Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state has dismissed the thought of slashing the salaries of Benue workers despite paying the highest wage in the northern and third highest in the country after Lagos and Rivers States.
The Governor who lamented that the wage bill of the state contributes in no small measure to the financial challenges the government is grappling with, said it would be unreasonable to adjust salaries given difficult times and the inflationary rate in the country.
The Governor who made this known when he featured on Journalist’ Hangout, a TVC interactive programme monitored in Makurdi said he had continued to prioritize the issue of salaries since the state was largely a civil service state.
He explained that from January of 2018 he had consistently paid the salaries of workers until recently when there was drastic fall in revenue accruals to the country which affected over 30 states leading to two months backlog (May and June) assuring that efforts where being made to pay the outstanding.
He said: “I prioritize the issue of payment of salaries because Benue state is a state that the economy is driven by peasant farmers and actively contributed by the civil service. So when you don’t pay salaries their is a problem.
“We have a large civil service because we do not have industries like other states. So the industry we have is the civil servants, hence you just have to do employments.
“We do not want our youths to be redundant. We have the Benue State University, we have the University of Agriculture and other tertiary institutions and every year we have thousands of our children graduating and sometimes you will want to engage them.
“But many people may not be aware of this, Benue state is paying the highest salary in the north. In Nigeria Benue state is paying the highest after Lagos and Rivers states.
“But we have decided that, because of the inflation and several other factors, you cannot talk about even reducing the salaries. You cannot do that because I go to the markets and I know what the cost of goods and services are in our country today. So there is no way I can talk about reducing the salaries of civil servants.
“That is what I inherited and I accepted it. And this matter is not peculiar to me, the opposition can go and say anything they want but it has been in existence, I inherited it.
“From Ape Aku to Akume, to Suswam and myself today. But one thing that I have adopted which no other state government has done is to ensure that I involve the civil service union in the matter.
“And again in my attempt to find a lasting solution to the issue of pension and gratuity, I have domesticated the PenCom law. Today we have contributed money to PenCom to the tune of over N5billion.
“Recently PenCom came up with a report and Benue State was among the five states that were listed to be diligent in paying the money. I believe that at the appropriate time when we are able to reach a certain threshold or benchmark with PenCom we will borrow money from there and clear the arrears that is existing. And I think that this is the first time that a government in Benue has made genuine attempts to solve the issue of pensions and gratuity in the state.”