Benue Governor, Samuel Ortom has consistently remained in the news for the past few months, albeit controversially. The latest is his proposed bill for bogus life pension for himself and past governors of the state. In the bill which has provoked concerns in Benue state and beyond, the outgoing governor is seeking to, among others, have monthly pension approval running into millions to be paid to him and his deputy for life. And, according to the proposal, the bill is to have retrospective effect to cover former chief executives of the state and their deputies, such as Senator George Akume, Senator Gabriel Suswam. Prince Ogiri Ajene and Chief Steven Lawani.
Recall that on April 11, 2023, Governor Ortom had proposed a pension Bill to the State Assembly titled, “A Bill for a Law to make Provisions for the Maintenance of Former Governors of Benue State and their Deputies and for Other Matters Connected Thereto.” Section 2(a)(i) makes provisions for the payment to all former governors a monthly “stipend”, which is equivalent to the “salary” of an incumbent governor. Section 2(a)(ii) makes provisions for the payment to all former deputy governors, a “stipend” equivalent to the “salary” of an incumbent deputy governor, while Section 2(b) provides for a building of permanent residential accommodation in any town and state of their choice.
Also, Section 2(c) and (h) makes provisions for four new cars every four years for former governors and two for former deputy governors, which shall all be maintained at the expense of the state.
Similarly, Section 2(d) and (e) provide for six personal staff for former governors and three for former deputy governors, all to be paid by the state, and Section 2(f) provides 24-hour security surveillance and guarding for all former governors and deputy governors.
Section 2(g) provides for free medical treatment for them, their wives and children, and Section 4 provides that former governors and deputies be entitled to two and one annual vacations abroad respectively.
It smacks of elite conspiracy to backdate such a contentious law to accommodate past leaders, an indication of desperation to give the bill some measure of credibility. This is more so as strong indications are rife that Ortom’s predecessors are not on the same page with him on this matter. We also believe that the bill which has already passed first reading on the floor of the Benue State House of Assembly is not driven by altruism and general good of the state, but by palpable self protection and preservation drive.
We concede that Benue is not the first state in the country to embark on this ambiguous project of making stupendous life pension provisions for their ex-governors. Lagos, Akwa-Ibom and Rivers are among other examples; and some of them have even extended the largesse to principal officers of their state legislatures. But the case of Benue is different because it can simply not afford this luxury.
No doubt, those familiar with the state would acknowledge that unlike others, its internally generated revenue is nothing to write home about, and that probably was the reason Ortom’s predecessors avoided the temptation to introduce the law to the state. If the state could not afford this luxury under the watch of Akume and Suswam when things were a little bit better, it should not by any means contemplate it now that the whole world knows that Benue is far from being buoyant.
More worrisome is the accumulated huge salary and pension burden, in addition to quantum loans, a task the incoming administration has to grapple with. Aside pensioners whose monthly stipend arrears are in years, Benue teachers, state and local government workers are said to be be owed 11, 8 and 10 months salary arrears respectively. Feelers from the state also suggest that teachers and workers have taken to farming and petty trading in order to make ends meet, prompting questions as to what legacies the outgoing government of Ortom wants to be remembered for.
We advise the the governor to immediately withdraw the contentious bill to save the poor state from the yoke of debt burden. For many in the state, and even beyond, the vicissitudes of the past eight years will not be forgotten in a hurry. And the bill, if allowed to pass, will compromise the integrity of the fragile economy of the state. And it is for this reason that we view the governor’s proposal as misplaced. We urge members of the Benue State House of Assembly to not only discard the bill, but also proceed to demand explanation for the humongous federal allocations and sundry resources that have accrued to the state since May, 2015. By that, we believe that the legislators will demonstrate patriotism by standing with the state and its people, rather than with avaricious politicians.