The politics of Ortom’s probe

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By Sunday Ogli

WHERE service to fatherland is recognised, leaders like Chief Samuel Ortom, the immediate past Governor of Benue State are treated with honour. But that is not so in this clime where achievements and good intentions of leaders are politicised and treated with disrespect.

This is a man who for eight years, (2015-2023), sacrificed his comfort and plum of office to fight and protect his people.

For eight years, he was persecuted predated, hounded, relegated, rubbished and ‘banished’ from the comity of governors for daring to cry out when his people were chased out of their ancestral homes and farmlands.

It is regrettable that the government of the day did not give attention to Ortom’s lamentations, if it did, the prevailing spate of insecurity in the country today would have reduced significantly and farmers would have returned to farm.

Being that we are where we are, Chief Ortom today is facing two judicial panels constituted by his successor, Governor Hyacinth Alia for allegedly misappropriating public funds when he was governor.

It is rumoured in certain quarters that the issue of Ortom’s probe was concluded even before he left office to teach him a lesson for having the audacity to challenge the powers that be.

Governor Alia who inaugurated the panels sometimes in February, particularly wants to know how the resources that accrued to the state and government assets under Chief Ortom were managed.

The two commissions of Inquiry are: Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Income and Expenditure of Benue State Government (from May 29, 2015, to May 28, 2023), and the Judicial Commission of inquiry into the Sale/Lease of government assets, Companies and Markets (both State and Local Government owned markets), as well as Moribund Companies (from or before May 28, 2015 to May 28th, 2023).

Performing the inauguration at the Old Banquet Hall of Government House, Makurdi, Governor Alia explained that the setting up of the two commissions of inquiry to look into the activities of the outgone administration is in response to the desire of the people of the state, who are the major stakeholders and owners of the resources.

His words: “These commissions are not merely bureaucratic endeavors; they are our response to the earnest desires and hopes of the good people of Benue, who are rightfully critical stakeholders and owners of our dear state and its resources.”

According to the governor, the future of Benue as a state depends largely on the prudent management of its resources, and as such, his administration will ensure that all monies expended, serve the collective purpose, in order to take the state to greater heights.

“The future prosperity of Benue hinges on the prudent and judicious management of our resources.

“As we usher in a new era characterized by prioritizing the welfare of our people, it is imperative and quite incumbent upon us to ensure that every Naira expended serves the collective interest and propels the growth and development of our state.

“The responsible stewardship of government resources bears a direct correlation to the well-being of our people. Adequate allocation to vital sectors such as the economy, agriculture, education, security, healthcare, and infrastructure uplifts the standard of living, while any mismanagement jeopardizes our collective progress,” he stressed.

The governor expressed confidence in the integrity and track record of the members of the commissions to discharge their duties with utmost dedication and in accordance with the noble principles of public service.

He, however, urged them to recognize the gravity of their mandate, insisting that the commission is not rooted in distrust but in his administration’s commitment to the principles of accountability, transparency, and good governance to safeguard the interests of the people of the state.

The governor reiterated his government’s unwavering commitment to effective resources management, citing the timely payment of salaries, pensions and gratuities, to the execution of critical infrastructure projects, as encapsulated in his administration’s blueprint, “A Strategic Development Plan for a Greater Benue.”

Responding separately, the chairmen of the commissions of inquiry; retired Justice Taiwo Taiwo and Justice Apollo’s Paul Idi for Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Income and Expenditure of Benue State Government (from May 29, 2015, to May 28, 2023), and the Sale/Lease of Government Assets, Companies and Markets, respectively, expressed their readiness to work in line with the terms of reference given them.

They equally promised to do their best to come up with recommendations that will help the government to move the state forward.

The Commission of Inquiry on the Income and Expenditure of Government Funds from May 2015- May 2023, has Chief John Ochoga, Henry Tor, Tom Ujah, Ode Igbade Nick, Iorpenda Tarnguhar and Terfa Gbande, as members while Barr. Ajinge Sar, Dr. Abraham Gberindyer serve as Government Counsel and Secretary, respectively.

On the other hand, the Commission of Inquiry on the Sale of Assets, Companies and Markets from (2015-2023), has Clement Nenge Beetse, John Ogah, Dr. Terungwa Adzende and Hon. Abraham Atotse as members while Victor Nyamtamen (Esq.) and John Edigbo serve as Government Council and Secretary, respectively.

The Commissions which were given six months to complete their assignment and submit their report were separately tasked to amongst other things, look into how the Bailout and Paris Club refunds were expended; look into the loans procured by the state during the period in question and report on how such loans were used, as well as identify the companies owned by the state government (both active and inactive) and profer solutions on how the inactive ones can be revived.

Chief Ortom welcomed the inauguration of two Judicial Commissions to probe the activities of his administration between 2015 and 2023 and expressed his willingness to cooperate with the probe panels as long as the investigation is carried out in line with the law.

The former governor in a statement signed by his media aide, Tever Akase, stressed that his administration was built on transparency, accountability, and good governance.

He emphasized his readiness to provide any information or clarification, as may be required and urged his former appointees to equally make themselves available whenever called upon to provide clarifications.

Meanwhile the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has vowed to stand with Chief Ortom as he faces the probe of his administration by the Governor Hyacinth Alia-led administration.

The party, in a statement signed by its Publicity Secretary, Chief Bemgba Iortom, though acknowledged the importance of probity and accountability in governance, however raised questions about the timing of the probe by the government.

While questioning the rationality of the probe given the security situation in the state and the allegations of fraud raised against officials of the state government, the PDP also questioned the choice of the heads of the two panels.

The party noted that since the expiry of his two terms in office as governor, “Chief Ortom has lived freely among the people in the state, and has since expressed his readiness to submit himself before any lawful process as will require him to give account of his stewardship as governor.

“The PDP in the state, likewise, recognizes the place of probity and accountability as necessary components of good governance and will stand by its Leader, Chief Ortom, through this process of stock-taking, if that is actually what it will be.

“Nevertheless, the party raises questions as to the timing of the probing exercise, coming at a time when Governor Alia’s table is already full with issues of insecurity and allegations of corruption taking place under his watch.”