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We can’t pay workers’ salaries, Benue govt. declares

BENUE State governor, Mr Samuel Ortom, has disclosed that he is unable to pay salaries of workers for about four months now because of the harsh economic situation that has taken its toll on the finances of the government.

He also said the state suspended the conduct of local government elections and appointed caretaker committees because of lack of fund.

Ortom spoke while fielding questions from State House correspondents shortly after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa on Monday.

He revealed that since August 2015, allocation from the Federal Government to the state had been on the average of N4 billion while the wage bill for a month is N7.8 billion.

He said: “We will conduct elections as soon as we have the resources. The point is: we were given a bill of N1 billion to conduct elections when I cannot pay salaries.

“I’m down by four months. My wage bill for a month is N7.8 billion. Since August of last year, we have been receiving an average of N4 billion, so how do I cope? Every month, I have a deficit of N3.8 billion to pay workers and then run the government. It is a big challenge.

“My Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) is N250 million. So it is a big challenge. As soon as the resources are there, I will conduct election. I’m a product of a democratic process, I don’t see why I will truncate it at the local government level,” he said.

The governor recalled that he was a local government chairman democratically elected on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1991 and would have no reason to truncate that process.

He maintained that he had consulted with the stakeholders of Benue State and they gave him the go-ahead to appoint the caretaker committees pending when resources would be available.

Ortom disclosed that he was at the Aso Rock to confer with President Buhari on happenings in the state.

On the issue of security challenges in the state, especially sporadic attacks by Fulani herdsmen on some communities, the governor said he thanked God, saying with the collaboration of some security agencies in the state and the support of the president, Benue was relatively calm.

He explained that the herdsmen/farmers clashes were escalated because of the criminality involved, saying through dialogue, stakeholders had agreed to work together in a manner that there would  be win-win.

He said: “Yes, the herdsmen have their rights to live, but the farmers too have their rights to live and do their farming activities. The herdsmen too must find ways of relating with the farmers and not encroaching on people’s farms.

“We have told our people that we need one another, life is complementary and we need one another. We must complement one another by ensuring that anyone who has a chosen career must be supported to pursue it. And so, today, the state is relatively calm.

“There were other issues bordering on economy. Today, we are talking about diversifying the economy and we have comparative advantage in Agriculture, that is what we are promoting, we are expecting multiple harvests this year.

“Our people yielded to advice to go back to farm because food first before any other thing. We also appreciate the investors who are coming into the state, coming to process our primary products. So it is important that once in a while, I brief Mr President about the development in my state,” he said.

“We are proposing ranching as the final and lasting solution to these issues of herdsmen and farmers clashes. But is something that cannot be done over night.

“We need the collaboration of the states and the federation to agree on a formula, one for the nomads. In Nigeria, we must find a way of educating them, give them a new orientation on how to live better by ensuring that we establish ranching and government must come in to provide the infrastructure and support that is needed to do this.

“So this is where the Federal Government and states must come together to  work out this. The final solution I tell you the truth is about ranching because the line that used to exist in the 50s where cattle routes and grazing areas were designated are no longer there,” he said.

“Today, we no longer have the 923,000 kilometers as it used to be because we have ceded part of Bakassi to  Cameroon. And because of the increase in human population, in the 50s we were less than 40 million people but today we are over 170 million and that was 2012 projection and today we are in 2016 and we should be more than this.

“Today we are talking of diversification of the economy to agriculture it becomes more tasking and challenging because we cannot farm in the air or on the sea, we must farm on the land.

“Grazing and farming cannot work together, the final solution will be ranching. But meanwhile, we must find a way of living together, that is why we are advocating that peace remains the only tool that can bring development to our country.

“Fighting will not help anyone, it will not help farmers nor the herdsmen, they will die and properties will be destroyed. It won’t help. As a farmer, I know the herdsmen needs support, the farmers too need support to be able to live a good live,” he said.

When asked if he has written to the president over grievances on appointments as agreed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) governors, Ortom said it was the prerogative of the  President to do appointments.

He, however, said the state has  written where it have reservations and that being attended to, adding that the President needs support always in order to succeed.

On the essence of building a cargo airport, Governor Ortom said: “Benue state is the food basket of the nation and we feel that that is one way that we can task our people to revive our economy.

“We are doing it in partnership with a consortium that we are working together. They are providing 85 per cent and Benue State is providing 15 per cent of the resources that will be required for this.

“But we believe that it will be a hub for transportation of agricultural products especially parishable products to other parts of the world, to have a taste of what Benue state can provide,” he said.


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