HANDOVER SPEECH BY HIS EXCELLENCY, RT. HON GABRIEL TORWUA SUSWAM, PH.D, CON, OUT-GOING GOVERNOR TO THE PEOPLE OF BENUE STATE, AT THE OCCASION OF OFFICIAL HANDOVER UPON COMPLETION OF TENURE
28th MAY, 2015.
My dear people of Benue state,
It is with immense gratitude to God Almighty that I address you today, may be for the last time in the capacity of Governor of our dear state.
As you are aware, my tenure as Governor comes to close to a close on May 29, 2015. And in compliance with the provisions of the nation’s Constitution, I am required by law to handover the machinery of government to another person who will occupy the seat of Governor. Following the outcome of the April 11, 2015 governorship election, Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom who was declared winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the one who shall be taking over from me. Once again, I congratulate Chief Ortom over his victory at the polls and wish him a successful tenure of office.
For me, it has been a very interesting time working with all segments of the Benue society to provide leadership to our dear state. Since May 29, 2007 when I assumed office up to this moment, it has been a period of studentship-learning about the capacities, talents and dispositions of the Benue people. It was also an opportunity to offer leadership in both peaceful times but also crisis period. In the course of offering leadership, we enjoyed the times, we also experienced frustrations and encountered a number of challenges that time will not permit me to recount here. In all I found Benue people to be of immense faith in the future of their state, a people with unquestionable commitment to equity, fairness and justice, all of which constitute basic ingredients of democracy. It is in the process of attaining these values or the pursuit of these principles that sometimes portray the Benue person as being uncompromising, arrogant, jealous and vengeful.
Whatever the experiences we had in the course of providing leadership these eight years, the time has come for us to leave.
As written in the scriptures in the book of Ecclesiastes 3:1 “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” There was time to assume office and now is time to handover.
I am handing over the reins of the government with a great sense of fulfillment based on our modest accomplishments. Surely, we did not take Benue to the enviable and lofty heights we desired and worked rigorously to attain. But certainly, we have laid a solid foundation for the growth of our dear state which I believe the succeeding administration will leverage on.
At the onset of our administration, we firmly resolved to correct the gross infrastructural deficit in both our rural and urban communities which made life most unbearable in many respects. Armed with our development Blueprint, “Our Benue, Our Future” (OBOF) we went out most aggressively to provide different kinds of infrastructure to our people. Details of our successes in this regard and even our challenges have been captured in the comprehensive handing over notes which shall be availed the incoming administration. It is however, pertinent to highlight some of the modest achievements our administration has recorded in some of the sectors of our state economy.
Our commitment to the construction of roads across the state was borne out of the realization that as a predominantly agrarian community, our people need rural roads to link up with urban and commercial centres for the purpose of conveying agricultural produce to places where they would get value for their effort.
In this direction our administration embarked on a number of roads including Anyiin-Ugbah-Amaafu; Eke-Olengbencho-Ugbokolo-Otukpa; Utonkon-Okpoga-Owukpa-Orokam; Ge-Ikyobo-Agbeede-Anshagba; Adikpo-Ikyogen-Jato-Aka; Otukpo-Utonkon-Igumale; Otukpo-Ugbokpo-Oshigbudu-Obagaji; Zaki-Biam-Chito-Gbeji; Sankera-Sai; Daudu-Gbajimba; Vandeikya-Koti-Yough-Adikpo with a spur at Tse-Mker; Taraku-Naka; Y-Junction-Zaki-Biam Yam market; Oju-Obusa-Utonkon; Tor-Donga-Kasar-Zaki-Biam and Wannune-Ikpa roads; among others. In addition to these roads, we embarked on the construction of township roads and streets in our major towns of Makurdi, Gboko, Katsina-Ala and Otukpo as part of our urban renewal programme. Most of these roads were completed and commissioned while some are at various stages of completion. Details of the contracts awarded on the roads and the level of completion attained is contained in the handing over documents to the incoming administration.
We are gladdened that our intervention in this sector has substantially eased transportation in the rural areas and reduced the hardship faced by our people in the transportation of goods and delivery of services across the state.
