By Reverend Father Dr Hyacinth Alia
Benue State Governor, Rev Father Dr Hyacinth Alia, spoke with Tahav Agerzua, Asking Radio Culture correspondent, on his first 100 days as Governor. Below are excerpts:
GRATITUDE AND THANKSGIVING
First of all, I give gratitude to God for the first 100 days in office. It’s a very huge privilege to serve the state, my people in this position as Governor. One, this is a godly position. This is a position you are required to serve not just with the mind but with the heart. This is a position that enables you to reach out to the nooks and crannies of the state and which also affords you an opportunity to contribute to improve your state, to better the lives of the people and then to bring development to your people. I have a blueprint. It was so marked that we planned that my first 100 days were going to be quite remarkable and so they’ve been. I’m just coming from a Thanksgiving Mass at Holy Ghost Parish where I met my friend and classmate who is the Vicar Pastoral for Makurdi Diocese, Reverend Father Dr Moses Iorapuu. In fact we had a meal, lunch together and a toast for greater things to come. At the private Thanksgiving Mass, I went to thank God for the opportunity to serve and for all that we’ve already put back in the lives of people.
When we came in things were never right. We started from ground zero. It was now a prerogative to prioritize what was going to be first in the lives of the people. You know for some reason, people associate the civil service with the life of the state. I’m going to change that narrative down the road. We’re an agrarian state down here and as an agrarian people we’re going to invest heavily on agriculture. It’s already marked out and we’ve began something in that respect too.
PAYMENT OF SALARIES, PENSIONS AND GRATUITIES
When I came in, some people were not paid in some departments, some units, some ministries, for over three years. We need to take a closer look into that. Pensioners were crying and walking the streets. They could not afford any medication and even their feeding. We needed to cushion them and what we did was to ensure that we started paying their pensions and gratuities. Like last month, we paid the current civil servants plus the pensioners. We paid them twice in a month, just to try to catch up so that there will be a free flow of liquidity in the system, in homes as well. We first of all prioritized salaries, pensions and gratuities.
We had said that on the 25th of every month we are going to pay salaries. Since I came in we’ve maintained that tempo. Once it’s 24th, just be celebrating that you worked for the month and the next day, 25th, you’re going to have your salary. It has come to stay, it’s established.
PROVISION OF FERTILIZERS
The farming season was at hand and so we needed to do what was going to be in form of palliatives to our people as an agrarian people. I supplied fertilizers to the tune of 100 trucks, that’s 100 trailers statewide at half cost to the farmers. The government paid half of that cost. The fertilizer from the factory was going for N25,000 per bag. While I bought everything over, the farmers were now to pay 12,500. That was achieved. In fact, I understand that two local governments in Zone C, the last group of people just collected their stuff. I wonder why it took them such a long time to come over here to get that but they have.
CONSTRUCTION OF MAKURDI STREETS
While this was going on, all our roads are in a terrible state. The entire state is quite a very deplorable place in terms of road network. But we have to be taking these in strides. By prioritization, we had to do something about the roads. There are some places in this city of ours in Makurdi that you cannot even go during the rainy season, like the Wurukum area and then the North Bank area. We had to begin doing the roads. We awarded the contract of 16 streets and work is on-going on them. All things considered, that project of the construction of roads will be rounded up by November this year and they are working fast on that.
Another milestone we did was that when you come to town here in the night, it’s like a graveyard, quiet and dark. We had to improve the streets with lights. In Makurdi town many of the streets are almost all lit up now. Many parts of the town are lit up and we are going to continue. It’s not only in the city here but this is the headquarters and everything has to begin here. We shift base, we move out to all the major places and then to the rural areas as well. It’s the same thing with the construction of roads.
ICT TRAINING FOR 10,000 YOUTHS
Then the other one, as I’m speaking to you now, today Tuesday, we began the programme of training 10,000 youths who are interested in ICT. What this is going to do is that one, it is going to better their lives, they are going to get instant jobs because it is very intensive ICT programmes. We’ve aligned and collaborated with some foreign companies, Google and all that, who have accepted to do this. Google and Bill Gates and a few others who are in the cohort. After this training, I’m 100% sure that 10,000 youths are going to get their own jobs and that is going to reduce the burden of unemployment on my shoulders. That being a litmus test, it’s going to continue right after the first graduands. Once these guys leave we’re going to have another and the next batch would be 20, 30 thousand. We’re going to have machinery in place to do this.
RETAINING NYSC MEMBERS IN THE STATE
Another milestone, we thank God, we’ve been able to do is that the young people who are posted to the state on their service year of the NYSC scheme would usually have some challenges. For some reason, they preferred to relocate, so they became redeployed to different states. But this time around I want them to stay in the state because Benue is a very hospitable place. The only way to do this is to have them right where they’re posted. We’ve already started adding some stipends on what the Federal Government is giving them. To most of them, it’s N15,000 each that the state government is going to be paying them at the end of each month. For those who are medical doctors, I want all of them to stay so that they can help us all through in the hospitals. To them, they’re going to be receiving N100,000 each at the end of the month. You know that with medical personnel flight again, we know that our hospitals are near empty on personnel. What we’ve made a move to do is to ensure that we take care of our very own who are in the medical schools, the resident doctors. In fact, Benue was the very first to pay their registration so that they continue and we’re going to continue with this track. I want them to stay. I don’t want them to leave after the completion of their programme, to go elsewhere for greener pastures. We’re going to ensure that they’re fed with the greener pastures right here within the state.
