Rally at Makurdi, calling for greater government accountability

Your Excellency, I congratulate you and welcome you to the Government House Makurdi. Sir, before you read further, I would like to clearly state that this piece is not an attempt to replicate the amazing analysis put forward by the former CBN Governor Charles Soludo some weeks ago.

However, the will to draw up such a write-up was in no small measure inspired by Soludo's analysis and hence, almost shares the same title. Be rest assured that this won't be as figurative and lengthy as that of Soludo’s. Not for lack of subscription to the facts in his analysis, but for an apparent lack of such lucid financial knowledge. I do ask that you read further, with such considerations at the back of your mind.

It’s no longer news that the elections were postponed for six weeks. What then seemed like an age is just 21 days away, every tick of the clock bringing the elections closer to us. The various political parties and propaganda machineries have continued to root for their candidates.

For the curious case of my dear Benue State, the governorship office has never been this contentious. The quest for Government House, Makurdi is delicately poised. The two major political parties are dually represented at the national level and are in like contention for the seat. Only a few cynics, like myself, are yet to decide where to pledge their thumb allegiance(s) come April 11th. If you blame my indecision on distrust and dilemma of trust, you won't be far away from the truth.

My mind is yet to settle between the leading contenders: former Speaker of the State Assembly, Terhemen Tarzoor, and former Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Samuel Ortom. This is not the result of a lack of leadership qualities or potential for greatness in any of them, but a product of certain highly, personal standards. But, let me not digress, I would gladly discuss these standards someday with any of the candidate’s knowledgeable and faithful fans. My intent is to present an alternative hypothetical situation of the state, post May 29th, when either Tarzoor or Ortom will be declared the governor. No disrespect to other parties and their candidates, but current polemics favor these two and their parties.

After the sweet savours of that swearing-in wine settles, the expectations of the Benue electorate will stare with probing eyes. Like every other erudite Nigerian, the Benue man expects that you, Your Excellency, will proceed to give this issue utmost priority on your project for the state. I have outlined a few issues that I feel would interest the emerging governor and I would love for whoever gets the peoples mandate to look at these as “Benue's Bucket List”.  

The dilly-dally in salary payments in the state have long been with us, before the current harsh economic climes. It has now become stale news that the salaries of civil servants in Benue have not been paid for some months. In exceptional cases when they had been paid, the workers had all come to know the figures were huge skeletons from the take-home. This has become the hallmark of the last days of the previous government (assuming this is post May 29th, 2015). Not entirely a fault of the current government, but this is where the state finds itself.

Months of salary arrears have besieged the state service and monetary motivations to work are at an all time low. These civil servants would look to you as the Messiah that has come to save their world from collapse. The one sent to spare them the shame of long overdue debts that had turned their debtors into unwanted visitors and stalled many projected ventures. However, this would be an arduous task, considering the falling price of petrol in the international market and the consequent austerity measures proposed by the federal government. Save for an upturn in oil fortunes in the international market, the slim federal allocation will become a 'kwashiokor’ at the very least.

This is the reality that would welcome you to the Government House, Makurdi. Your Excellency, to scale through this, you would need an excellent economic team that would not only find a way to navigate the state through this storm, but would steer your tenure through possible harsher economic times. I heard that the state government recently contemplated a $200 million Naira loan to offset the salaries.

This is laudable, but it only adds to the financial burden on the Benue that you'll inherit, Sir. My thoughts on how necessary such a debt is, at this time of transition and financially frugal times, is a topic for another day. I am not a prophet of doom, but I more than wish that we prepare our umbrella before the rains become heavy. I do hope, like other Nigerians, that the economic climes that lie ahead will be more favourable and better than we've ever seen as a nation and as a state.

