Today we gather to begin the historic journey to the land of promise that Benue has always been. We converge here to decide once and for all, destiny of our state. And for that reason, I urge us all to decide at this very moment, and in the deepest recesses of our hearts, what we want for ourselves and for our state. We have arrived at that point where we must look each other in the eye and tell ourselves the truth that hurts; that truth that we often do not want to hear.
People of Benue, in a matter of days from now, you will be going to the polls to decide the direction of our state for the next four years. The election provides an opportunity either to reinforce the hopelessness and indignity we have been subjected over the last three and half years, or to start on a whole clean slate in this state. This is an opportunity you must not allow to waste.
When we started our political journey as a state forty three years ago, little did we know we would get to this point of complete stagnation and a total lack of direction. But I know that every promise is challenged by a problem and today our dear state which held great promise at birth, is challenged by the ineptitude, incapacity, cluelessness and incompetence of a mind bereft of any leadership idea or capacity. Despite these screaming failures, our collective intelligence is daily insulted, and it baffles me endlessly too, that the hard working, educated and intelligent people of Benue ended up with someone who has a recalcitrant refusal to accept the limits of his knowledge and acknowledge the extent of his ignorance and incapacity. But today we have an alternative and I present myself and my running mate, Samuel Ode, as that alternative that will put Benue on the path to that promised greatness.
You will recall that when this administration assumed office in May 2015, one of its first actions was to accuse its predecessor of stealing N107 billion from state coffers. Someone told us, that if he had such money he would transform Benue state into the United Kingdom or the United States of America. However, in the last four years, well over four hundred billion naira has accrued to the coffers of the state. But rather than get better, Makurdi our state capital has become the filth capital of Nigeria and we are nowhere near Lafia our nearest neighbor in Nasarawa state which was created only in 1991. What obtains instead, is that today, we have a governor who is richer than the state, with flourishing companies financed from the state coffers. While our hardworking farmers struggle to increase yield or even get lands for agriculture, we have a governor who has amassed nearly every stretch of land to boost his personal agricultural business; this too at the expense of the collective good of our citizens. When a man saddled with leadership, sees the commonwealth as what should serve his greed and that of his cronies, the result is the penury, anguish and deprivation that has come to be our lot in Benue.
Dear Benue citizens, I have in the course of my consultations with you at various times and fora, outlined my intentions and proposed course of action that I believe will set us on the needed path to our emancipation as a people. While the document being circulated to you will provide a better guide, let me briefly highlight on a sectorial basis, some of our proposals.
On Agriculture, We USED to be known for our leading position in agriculture, earning us the title of THE FOOD BASKET OF THE NATION. Sadly, today, we do not deserve to lay claim to such a title. Our farmers have been pushed deeply into peasantry and subjected to excruciating toil without rewards and no support from the state government. It turns out the same governor who should aid farmers with an enabling environment, has constituted himself into their biggest competitor. While our farmers struggle for a bag of fertilizer, Mr. Ortom sits on acres of land, with all the machinery you can think of and little care for the plight of our farmers. Matter of fact he expects sympathy from them even when he sets fire to his already harvested 250 hectare fields as part of his propaganda to survive in office.
All of this will end when we come on board in May by the grace of God. We shall prioritize agriculture and restore the pride of our farmers by making Benue an agro-processing hub for the West Africa sub region. We will revive agriculture institutions like BNARDA, Benue Tractor Hiring Agency etc. and trigger applied research for effective productivity and value chain. We will take advantage of the river banks in the state for dry season farming. Fertilizers would become a year round commodity that requires no Government House connections to access as is the case today. We will revitalize agriculture communication and extension. We will provide a suite of incentives for farmers to enable them access loans and all they require to go into mechanized farming.
Our infrastructure has decayed to unimaginable and totally unacceptable levels. It is almost impossible to find in Benue state today, five kilometers of roads that are motorable. The streets of our major towns beg for attention. Potable water no longer as much as crosses the thoughts of anyone as being a right rather than a privilege; yet this is for a state that sits on the bank of one of the major rivers in Nigeria. We have streetlight poles that have not beamed a watt of electricity for 3 years, and I can go on and on.
To arrest this decay, we intend to develop collaborations through public-private partnerships (PPPs) as well as leverage on International Development Partners as a major source of funding to revive and develop our decayed and abandoned infrastructure. With the degree of debt that the current administration has plunged us into, PPPs and such other initiatives are our only escape route to our development freedom.
We shall create and fully implement a Treasury Single Account (TSA) in order to ensure strict channelization and effective monitoring of all financial accruals to reduce opaqueness and instil transparency and accountability in the management of our public finances. This will ensure that loose ends are tightened, loopholes are closed and every penny is accounted for. This will improve revenue generation and enable us engage in and provide needed services that directly benefit our people.
Our educational system is in shambles. In the last four years, the government has hardly added a single new desk to any classroom in any school anywhere in Benue state. Not one classroom block has been constructed either. And to worsen matters, teachers no longer go to any public school in this state anymore. And I do not blame them! Who will be motivated to work when his or her salaries are not paid for a year or more? This is the unfortunate truth and sadly, a disaster waiting to happen to the generations of tomorrow.