Our intervention in the water sub-sector was deliberately targeted at ensuring the provision of portable water to the people to protect them from water borne diseases. On assumption of office, we embarked on the construction of three mega water projects simultaneously in Makurdi, Otukpo and Katsina-Ala. The Greater Makurdi Water Works with the capacity of 100,000 cubic meters of water per day has been completed and commissioned and remains one of the flagship projects of our administration giving the comprehensive and hi-tech engineering requirements of the project. We followed through this project with the award of contract for the reticulation of the water to evacuate the clean water processed at the plant to the Makurdi metropolis and its environs. It is expected that on completion, the perennial shortage of water experienced by residents in the Makurdi area will become a thing of the past. The water projects in Otukpo and Katsina-Ala with 15,000 cubic meters of water per-day capacities each were also completed and commissioned.
In addition, we embarked on the Anyiin and Otukpa mini-water schemes; rehabilitated the rural water schemes in some communities built since the second republic. This is apart from over 1000 motorized and hand-operated borehole projects spread across different communities delivered through different programmes like the Benue Rural Water and Sanitation Agency (BERWASA), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and some development partners without counter-part funding.
Education remains the second highest employer of labour apart from Agriculture. This sector was therefore accorded priority attention from primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
At the primary level, our intervention was in the massive recruitment, training and retraining of teachers, enhanced supervision and inspection, quality control and effective planning and administration of the public primary schools. We aggressively provided classrooms, toilets, libraries, laboratories, teaching and instructional materials and ensured general uplift of our primary schools. We introduced new and more enduring designs for the classrooms and insisted on the use of qualitative materials to ensure durability.
In our second term alone (2011-2015), we executed 576 infrastructural projects in our primary schools at the cost of about N6.3 billion consisting mainly the construction of new classroom blocks, rehabilitation of a few existing classrooms, construction of staff offices, stores, VIP toilets and provision of dual desks and benches for the pupils, chairs and tables for the teachers among others. About 80 percent of the projects have been fully completed. Similar activities took place during our first term as well. Details of the location of these projects across the 23 LGAs of the state are contained in the Handing over notes to the incoming administration. We achieved this level of success because of our diligence in providing the counterpart funds to access the grants from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).
Although so much was done in this sub-sector, a lot still needs to be done because of the high-level of decay in our primary school infrastructure over the years.
At the secondary level, we built three new Technical Colleges in the three Senatorial Districts at Otukpa, Garagboughul and Anyiin to increase opportunities in vocational and technical education for our youths. We also converted 13 secondary schools into Science and Technical Colleges. We constructed new classrooms and staff offices and carried out the renovation of facilities in a number of government schools and colleges. We introduced ICT training in some schools and colleges on a pilot basis as part of the strategy to boost ICT knowledge among our children at the secondary school level.
Our Tertiary institutions also received a big boost in our effort to reposition the education sector. Our administration ensured the accreditation of courses in all our tertiary schools- the Benue State University, Benue Polytechnic Ugbokolo, Colleges of Education Katsina-Ala and Oju, the Akperan Orshi college of Agriculture, Yandev and the College of Advanced and Professional Studies (CAPS) Makurdi.
We improved infrastructure on these campuses with the provision of structures, access roads, water and electricity projects to create a more conducive environment for learning and research. Some of the projects include the Convocation Square at BSU, the Faculty of Law at BSU, Lecture Theatres, Library, Departmental and Faculty Offices and administrative offices amongst others. Some of these projects were carried out with support of Tetfund and other Federal intervention programmes. The campuses of our Tertiary institutions are wearing a new look. Thanks to our various intervention programmes.
It was in the bid to further improve the status of the Akperan Orshi College of Agriculture, Yandev that the State Executive Council approved change of the status of the Akperan Orshi College of Agriculture into the Polytechnic of Agriculture. It is our hope that with its new status, the College will benefit from Tetfund and other Federal grants being enjoyed by other similar institutions in the state.
It is well known that agriculture is the mainstay of our state economy providing over 80 percent of employment opportunities to our teeming populace. In realization of this therefore, our administration invested substantially in the agricultural sector. The hub of our agricultural programme was increased productivity through mechanization of our farming practices. In this direction, we procured 148 tractors which were given to farmers at subsidized rates and with favourable payment terms. We also procured about 5000 knapsack sprayers to enhance weed control on the farms. Like the tractors the sprayers were also sold to farmers at subsidized prices.