TACKLING INSECURITY, RETURNING IDP’S TO THEIR HOMES
The very major one that was on my plate and still is, are the insecurities that I inherited. In the last eight years the case had worsened. When I came in, as I told those who are affected, that I have to take them back home. Actually work has already began on their way home, back to their ancestral homes and farmlands. What we’ve done, Benue is no longer in the news for reasons of insecurity. It’s not 100% finished with yet. We still have pockets of attacks from armed herders in one, two places, but it’s no longer as rampant as it was. We’re not recording overwhelming scores of deaths from those crisis anymore because we’ve taken care of a number of things. We started with dialoguing and we brought the farmers and armed herders to a round table and what we’ve been able to achieve is that all groups have sheathed their swords now. That was the very first step we took and then the second one was if you had sheathed your sword, the next thing is I need these people to go back home and start doing their farms. I’m happy to announce that huge percentage of IDPs are farming right on their ancestral lands. But we’re not going to stop at that, I need to hold them by their hand and take them back to their villages. That is the next step we are at and a lot of conversation and machinery are in place for this to happen. At the end of the rainy season, a number of things are going to happen. It’s on security, I wouldn’t want to be so open on those dynamics that we’ve put in place for them to go right back. But we’re on this. People have gone back to do their farms and then they’re visiting their home places. A number of places that were burnt down, the government needs to help the people. Let me just leave it at that because we’re already working on that.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PALLIATIVE FUND
We received some pronouncement of N5 billion palliatives from the Federal Government. So far, we’ve gotten two billion in our coffers, three is yet to come. The economy is quite poor but once the Federal Government makes a pronouncement they’re going to fulfill that because our President, Tinubu, is so willing to ensure that everybody is properly cushioned, the youth get jobs and families are back to their happy moods and happy family times.
We have anxieties here of flooding. Flooding is huge issue and this is the season. We’ve already started sounding out to everyone to see how those who are occupying waterways give space so that we’ll not have casualties, at least human casualties. But our people sometimes get stubborn until it happens. A good number are still on the water ways but I’m hoping that they will still listen to us. Our conservation on that is continuing. We’re paying closer attention to that. We’re working on drainages. Part of what we’re going to use this money to do is already spelt out. We’re going to retrain our civil service because they need that. A lot of them, even those in the higher ropes are square pegs in round holes. We need that training and we’re going to do that. For our market women, quite a chunk of them are going to receive N50,000 each so that they increase their marketing and sales stuff. For those who are farmers out there, it’s part of the palliatives we did, so there was an increment. They’ve already gained on that but then as the seasons come further we’re going to apply that.
What we’re going to do about the registration of the students who are up for the NECO and the WAEC? it’s from this palliatives of a thing that we’re going to register them.
Then, for transportation, what we’ve already sent for is to have 100 buses that would be distributed around the state with very low fare, fully cushioned but at the same time, they’re able to get to the nearest destination of theirs. So far this is what we’ve been working on.
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY COMPLEX
Two major things that are going at the same time. When we came in, the House of Assembly Complex was completely in a shambles, totally down. They had to reinvent, they had to remove everything, from ground zero, start from the flooring and then remove the roofing and then blend everything back to normal. It’s going to be accomplished quite soon. We started work on the state secretariat as well. It’s going to take so much from all of us but it’s something that needs to be done.
This is what we’ve done and then work on the renovation of the Government House is still in gear. I’m still operating from my personal residence because there is so much work that is required to be done at the Governor’s Lodge before I move in.
APPEAL TO BENUE PEOPLE
First of all, a message of appreciation. I cannot thank them enough for the trust they bestowed on me, inviting me to come and serve them. I thank them for coming out en mass to vote for me. I thank them for trusting my judgment on their lives and I thank them for the fact that they believe I would uplift them, I’ll develop the state, I’ll take us all to higher heights. I thank them for the cooperation I’ve been enjoying. I want everyone to understand that it is their government. It is the government of all the good people of the state. Where things are going wrong in your neighbourhood, if you see something wrong happening, say something to someone. Mine is a 24-hour open door, find some way to reach us because we want an improved life and an improved state. I want to take us to higher heights above where we are. If we began from ground zero, I want us to hit grace. I want us to move from grass to grace and they are the ones to do this for me in collaboration, in partnerships, in compliance and in acceptance. So far, the love they have demonstrated and I’m enjoying it, it’s enormous. While I thank them, I want them not just to be out there. If they know that some programmes which should be in place are not there yet, one, let them let me know. Two, let them try to exercise some patience. We will get there because I started from nothing and so we have to build up to get to somewhere and to be on something and that remains my target.