OUR COLLECTIVE VISION FOR A NEW BENUE
Today is a milestone in the history of our state. We thank the Almighty God for His grace and for being on our side. My Deputy, Engineer Benson Abounu and I, deeply appreciate our great party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, that provided us the platform to join the wind of change that is blowing across Nigeria. We salute the good people of Benue who massively voted us into office. We are humbled by your sacrifices and are mindful of the great task ahead. We pay tribute to past and present leaders of the state for the many achievements of the past 39 years. The most recent of these is Rt. Honourable, Dr. Gabriel Torwua Suswam, my predecessor, his Deputy, Chief Steven Lawani and members of the team that ran the state in the past eight years. We are hopeful that you will allow us to tap into your fountain of knowledge and experience as we face the challenges of governance in the state. Whatever you did right will be sustained; and whatever is lacking in what you did shall be boldly corrected.
2. Though we appreciate the achievements of the past 39 years, we acknowledge the fact that our state is far from reaching its potentials. Our collective vision for the state is yet to be fulfilled. The many challenges on our path notwithstanding, we must not stop in our determined march forward nor allow ourselves to be distracted from our vision of a healthy, united and prosperous Benue where capacity, potential, resourcefulness and integrity will converge to enable the state break into the league of top states in the country. Our administration will build private sector capacity and encourage it to thrive by creating the enabling environment. We shall encourage micro, small, and medium scale enterprises, trading as well as commercial and investment activities
3. Today, we step forward to accept the enormous responsibility and the trust reposed in us by your votes. We are fully aware of the many hurdles on our path. We step forward with an unwavering commitment to the Benue vision for which we invite you and others who stand as our friends, wherever they maybe, as stakeholders to the vision. Together, we shall be true to ourselves. We shall live the vision in words, deeds and determination. We shall hold and support one another for as long as it takes to realize the vision. No longer will a tiny colony of self-seekers deny us the urgency of this vision today nor in the next four years.
4. As midwives to the vision of a new Benue, the major policy thrust of my administration rests on five major pillars:
Good governance and revenue security;
Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM)-Based Education and Health Services;
Investment in critical infrastructure; and
Promoting gender equality and empowering women, youth, sports, and persons with disabilities.
The details of our development agenda will be made public in due course as part of our commitment to a collective ownership of the vision for a new Benue.
5. The expected outcome of our policy thrust as outlined above, will be an inclusive, accountable and result oriented government. In partnership with local communities we will ensure the security of lives and property in the state. We will do everything possible to contain attacks on our people by criminal gangs and herdsmen. We will through appropriate legislation, encourage those with livestock in the state to keep them on ranches as a way of forestalling incessant clashes with farmers. We will also move decisively against those of our youths and their patrons who have chosen a living out of unbridled acts of terror and thuggery. Government will no longer be a shield for these youths and those who patronize them. Whoever they may be and no matter how powerful, they will be brought to account. We call on all unlawfully armed persons who have been terrorizing innocent citizens to immediately surrender their arms, be free and get integrated into our reform program, or we shall pursue them down to their holes.
6. In agriculture, our expected outcome is to extend our calling as ‘Food Basket of the Nation”, to include processing of agro-products. We will do this by developing the sector through the introduction of simple technology driven systems and targeted interventions involving agro-processing, improved marketing channels, inputs and rural infrastructure. Education will be promoted as the backbone of the Benue vision focusing on quality, access and relevance at all levels. We will deliberately promote mathematics education in order to produce a generation of students whose numeracy skills will in the near future will translate to excellence in science and engineering. We will nurture and attract exceptional talents to ensure that our State University and other tertiary institutions are hubs of excellence not only primed to sustain our development but repositioned major players in the production of knowledge for the state and the nation. In accordance with our APC manifesto, modalities will be put in place to provide free, qualitative and compulsory education up to secondary school level as soon as the economic fortunes of the state improve.
