BREAKING NEWS: Dan Onjeh: Benue: Gov Alia facing stiff resistance in quest to break chains of poverty, underdevelopment

Dan Onjeh: Benue: Gov Alia facing stiff resistance in quest to break chains of poverty, underdevelopment

Dan Onjeh: Benue: Gov Alia facing stiff resistance in quest to break chains of poverty, underdevelopment


The entrance of His Excellency Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia into the 2023 governorship race in Benue State was received with much euphoria across the state. It was a soothing balm that rekindled much hope that once again, governance of the state would be centred on the people; and a positive slope in the developmental trajectory, a phenomenon which has long been elusive, would be attained. All who were on the ground in any part of Benue State on the eve of the last general elections will agree that the victory of Fr. Alia at the gubernatorial poll was as sure as sunrise. Hence, it came as no surprise to all that Fr. Alia emerged as the 6th democratically-elected governor of Benue State with a landslide victory, and his popularity across the state further influenced the chances of other candidates of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the elections.

Created in 1976, Benue sadly ranks high in the league of Nigerian states notable for wobbly, lopsided and stunted development. Out of sheer patriotism, passion and hope, we have tried in the past to attribute this unfortunate development to the protracted period of military rule in the state. But with over 24 years of uninterrupted democracy since the start of the fourth republic in 1999, it is no longer tenable to blame the underdevelopment of Benue, or any other state for that matter, on the military. Otherwise, Benue people today will not be keenly nostalgic for the reign of Chief Aper Aku from October 1979 to December 1983, and the subsequent epoch of Rev. Fr. Moses Orshio Adasu, from January 1992 to November 1993.

The two great leaders mentioned in the preceding paragraph, Chief Aper Aku and Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu, have their names indelibly etched in gold in the annals of Benue State, for the unprecedented roles they played in laying a solid for the future development of the state. Their eras are still being fondly referred to as the “golden eras” of Benue State. Much of the noteworthy physical infrastructure still being enjoyed by Benue citizens today is traceable to those golden eras of the state's development.

Chief Aper Aku birthed the industrialization of Benue State with the establishment of a chain of industries and commercial enterprises including the Lobi Bank, Benue Brewery Limited, Benue Bottling Company, Benue Cement Company – Gboko, Benue Sanitary Synthetic Marble Industry, Benue State Agricultural Development Corporation, Benue Packaging Industry, Taraku Vegetable Processing Industry and the Benue International Hotel, Makurdi. His quest to leverage the agricultural potentials of the state saw the establishment of many fertilizer-producing and agro-processing industries. Aper Aku built the Ikyogen Cattle Ranch and Ber-Agbum Fish Farm. He also initiated the Makurdi International Market, with plans in top gear to establish a flour mill in Makurdi, before the military struck.

The current Benue State Secretariat was built in the golden era of Chief Aper Aku, along with seven cottage hospitals in different parts of the state. These were in addition to the expansion of six general hospitals across the state. Chief Aku further blessed Benue with two Teachers' Colleges at Oju and Makurdi respectively; as well as the University of Technology, Makurdi, which became the building blocks of the current Joseph Tarka University, Makurdi (formerly University of Agriculture, Makurdi). He launched a massive program to improve secondary education in the state with the of new schools and the upgrade of existing ones. Aper Aku is fondly remembered for the massive township roads and street lights he provided in and around the state capital, Makurdi; and for being the architect and initiator of the Makurdi Stadium (which is deservedly named after him) and the Art Council Complex, Makurdi, to mention but a few. What is most interesting is that Chief Aku achieved all these within four years, using the state's resources.

Fast-forward to the next golden era of Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu, which no thanks to the military takeover, lasted for less than two years. The industrialization drive of Benue State received fresh impetus with the birth of BENCO Roof Tiles Company, Abinsi; Benue Yam Flour Company, Zaki-Biam and the Benue Fruit Juice Company, Katsina-Ala. Fr. Adasu also reactivated and upgraded the College of Education, Oju; as well as the Benue State University, which he retired to as a lecturer after being sacked as governor by the military. In addition to connecting Makurdi to the 132 kv national grid of electricity in 1992, Fr. Adasu is applauded for establishing the J. S. Tarka Foundation, Makurdi.

