off his stewardship, over N8 billion had already been raised under the Scheme and Benue State was on the threshold of meeting the conditions for benefitting from the Contributory Pension Scheme including access to long-term loans and bonds for development projects or defraying existing pension liabilities.
“We appeal to Governor Alia that engaging in a media trial of the former Governor is not the appropriate thing to do. His predecessor is available and willing to respond to him any time he needs clarification on issues regarding the previous administration.
“Government is a continuum. Governor Ortom also inherited assets and liabilities but did not allow that to stop his government. He has played his part and left the stage.”