But then, it is often said and correctly so, that you can’t give what you don’t have. One needs to know the importance of education to give it the attention it deserves. It is therefore no surprise that there is such a total neglect of the educational sector under the current administration. We however do not have to put up with this neglect.
We will introduce Automation and Digitization of public school libraries; and provide great incentives for teachers in rural communities. There will be annual refresher courses and workshops for teachers on micro teaching and special education. We will take a digital approach to supervision to ensure our wards in the rural areas get the top quality education they deserve.
I am passionate about education because if there is a child in the remotest part of Ekile in Ado LGA in the hinterlands of the Idoma and Igede Nations who cannot read and write, it matters to me because that also could have been my child. I make this solemn pledge to you: That from May 29th this year when I will be sworn into office as your governor, I shall declare and properly implement free and compulsory primary education in Benue state.
We shall also revisit the Joint Account regime to ensure that all funds meant for the local governments are given to them so as to enhance development at the grassroots. We shall further embark on a comprehensive review of the local government system to ensure their effectiveness. With sincerity of purpose and dutiful implementation, this will certainly bring governance closer to the people and engender wealth creation in the rural areas.
If there is a retired senior citizen in the rural villages of Jato-Aka who is made poor and cannot afford his drugs because his pension is not paid, that also makes my life poor and it matters to me because that could have been my father. To put an end to this, we will diligently revisit and review the wage bill and pension issues while embarking on a comprehensive overhaul of the public and civil service in the state. This is to attain a sustainable wage regime, eliminate ghost workers and ensure prompt and timely payment of salaries. Only a few days ago, pensioners in the state staged a massive protest to bring to the knowledge of the world, their humiliating existence.
These are just a few of the reforms that will be carried out to re-engineer and prepare our state for growth.
We acknowledge the security challenges confronting our state and we are determined to exploit all avenues necessary, to put an end to them. This is a matter we should never play politics with, but rather than expound practical solutions, it has become a survival tool for the incumbent governor to exploit in a bid to prop up a political career that is obviously in tatters and decline. When a public officer seeks re-election, he presents a scorecard as pitch for demanding another mandate. What we witness today is tragic. We have a governor who rather speak to his records, if they do exist, chooses to scam the people of Benue with slogans about being a DEFENDER. He keeps the conversation away from his blinding failure and opts for politics of fear and division. A governor who has failed to educate the people should at least refrain from brainwashing an already traumatized citizenry.
But a seared conscience cares only about that which benefits him. It is the reason we only hear about violence and alleged land grabs where the governor campaigns. But the people of Benue are smarter than the governor thinks. They understand the real issue has to do with why their lives have not improved despite the injection of N402bn into Benue. They will not be conned by a failed governor with Defender slogans.
The people of Benue will not join the conman we are saddled with as governor to partake in the politics of cynicism, hatred, blackmail and divisive propaganda that has never done anyone any sustainable good anywhere in the world.
Fellow compatriots, history has its eyes on all of us who for pecuniary considerations, have refused to see anything wrong with our present administrative and leadership predicament; and history, being a fair judge, will judge each of us accordingly. Make no mistake about it, this election is a referendum! It is referendum on the performance of the current administration in our state. It is a referendum on incompetence and sheer ineptitude.
We must necessarily ask ourselves some pertinent questions-individually and collectively; are we better-off now than we were four years ago? Have we socially and developmentally grown an inch beyond what we were before the advent of this administration? As a farmer, civil servant, business owner, student or trade, has your life or fortunes improved over the last three years?? The answer obviously, is NO!
So, as the scripture says in Luke 23 vs 31, if men would use even the green wood like this, what will happen when the wood is dry? Loosely translated, if the present governor now seeking re-election performed so woefully even though he had in mind to seek another term; if he made people suffer the way he did during the period of his first opportunity, what will happen if he gets a second chance knowing that he has nothing else at stake?
When you are seeking a second term in office, your achievements should speak for you and you are expected to present to the people what you have done. But what really is this administration presenting to us as qualification for a second term? The forthcoming elections presents us with another opportunity to choose where Benue goes from here. The verdict is clear on Governor Ortom: HE CAME, HE SAW, HE PLUNDERED!!!
if we make the wrong choice, keeping him a day longer after his current term expires, we may not look elsewhere for reasons for the sustained failure of our state: we will look to ourselves.
People of Benue, in the face of such daunting challenges; in the face of such debilitating hunger and poverty caused by someone with a deep penchant for corruption, I know and I understand the despair you must feel. I know that such despair could quite easily lead to despondency, and in such situations, it is often naturally most comforting and more appealing to sit back and do nothing. But remember that history is not made by those who do nothing; it is made by those who rise up when duty calls, to confront the challenges of the moment in other to pave way for the freedom and comfort of tomorrow.
I believe that with your cooperation and our collective determination, this state will reclaim its promise and out of this long political darkness, a brighter day will come.
Today, duty calls all of us, you and I, and we stand at the verge of history, to be identified as those who stood up when it mattered most. Come with me and together let’s rebuild Benue.
Long live the APC.
Long live the people of Benue.
Long live Benue state.
Thank you and God bless us all.