Our administration extended our subsidy regime to the provision of inputs particularly fertilizers, improved seedlings, harvesters and produce preservation chemicals. The combined impact of all these was witnessed in increased output in crops and livestock and by extension increased earnings to our farmers.
Our agricultural development policies encouraged the emergence of several small to medium scale fish farms, poultry and other livestock thereby achieving diversification from crops farming.
In order to add value to the produce from our orange growers, we completed and leased out the Benfruits Company at the Industrial Layout in Makurdi to Teragro, a subsidiary of Transcorp Plc. The company has successfully engaged in the production of orange concentrates for export.
In our determination to transform the agricultural sector, we initiated a partnership with the Iowa State University of Science and Technology for the swine and crop improvement programme. Through this programme we introduced highly improved variety of pigs at the Swine Demonstration farm Yandev and a number of officials on modern crop and farm management practices. In spite of the criticisms against the Swine development programme, this project has become not only a huge success story but very popular with farmers as the piglets from this farm now form the stock in most of the hog operations not only in the state but also in other parts of the country.
A similar partnership with the State of Vietnam for rice development is almost at the take off state since we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vietnamese Institution of Agriculture. The state of Vietnam has the highest per hectare yield in rice production in Asia and the partnership is intended for farmers to learn the best practices in rice production from the Asian country. This programme is highly recommended to the incoming administration for continuity in the interest of our teeming farmers.
Another MOU was signed with International investors from Mexico for Green Houses Development. The joint Venture company BENSANCARLOS has started with a site at Howe in Gwer Local Government Area to develop the first Green House for tomatoes. The joint venture also plans to reactivate the Raav Cattle Centre and transform it to a diary farm.
In order to arrest the rural-urban migration, we embarked upon an aggressive programme of rural transformation which entailed provision of electricity in our rural communities, construction of bridges, town halls and youth centres. On the whole about 150 communities benefited from our rural electrification projects. Several communities benefited from other rural infrastructural projects all of which are captured in the handing over notes to the incoming administration.
Our commitment to health care provision was borne out of the fact that a healthy population is more likely to be more productive hence the old adage that “Health is wealth”. Our intervention in this sector was to extend health care services to the greatest number possible in both the rural communities and urban centres. In this wise, we built and commissioned seven General Hospitals in Otukpa, Buruku, Obagaji, Idekpa, Lessel, Ugbah and Naka where there was none in existence. We thus ensured that each Local Government Headquarters has a General Hospital for secondary Health care services. In addition, we carried out a comprehensive rehabilitation of the old General Hospitals and provided ambulances for emergency cases. These hospitals and the ones in existence were complimented by rural health clinics built directly by our administration and those built under the MDGs programme. In order to ensure coordination, we established the Benue Primary Health Care Development Agency to manage our primary health care programmes. We addressed the problem of shortage of drugs and medications in our hospitals with a drug revolving fund of about N1.5 billion. This policy has proved very helpful in solving the problem of lack of drugs in our hospitals. We carried out routine immunization as required under the National Health policy for the killer childhood diseases like polio, malaria, meningitis, yellow fever etc. Our resilience in public health was tested during the outbreak of the dreaded Ebola Virus in 2014. Although we shared borders with Enugu which was affected by the epidemic, we ensured that Benue was spared this health disaster.
Our flagship project in the health sector was the completion and commissioning of the Benue State University Teaching Hospital which was started by the previous administration. This project enabled us to secure the long sought after accreditation of the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council for the School of Health Sciences at BSU and made it possible for the Medical Students who stagnated in one class for upward of seven years to move to the Clinical stage of their medical training.
Apart from serving as a medical training institute, the hospital has saved Benue people the agony of having to travel distant places for referral medical services. We complimented this with the policy of bonding our medical students where we placed all medical students from the fourth year on salary GL06 in the state civil service with the agreement that they would work for the state for a specified period upon graduation.
Our health policies like free medical treatment for senior citizens above 70 years, free treatment for pregnant women and children were all targeted at ensuring that we had a healthy population.
