Mr. Terver Akase is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State. In this interview, he speaks on privatization of the state’s collapsed enterprises, why the governor has not rejigged his cabinet as well as other challenges confronting the present administration in the state among other issues. CEPHAS IORHEMEN reports
Governor Samuel Ortom has come under series of media attacks in recent times. As his spokesman, how have you been able to manage such attacks?
Attacks will always be there but our people say that when flies continue to disturb you while in the farm, you don’t stop working because it will delay you. What you do is you simply ignore them.
That is the same attitude Governor Ortom has adopted that opposition will always be, people will always criticize government but criticism is one of the easiest things to do.
So, he will not be distracted from what opposition people are saying as Benue people who voted him know the truth. A group of people who are trying to mislead the majority are in the minority.
There is a small group of people who are threatened by the performance of Governor Ortom; how he has been able to galvanize support; how he has been able to carry Benue people and even workers along. We still have challenges of pensions and the backlog of salaries but he has been able to pay from 2018 to now.
Yet, people are with him because they have seen that he is a transparent and sincere leader, who if he has challenges, he comes to the table and tell the people that this is what we are facing. So, he has decided to focus on the wheels of governance and not distracted by what some people are saying.
When they tell lies, he clarifies that Benue people should know that these are bare faced lies. These people are saying these things just to discourage the governor to put him in bad light before the public but we have been able to ignore a lot of those lies.
When they do what is called libel, when they say things concerning stealing of money, we approach the courts and ask them to come and prove that indeed money has been stolen because the burden of prove lies on the person who raises the alarm.
That’s what we are doing. The governor said he will never harass anybody and he doesn’t keep things.
Would it not have been better to ignore the detractors rather than taking them to court?
You know that silence could be taken as consent.
But sometimes, when you give publicity to certain matters, you escalate them the more?
They use the media to lie and some of our people don’t understand when we keep quiet on some of those things they tend to believe. Dragging these people to court means that we want it to serve as deterrent to others. Let other people know that when you defame someone, you have a duty to prove your allegation.
Have your principal been able to get judgement in any of these cases?
Absolutely! But some of them before judgement will come behind the door to beg for forgiveness.
However, the governor’s attitude is that you can’t undress him in public and come privately to dress him up, you should go back to the same public and say that the lies you wrote against him remain lies. So, if you took a page in a newspaper and defamed him, we will require you to go back to the same newspaper and say that what you wrote was a lie.
A former Governor of Edo State and immediate past National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole recently used national newspapers to apologise and retract all that he said against Governor Ortom.
The records are there that Comrade Oshiomhole defamed Governor Ortom and the governor dragged him to court.
When the judgement was about to be delivered, he would have paid heavy fines but the governor gave him an option that the only way he could let that matter go was for Comrade Oshiomhole to go to the same media platforms he used in defaming him to retract that allegation and apologize to him and the Comrade did that and apologized, saying what he alleged was based on wrong information.
Is there any incident of such at home in Benue?
I don’t think we should go into that because there are one or two cases but we don’t really give time to that. The governor’s lawyers are there, if someone defames him they easily take it up.
Governor Ortom has one and half years to leave office; what would be the major focus of his administration in the last lap?
He said when he gave his midterm report that the rest of the time that he has as governor, he will focus on actualising his mandate by making Benue have cause to rejoice that they for voted him and that he is going to end strongly.
So, the attention will remain on the sectors that he has been driving in terms of education of the Benue child, health, providing infrastructure for the people. Recently, he transformed Gboko local government area; a number of good roads are now in Gboko Township, which never happened for some years.
So, the governor is focused on providing dividends of democracy to the people of Benue State and we have seen that the promise would be kept till 2023. But the challenge of Benue State is that of funding and now that the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT) is also being in contention, we just have to look inwards.
That’s one of the reasons that made him to call his appointees and heads of agencies to talk to them frankly and tell them that Benue needs to get millage to have reason to celebrate this administration at the end of it.
What informed government’s decision to privatize stateowned companies?
It’s a very simple thing. Show me any government in Nigeria that is still the manager of government-owned companies? How many companies does the Federal Government have?
You can’t count any apart from those that render essential services to the people.
Which government owns and runs companies in this age? You have companies that are moribund for decades and people expect them to remain there for what? Even when you have museums, you have to make them look good.
So, the decision to privatize these corporations ought to have been applauded by the people. I am beginning to see it now and agree that indeed government has been proven over the years to be a bad business manager.
If you look at the companies, ask yourself, why did they go comatose? It is because public servants were not able to manage the companies. Are we sure that if the we revive these companies using government’s money and hand them over to the same officials that they will be run prudently and they will stand the taste of time? Where is the guarantee?
This is one question no one is willing to answer. All you hear is sentiments about why the governor selling Benue companies. Go to Taraku Mills and other companies, some of them you can’t even access the gates, they have been overwhelmed by bushes and nobody goes there.
It is the same reason that the Federal Government was not able to manage its companies that it had to sell them under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration because public individuals were not able to manage Nigeria’s corporations and it is the same thing in all the states, not only Benue.
The private sector is the driver of industries now. For instance, if Taraku Mills is managed by a private sector now, the person will be there, decision making will be easy and corruption will be less Another thing is that privatization of these companies will not mean that they will be relocated out of Benue State. No!
They will still be on Benue soil and Benue sons and daughters will get jobs in those corporations because the private sector will inject funds in them. Now, the government is interested in encouraging Benue people to go and acquire the companies and capital will circulate within the state.
So, privatization is a winwin for all of us. Recently, Cross River State put up 41 government companies for sale, including Tinapa and the newly established airline.
No one is talking about that and that’s an APC state. So, our people should leave politics out of these issues and agree that it is no longer fashionable for government to run companies.
When is Governor Ortom going to reshuffle his cabinet?
Cabinet reshuffle should not just be done for the sake of it, perhaps, because it is fashionable to reshuffle a cabinet. It is at the discretion of the governor. He is the team captain and coach of the team.
He knows where he needs to strengthen his government. You know, if a coach has a team and the team is playing, he is the one who is watching.
So, the governor is the only one who knows when to rejig his cabinet if at all he is going to do that. He is the one who hired and he is the only one with the red pen to fire.