Beune State Governor, Reverend Father Hyacinth Alia recently met with President Bola Tinubu at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on burning issues of development in the food basket state. He briefed State House Press Corps thereafter. Excepts:
What was the purpose of your visit to the Villa?
Well, the aim of my visit to the villa with the President was just to update him on the state of affairs in the states, Benue. It’s on record, to know that the programs he has released have been of quite huge benefit to us. The palliatives were quite handy. To those who sort of feel palliatives were wrong way to go., I say, that they need to understand the uniqueness of our various states, like Benue. In 2022, we had a lot of flood, that wiped out a number of farms. rice farms, cassava, and you know, the corn, beans, and the rest of it all.
So, for supplementing this to the farmers and the market women, and the school children, it meant so much for us. It geared us up. You know, to be quite warmed up to do the best we can on the farms, and then, impute to us, all to supply, that’s part of it, and you can never go wrong on that. I always try to let people understand that even in distributing the palliatives, there are short terms, then the long term, and the medium term. So, it depends on where you place your priority. But to discount palliatives, is not right at all. Because, we have different uniqueness of our states. So that has been very, very helpful.
Insecurity in the past was something of trouble. But, we are pleased to know that so much work has been done and relative peace has returned to the state, and I will continue to do the work. The aim being that, we want to get all the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) back home to their ancestral homes and ancestral farm lands. Before May 29, 2023, it was very impossible for the IDPs to get back to their ancestral places even to farm. This current season, they were able to go back and do this. However, we still have skirmishes of it. All the other security apparatuses are on it and are helping so much.
So, it remains our firm hope and resolution that we’ll get them back to their ancestral homes and we cannot thank the federal government enough for assisting us by all ramifications, for us to be able to achieve this. And since we came in, I know that Benue State on record has the debts of all over N359 billion, being pensions and gratuities, salaries and arrears as well as the debts ranging from the foriegn and the domestics.
What we’re trying to do is to see how we can renegotiate these and then to get back on a better perspective and then, to forge ahead with the development of the state. We celebrated our 100 days you know in a very grand style. Farmers had farm imputes. We also assisted parents, to take care of some tuition of their children. For those who are to do their NECO and WAEC, the state government is taking care of those bills and registration, especially those in the government approved public schools.
Then we awarded a number of roads, 16 roads in the township. the whole town was quite dark even in the night, we’ve brighten of the state, you know, fixing all the streetlights. So, work is ongoing on that. And lots of work is ongoing on it as well. We know that there is a number of medical personnel flight not only from the state, this happens, for some reason today, sort of a national anxiety. But we’ve tried so much this time around to get back to the basis of ensuring that our medical students at the Benue state university at the end of their program, they are been supported so that at the end of the program, at least they get back into the state hospitals to work for two years before any other thing, should they intend to leave. But it is our prayers that we hold and keep them. You know that a number of Youth Corps members found it, sort of reluctant to stay in the state to work and to serve. So we had to spike in some incentives. So what we did was to know that what they do, the services they render, are free and good enough. But at the same time, we need to show them the hospitality of the state. So we’ve added some stipends to both the medical doctor youth corps members and then, the rest of the youth corpers as well. I think that was a very good incentive and you know, we hope to continue with that.
Community renaissance, it’’s quite high. We’re doing all we can to let our security groups understand that we the civilians are the first line of security. We see it, we tell them and then they assist us. So we’re trying to do that. At some point, we had some ugly incidents of kidnapping. I know you may have been aware that one of my commissioners, the Commissioner of information was kidnapped. After six days or seven, he was released. Thank God the state did not pay any ransom. It was by negotiations. And then we’re going to be quite strong on flushing out the bad elements in the State. Benue state is a very hospitable, hard working place. So if it cannot contain you as a good, free citizen to work in there, and earn a living out of your sweat, then, it’s not a place for you. I think, overall, you know, we just made the President know where we are and what we are doing. A lot of the support we’re getting from the federal government, it is our hope that this will continue.
Again, we have to thank the President enough for taking care of the federal roads in the state. Thank God, all the federal roads that cut across the state, you know, were awarded and for renovation and I’m happy he took the step in that direction even before I came to plead for further support in that direction. So, virtually that was the aim of my visit.