7. Our vision will not be realized by chance, we will remain focused and not be distracted. We will advance in boldness and hit the ground running. Distinguished citizens of our great state, it is common knowledge that our state has a huge debt burden which we shall verify and disclose as soon as possible. This includes unpaid salaries and allowances as well as retirement benefits. With your understanding, patience and support, we will turn this situation around. We will be prudent, we will be efficient and we will be transparent and creative in the management of resources in our development agenda.
8. Thus the clarion call to our farmers and people in the rural areas is that we must attain the number one food producing state of the nation. Together, we can transform the rural landscape, create more jobs, wealth, and opportunities as well as improve rural habitats and livelihoods. To our women and vulnerable groups, we will together, strive to reduce gender inequality and other vulnerabilities that encourage poverty and limit potentials. To the youths of the state, you will no longer be dispensable tools in the hands of irresponsible politicians . We will commit to giving each of you the highest quality training in mathematics, sciences, technology and innovation as well as creative arts to position you for tomorrow as key drivers of the Benue vision. Sports will be utilized as a veritable tool for youth empowerment as talents will be trapped and given an enabling environment to develop up to the global stage.
Fellow citizens of Benue State, my heart bleeds for Benue workers and pensioners as they have suffered untold hardship as the issues of their salaries, wages and allowances have become a major challenge. We shall immediately make arrangements to determine and verify our indebtedness and work towards the immediate payment of outstanding workers’ salaries and allowances of pensioners. The Bible states that the worker deserves his wages, on that score government must ensure that wages are paid as at when due.
To teachers at all levels in the state, you are the key to unlocking the major challenges in education. We will not only support you but rebuild the school system and enable you to take our schools to the next level. To Benue citizens in diaspora, we will engage and challenge you continuously to buy into and own the Benue vision. The state must benefit from your wealth of experiences, suite of competencies and skills. We will partner and provide a place for you in the rebirth of the state. To our entrepreneurs, civil society organisations and other non-state actors, investors and other multilateral development partners, we open our arms to a warm embrace of opportunities that will be mutually rewarding and beneficial to all.
9. My dear compatriots, as your governor, I pledge to govern with the fear of God. This shall translate to core values including transparency, accountability, fairness, justice, humility, selflessness, disciple, integrity, integration, forgiveness and reconciliation which shall engender peace and unity as well as make development inevitable. We shall have zero tolerance for corruption and any government official who misappropriates public funds will be punished. Our philosophy is that which regards public office as an opportunity to serve and not that for amassing illegal wealth. Those who wish to make money shall be encouraged to get into the private sector and do business.
Our administration will promote growth and development of our state in accordance with the democratic principles of due consultation, full disclosure, transparency, inclusive participation, responsive leadership and the rule of law. Unfruitful expenditures will be discouraged, and never, never again will individuals be allowed to corner the commonwealth of the state to become their personal estate because they are privileged to be in political governance. I assure you that we will use every legal means to recover such treasures annexed from the state. On our part, we promise to wholeheartedly sweat and to toil in your service to the meaningful satisfaction of all such that by the time we leave office, Benue people will be on their knees thanking God and celebrating enhancement in their lives and environments.
We will constitute a participatory government where citizens will have their say and way. We will work to allay the fear of marginalisation of the minority ethnic groups in the state be you Akweya, Etulo, Nyifon, Ufia, Agatu, Jukun, or Hausa, you wll enjoy the rights and privileges of the other better known Tiv, Idoma and Igede. The Igbo, Yoruba, Edo, Nupe, Ebira, Ijaw and all other groups who are resident in the state will be treated as stakeholders. By the grace of God, Benue will become greater and we will all share in her greatness.
10. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we have gone past the time for politicking. I am the governor of those who voted for me. I am the governor of those who did not vote for me. I am the governor of those who did not vote. I am governor of all. For this reason, we extend our hand of partnership to all and especially political leaders across the divides.