However, if the eras of Chief Aper Aku and Fr. Moses Adasu represent the golden era of Benue's development, then the period from May 29th 1999 to May 29th 2023 could be regarded as the dark ages of the state's development. The period, which recorded the highest statutory allocations to the state relative to the golden eras, ironically recorded minimal to negligible contributions to the infrastructural development of the state. It was the period in which the resources meant for the overall development of the state were mostly looted, misappropriated or distributed with impunity amongst political associates, cronies and so-called stakeholders. Although the Dark Ages produced many political millionaires across Benue State, it left the majority of the citizens impoverished, while infrastructural development took the back stage. The 24 years of Benue Governance from May 29th 1999 to May 29th 2023 put together, does not measure up to the under two years tenure of Fr. Moses Adasu, talk more of the four years of Chief Aper Aku.

Benue State from 1999 to 2007 probably started on a good momentum, but it was unfortunately not sustained. The era may be ascribed some modicum of credit for not owing state workers' salaries and some scanty infrastructural projects including building some new general hospitals. The greatest legacies of that 8-year rule were the establishment of the College of Health Sciences Complex of the Benue State University (BSU), and the construction of a standard Complex for the BSU College of Health Sciences. Efforts by the administration to revitalize the Benue Brewery Limited didn't yield much result, same as his Greater Makurdi Water Works Project. Not much credit can be given to the administration either in terms of industrialization and physical infrastructure.

But if Benue State witnessed stunted development under that 8-year rule, then the subsequent eras certainly plunged the state precariously into the abyss of darkness. For the eras between 2007 to 2015 and 2015 to 2023, there is nothing of note to write home about in terms of Benue development. On a developmental curve, these eras would at best fluctuate between stagnation and retardation.

The era between 2007 to 2015 was tainted with corruption and profligacy. For all the foreign trips that were embarked upon with taxpayers' monies; from Thailand to Malaysia and Singapore, they could not attract a single investor to the state all through the years of misrule. It was in that era that state workers and teachers were owed salaries for several months, leading them to down tools sometimes for several months. It was also the inglorious era of deductions from workers' salaries by the state government. Meanwhile, the next administration spent most of the eight years lamenting the onslaught on the state by alleged Fulani herdsmen. Despite the two tranches of Paris Club Refunds made to the state, along with other bailouts by the Federal Government, the government still owed state workers several months' salary arrears.

It is against this backdrop that Rev. Fr. Alia enters the centre stage of Benue governance, as the bearer of light and hope to the people. Coming from a purely apolitical background, with over 32 years in the dedicated service of God in the priesthood, Fr. Alia is not the conventional politician who comes to power with huge baggage, such as a vast empire of political dependents and an infinite hierarchy of political godfathers. Terms such as ‘cronyism' and ‘godfatherism' are yet to take firm roots in his leadership lexicon, so the centrepiece of his attention is the Benue people – the teeming masses who have long been deprived of their rights to enjoy the dividends of democracy by some previous administrations in the state.

And the reverend gentlemen, Fr. Alia, has left no one in doubt about his , mission and commitment to bringing Benue out of the woods, and back to the pedestal of national reckoning in terms of infrastructural and human capital development. He hit the ground running with his policy document christened “Strategic Development Plan for a Greater Benue”, which is built on seven cardinal pillars – Security; Agriculture and Rural Development; Commerce and Industry; Human Capital and Social Development; Infrastructure and Environment; ICT and Political and Economic Governance, with the acronym “SACHIIP”. Although Fr. Alia's interventions will affect every sector of the Benue State economy, he elected to prioritize these seven sectors given their relative importance and positive influence on other sectors.

It is instructive to note that within the last ten months of Fr. Alia's administration, Makurdi, the state capital, has worn a new look, in line with the urban renewal policy of the administration to build 21st-century cities and smart towns across Benue State. Fr. Alia has done the groundbreaking of the first overhead bridge in Makurdi and already construction work has commenced in earnest. He has also done several projects including the construction of 16 new roads to ease movement within the capital. There are also over 100 km of roads currently under construction in various local government areas, to facilitate the evacuation of farm produce from production to marketing and consumption points. The Greater Makurdi Water Works Project, which has since been abandoned, has received prompt attention from the Fr. Alia administration, in line with his vision to complete all ongoing government water projects in the state and to provide water to five rural communities in each local government area per year.