What are you doing in support of the call by the National Assembly for the Federal Government to redeem its pledge of N10billion in support of IDPs In Benue?
You know that the federal government meant it when they mentioned that and they are on the same page with us. Back home as I speak here, we’re quite warmed up for the flooding. We’ve taken quite closer watch on IDPs. They’re aware that the federal government made a pledge in support for them. Remember the main aim here is to help them to get back to their ancestral places. And to the best of my knowledge, the federal government has not turned back on that statement. So, delayances are no denials. I’m confident that the pledge is going to be redeemed as well.
You talked about achieving relative peace in the state. The Federal Government says that ranching is the way to go. What are you doing differently?
First of all, if you don’t have it. If you have peace, you give peace and that is our foothold. This administration has peace. We first of all, need to get everyone involved. A number of people cash in where there is crisis. And then, there are specific people who are planted to create crisis. When you know those and then you still keep them, then you are inviting more troubles on your head. So, what we brought to the table is peace to bring all warring parties to the desk, see where we are and see what we can do further to ensure that peace is returned to our homes and to the state. And then, that was quite pivotal to all the warring parties. And then in a number of days,home grown crisis, you know sort of became triggered. So when you know them, you know the sources, you cut it down. Then you have solved a number of problems in there. However, remember there are still people out there who want no peace. They prefer crisis to peace, because if there is peace, you have kept them out of jobs.
The announcement made by the Vice President wasn’t out of place. But here’s the thing. Even if walls are not built for this, one other fine form of ranching would be to supply fodder for the cattles and it becomes even full time. We have the terrain that can grow a lot of fodder, fine grasses in different shapes and forms of it. So, when you go into the fodder farming, I think, it will be something nice enough even to take care of a number of ranches even around the nation.
And I know that part of the statement he had made, I know some social media folks were accusing the federal government and even myself of accepting to perpetuate the staying on of the IDP’s but that’s not the aim. Even what the Vice President himself said, remember we have the uniqueness in these challenges. You know, it’s a way of getting our people back home to their ancestral places. And what is wrong about getting them back home? That’s nothing. I think rather, we should try to cash in on farming the food which the fodder for the cattles. So, I feel that a lot of businesses will even just spring up in Benue as well. If only people would stop putting a spin on mere statements that are made, I think it would help a lot of matters.
Did the state government pay ransom for the rescue of your commissioner of information who was recently kidnapped?
I have told you what I know. The state government doesn’t pay ransom. We stand by that statement. The state government tried so much in this case. With different security apparatuses to get to work, into the field, to get into the communities and to do a series of dynamics, to get this fine gentleman back. And that was the exact thing we did. So, if you heard Thank God. You see, you heard, so you don’t even know. So, when you know, you have an authority over whatever thing you heard. So, I’ve spoken what I know. And this is why authoritatively, I’m relating to you that we were able to get this fine gentleman back home and we even issued a very strong statement. If you are a bad egg in the state, leave, just leave on your own. Because this is a season for peace and nothing less is being requested by people.
How are you able to handle the issue of salary backlog and areas?
For now, we have established the continued payment of salaries each month. If you are a staff of the States or the local government in Benue state, I would have only told you to keep watch on your light on the 25th of every month. Your alert must tell you that you have been paid and that has come to stay and that is what we have been experiencing in the last four months and we’re serious at it. A laborer deserves his wages. So, you work, you earn your living. So, the state is not going to owe anything to anyone. And again, to those who are retiring since this 2023, we have already made it a point of duty that once you retire, it must not take up to four months before you collect your gratuities and your pension.
By doing this, gradually we’re going to revisit the backlog of arreas that exists. In fact, we have started work on that already. So, we’re trying to raise the IGR. So, once it is raised any month, then we have something in there, It goes straight to the areas of pension and then even of salaries. You’ll be shocked to hear that some in the local government, people were owed for up to five years of salaries, five years. And then, the least we recorded are people who were owed up to four months. That was the least and this is why the debts has come up to N359 billion on my head on my head and on the head of Benue state.