Peace and Security
The maintenance of security was given topmost priority by our administration. On assumption of office, we realized the imperative of peace and security as a sine qua non to development and took desperate measures to secure the state. We secured presidential approval to constitute a Joint Military/Police PATROL Task Force which we code named – Operation Zenda. The security task force was regularly equipped with vehicles, communication gadgets and provided the necessary logistics to operate in the 23 LGAs of the state. The establishment of this security outfit went a long way to check the activities of criminals in the rural areas as well as the urban centres. The Provision of security and restriction of commercial motorcycles by 8.00pm combined to restore night life in our towns and semi-urban centres which was hitherto comatose for fear of criminals. We worked closely with the police and military establishments in the state on security issues through continuous support with vehicles and logistics. For instance we procured 4 No. Armoured Personnel Carriers for the state police command and ensured regular supply of patrol vehicles throughout our tenure of office for security patrols.
The incessant clashes between our people and communities from bothering states like Taraba, Cross-River, Ebonyi, Nassarawa, Enugu and Kogi states were brought to their barest minimum because of our conscious effort to engage with my Governor-colleagues and other leaders to build understanding and confidence between our peoples.
In spite of our commitment and consciousness on security issues, we were challenged by the incessant clashes between the Tiv farmers and Fulani herdsmen on one hand and herdsmen and Agatu farmers on the other. These crisis climaxed in 2013/2014 with the escalation of the attacks which affected Guma, Makurdi, Gwer-West, Logo, Katsina-ala, Buruku, Kwande and Gwer LGAs. This regrettable incidence led to the killing of hundreds of our people, the wanton destruction of farms, valuable property and the displacement of thousands of our people. The negative effects of the crisis are still with us in spite of the measures we took to cushion the adverse consequences on the affected people.
I, however, make bold to state that but for the timely intervention and the sustained effort to tackle the crisis from different dimensions, the story would have been a lot sadder than what it was. I am fulfilled that no part of our land was ceded to the invaders even though their fundamental interest was to dispossess our people of their ancestral lands for grazing of their cattle.
The focus of our administration in the second term was poverty alleviation and wealth creation. In the rigorous pursuit of this policy, we distributed N2 billion credit facilities to purely agricultural-based small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to enhance agricultural processing to add value to the crops for increased earnings for farmers. Another 500 million was also given out as loans for SMEs through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry as part of the poverty alleviation packages for the unemployed youth. We also accessed another N2billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMs) revolving loan scheme, which we gave out as loans through some designated community banks to individuals, corporate bodies and cooperative societies. In partnership with CBN, we secured the location of the Enterprises Development Centre (EDC) in Makurdi for the North-Central geo-political zone. The Centre has trained thousands of youths in the zone in skills acquisition programmes with Benue taking her fair share of the trainees.
Our implementation of the SURE-P programme was by far one of the most comprehensive in the country. We operated the programme under six schemes. Graduate Internship Scheme engaged 2,300; Nurses and Midwives -500; Games and Sports -500, Environment Sanitation -2,500; Education -1,000; Skills Acquisition -2000 and Transport Schemes.
On the whole a total of 8,800 youths and unemployed people were engaged in the programme under the various schemes, while 20 buses were given out to Transporters at favourable repayment terms under the Transport scheme. Participants in the schemes were paid monthly stipends ranging from N20, 000 for the Graduate Internship Scheme, N15, 000 for Education, Nurses and Midwives Scheme, N10, 000 for participants in the Environment and Sanitation, Games and Sports and Skills Acquisition Schemes. This scheme however, suffered from paucity of funds arising from the gross reduction of prices of crude oil in the international market since the SURE-P programme was conceived to be funded with proceeds from the sale of oil above the budgeted bench mark prices.
In consideration of the hardship that would be encountered by our youths with the discontinuation of the programme, we decided to convert 2,300 participants from the Graduate internship Scheme to regular staff in the state civil service based on identified personnel needs in the respective Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
As part of our poverty alleviation strategy, we procured tricycles and issued out to unemployed youths on favourable repayment conditions. The Benue Taxi Scheme was also launched primarily to provide employment opportunities to our youth and also alleviate urban transport problems faced by commuters in Makurdi, Gboko and Otukpo.
