By Amos Aar
THE Benue State Government has called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to release the sum of sixty-two billion, nine hundred and twenty-two million (N62,922,000,000.00) to the state government for infrastructural development and payment of salary and pension arrears.
Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mike Inalegwu, made the call Tuesday while briefing journalists after the State Executive Council following its meeting presided over by Governor Samuel Ortom at Government House, Makurdi.
Inalegwu did not specifically state the type of fund belonging to the state being held by the CBN at the press briefing, but however told National Record following request for clarifications that it is counterpart funding.
He explained that the Benue State Government had accessed the sum of N42 billion for payment of salaries and pension, N20 billion for infrastructural projects and another 2 million US dollars which is equivalent to N922, 000,000.00 totaling N62,922,000,000.00 but the CBN allegedly refused to release the funds to Ortom’s administration for political reasons.
“The Benue State Government in our council also called on the Central Bank of Nigeria to release the N42 billion that we accessed. Nasarawa, Kogi, others were allowed to withdraw their money to clear salary arrears. But in our own case, the N42 billion that is supposed to be used to clear pension and salary arrears was not released. But the opponents went and told the federal government that if that money is given to Ortom’s administration, he will clear all the arrears of salary and pension. Then, there will be nothing they will use to castigate the Government of Ortom during campaigns. In politics, some people will take politics to a level that they will do things to the detriment of the people,” he claimed.
The commissioner stated that although Ortom’s administration must not collect the fund, it should be released to his successor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, within the first one month after his swearing-in since government is a continuum.
“We want the money, the N42 billion, to be released to the incoming government to clear it within the first one month.
We secured N20 billion infrastructural development fund which was released to Benue State is in the bank. This money was to be used to complete all the ongoing road projects and rural electrification but they refused to allow the Government of Benue State to access it. If you add that 20 billion to 42 billion, that’s 62 billion that is in the coffer.
“We are not bothered because if Fr. Alia comes, he will use it for the interest of Benue people. But for the avoidance of doubt, let the general public know that why we were unable to clear our own arrears as was done by other states was that the same money that was given to us was given to them but we were deprived of our own because of political reasons best known to them.
“There is another $2 billion USD that they didn’t allow us to access. It belongs to us and we have paid our counterpart funding”, he added.
Fielding questions from journalists on alleged recruitment of seven thousand (7,000) civil servants at the twilight of Ortom’s administration and a threat by the incoming administration of Rev. Fr. Alia to sack such workers, the commissioner denied the allegation, insisting that only 3,000 civil servants have been employed through due process and that will be illegal if Alia dismisses the workers.
He further explained that some casual staff employed over 10 years ago have also been converted to permanent workers towards the end of Ortom’s government.
“As the eye of the people, I want you [journalists] to disregard social media sponsorship. There is nothing like 7,000 people being recruited in Benue State. When Ortom administration came on board in 2019, the second tenure, he even promised that he was going to recruit five thousand (5000) teachers. But because of the diminishing finance of the state, that thing was reduced to 1,500 and the primary school teachers 1,500, making it 3000.
“Those who were casual workers for 10 years and were receiving N10,000 and they continued working unabated, the government felt that if somebody has contributed for fifteen years as casual worker, then it is required that such a person should be converted to a permanent staff.
“There’s no money that was given to newly employed staff. Those who were converted from casual workers to permanent workers, they will still join the line as normal staff and collect money. No chunk of money was paid to them”.
On the alleged threat to sack the civil servants said to have been employed in the last minute of Ortom’s administration without being paid for even one month, Inalegwu said: “This government took a diligent process in recruitment. In the past, they used political fiat by compiling names and issuing appointment letters. But this government advertised and everybody applied. You will go through the normal process, submit application, they will scrutinise your document and they will call you for interview. After the interview, you will go for the selection process at the civil service commission. From there, they will issue you appointment letter and you will go and do documentation. So, the recruitment process was covered by the approval of the state executive council.
“The issue of saying that if they did not pay them anything, another Government is coming to drop them, if the Government is coming to drop anybody in Benue State, if you are not the Government of Benue State, then do something that is anti-people. The people employed are citizens and children of Benue people. So, no Government will come and do that kind of thing and I know that the APC Government will know that the people that were recruited cut across all political parties and it’s not a political party affair and I believe such a thing will never happen”.
But an insider from a transition committee set up by the Governor-Elect, Rev. Fr Hyacinth Alia to liaise with Ortom’s transition committee for smooth handover on May 29 has already rejected the list of teachers recruited by under the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and the State Teaching Service Board (TSB).
Inalegwu also informed that the outgoing administration is leaving N20 billion in PENCOM coffers for the incoming administration to pay pensioners.
“You are aware that the Government introduced contributory pension fund in Benue State. As we are about to leave, the total money that is in that coffer now is about six (6) billion naira.
“The Government wants to let everybody know that we are going to establish a fund management body so that the fund will be yielding interest instead of keeping it with commercial banks. It is part of our handover notes so that the incoming administration will access the funds and they will continue from there. We want to let the public know that nobody has touched a Kobo out of that money. A printout of the account statement will soon be given to the incoming administration”, the Commissioner said.
Mr Inalegwu told Journalists that Governor Ortom will handover to Rev. Fr Hyacinth Alia on May 28, 2023 to pave way for a snappy transition ceremony on May 29.