The issue of an economic team brings me to the next point, the economy of the state. Considering the flirting and sadly, fleeting price of oil in the international market, I sincerely think it's time the country exploited her agro potentials even more. The benefits that would accrue from the sector, if given half the attention accorded to oil, can only be imagined. What better state to herald this agricultural revolution than my dear Benue. Benue State prides herself as the “Food Basket of the Nation”, with arable lands that accentuate her agrarian potential. Her yields in yam, cassava and fruits like mangoes and oranges, compare to the very best on the African continent. One farming season upon another, farmers in Zaki Biam have been responsible for the pounded yam morsels that accompany pork meat grills and that settle in many stomachs across the state. These farmers could do with an extra push that enables them to export their yields to other states of the federation and even beyond. Yes! Beyond the shores of this country, processed yam flour can still be exported from Benue state to other countries.

Need I mention the amazing potentials that abound in the state’s fruit processing sector. Mangoes and oranges harvested in Benue have found their way to juice factories outside the state through other means. Your Excellency, some now stale fruit processing plants were set up in the state awhile back. Can we work towards making them efficient and effective? I dream of attending an event in Benue where the drinks served would be fruit juices produced and processed in Benue. Where I would sip the drink and think, “the lady along Yandev road is responsible for the orange juice streaming down my throat.” This can be possible, Sir, with your team's foresight, proper planning and efficient execution.

The effective execution of any planned program hinges on the competence of the planners, as much as it does on the system that’s operational in a place. The competence of our educational system begs for serious questions. I log into the Facebook group "Benue Family" on a daily basis and certain grammatical missiles almost rip apart my delectable digital device. This is not meant to spite anyone, but to point out the quality of students that our schools have churned out. On a personal note, as much I commend the work taught to me by my lecturers at Benue State University, I daresay that the way I turned out has more to do with the basic education entrenched within. The sacrosanct role of basic education cannot be over stressed. Through the formative years of a child, his first encounter with education defines what he learns and applies in life. From my biased analysis of the posts of my brothers on that Facebook wall, there is an apparent deficiency in the basic education obtained, where certain grammatical rules and tense principles were neglected or not properly instilled. I repeat, this is not meant to spite anyone, but to prod His Excellency towards the avoidable decay that our basic education system is headed towards if a drastic action is delayed. The painful nine-month primary school strike experienced last year has left most poor parents and pupils many steps behind in the pursuit of basic education. Even certain tertiary institutions in the state have been under lock and key for the better part of several months and only just recently resumed. Sir, this is not to dwell on the challenges of your predecessor, but a time to look forward. These pupils and their older siblings expect to not just get back to school, but silently, they hope that you won’t make them experience such unexpected nightmares that would delay their sweet dreams of a bright future again. If our educational system can churn out competent graduates with impeccable knowledge, it would serve to benefit the state. 

Having obtained the necessary education, be it formal or informal, there is a need to secure gainful employment or set up a means of livelihood. The height of unemployment in the land is alarming. Sir, I'm sure from the streams of youth who have scrambled for those Naira notes you were sharing during those campaign trails, it was apparent the alarming are of idle youths in the land. More skills acquisition programmes and start up funding is necessary to drive off young men from consistent idle talk under beer drinking huts. Sometime ago, a certain Andrew Ayabam thought it wise to enroll a good amount of fresh graduates into a state parastatal then. I do hope it is feasible for you to borrow a leaf from such thinking and rid the society of idle youths who are prey to social vices.

Finally, for this chapter Sir, I would gladly advise that you stretch a hand of fellowship to your opponent(s) at the polls and bring him/ her (them) into your government if they share your vision and are willing to work. This is the call for a Benue that is above every individual, political party interest or personal vendetta. Even if such a person is pushing for the customary tribunal for restoration of mandate; bring him or her in. Their competence might come in handy during moments of 'administrative block'. I do hope that the next time another chapter of this series comes, I will be too busy in an office to type such an incoherent piece, but more knowledgeable for fewer errors and my beautiful Benue will have been better served. 

 

- Chris Nomjov, a reporter with News Wire Ngr he writes from Karu, Abuja.

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