Commerce and Industries
The policy trust of our administration in the commerce and industry sector was to create wealth and employment opportunities as well as create a conducive environment for investment activities to thrive.
In this direction, we overtook the resuscitation of some of our moribund industries by leasing them out to investors under various terms and conditions. The Taraku Mills, Lobi Plastic Company, Yuteco Fruit Juice Company Gboko and Fruit Juice Company in Makurdi, were leased out to private investors. Similarly, we leased out the Benue Hotels Limited and Makurdi International Hotels to private investors. The Hospitality outfits have been undergoing completion and turn around respectively and will soon commence operations.
The Agro Millers in North bank, Makurdi was out rightly sold by receivers on the basis of a court judgment against the company due to its indebtedness to financial institutions. We carried out the installation of plant and machinery at the Wannune Mango and Tomato processing factory and also established the Katsina-ala Yam Flour Processing Company to add value to the huge quantities of yams produced in the state for national and international markets.
We built and commissioned the New Makurdi International Market with over 1000 shops and other facilities to boost commercial activities and create jobs for market women and the youths.
Bond Issue/Commercial Debts
The huge quantum of infrastructural projects embarked upon by our administration and the down turn in the national economy with concomitant adverse effects on the state’s financial resources compelled us to approach the Capital market for a loan package to finance some of our infrastructural projects. The bond option became most attractive in view of the favourable borrowing and repayment terms. The bond remains one of the cheapest sources of long-term funding for Federal and state governments hence the preference by most states of the Federation.
In our first outing we accessed the sum of N13 billion from the market while in the second we borrowed N5billion. The first bond was utilized to complete some important projects such as the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, the Greater Makurdi Water Works and some road projects across the state in line with the approval received from the capital market regulatory authorities- Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). We have continued to repay the bond as at when due. In the second bond issue, we applied for N5billion but N4.9 billlion was accessed. The proceeds of the bond were however, converted by our bankers in lieu of earlier facilities obtained to pay workers salaries in the wake of dwindling accruals from the Federation Account. On the whole, a total of N6, 834,053,397.51 is outstanding on the bond issue. The balance will be exited by 16th May, 2016 based on the monthly repayment structure from Federation Account Allocation deductions. On the other hand, our exposure to commercial bank loans at the moment stands at N2, 510,836,875.21. This brings our total indebtedness to N9, 344,890,273.00.
It is pertinent to point out that the approval extended to our state to access the bond is a mark of confidence in the management of our economy given the rigorous and transparent processes involved in a bond transaction, part of which is the transparent monitoring by the parties-issuing houses, bankers to the issue, the stock brokers, solicitors to the offer and the Nigerian Stock Exchange itself among others, to ensure the borrowed funds are applied for the purpose for which the loan was taken.
Since assumption of office, we made the welfare of workers our top priority. It was clear to us that as engine of government, the civil servants needed to be motivated if government was to deliver on its promises. And we succeeded to a large extent in attending to the needs of our workers. In the first few months of our administration, we cleared the arrears of salaries owed the state workers, Local Government staff ad Teachers by the previous administration. The vexed issue of June and July 2006 salaries owed Primary School Teachers was paid in the first two months of our administration. We lifted the six-year old ban on promotions, annual increment and payment of annual leave bonuses. We equally embarked on aggressive training programmes for Teachers and other Civil Servants to improve their capacities to deliver more qualitative services to the people.
As part of the welfare package, we changed the face of the State Civil Service secretariat with new furnishing to replace the dilapidated furniture inherited from Benue Plateau State when the state was created in 1976. The furnishing initiative included the provision of a 1000KVA generator, internet services and improved environment to ensure some level of comfort. In the same vein, offices at the Ministries of Agriculture, Lands and Survey, Works and Transport were also renovated to provide better working environment for the workers while a new office complex was built for the Ministry of Rural Development and Co-operatives. The office complex for the Benue State Examinations Board is nearing completion.
In addition, the Benue State House of Assembly complex was renovated and we commenced construction of a new office complex to ease accommodation problems of Members and staff of the Legislative Arm. The Judiciary Headquarters was renovated while a new Magistrate and High Court complex was built in Makurdi. Other court rooms were either renovated or constructed across the state.