11. Let me specially convey our very sincere appreciation to the Chief Judge of Benue State, the Honourable Justice Iorhemen Hwande for performing this constitutional and sacred duty that has conferred on Engineer Benson Abounu and my humble self, the authority of Deputy Governor and Governor respectively. My Lord, we thank you and appreciate the commendable manner you have led the Benue judiciary to the sterling and enviable status it has attained in this country. We also acknowledge the contributions of the Speaker and all members of the Benue State House of Assembly for their contributions to the development of the state.
12. It is pertinent to commend the national leaders of the APC, especially Senator Dr. George Akume and his dear wife, Chief Mrs. Regina Akume, JP, for their vision and passion for Benue. The contributions of Chief Audu Ogbeh, another illustrious son of the state to the change movement must also be acknowledged and appreciated just like the efforts of the APC state chairman, Comrade Abba Yaro, and all members of the state executive committee of the party. We will not forget the contributions of Chief Akange Audu, Professor Steve Ugbah, and Chief Mike Iordye, whose noble contributions to the development of the party have brought us this hour of glory. We also acknowledge the sacrifices and contributions of Distinguished Senator Chief Barnabas Gemade to our victory. I commend all those who have won various elections to serve the people of Benue in different capacities. This group contributed immensely to the collective victory of the party. My appreciation will be incomplete if I fail to commend the members of the Ortom/Abounu Campaign Organization led by Professor Ugbah and Strategy Committee led by Professor Dennis Ityavyar, for their diligence and hard work.
For an opposition party to wrestle power from a ruling party is not a picnic in a garden. It has been a long marathon in the desert. We thank you for your resilience. Many who started this journey with us are not here today to witness this glorious moment. Many lost their lives in the course of this journey. Even on Election Day, some were killed and several injured because they resisted the attempts to subvert the will of the people. Once again we sympathize with families who lost loved ones and pray for the peaceful repose of the souls of the deceased. Persuasive canvassing of votes remains the most civilized means of soliciting for political power from the electorate. In their memory therefore, let us resolve that, never again will any politician find any attraction in violence and other electoral malpractices as a legitimate means of acquiring democratic power in Benue State.
We have resolved to strive to reform our politics such that power and privilege would no longer shut down the voice of the people. If we must run a government in which everybody is involved; a peoples government, we must put aside personal advantage so that we can feel the pains and see the promise of Benue. It in this regard that I wish to drop all my titles preferring to be addressed as Samuel Ortom. We must give the seat of government back to the people to whom it belongs. To eliminate that distance between the government and the people, the seat of Government in Benue State will no longer be called Government House but Benue Peoples House. This we believe will serve as a constant reminder that we hold our positions of authority in trust for the people and that the people are more important than anything else in a democracy.
Honestly, I always wonder where I would have been without my charming wife, on whose loving shoulders I always received inspiration at very challenging times. From the bottom of my heart I say thank you my baby, Eunice. All members of my family have borne the trauma occasioned by my political participation. I commend my children and grand children all other members of my immediate and extended family for their patience and understanding. I have very reliable friends, who have sacrificed everything to support my ambition. I sincerely appreciate and thank them all.
Before I end this address, let me salute the glorious memory of our heroes and founders of modern Benue; Chief Dr. J.S Tarka, Chief J.C Obande, Chief Apollos Aper Aku and Most Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu. They were great men of vision, and we shall endeavour to build on the foundation they laid for our dear state.
An African proverb counsels that; “if you want to go fast, you go alone but if you want to go far, you go with someone”. I want to go far with all the people of Benue. I am trusting God Almighty that my journey with you to our New Benue will be a fruitful one.
13. Finally, as we depart from this arena, I wish you all journey mercies to your respective homes. The central message that you should carry back and share with the good people of Benue State is this: You voted for CHANGE and change has come. The change we advocate is not a mere party slogan but the wake-up call for a people’s revolution. It is the herald of a new way of doing things. This change is not about Ortom or Abounu but requires that the hand of every citizen be on deck to create the Benue of our dreams. We cannot and will not fail because, in God we trust.
Thank you and God bless you.