Financial Crisis In Benue: Where They Got It Wrong


The recent outburst by top officials of the new government in Benue State, especially that of the Secretary to the State Government, Barrister Targema Takema on the financial quagmire of the state may not have caught many Nigerians by surprise having become the usual song in some of the states of the federation where new governments have just taken off.

The outburst on the financial status is predicated on the inability of the new government in the affected states to find their feet or hit the ground running in the implementation of some bogus promises that are not in conformity with economic realities on ground made to the people to secure their votes.

In Benue to be specific, the new SSG, Takema made futile attempt to paint the gloomy picture of the financial challenges inherited from the immediate past administration of Gabriel Suswam with primary aim of attracting public sympathy on why the new government may not be able to deliver on its electioneering promises to the people, but failed to give convincing figure on the actual debt profile of the state, especially those that may have been incurred by the Suswam-led administration.

While it may not be an offence or a sin for a new government to delve into records to give to the public the account of performance or otherwise of its predecessor as part of accountability system as attempted by Takema, it is however, disturbing and worrisome when elements of blackmail and name-calling are being employed to either scandalize or settle political scores with the immediate administration by portraying it in bad light in order to draw undeserved public sympathy.

It is a fact that Benue, like many other states with huge workforce, may have ran into trouble in the payment of workers’ salaries and even failed in meeting its contractual obligations to the contractors engaged in the provision of infrastructural facilities, which may be due to many factors that are already known to the Nigerian public, especially on the dwindling revenue from the federation account occasioned by the sharp drop in the global oil prices. It may not be enough for the government in power to make mountains out of mole hill just to discredit the immediate administration for no just cause.

While this piece is not intended to hold forth for Suswam or any of his former aides, the new government must learn to face reality that government being a continuous process, will always face one challenge or the other inclusive of payment of workers’ salaries.

To start with, a cursory look at a table of seven states with worst debt profile in the country did not show Benue as one of them. For the benefit of the reading public, the seven states listed by the Debt Management Office, DMO with high debt profile are Lagos reputed for its highest internally generated revenue prowess and followed by Kaduna, Cross River, known as one of the oil producing states, Edo, Ogun, Bauchi and Katsina.

The bogus claim that Benue at the moment is indebted to the workers and its contractors to the sum of N90billion may be a subject of discussion another day due to the inability of the Ortom-led new government to clarify whether his immediate predecessor alone incurred this debt or it is an accumulated debt of years back.

But, perhaps there is need to look into the bogus claim both in Benue and the other states for the purpose of arriving at a just and balanced record. This effort will resolve the issue of the current challenges states are facing. Indeed, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Debt Management Office have often argued and urged caution on the matter of subnational debt in Nigeria, particularly emphasising proper verification and treatment.

Without making a case for the last four or eight years, we must agree that a lot of the states’ government dealt with several fiscal challenges including workers’ pay due to the downturn in the economy, especially the sharp declining in the financial allocations to states and local governments from the federation accounts. As the wages of civil servants was advertently raised in 2011, coupled with all the other labour demands, it became inevitable that Nigeria was going to face serious cash crunch. But, collectively we, while accepting that government is a continuous process, it will be unfair for the Ortom administration and indeed the other new administrations to treat these challenges as not theirs. In many ways we have been here before and one hopes that we never get back on this road to nowhere. States must find a way to institutionalise a process where programmes and projects are smartly prioritised.

There is no point in engaging sensationalism on government processes with the aim of ridiculing and embarrassing past government officials as doing so could be counter-productive and may not make the machinery run smoothly.

The challenge is national and arose due to several factors that are known to Nigerians and therefore employing the blame game or name-calling, or worse still, looking for scape goat will definitely not resolve the issue or crack the nut caused by the national cash crunch and therefore Governor Ortom and his aides should brace up and face the challenge posed by the poor inflow of revenue from the federation account.

The expectation of Nigerians is for the various state administrations to be able to hit the ground running. This is particularly the case in Benue, where they invested their votes in the administration. One cannot help but mention Kaduna and Lagos states where the governors have hit the ground running and making the right policy and programme moves.

To douse the anger of the state workers, who are victims of the downturn in the economy, it will not be out of place for the new government to parley with the leadership of the workers and present the true picture of the revenue inflow from the federation account to them in order to secure their understanding and then go a step ahead to negotiate with the workers on how the salary outstanding would be resolved without resulting to bickering by the two parties.

Prof. Leonard Karshima Shilgba of the Federal University of Otuoke in Bayelsa State in a statement on the financial crisis in Benue State made it abundantly clear that there was nothing wrong in any government to borrow money to pay workers as a viable alternative to meeting their needs so as to have the best from them in terms of productivity. The professor of Mathematics in his candid opinion also suggested for government to beef up its internally generated revenue by engaging experts who will use banks being operated by the state government to infuse transparency, innovations and reliability into the mode of collecting taxes and levies instead of the unwholesome practices where taxes and levies are collected by hands by government workers thereby creating a big loophole for high leakages in the state revenue.

This is a wise counsel, which the government of Governor Ortom should engage to resolve the challenges at hand instead of chasing shadow and castigating the person of his immediate predecessor for a problem that was caused by the downturn in the national economy.

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