The state secretariat built by Chief Aper Aku in the early 1980s, underwent complete renovation for the first time under the Alia Administration, as an added incentive to the state civil service. The Benue State Teaching Hospital has also been reconstructed and revamped, along with the Government House and the State House of Assembly. Contracts have equally been awarded for the renovation and provision of amenities at the secretariats of the 23 local governments in the state. These and many more are expected to provide the basic framework for the rapid industrialization and advancement of the state.

Of immense importance to note is the fact that the Fr. Alia administration not only cleared the backlog of salaries, pensions and gratuities owed state workers from the previous administration, but it also ensured the prompt and regular payment of state workers, and usually before the end of the month. This was what the previous administrations of Suswam and Ortom made us believe was rocket science or an impossible feat, given the statutory allocations and IGR accruing to the state.

Fr. Alia is acclaimed for his prudent management of financial and human resources. He has an ambitious plan to encourage public-private partnership (PPP) in reviving some of our moribund industries in the state and also to establish new ones to support his quest for massive industrialization. He intends to provide industrial parks in each senatorial district, furnished with the necessary facilities. Fr. Alia also hopes to actualize the dredging of the Benue to facilitate commercial activities, as well as the establishment of a river port in Makurdi to pave the way for ship operations in Benue. Soon, an independent waste-to-energy (WtE) facility or hydropower generation and distribution plant will be constructed in Benue State, to ensure cleaner and greener cities while boosting the administration's quest to provide electricity to at least five (5) rural communities in each local government area per year.

Other programs and projects the Alia administration has embarked on include the ongoing construction of an overhead bridge in Gboko, the renovation of Government House lodges, the provision of subsidised fertiliser and inputs to all farmers, and the payment of ₦15,000 to NYSC members, ₦100,000 to NYSC doctors, and the payment of monthly allowances to medical students of Benue origin nationwide. Others include the ongoing water repair works in Oturkpo and other cities, the rebuilding of the House of Assembly quarters, and Alia Cares: payment of stipends to the most vulnerable people across the state. The Alia administration also succeeded in fully automating the key activities of the state's MDAs, the conduct of successful staff audit and verification exercise which resulted in significant savings in personnel cost, the revamping of the Benue Printing Company and others, and the introduction of Mineral Resources Council and Enforcement Team. The administration has also embarked on the payment of Taraku Mills' outstanding staff liabilities, work on 's largest tailoring and garment factory in partnership with the Presidency, and the provision of 100 new buses for Benue Links and providing transportation subsidies to citizens. It also increased the salaries of doctors and medical workers and paid their associated training fees. Governor Alia has since commenced the recruitment of hundreds of medical and support staff, and the repair/procurement of needed equipment for the state's teaching hospital. Infrastructural work is ongoing work in all the 23 LGAs in the state, even as the government pays the WAEC and NECO fees of all the students in government schools.

To achieve all of these laudable plans, programs, and projects, the state's resources must be put to optimum use for the benefit of the people. Fr. Alia has therefore made a bold statement that the era of corruption, profligacy, and the brazen sharing of the state's resources amongst stakeholders, party bigwigs and other cronies in Benue State at the detriment of the teeming masses, is over. Within a very short time, the Alia administration has been able to restore public and confidence in government by demonstrating impeccable character, integrity, moral courage and the judicious utilization of the state's resources using the bottom-top approach to governance.

Unfortunately, while the generality of Benue citizens are immensely pleased with the governor's efforts, his strict policies of putting the Benue people first, and not sharing state resources flagrantly amongst so-called stakeholders and cronies, and his commitment to justice, fairness and equity in the Benue polity, have ruffled not just a few feathers in the state, especially in his party, the APC. This scenario has put the reverend gentleman on a warpath with all those who are averse to change – the stakeholders and political entrepreneurs, who probably regarded Benue State as their cash cow; their oil well. They have therefore obviously constituted themselves into cartels at the different levels, within the state and Abuja, with the intent to constantly disparage, distract and frustrate the Alia administration from serving the Benue people.

I can state that since the start of the fourth republic, no state administration has been more encumbered with political crises at inception than the Fr. Alia administration. He is stridently attacked at the slightest turn, sadly by his party structures and stakeholders; and because his detractors know that they have no legal, moral or ethical ground upon which to criticize the governor, they have since resorted to barefaced fallacies, blackmail, intimidation, propaganda and -hunt.

