By Nathaniel Ikyur
It’s already one year into the second tenure of Samuel Ortom, the Benue state governor. It’s also his fifth year in his eight year administration. He was elected on March 9, 2019 for a second term. We do not forget the suspicions that trailed the inconclusive governorship elections in Benue state. In spite of the schemes, he still won and was sworn in on May 29, 2019 alongside 29 others.
In his first inaugural speech as governor on May 29th, 2015, Governor Ortom shared his five main strategic plans of governance which was captured in his blueprint, ‘Our Collective Vision for a New Benue.’ It was designed to address the social economic status of Benue and chart the way forward to a prosperous state where the people will galvanise their economic growth based on her comparative advantage in agriculture. According to the document, the five point agenda informed his administration’s robust development plans. This includes ‘Good Governance and Revenue Security,’ ‘Agriculture Driven Industrialization,’ ‘STEAM Based Education and Health Care Delivery,’ ‘Provision of Critical Infrastructure,’ ‘Women, Gender, Youths, and People with Disabilities.’
One thing has emboldened Ortom’s commitment to the service of the state. It is his electoral victories in 2015 and 2019. The people of the state resolved to stand by him for not being intimidated at critical times. That’s why his election was tested at tribunals to the Court of Appeal through the supreme Court and his mandate validated.
In spite of the daunting challenges, Governor Ortom has made significant and appreciable impact in various sectors of the state economy.
It’s on record that governor Ortom’s biggest challenges has been the threats to security in the state caused by the invasion of and killing of his people by armed herdsmen. From January 2018 till date, the armed herdsmen have killed more than 900 people in Benue and sacked several communities. Right now, the state government is grappling with more than 250,000 Internally Displaced Persons located in Guma, Logo, Agatu, Makurdi and Kwande Local Government Areas. Interestingly, Kwande is hosting Cameroonian refugees.
From 2015, apart from herdsmen invasion, Ortom has had to contend with an upsurge violent crimes like armed robbery, kidnappings, cultism among youths as well as trafficking in persons. The governor has repeatedly vowed not to surrender the state to criminals. Which is why he has suspended five traditional rulers in the state alleged to be complicit in kidnappings and killings in their domains. The governor through the Consultative Forum in the state, called on all stakeholders in the Benue project to join hands to stop these dangerous crimes in the state.
His government has continued to render support to security agencies to eliminate kidnappings and other violent crimes in state. Traditional and community leaders have all been enjoined to make extra effort to ensure that no one is kidnapped in their domain.
After the rancorous 2019 general elections, the governor felt some sense of responsibility to advance for reconciliation among various personalities so as to enhance development. One of such initiatives was the expanded bipartisan stakeholders meetings held on May 18th and 27th, 2020. Both meetings dealt with reconciliations and security of lives in the state. The governor said the benefits derivable from reconciliations “between individuals and parties in conflict will be a veritable instrument that will put the state at irreversible path of growth and progress.”
This strategy is to save communities from emerging as centres of crime. This is part of the reason why the state governor also constituted the Community Policing Advisory Committee as part of measures to strengthen internal security in the state. In the last one year, the Ortom administration have given financial support as well as donated vehicles, equipments, gadgets to various security agencies in the state to ensure a crime free society. All these are endearing security strategies by the administration to stamp out crime from our communities.
Governor Ortom is an advocate of peace for all. He recently accepted a peace initiative between his Nasarawa State counterpart, Engr Abdullahi Sule. The meeting held at LGEA Primary School Yelewata, Guma local government area on Wednesday, May 20th, 2020 resolved to end incessant border crises between herders and farmers in the two states. He has severally called on the federal government to arrest the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore whose activities have led to the killings in the state to no avail.
In the last five years, Governor Ortom has touched the health sector too. Facilities have been upgraded at the BSU Teaching Hospital with more than 42 Primary Health Care Centres built across the state by the administration.
The upsurge in the global COVID-19 pandemic has also provided the opportunity for the state government to further review the health sector architecture. The state government has approved the establishment of the Center for Emerging Infectious and Tropical Diseases Management at the College of Health Sciences of the Benue State University, Makurdi to serve as a research institute and also train health personnel to face challenges as this.
This is beside the affiliation of the School of Nursing with the Benue State University for award of degrees in Nursing. Government have also procured and supplied ambulances and essential drugs to six General hospitals in Agatu, Gboko, Ohimini, Oju, Ushongo and Tarka local government areas.
One of the most unpleasant realities the Ortom administration faced in 2015 was the huge pension liabilities. These challenges piled with huge shortfalls from all revenue sources.
Fortunately, the state found an escape route in the Contributory Pension Scheme. The state assembly did not waste time to pass the State Pension Reform Law 2019. The governor explained that the state will raise funds to pay for some of the contributory pension costs and also pay the entitlements of workers exempted from the scheme when they retire. He noted that government would, through the collaboration between the State Board of Internal Revenue Service and the State Pension Commission, “repay debts taken to defray pension liabilities to create a special fund to be invested in interest yielding instruments.” Some revenue items from which the funds are to be raised will be dedicated to the Special Pension Fund.
During his campaign in 2015, Governor Ortom promised to convert the Alfred Akawe Tokula College of Advanced and Professional Studies (CAPS) Makurdi into a Polytechnic to promote Technology and vocational education. This promise has been fulfilled with many more in the educational sector. Over 700 primary schools blocks have been renovated or rebuilt across the state by the Ortom administration since 2015. In this second term, plans are finalised to hire more teachers for the primary and secondary schools. This is consistent with the vision of the governor in making tertiary and secondary education strong and primary education strongest in the state.
In the last five years, the Ortom administration has awarded over 19 road construction contracts spread across the three senatorial zones. They are at various performance stages and totals over 500 km.
Many other government institutions have been rehabilitated or rebuilt in the last four years. These include Ministry of Justice, Government College Makurdi, Government Girls Secondary School, Makurdi, the Tor Tiv’s Temporary residence among others.
To widen the scope of rural and urban critical infrastructures in the state, the Ministry of Rural Development and Cooperatives have embarked on the construction of 15 civil engineering rural projects, 17 electricity projects, 10 inherited constituency rural projects and many more. A greater percentage of these roads and rural access roads that are under construction have been completed, some are ongoing while more will be completed. These are critical infrastructures that drive the economy.
Agriculture is the main stay of the Benue economy. In this area, six Agro Processing Factories have been built in six local government areas of the state under the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. The state government also constructed Orange Packaging Plant in Ushongo Town in Ushongo local government area. Government also recently purchased 50 tractors and sold to farmers at subsidised rates to promote mechanized farming.
Indeed, it has been Ortom’s five years of dedication and commitment to secured a Benue.
Ikyur is the Principal Special Assistant on Media to Benue State Governor