Concerned Benue Stakeholder, Laz Apir reaches out to Governor Hyancith Alia in Open Letter. He highlights fifteen (15) points and posers for the governor’s attention, including salary arrears, Local Government Councils, Annual Monitoring Evaluation and Learning Plan (AMELP) and key performance indicators (KPIs), amongst others.
I have no desire to bore you with needless congratulatory pleasantries on your election as the Governor of Benue State and your first one hundred (100) days in office, which also ended my personal honeymoon with your administration.
The elections are over, campaigns have ended, and inaugurations are done. These are no longer the issues for discourse. What is truly left now is GOVERNANCE.
I fully understand that there are those who will find my open letter an unacceptable medium, but I keep hearing from those who tried to have an in-person engagement with you that they could not see you as you were either nowhere near the Government House all day, or failed to keep their appointment that you were resting. You may not see everyone, but you can hear from most of us. As they say, leaders are readers, or readers are leaders, as it applies to you. I hope you read mine.
That said, let me save both of our time and state the issues of concern.
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- When, in late 2019, I got wind of your plan to contest for the top job in the state, I was one of those who loved the idea of a departure from the regular politicians for an outsider who will help us end the cycle of passing the top job from one recycled politician to another with little or nothing to show.In the same breadth, I questioned your suitability for the job naturally, as I found a ready comparison with Late Fr. Moses Orshio Adasu, who, like you, was a Catholic Priest who first rose to the top state job. Unlike you, the Late Fr. Adasu came with significant public service experience. He was fearless and had strategic minds like Sebastian Agbinda and other highflyer peers in the society to brainstorm with.You haven’t had much public service experience before now, have you? Who is your ‘Sebastian Agbinda,’ and who are the highflyer personalities you are consulting?
- For context, who in your cabinet holds a cross-cutting role to ensure project design and implementation across the board aligns with your vision as encapsulated in your commissioned development blueprint/strategic plan? Or was it just scripted in the spirit of meeting the customary practice of every administration launching a blueprint it never references in its entire term? To do different, you must have a design that is different. Are you operating under “authority to incur expenses” or the same strangulating “cash flow” system? My preference is to allow your Heads of MDAs the authority to incur expenses within limits, but whatever model you decide to use, understand the best version of it and apply it.
- Have you provided your cabinet with the basic resources to carry out their work towards the realisation of your vision for Benue? My findings show that as basic as operational vehicles have not been provided for them. Are they supposed to use their personal resources to work? Have you even issued them detailed engagement contracts with clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)? Are their offices ready and conducive for them to all settle in and get to work?READ ALSO: Reps to FERMA: “Declare emergency on Benue roads linking Southern Nigeria”
- Now that we are talking about settling, have you settled in yourself? I hear you are operating as the Governor of Benue State from your private residence.
Whilst we can find several examples of other Governors who operated from their private homes in the early days of their administration, it is not a good example to follow. There is a reason, a very good one, why the office of the Governor and the residence are mostly combined.You have many of your support staff members all working in the Government House. The symbol of authority and seat of power must be maintained. And as the Governor, you never stop working even when you leave the Office Wing to the residence, except when you go on leave and hand over to your deputy.I reliably heard that there is no internet connectivity provided for the Benue State Government House staffers at the moment. This is unacceptable and must be addressed immediately.
- I heard the previous administration of Governor Samuel Ortom handed over a vandalised Government House to you. I candidly sympathise with you. Be that as it may, Benue is not so poor that after 100 days, you are still unable to mobilise resources to refurbish the Government House and Office Complex to move in.You will not be spared from criticism for sparing resources, leaving the Government House in a state of disrepair. Do that and find a way to recover the resources from Ortom later.