Whenever the governor appoints competent and credible persons to positions of leadership to support his policy drive, they come hard on him and accuse him of sideling the party structure in the running of the state. Meanwhile, what they want is for the governor to allow them to nominate their cronies to such positions, so they can sustain the host-clientele concept in political governance and ensure that they receive regular kickbacks from the state's budgetary allocations.

Contrary to their accusations that the governor is not carrying the party along in appointments, Fr. Alia has been very fair to the party. The current Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of the State, His Lordship Fidelis Mnyim, was the party's Legal Adviser. The former Secretary of the party, Hon. Paul Biam, is the current Chief of Staff to the Governor. Also, a former Legal Adviser of the party, Barr. Omale Omale is currently the State Commissioner for Transportation and Power. The Director of Organization of the party, Hon. James Ornguga, also holds the position of a Special Adviser to the Governor. The current SSA to the Governor on Beautification was the party's women leader. Before the constitution of the Caretaker Committees for the 23 local governments in Benue State, the governor accorded the party the preferential treatment of nominating three names for each of the various leadership positions in each local government. What else does the party expect of him?

At Abuja, Alia's detractors agglomerated themselves into what they call the National Assembly Benue State Caucus, and their major achievement since they got into the federal parliament has been to hurl invectives at Fr. Alia. For a flimsy reason as the governor not being disposed to pick up their calls at all times, they take to the media space to disparage him. But despite their endless barrage of negative criticisms and dastardly attacks, Fr. Alia has remained firm, resolute and focused on his mandate. In just ten months of governance, he has surpassed the 24-year achievements of his three immediate predecessors in the state.

Indeed, moving Benue State forward in the right direction is an uphill task, but that is what Fr. Alia has braced up and not the usual for wobble in the web of blame game. To achieve positive development in the state, the governor must exhibit the requisite political will, resolve and determination, all of which he has sufficiently demonstrated. Some have argued that it is the efforts of his party bigwigs and the stakeholders that brought Fr. Alia to power, hence he must carry them along in all his decisions and actions in office. But he understands that playing along that line of sentiment in the past has not delivered dividends of democracy to the people. In any case, Fr. Alia is a man of truth, justice and fairness, so he is poised to eventually ensure that every honest stakeholder gets what is due to him or her along the way. But for now, his primary consideration is the general populace, especially the teeming masses of the state that were deprived and neglected for long.

However, of growing concern to me is the observation that some of the stakeholders trying to distract Fr. Alia are further doing so because they know that he is determined to achieve unprecedented strides in the development of the state. Some of them have held the position of state governor before, and could not deliver anything tangible to the people. So they are afraid that at the pace which Fr. Alia is going, he may not only surpass the sterling records of Aper Aku and Fr. Adasu but will eclipse or dwarf their records of performance, thereby exposing their crass ineptitude of the times past.

In any case, it is easy to tell that Fr. Alia intends to bequeath to Benue a resounding legacy of purposeful and visionary leadership. Fr. Alia is following the path of the President and Commander-in-Chief, Asiwaju , whose legacy of exemplary leadership and mentorship as governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007, is still reverberating in several quarters. President Tinubu not only positioned Lagos State on a sure path of infrastructural growth and economic development, he laid a formidable template for good governance which subsequent leaderships in the state have found very difficult to deviate too far from.

In a similar vein, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State, despite the security challenges bedevilling the state, is making huge waves in terms of good governance, infrastructural development and service delivery. Former Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam , emblazoned his name in gold with the massive infrastructural works he executed in the state as governor from 2015 to 2023. Former Rivers State governor, Wike, and former Ebonyi State governor, Omahi, had embarked on, and completed massive infrastructural and human development projects in their states, the likes of which will be spoken of and studied for generations. These are just some of the imprints of leaders who were determined to leave good legacies for their people.

Fr. Alia understands that leadership is a sacred responsibility with multiple dimensions, and he wants to appear before God and all men with a clear conscience, knowing that he did not take for granted the immense trust and confidence reposed in him by God and the Benue people. And by the grace of the Almighty, he shall prevail over his enemies and detractors, and successfully raise the bar of governance in Benue State.

Comrade Daniel Onjeh,
_Former Chairman of the Governing Board of PRODA, Enugu, APC 2023 senatorial candidate for Benue South Senatorial District, & former NANS President 2002 – 2003, writes in from Abuja._

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