Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State took time off to speak to journalists in the state on a wide range of matter that are raising concern of watchers in his state and government…
There are insinuations that the N4.5billion UBA refund to Benue State government was rather achieved by the government of Gabriel Suswam?
No the whole issue is very clear. Like I said the whole process was anchored on falsehood, forgery and lies. As you are aware the funds were meant for specific projects. In the case of Benue State, they were meant for 13 projects of Daudu/Gbajimba Road, Oshigbudu/Obagaji Road, Tarka/ Igbor roads, Zaki-biam/Afia, Oju Obusa Utonkon Road, water projects in Otukpo and Katsina-Ala. All together about 13 projects and when this money came, instead of channeling it to the specific projects that this bond was approved for, it was rather used for serving overdraft of N4.5 billion. That was where we have issues. So we engaged a consultant who approached the State Executive Council (SEC) and wrote a petition and they did an investigation and decided that this money should go back to its original use. That is what had been accredited to our account, so that we can go ahead and complete those projects that originally these bond was collected for, Now the issue of overdraft and those documents that were written which was used to access the overdraft was forged by the past administration, That is where we are having a case with them because there was no exco on the day they purportedly to get the extract they gave to the bank which directed that the money should be given to them. There was no exco but minutes were generated. Of course not just minutes but extracts. It was packaged and all those documents written to the bank on this matter were not in the file and all the reference numbers were forged. So this is where we have a case. But the former governor instead of looking at the main issue rather bought a page in the Nation Newspaper of 8th June and denied that he collect this money. I’m not surprised at that because he denied that he did not sell Benue State shares in Benue Cement Company (BCC), Julius Berger, but they were sold and the evidence are there. So these are the issues. But actually they collected overdraft amounting to N4.5b. This we have verified from the bank. And we agreed that we, we do not have the resources to talk of paying the overdraft within one month or 60 days as the case may be so we have to restructure. And we have agreed with the bank that we will restructure the overdraft to a period of four years which is about N136m a month.
Benue State University lecturers appear to have ignored the executive order to go back to work. What do we see happening?
Nobody ignored my executive order. I sent it to the council and I’m yet to have a response from them. I understand they are meeting this week. Nobody has ignored my orders to reopen the school. I’m bent on reopening it. You are journalists you can confirm from other state universities or even federal universities including the one in Makurdi here, how they are faring. Check in Kogi, Plateau, Katsina, Ebonyi and check all over the states that have state universities whether what I’m doing here is not better than all the universities.
Your commissioner of Information had said that massive fraud has just been discovered in the university. Is the state government planning to institute a probe panel to sanitise the place?
Of course, we have to sanitise the place. Because every month, out of the N2.5billion I get from the Federation Account, I cough out N570million to Benue State University alone. I compared notes with some of my colleagues in Ebonyi for instance and what they pay their institution is just N200million, in Nasarawa, it’s N183million, in Plateau, it’s even less although I admit that BSU is bigger and an older university. But I think that is too much. There are too many people hanging around the school without doing anything.
Recently some Benue youths stormed Government House, agitating for your return in 2019, but members of the opposition were highly against it saying for the past two years of your administration you have not done anything to warrant your coming back, do you think what you have done so far is enough to declare no vacancy in the state’s Government House, come 2019?
Well, I have told you, what do you expect the opposition to do? People who are still dreaming that Ortom is governor. And they will continue to criticise anything I do. When have you heard them praise me. Are you not enjoying security in Benue State? Are you not seeing the massive development of our primary schools, have you not seen the construction of rural roads, bridges and all that. Have you not seen agricultural policies. You have seen it all and you are the best people to judge this, not me. But the truth of the matter like I told those people, I am a product of divine intervention. In 1992, I told the whole world that God said to me, I was going to be governor. In 2012 precisely, 20 years after, God again told me that it is going to be realised in 2015 and by the grace of God, with all the hurdles and challenges I became governor. I overcame them and with the same God when that time comes I will go back to him. Now, I don’t want to be distracted I’m doing my work. When that time comes, when the programme is rolled out I will go back to God on my knees and ask God if I should go back and if he says go, I will go and nobody will defeat me that I can assure you. But if God say relax my son, then I am ready to go back to my farm and business. It’s as simple as that.
Recently you signed into law the Anti-open Grazing Bill and other states are following suit. Will you say peace has finally come to Benue with this law?
I want to say that I’m optimistic that peace has come. That is giving leadership. That is what we did in Benue state. We have given leadership and we believe that this is the only thing that will restore peace in the state and any other state that wants peace in the states where herdsmen are terrorising them, that is the way to go, because globally, what is being practiced is ranching and not this nomadic life of moving cattle from one end to the other killing and destroying people’s farms and all that. But like I keep saying I’m challenging anyone including the herdsmen and Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, that if anyone has a superior policy that can restore peace other than ranching, let he or she bring it up on the table and let us debate on it. But for now, ranching remains the way forward.