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I’m not in a position to address Okupe’s contract saga - Suswam
Penultimate weekend, Benue State governor, Dr Gabriel Suswam, spoke with newsmen over the current position of the state’s finances, the ongoing presidential spokesman, Dr Doyin Okupe’s contract default controversy and other issues. Johnson Babajide was there and brings excerpts.
WHAT is the exact state of the finances of Benue State? Is there any cause for alarm?
No. You see, the finances of the state depend on the Federation Account and once there is a problem in the Federation Account, it affects all the 36 states in the country, not just Benue State. Of course, there are delays. The president himself said in the newspapers that salaries must be paid today (17 August), so it means there are delays. Benue is not owing any person.
The problem which the state is contending with is the biometric exercise that we are carrying out to sort the issue of overbloated pay roll and strength of the civil service. You will agree with me that when you start the process of computing, it will sometimes affect one or two persons negatively. For instance, the deputy governor and I had, in some cases, missed our salaries and it was not because there was no money. This was exactly what affected a few people, but the state government is not owing anybody.
On the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), there was a judgment in the month of July on a case which didn’t start with us. It was a case involving about N29 million and the judge went ahead to give a garnishe order on the whole account. This was a case that happened in the last administration, when the government dismissed teachers who were not of Benue origin and this case was going on before I became a governor. But even that issue has been sorted out.
I think that was the matter which the Commissioner for Information responded to and the state House of Assembly became sensitive to some of the things the commissioner said. I too was, to some extent, sensitive to the issue because I expected that they (House of Assembly) would have realised the true state of things when it was said that government was owing salaries for nine months. You know that in Benue, if you owe salaries for one month, it won’t just be in the realms of speculation; the news will be everywhere.
So, we are not owing salaries but the biometric exercise created problems. However, we are in the process of sorting out complaints arising from the data capturing. The problem was that if your name appeared twice, the computer would reject it and then you would not be paid.
It is common knowledge that the country is going through some financial challenges and no state is exempted. But one thing I do is to prioritize salaries; once the money comes, salaries are paid before any other thing is done and I don’t joke with this. So, I don’t think the assembly and executive are in any disagreement or have any serious issues of concern.
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has been talking about presidential spokesman, Dr Doyin Okupe, how he came to Benue and defrauded the state.But your government has not responded to this issue...
This is because we are not the ones who gave the contract. However, the person who did, Senator George Akume, as I read in the newspaper yesterday (August 16) has made a press statement to adress the issue through his media aide. I wasn’t involved in that deal. The media aide asserted that they gave a contract and there were issues. So, I’m waiting for them and I think we will get to know what happened. I believe Senator Akume is in a better position to address this question.
But government is a continuum and the present administration can take the matter to the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) because the amount involved over N630 million, is huge...
I agree with you, but if you read what the media assistant to Senator Akume did say, she said the problem arose with them (the last administration) and that they were handling it. You know that I didn’t have a handing over note. I have told you this several times before; no handover note was given to me.
What is happening to the chairman, Board of the Benue State Internal Revenue (BIRS), Andrew Ayaban? Sometime, we were told he was on leave because there was a problem. Do you think there is a decline in your revenue generation profile?
No. He is just on leave. There is so much speculation about whether he was sacked or is only on leave, but he gave a letter that he wanted to go on leave. However, the revenue board is not properly constituted because there is supposed to be a board and also a technical committee. We are in the process of reconstituting it. By the time he returns from leave, the board would have been properly put in place.
Benue State is not a state that generates much revenue. In reporting revenue, there are three components. You have the payee which captures revenue and so when he was reporting N1 billion, it wasn’t that they were generating it from BIRS.
In fact, about 80 per cent of it was from payee: this amount of money is taken from your salary and goes back into paying your salaries but it is captured when reporting what is generated as revenue, not as part of expenditure. I think most people didn’t understand this and simply thought Benue was generating N1 billion. No, we were not generating this amount.
On the issue of capital market N13billion bond which the state government procured, the public are worried about how the money is expended because the Finance Commissioner failed to give details of how it was channeled during the budget breakdown...
There is no way you can utilize the bond other than the purpose it was meant for. The bond is attached to specific projects and it is operated between the Security Exchange Commission (SEC), banks and the state. There are about three banks involved that monitor the money to see how it is being spent. If, for instance, I want to build a house, I will cost it and the money is paid for that purpose. So, there is no alarm or question of tampering with bond money. It is almost an impossible thing to do so.Share