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Opinion: How Governor Ortom’s indecision is costing Benue state

Written By Idoma Television on Sunday, August 28, 2016 | 2:27:00 AM

By Martins Wanger

Governor Samuel Ortom is indecisive. There is no better way to start this write-up than this bold conclusion. Needless to go over the familiar story of Benue State – a state blessed with plenteous resources but short in supply of good leaders which is the root cause of our stunted growth.

Despite this poverty of leadership, something seemed different about Governor Samuel Ortom when he was seeking office. Probably the disenchantment with the then ruling party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP)  and it’s ways beclouded the vision of the people so much that they failed to critically analyse reality against their lofty expectations. 
Turns out, Governor Ortom, who seems slow on the outside, is more indecisive than any other of his not-so-desirous qualities. The first sign of this was in his handling of the strike enbarked upon by unions which included the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) all of Benue State University last year.

 These strikes were part of a bigger picture of unpaid salaries inherited by Governor Ortom from his predecessor, Gabriel Suswam. It was one of the first problems confronting Ortom when he assumed office and after a spirited inauguration speech in which he said, “I’m aware of the backlog of arrears of salaries and pensions, I’m aware of strikes especially that of the Benue State University, we shall consult with them and find a way to quickly resolve the matter so that they will resume,” expectations were sky high.

Sadly, for whatever reason, even after securing a N10bn Naira loan, Governor Ortom dragged his feet on resolving the issue. When he eventually conceded to the lecturers initial demands, it was too late. Rumours of bailout began to filter in, which made the striking unions to review their demands upwards. It took another two months or so for the strike to end, on terms that would have been sorted out much earlier. The strike presented an opportunity for the Governor to emphatically announce his arrival but he failed to shine. 

Secondly is the issue of Benue State’s high faloting wagebill blotted by ghost workers. It’ll surprise you to know that nobody, including the Governor himself, knows the exact wage bill of the state. The figures being mooted in the media are outrageous when compared to bigger, more advanced states with larger workforces. There has been more than seven different figures as Benue’s wagebill, the latest being N4 billion which is still too high. However, even in this matter, the indecision of Governor Ortom has stuck out like a sore thumb.

Shortly after securing a N10 billion loan, Governor Ortom announced that he was going to use the funds to, amongst other things, offset workers salaries to a tune of two months in two instalments on either side of a comprehensive staff audit. That comprehensive audit never materialized, and monies that would have been saved off ghost workers went down the drain. That was two months after assuming office and many wondered why the governor never thought of carrying out a staff or wage verification exercise before the loan. The governor himself admitted it was a mistake. 

Another opportunity came begging when a Federal Government financial bailout for the payment of outstanding salaries was been talked about. Governor Ortom again dragged his feet until the dying minute when a contract for verification of workers and wages was hastily awarded to who we later understood was the “least qualified bidder”. Ghost workers and their handlers won again.

At about that same time, the Benue State House of Assembly sensing the indecision and confusion on display, seized the opportunity to coax the Governor to cough up a whooping sum of N146 million, which they claimed would be used by lawmakers to conduct their own separate staff verification. The monies were released but that also went down the drain with nothing, nothing to show for it.
Now, with the new Federal government monthly budget support, the Governor has sprung to arrange another salary con staff verification exercise. 

When asked, his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Terver Akase said, “Staff verification is a continuous thing. The government is not yet satisfied with the answers it has got so far regarding the actual size of the state workforce. This is why there has to be another verification.”This may also not yield anything going by Ortom’s antecedence. 

We hope not!
Thirdly, whatever happened that it took Governor Samuel Ortom over one year to appoint Mr Nathaniel Ikyur as Senior Special Assistant on Public Utilities, Environment and Sanitation has cast a dark shadow on his knowledge of the abilities and capacities of his close associates. Like an oasis in the desert, Mr Ikyur has taken off like a speed boat and eclipse the performances of the commissioner for sanitation and environment, and heads of all the parastatals in charge of sanitation put together, to say the least. Only time will tell if Ortom’s indecision in making marchee appointments has been his Archilles heel and cause of the lacklustre performance of a vast number of his appointees so far.

Other minor gaffes like the Governor going on a 10-day vacation only to return and announce another leave, then cancelling same at the last minute to embark on town hall meetings, only makes one wonder if these decisions are actually put through the sieve of thought on a round table.

Lastly, but not the least, is the issue of insecurity in Benue State. The state is plagued with insecurity from within and without. Governor Ortom hastily went into the tortuous endeavor of granting amnesty to former criminals who were on the bad books of both government and it’s citzens. 

This exercise was not thought through, so much that it took the side grumblings of former Lagos State Police Commissioner and renowned critic of the Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, to spot that the initiative had no clear-cut committee running it. Months after the exercise, the lead beneficiary and face of the program, one Terwase Akwaza popularly known as Ghana is at large after being mentioned in connection with the assassination of the governor’s aide on Security, Late Mr Denen Igbana. The programme is all but crumbled. The state has in the last few weeks mobilised all it’s security apparatus in pursuit of Ghana and his gang. 

On the other hand has been Fulani herdsmen. These marauders have collectively shed more blood than any other disaster, both natural and man-made put together, in the State since Governor Ortom took over office. However, for reasons best know to him, he choses to romance with the higher powers in Abuja and paints the issue like one in which he is powerless or rather takes the blame off Fulani herdsmen and shares it equally between them and their victims -farmers. 

Until the episode with Ghana, nobody knew the state Security Council could weld such military might, such as never contemplated by them even while hundreds of their bothers were being sluttered by strangers. This may not be a typical example of indecision but rather an unwise decision Ortom may well live to regret in his political lifetime. 

Whatever be the case, the year 2019 during which elections will be held, is on the horizon and as the time approaches, the pressure mounts – the pressure to take the right decisions, at the right times with precision and little margin for error. Only time will tell how Governor Ortom, who falters under this relaxed atmosphere, would fare.

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