Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom has disclosed that his administration is doing its best to address the issue of pensions in the state.
The Governor in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase on Sunday, stated that his administration has been able to reduce backlog of pensions, salaries and gratuities he inherited upon assumption of office in 2015 from N70 billion to less than N40 billion.
He explained further that the State Government has been discussing with the pensioners whom he noted have also appreciated his efforts.
Governor Ortom, while reacting to a statement credited to a group known as Benue Renaissance Network (BRN) that its members would go about to impress on the Presidency, National Assembly and the Governors’ Forum to intervene in the issue of pensions in Benue State.
The governor said while he recognizes the right of individuals and groups to exercise their freedom of speech, it is necessary that the said group understand certain issues before jumping into conclusion.
“We read the statement credited to a nondescript group which calls itself ‘Benue Renaissance Network (BRN)’ where it said it would impress on the Presidency, National Assembly and the Governors’ Forum to intervene in the issue of pensions in Benue State.
“The Ortom administration has domesticated the PENCOM law in the state which is a sure way of ending the problem of accumulated pensions and gratuity. The group must also appreciate the fact that the Government is constrained by the inadequacy of funds to be able to clear the outstanding pensions and gratuity.
“It was in his earnest bid to address the pensions matter that Governor Ortom wrote to the Federal Government requesting for assistance to enable him tackle the challenge. The Governor’s request is currently being processed by the Central Bank as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The Federal Government is fully aware that the issue of pensions in Benue State is not a deliberate attempt to deny the retirees of their entitlements. The Government at the centre knows that Governor Ortom is genuinely concerned and worried about the matter and has requested for the intervention of Mr President to enable him clear the outstanding pensions and gratuity.
“We however wish to correct the wrong impression created by the group in its statement that pensioners who staged a protest at Benue Peoples House last year were beaten by thugs. No one manhandled any of the pensioners”.
“It is on record that at the time the said pensioners took their protest to Benue Peoples House, Governor Ortom was out of the state, but he directed that the senior citizens be taken into the Peoples House and accorded respect and given a place to stay as he was already on his way back to Benue. Sadly, the pensioners rejected the offer and chose to stay at the gate.
“As soon as the Governor arrived, he met with them at the gate accompanied by top government officials and pleaded with them to come into the Peoples House so they could discuss better. In addition, the Governor informed them that he had already released over N600 million for the payment of their entitlements.
“The retirees refused to heed the Governor’s advice and insisted on staying at the entrance to Benue Peoples House. If anyone outside the Governor and other senior Government officials had gone to see the pensioners, such persons were members of the opposition led by the late Abubakar Tsav who advised them not to leave the entrance and insist that all their outstanding entitlements must be paid at once.
” The Governor does not harbour thugs; therefore, no thug would have gone where the retirees stayed. If the group truly has the interest of Benue pensioners at heart and wants to assist them, we advise its members to desist from falsehood such as claiming that the pensioners spent two weeks sleeping at Benue Peoples House gate when in truth, they voluntarily spent six days”, he said.
He maintained that while no one would prevent members of the group from expressing their opinions, it is expected that they do so without allowing themselves to be used by some politicians to cause mischief and defame other people.
“Governor Ortom won’t stop anyone from criticising him, but when the criticisms degenerate into personal attacks, name calling and libellous statements against his person, he would certainly seek redress in court,” the statement concluded.