IT IS heartwarming that President Muhammadu Buhari directed the National Emergency Management Agency to implement an intervention programmes in Benue State, where flooding has caused havoc, displacing many families from their homes. While I commend this move, I must necessarily plead that any financial assistance from the Federal Government for the victims of flood in Benue State should not pass through the Benue State government. If the Federal Government is planning to release funds for the flood victims in order to lessen their burden, such assistance should be channeled directly to the victims through the appropriate organ of the Federal Government or a coalition of credible civil society organisations that would coordinate and monitor the disbursement of the funds in a transparent manner. On no account should money be released to the state government, so as to thwart the usual practice of diversion of intervention funds by corrupt and selfish politicians
It is widely believed that the bailout funds given to the Benue State government were diverted or perhaps embezzled. The same thing happened to Paris Club Refunds released to the state government. This is the primary reason state government workers are still being owed.
Notwithstanding, we should not forget that before the release of the bailout funds to the state governors, President Buhari sought to know from the governors, the amount of money that would be enough for them to clear the outstanding salaries and sundry debts in their various states. All the state governors did a research and came out with their findings. In response, the Federal Government released over N28 billion to the Benue State government, for the sole purpose of paying off the outstanding salaries and allowances of the workers in the state.
Thereafter, members of the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state accused Governor Ortom of asking for too much in the name of bailout but the governor’s advisor on Media and ICT, Mr. Tahav Ageezua, replied that the amount was needed because the pensions of the retirees were well captured in the bailout funds. Surprisingly, when the bailout funds arrived, the retirees were left out completely and the serving workers in the state were not even given all that the state government was owing them. After that, the retirees staged a peaceful protest and matched to the government house, Makurdi. Governor Ortom came out and addressed them. According to him, the retirees’ benefits were not captured in the bailout funds. Note that Mr. Tahav Ageezua, the advisor to the Governor on Media and ICT once said the retirees’ benefits had been included in the bailout funds. Then, who do we believe, the governor or his special adviser?
Therefore, as at the time of filing this article, the State Government is still owing salaries to the workers, from five months to 11 months in some cases. One should not forget that aside the bailout funds, Paris Club refunds have been released twice to the Benue State Government under the watch of Governor Ortom, yet, the state government still owes the workers.
Looking at what happened to the bailout funds and Paris Club Refunds in the state, can one still advise the Federal Government to release funds to the same state government that has been diverting funds released to it? The state has demonstrated that it cannot be entrusted to administer intervention funds. Therefore, funds of any kind should no longer be released to the present state government.
Awunah, Pius Terwase, wrote from Mpape, Abuja via email: [email protected]. He can be reached on 08179289948