- Have you thought out how to clear the salary and pension arrears? Government is a continuum, and you just inherited the assets and liabilities. You cannot pick and choose what is convenient for you to do and what to leave out.Let me pause here and commend you for regularising the payment of current salaries. Keep it up! If you do not have the resources for an upward review of the current minimum wage in the state, which is abysmal in the face of the current economic realities in the land, do not also attempt to introduce deductions or reductions. Just maintain what it is and ensure the arrears are cleared. This is one delicate issue that can very quickly dwindle your goodwill. It must be transparently determined and addressed timeously.
- On the Local Government Councils. We cannot solve illegality with illegality. You cannot succeed without a functional Local Governmenr structure that brings development to the grassroots. Whatever the constitutional solution you are considering to fix the current leadership lacuna at the Local Government tier, you need to move fast. And while at it, pay their salaries and let the balance of their funds not disappear from their accounts.
I am not writing to just question your actions and inactions so far. So let me switch here and offer you a few suggestions to improve your governance of the state.
- You did not sign up for the top job to rest. Governors Akume, Suswam and Ortom have all the time to rest. You only have four or eight years to govern.Let Benue people, development partners, and stakeholders meet you, hear them out and always be decisive in resolving issues that can be resolved on the go. What requires further engagement can be referred for further deliberation.Leaders solve problems, not avoid them or shy away or pass the buck to those who do not have authority or mandate of the people. On this, I encourage you to adopt the former U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s philosophy/phrase “The buck stops here.” He kept the phrase on his desk in the Oval Office to remind him that he has to make the decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.
- Appoint a Special Advisor on Special Duties to be someone who understands or must master the development blueprint. Let that person have a cross-cutting role to be your eyes and ears across all MDAs.The person will also head the project monitoring, evaluation and learning unit. The MEL unit should develop an Annual Monitoring Evaluation and Learning Plan (AMELP) with clear annual indicators and targets with which it will be able to reduce the state’s annual budget performance and overall governance into numbers for you to see your administration’s performance (quarters, semi-annual and annual).READ ALSO: North Central: Presiding Officers of State Assemblies | Parliament Spotlight
- You do not have to have all the expertise and experience to be a successful governor. What you need at this point is to have technocrats whose superior viewpoints you have to respect and adopt in your policy positions and implement to the finish. Governing Benue State is not running a parish where its priest can determine almost everything, and the laity only has to say, “Yes father.” As a Governor, almost every action of yours may be questioned and rightly so.Accept this new reality, embrace it and work with it. Anything short of this will only lead to another quantum failure for the state. The civil service that you work through has procedures and processes that must be followed. If you find them slow, reform the civil service to make it more efficient.
- Procure and assign official vehicles to your entire state cabinet without further delay. It may be expensive now, but there is no alternative. If you hire workers and do not equip them with the tools and means to work, there can only be one end: failure. Every day that passes without the provision of such resources is taxpayers’ money wasted on their salaries without a return on investment. And it only dampens their morale; do not frustrate your employees to start resigning in frustration. Also, review their engagement letters to include high-level KPIs upon which you can measure their performance at the end of the year.
- You need to prioritise and move into the Government House to be able to engage much more robustly with the Benue people. What needs to be done must be done to ensure you move in and lead from the front. You cannot be an absentee governor who shows up in the office at will. It sends a bad signal for the entire Benue State Civil Service.
- You need to communicate how you propose to address the owed salary arrears. With the reviews of the state wage bill, Benue State should be able to pay two months’ salary every month. To cover the current month and one month in the arrears. Do this and see how life returns to the Benue markets to boost the economy of the state. Money must continue to flow in the system. Besides, it is owed to the workers, and the good book says, “The labourer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:1). In another place, it says, “you shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning” (Lev. 19:13).
Benue people believed in your candidacy and demonstrated that belief in the outright rejection of the incumbent political party that held sway at the time. They gave a resounding victory to your political party/candidacy at the polls.
Let this fact be on your mind as you go to sleep and the first thought as you wake up. Reward them with good governance. Remember, there is a thin line between love and hate.