Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, has revealed how he would clear the backlog of workers salaries.
The Governor said when he came in as Governor in 2015, he inherited over N69 billion of unpaid workers salary arrears, pension and gratuity and over 70 billion for other engagement of government.
Ortom, who spoke to DAILY POST in an exclusive interview, said his administration has been paying workers’ salaries consistently since January.
Asked if he was paying salaries, the Governor said “Yes, we have been consistently paying our workers since January.
“I inherited when we took over in 2015, over N69bn salary arrears, pension and gratuity. Over 70 billion for other engagements of government.
“We tried to cope with the issue of garnishing our account because people who went to court and secured valid judgement had to be paid. We tried to pay judgement debts, we tried to pay for other several commitments. It’s been quite tasking, but we appreciate God for how far we have gone.
“The 23 LGs welcomed us and we felt that there was the need to try to do something. The issue of payment of salary has been the biggest challenge of this government because Benue state economy is driven by the civil service.
“No much of commercial activities are going on here, no industries, so there is no engagement of the private sector providing commercial activities, so it has become very challenging..
“Once salaries are not paid, it becomes a big challenge.
“This is what we’ve been battling with. Since the beginning of the year, because the economy is improving, the federal allocation has improved compared to what we used to have.
“Throughout the period that we were in recession, the total allocation that was coming to the state was an average of 5 billion and then you have an IGR of about 500 million, it becomes a problem.
“But we also appreciate the fact that today in Nigeria, despite the low IGR that comes into the state, Benue state is number 3 in terms of payment of high salary.
“In the North, we have 19 states and Benue state is the highest.
In fact, it may interest you to know that some states in the north, their salary is 1/3 of what Benue State is paying, so it becomes a very big task.”
Ortom explained further that in the whole country, Benue State was number 3 in terms of payment of high amount of salary.
He said “While Lagos is first, Rivers is second and then Benue State. But if you compare our IGR to these two states, you can see the difference, so it’s a big challenge.”
He assured that as the state receive more money, “we will pay the arrears. Nobody can tell you anywhere that there is misappropriated money. All those lies on social media and others can never be justified.
“In fact, we have had some issues with some people who we thought were responsible and because of their irresponsibility in their utterances, we have tried to prove in a civil way that we have not done anything wrong, so we have taken them to court to prove their wild allegations of embezzlement of funds.
“How will you take money in this time of BVN and this time where accounts are open to other security agencies? Go and prove where monies have been diverted to. We have utilized our resources very well and our accounts are ready for everyone to see. We are transparent and we publish them for everyone to see.
“It is a difficult thing contending with payment of salary in the state, so what we have done as at today; from January we decided that let us suspend all the projects because salaries must be paid.
“I have been advised by traditional rulers, politicians who are close to me, the clergy and all the people that were consulted that we must suspend every other thing to consistently pay salaries, and that’s what we have been doing.
“They say, ‘If you construct a bridge and there is no one to make use of it, it doesn’t make any meaning, so pay salaries.’
“So we have suspended all projects. From January by the Grace of God, we have been able to pay up to date and what is left now is the arrears which is seven months at the state level, 11 at the LG level. This is an accumulation of all the arrears.
“But we must appreciate the workers for their understanding. They understand our plight because we are transparent. We are open to them. In the LG joint account, the workers are also part of it, so that they can also see what comes in and goes out. So it has made things very easy for us instead of trying to answer some of those wild allegations that people make which are lies. They are there themselves. I don’t play with LG funds, and at the state level, whatever we spend, all the figures are there for anyone to see.”