The most important of our welfare programmes for workers was the implementation of new salary structure across the civil service. On assumption of office in 2007, we increased the salary of workers without any prompting from the labour unions. The least paid worker moved from N5,500 to N7,500 per month in 2007. We raised the minimum wage to N8,428 in July 2011 and were one of the first states in the Federation to implement the N18,000 national minimum wage for workers in the country unilaterally imposed by the Federal Government. After negotiations with the labour unions, we settled for a package that was the highest among the 19 Northern states. This situation increased our monthly wage bill to about N2.7billion. This was very much higher than the total monthly wage bill of N555million we paid in June 2007 on assumption of office. In spite of this astronomical rise in our wages, we continued to pay workers salaries as at when due. The current delays in payment of salaries started late last year due to consistent shortfalls in the monthly accruals from the Federal Account. The continued reduction in our monthly allocation posed a challenge on our capacity to attend to pensions and gratuities for our retiring workers and senior citizens. Consequently, workers salaries are owed from February 2015, while pensions for our senior citizens is owed from December, 2014. This situation is highly regrettable and we sympathize with our workers over their plight even though this was a national problem which arose from falling prices of crude oil in the international market and the decrease in the demand for Nigerian crude oil. As a component part of the Federation therefore, we got our fair but undesirable share of this national economic problem.
The foregoing has only been a summary of the activities of our administration in the last eight years of our stewardship. Details of our activities are well documented in the handing over notes to the incoming administration and for posterity.
Fellow citizens of Benue State,
In the course of providing leadership to our dear state, we had to take decisions sometimes very difficult decisions when it became incumbent on us to act in the interest of the state and all the overall best interest of our people.
As in every human choice, many people were positively affected by the decisions we took. By the same token, some of the decisions did not go down well with some persons. As I exit the stage, I sincerely apologize to all those who might have been at the receiving end of some of our decisions, policies and actions.
On my part, I have forgiven all those who wronged me in many ways in the course of my service to the state. This is time for healing and we all need to reconcile with one another if we must move forward in our quest to develop our dear state.
I cannot conclude this address without placing on record the immeasurable support I received from certain people either in their individual capacities or as a group. I wish to specially acknowledge the support I enjoyed from my dear wife, Arc. (Mrs.) Yemisi Dooshima Suswam, who firmly held the home front, making it possible for me to have the stability of mind to render service to the state. My appreciation goes to my children, siblings, grandmother and members of my extended family for their support and cooperation throughout our tenure of office.
My Deputy, Chief Steven Lawani solidly stood by me giving wise counsel and effectively assisting me to steer the ship of state. Our relationship has blossomed over the years and goes beyond the official. I salute this gentleman for his invaluable contributions to the development or our dear state.
The other arms of government – the State House of Assembly and the Judiciary played their constitutionally assigned roles which all combined to enable us record the modest achievements we did. I deeply appreciate the Speakers, Principal Officers and members of both the 6th and 7th Assemblies, the Chief Judge, and members of the Judiciary for their various contributions.
Similarly, I specially thank members of the State Executive Council, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants, Personal Assistants, Permanent Secretariats, Heads of extra-Ministerial Departments, Civil Servants, Security Agencies, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Muslim Community and all my personal staff for their wonderful contributions towards our success.
I wish to specially thank the Executive Committees of our great party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at various levels for not only providing us the platform upon which we aspired and eventually got the opportunity to govern the state, but also for standing solidly behind us. May God Almighty bless and prosper you in all your undertakings.
I enjoin you all the good people of Benue State to support the incoming administration so that it can take Benue even to greater height. Since government is a continuum, it’s expected that the in-coming administration will continue from where we stopped and possibly take the state to the next level of development.
Although I am leaving the stage as Governor, I will not be separated from you in spirit. I remain an ardent advocate and Ambassador of Benue State wherever and whenever circumstances demand that I stand for our people.
I, therefore, assure you of my continued service to the state in other areas of human endeavor.
As Apostle Peter said in the Acts of Apostles “Gold and Silver Have I not” the only thing I have is to say A BIG THANK YOU.
Thank you and May God bless us all.
Makurdi, 28th May, 2015.