Benue Civil Society groups and the Media met on the 30th day of April 2015 to discuss ways and modalities of partnering and engaging with the incoming administration towards the greater good of Benue State. The meeting convened by Lawyers Alert had the following groups in attendance:
- Nigeria Union Journalists (NUJ)
- Benue NGO Network (BENGONET)
- Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)
- Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT)
- Benue Network of People Living with HIV (NEPHWAN).
The CSO/Media partnership noted during the meeting that the Akume and Suswam administrations may have achieved more if organized citizens groups had been partnered with. Engagement would have been toward assistance in setting the agenda, collaborating and partnering including monitoring and demanding accountability in a much more effective and efficient manner.
The group then resolved to promote and protect the mandate given to the incoming Ortom administration by the people of Benue state by engaging actively with the new government. This decision is based on the invitation by the Ortom administration for calling active participation by the citizens.
In view of the above, therefore, the partnership after exhaustive discussions came up with the targets indicated below to be possibly achieved by the Ortom administration. They are aimed at helping to set the eventual long term agenda for Benue state.
The partnership noted the dire circumstances Nigeria is currently undergoing given the depleting of crude oil reserves and the fact that the country is broke and can hardly finance governance. Reliance on federal allocations is now almost a call for a death sentence on the state. Federal allocations are insufficient to take care of salaries, outside of other recurring expenditure. There will be zero finances for infrastructure and other projects.
In the circumstances, it must be acknowledged that Benue is in a deep pit that would need some filling. Given the above situation, the partners set up the following targets for the new administration.
- Manage expectations. Within the first 100 days the Ortom government should endeavor to inform the Benue people of the true and actual state of finances of the state in plain language and explain the challenges that lay ahead. This is to manage expectations and propel in the Benue people, the possible desire to assist and help govebnrmnet in any way possible toward achieving progress.
- In the first 100 days, the administration should convene a technical meeting regarding the state of Benue’s finances to be attended by indigenes of Benue knowledgeable in economics, development, and resource generation. This meeting will be for purposes of developing a State Resilience plan for Benue that will address the issue of how Benue will survive the current economic challenges. This is key and critical as it will provide a detailed and planed strategy towards dealing with this most pertinent issue that could derail governance and lead to citizens’ disconnect with the government.
- Within the first 100 days, the Ortom administration should convene and hold a Donor conference in Benue for the four big players in development (World Bank, EU, UNDP and the DFID) for the possible channels of synergizing and partnering with a view to proffering solutions to the challenge. An already developed Benue Resilience plan will be presented at the Donor conference. Agriculture, rural roads, electricity and other avenues that could propel rural development are expected to be covered in the plan.
- Tax Regime is an area that was also looked into by the CSO/Media partnership. The resolution for the Ortom administration is to, within 100 days, address the issue of BIRS with a view to regaining its lost glory. In getting citizens to pay their taxes in a dignified and humane manner rather than in a thuggish manner, community groups should be co-opted to help in addressing and creating awareness on the need for people of Benue to pay their taxes. When CSOs are leading the charge in awareness creation, more mileage will be won as citizens are distrustful of government believing taxes are usually stolen. The government should additionally implement specific projects especially rural projects like water and health facilities with income generated from taxation and show citizens the fruit of their tax money.
The Benue health sector is in a crisis. It is an emergency. There is a dearth of nurses with current statistics at 1 nurse to approximately 60 patients as against 1 nurse to 3 patients. As it were, the School of Nursing in Benue has lost its accreditation a while back, and can no longer produce nurses. As retirement takes its toll, the vacuum is in one word, frightening. The school of health technology that produces community health assistants, is gradually becoming a curse. The Assistants now set up quack clinics in the hinterlands and hurry citizens to their deaths, capitalizing on the absence of nurses and doctors.
The story is no different with Doctors. The medical school in Benue state university suffered the same fate as the School of nursing and to date is unable to produce doctors, though recently accredited.
Persons living with HIV are left behind regarding access to healthcare and other such services.
The Ortom administration should therefore, in 100 days, seek to
- Aggressively commence the process of halting the rot in the healthcare system by the development and implementation of a clear plan to address the issue of accreditation of the school of nursing through the provision of a well-equipped educational facility.
- Appoint technocrats into positions in the health sector and not politicians.
- Develop a health master plan that will involve civil society.
The Benue resident is today almost living a beggarly life owing to lack of resources. This is because the state is one where most salaried workers are employed by the government which then proceeds to deprive them of salaries for months at a time.
In 100 days therefore, the Ortom administration should:
- Endeavour to pay outstanding salaries by at least 70%. We shy away from insisting on 100% given the dire financial circumstances of the state
- Provide refuse bins across the state especially in commercial areas and markets to stem the spread of diseases through waste and dirt. In the long terms an incinerator to burn waste should be installed in large towns in Benue state.
- The issue of the Makurdi Greater Water Works should be spread open to the Benue people to unravel the mystery of 16 years of work on a water project that has never yielded tap water. The people have a right to know and thereafter be realistically expectant regarding the next steps.
- Cost of governance should be drastically reduced starting with the number of people on the entourage that follows the Governor to Abuja or on other trips. At present the Benue person funds each Abuja trip by over N15m per trip for the Governor. These huge amounts if reduced drastically can be plowed into the economy of the state over a period of time.
- The incoming administration is called upon to make appointments based on expertise, merit and skills and resist the urge to patronize party members if Benue is to forge ahead.
- Closely related to 5 above is the suggestion that the number of ministries be reduced and merged to enhance efficiency, financial probity and an all-round better administration.
The partnership will be meeting with the Governor Elect in the coming days to engage on this and other matters agreed on. The above are the highlights.