By Terna Doki
The term ‘salary herdsman,’ has crept into the political/ campaign lexicon of Benue state. It refers to the obstinate refusal of state Gov. Samuel Ortom and 2019 PDP governorship candidate to pay salaries and pensions.
No doubt, the Governor is usually offended any time this coinage is echoed anywhere. It is excitedly recited by suffering workers and pensioners grappling with months of unpaid wages/ remunerations in Benue.
All categories of workers in the state, including pensioners are suffering salaries and pensions indebtedness ranging from 5- 12 months. The months owed pensioners are reportedly higher.
Huge amounts of FGN bailout interventions; loans and improved IGR running into hundreds of billions of naira have not influenced Gov. Ortom to yield to the human persuasions of clearing the backlog of salaries and pensions he has created.
In 2015, Ortom inherited only four months of unpaid salaries from his predecessor, former Gov. Gabriel Suswam. And five months of unpaid pensions.
What has shocked many Benue people is the Governor’s recent ludicrous pronouncements on this sensitive matter.
The Presidency provoked Gov. Ortom with a statement a few days ago. It cautioned the Governor to desist from using President Muhammadu Buhari’s name to anchor reelection campaigns in the state.
A statement by presidential media aide, Malam Garba Shehu advised Ortom to focus on resolving the teething problems of development and months of unpaid salaries and pensions, than the delight in false claims at church congregations that he (Buhari) was attempting to Islamise Benue.
The first response from Gov. Ortom was by his Special Adviser on Media & ICT, and propaganda czar, Mr. Tahav Agerzua, in a public statement he tagged, ‘Guilty Conscience Troubling Presidency.’
The Governor spewed invectives on the Presidency on what he believed was the unacceptable manner he handled the herdsmen killings and his ‘opposition,’ to the anti-open grazing law in Benue. Ortom stretched to even extraneous matters in his tirades.
Thereafter, the Governor punched the main issue by justifying his months of unpaid salaries and pensions, albeit unconvincingly.
He described the presidential upbraid on Benue salary debt as a display of ‘gross ignorance on the salary situation in Benue state.’
Ortom his heartessly blamed it on economic recession, which he falsely stated caused majority of states in Nigeria to owe salaries. One wonders how many states are still owing salaries now outside Benue, Kogi and Taraba states?
He said, insufficient bailout interventions and inadequate incomes to the state generally midwifed the problem. It’s pathetically a faulty position.
Gov. Ortom courageously claimed he prudently managed all the bailout interventions disbursed to the state. It was therefore, improper for any one to blame him on the salaries and pensions deficit plaquing the state.
The Governor claimed BNSG is owing salaries and pensions because it pays the third highest wage bill in Nigeria, after Lagos and Rivers State. Another blatant lie! How could this be tenable when the BNSG has no accurate figures of it’s monthly wage bill?
But most embarrassingly and in a reaction to the same admonishment from the Presidency, a day later, the Ortom Reelection Campaign publicist and PDP State Publicity Secretary, Mr. Bemgba Iortyom threw another denigrating salvo at workers and pensioners.
Gov. Ortom exonerated himself on salaries and pensions indebtedness, insisting that workers should hold the APC as a platform responsible for the unpaid wages. Rather unlike a government, Ortom claimed since he crossed over to the PDP, payment of salaries and pensions have been regular.
In a public statement dubbed, ‘APC is the One Owing You Salaries, Not Me, Gov. Ortom Tells Civil Servants,’ the Governor quite illogically said, ‘ It is the APC as a political platform which hampered the regular payment of workers wages.’
What an irony? The same APC-led Federal Government which gave Ortom all the bailouts for the outstanding emoluments; but he diverted handsome percentages of it under the guise of funding capital projects, which are fake?
This is a heartless mockery of workers and pensioners. Gov. Ortom knows some of them have been killed by hunger and curable ailments because of poverty, stemming from salary debts.
It is unconscionable and hypocritic; least of all, coming from a Government and Governor. Ortom claims prudent management of bailout funds and other interventions accruing to the state, but cannot display capital projects for his re-election. Rather, he has plunged the state into a confounding salary indebtedness.
This is after Benue netted over N402 billion from all sources in three and a half years alone. Shamefully, it’s a government that does not know it’s monthly wage bill or staff headcount after several staff audits.
Ortom has retrenched thousands of workers he declared ghost workers; workers have died; others retired; no fresh employees; yet Benue’s monthly wage bill is suspiciously and criminally third highest in Nigeria?
Gov. Ortom has been very deceptive and trickish on the issue of salaries and pensions.
On May 28, 2015, former Gov. Suswam said in his handover notes to Gov. Ortom; ‘ The situation increased our monthly wage bill to about N2.7 billion . That was very much higher than the total monthly wage bill of N500 million we paid in June 2007 on assumption of office.’
Suswam left a council wage bill of N2.8 billion (both for council staff and primary school teachers). Put differently, Gov. Suswam’s total state wage bill of about N5.8 billion was confirmed by Ortom’s payment of workers salaries across board for the month of June, July and August 2015.
So, if Suswam owed 4 months unpaid salaries and five months pensions, at a monthly wage bill of N5.8 billion, the first bailout of over N28 billion was more than enough to clear the backlog.
So, the figure of N69 billion Gov. Ortom is claiming Suswam owed, which has sustained the emolument debts is a dubious figure. It is indeed, the foundation of the intractable salary scam plaquing the state.
How the monthly state wage bill rose to N7.8 billion under Ortom is a mystery. And till today, Ortom has no answer to it deliberately.
To demonstrate Gov. Ortom’s failing leadership foresight, he resorted to street-wisdom. The Governor claimed salaries and pensions emoluments he owed the people before defecting to the PDP are the burden of the APC as a political party.
But the same Gov. Ortom appropriates to himself the anti-open grazing law passed by an APC- dominated State Assembly. It’s absurd and apt expression of the leadership dilemma assailing Benue.
A leader who thinks this way epitomizes destruction for the present generation and posterity. The latest outbursts by Gov. Ortom on the unpaid salaries and pensions are indications that he has written -off the salary debt in his mind. This is why March 2, 2019 guber elections are very focal for ‘real change.’