- Governor Samuel Ortom has declared a state of emergency on payment of salaries in Benue state
- This is as labour unions in the state are threatening to go on strike
- The governor also gave an insight into the enormous wage bill of the state and the debts his administration inherited
Governor Samuel Ortom has declared a state of emergency on payment of salaries in Benue state as labour unions in the state insist on prompt payment of salaries, despite the financial realities on ground.
The governor made this known during an interactive session with journalists on Abuja on Thursday, September 21.
Governor Ortom lamented the high wage bill in the state implemented by the past administration in the state, which has made things difficult for his government.
He said: “A permanent secretary is collecting N230,000 in other states, my own state we are paying 500,000 and it cuts across board. I tried to find out from my colleagues in Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, Ogun and their wage bill is around N8 billion.
“You begin to wonder, Kano state with 44 local governments with that huge population, and they are paying a wage bill of N8 billion, so what business has Benue state got to be paying around the same amount.
“The workers themselves know that what they are collecting is far more than what their colleagues in other states are collecting.”
The governor stated that ideally, wage bill should take about 30% of the state's income, but added that, “today we pay more than 100%.”
He pleaded with the Benue people to understand that government at all levels have challenges, especially in terms of financing and funding the economy.
He noted that it is the collective responsibility of both the government and the governed to contribute towards the goals of achieving success.
“Times are difficult. Just like many other states, I cannot pay salaries as at when due, it is not something that I am responsible for, but as a leader, I take responsibility today as there is no other governor.
“I am looking for everything under the sun to surmount this challenge of payment of salaries, because my state is more of a civil service state so the economy is more driven by the civil service.
“When salaries are not paid, an average person in Benue state is affected. So, what I think we should do is to work together,” the governor said.
Governor Ortom also gave insight on the salaries, pensions and gratuities he inherited when he assumed office in 2015 and how the state used the bailout fund released by the federal government.
His words: “When I came in, I inherited N69 billion arrears of salaries, pensions and gratuities. The federal government did intervene by giving us a loan which some people called bailout of N28 billion.
“We operated it very well and because of the screening approach we adopted, out of the N12.5 billion that was allocated to the state service, we were able to save N1.6 billion which we injected back to the treasury.
“At the local government level, we adopted a screening method that was able to block the leakages and the loopholes and then we removed all the padding. We were able to save N1.4billion out of the N15.5 billion that we received.”
The governor said those accusing of government of misappropriating bailout funds are not fair to him.
He announced that the books of the government are open and verifiable, even as he said anti-corruption agencies are free to come and check the processes adopted by the government.
His words: “We are ready to make it available. No single kobo was diverted from the bailout account. We are accountable and we are ready to dish out whatever information that people may need.”
He continued: “Today, the reason why I’m having arrears of 6 months at the state level, 9 months at the local level is because of the shortfall.
“When I came in, I inherited a wage bill of N8.2 billion naira. This excluded teachers minimum wage. When we came in, we decided that teachers should not have a different salary from the other categories of workers, and it went to N8.5billion.
“Meanwhile, what we have been getting at the state level from the federation account on the average is about N6 billion naira. So, when you have a wage bill of N8.5 billion and you are having N6 billion, what happens?
“We went through various process of screening, bio-metrics and all that, currently we are doing the modifying table payments. We are sacking ghost workers and some of the leakages that were existent. We were able to reduce this wage bill to N7.8 billion, that is where we are now.
“We are having a deficit of N1.8billion every month. But as you know, government must run. There are security issues. I must travel, my commissioners must travel, those operating with me must travel. The permanent secretaries must attend critical meetings that can make things work for governance.
“There are certain things that government must do and there are critical things that must be undertaken. Even as we are owing other categories of workers, Benue State University whose wage bill is around N600million have been paid up to date because of the importance we attach to education.
“We have more than 35,000 students on campus and these are young men. We don’t want them floating the streets and indulging in various crimes. We prefer to keep them on campus. This is what we have done.”
The governor announced that he already has the approval of the state House of Assembly to borrow money, but added that he is restricted, except approvals are secured from the federal ministry of finance and DMO.
NAIJ.com gathered that Benue state is one of the few stated that has implemented the minimum wage, making it difficult for the government to meet its financial obligations.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s minister of power, works and housing, Babatunde Fashola, on Friday, September 15 gave an insight into how Nigeria slipped into economic recession.
The former Lagos state governor said the recession didn’t happen overnight and attributed the development to poor budgetary funding by the administration of former president, Goodluck Jonathan.
Watch Nigerians talk about Nigeria's exit from recession on NAIJ.com TV: