BENUE State in the North Central geo-political zone of Nigeria was one of the first out of the country's 36 to access the counterpart funding of N2.4 million from the federal pool when it paid up its mandatory contribution of N1.2 million as a priority investment.
Dr. Samuel Ortom, Governor of the state has backed up this commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by putting in place and closely monitoring effective implementation strategies for the Benue State goals within his government's scale of priorities.
As one of the few Nigerian governors ever invited to make a presentation at a session of the United Nations General Assembly, Governor Ortom participated in the 71st Session in New York in September 2016, and also witnessed the adoption of the global development agenda. He is therefore committed to ensuring that the implementation of the SDGs in the state moves from vision and plans to concrete actions. This, he believes, will ensure equitable growth, social development and sustainable environment, ensuring that no one is left behind.
To ensure effective coordination of the SDGs in Benue State, Governor Ortom appointed Dr. Magdalyne M. Dura, one of his most trusted aides, who serves as his Special Adviser on Development Corporation, SDGs and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) to take charge of the process.
With this, the state government has not only demonstrated that the SDGs are on the front burner of its activities but has also laid a solid foundation for effectively utilising the SDGs to affect the lives of people of Benue State positively.
Integrating the SDG into Benue State Development Plan
Before the inception of the Ortom's administration on May 29, 2015, his predecessor, Dr. Gabriel Suswam had had made considerable progress in the implementation of the MDGs that included uplifting the status of human development, with emphasis on poverty alleviation, quality education, agricultural revival and development of a grassroots-based micro-credit scheme.
However, two major flaws were noticed. These were, failure to integrate the MDGs into several plans of action by successive governments, as well as parallel institutional processes working discordantly towards the same sectoral objectives.
To address the inadequacies in the implementation of the MDGs, Benue State government under Governor Ortom effectively integrated the SDGs into its 10-year State Development Plan. He said that his administration's decision to integrate the SDGs into its development plan was informed by the fact that the global goals align with the five major pillars of his government's blueprint encapsulated in “Our Collective Vision for a New Benue.”
Basically, the five major pillars as enshrined in the policy document are: to (a) ensure good governance and revenue security, (b) provide an Agricultural-Driven Industrialization, (c) provide Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM)-Based Education and Health Services, (d) invest in critical infrastructure and (e) promote gender equality, empower women, youth, and persons with disabilities.
Presentation of the “Benue State Model” to the UN
It is remarkable the based on Governor Ortom's passion for the SDGs, he was invited to the 71st Session of the United Nations in New York where he made a presentation at the side event on experiences in multi-stakeholders' engagement in the implementation of SDGs in Africa held on September 21, 2016.
His presentation focused on the 'Benue State Model', particularly experiences and lessons learnt in the domestication and implementation of SDGs in the state. Governor Ortom told global leaders that the integration of the SDGs into Benue State development plan is to achieve better collaboration between SDGs office and mainline Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of Government, in order to enhance and allow optimal utilization of resources.
He added that relevant SDGs targets were made part of sector targets and SDGs strategies were aligned into sector strategies. Each sector was required to indicate how it would contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.
Governor Ortom declared that the five pillars of Benue State Development Plan were geared towards supporting its long term goal founded on: “A new and prosperous Benue State anchored on the fear of God”. The pillars were also directed at promoting social justice, transparent and accountable governance, growth in jobs and wealth; more healthy and educated population, critical infrastructure for improved quality of life and development and better life for women, youth, the elderly and persons with special needs.
He added that the pillars are long-term outcomes which the state development plan will deliver. The results will be delivered through sectoral strategies linked to Annual Budgets. According to him, the process of producing the plan involved multi-stakeholder engagements.
Governor Ortom noted that his administration believes that the implementation of the SDGs will not be the responsibility of the State SDGs office alone, but a collective set of multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholders' actions incorporating all governments agencies with mandates on the SDGs, the private sector, civil society and local authorities.
He declared: “We are implementing a multi-stakeholder approach to monitoring and evaluation of progress and reporting. This is to ensure ownership and accountability. Our State Monitoring and Evaluation systems, including Sector Performance Reviews have been deployed to achieve this purpose. So far, our experience in Benue State has confirmed that the implementation of the SDGs is a shared responsibility for all stakeholders. We are therefore committed to ensuring that our implementation of the SDGs moves from vision and plans to concrete actions that will ensure equitable growth, social development and the sustainable enjoyment of our environment and resources ensuring that no one is left behind.”
The Benue State government has initiated programmes geared towards alleviating poverty among the people. One of the agencies charged with the responsibility of alleviating poverty in the state is the Bureau of Rural Development and Cooperatives. Dr. Adzer Abya, Special Adviser to the Governor on Rural Development and Cooperatives said the bureau has been involved in the transformation of the rural areas in the three senatorial zones of Benue State. According to him, the bureau has registered over one thousand cooperative societies and keyed into the Anchor Borrowers' Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The programme tremendously increased cooperative societies' access to credit.
In addition to the ABP, cooperative societies in the state were able to access N2 billion domiciled at the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) and another N2 billion domiciled at the Bank of Industry (BoI).
Benue State prides itself as the 'Food Basket of the Nation' based on the fertility of its soil. As part of measures to alleviate poverty, the Ortom administration has given agriculture the required boost. In recent times, Benue farmers have been trained on rice and soya beans production and provision of inputs. As a result of this, the crop yield of Benue farmers has shown tremendous improvement with the mean yield of rice per hectare rising from 2.5 metric tons per hectare in 2014/2015 to 4.5 metric tons per hectare in 2016 and that of soya bean rising to 3.5 metric tons per hectare from 1.5 metric tons per hectare in 2014/2015.
Engr. Benson Abounu, Deputy Governor of the state said the objectives of the administration on agriculture include promoting access to safe nutrition, sufficient and affordable food all-year-round for Benue citizens. Others are: to make agriculture a business, contributing substantially to the economic growth of the state and increasing the income of farmers up to 80 percent by the year 2019.
According to him, government will continue to work towards industrialization of the state with the target of ensuring that agro-processing is one of the top ten contributors to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the state by 2019 and one of the top three by 2025.
Abounu added that the vision of the state government is to ensure that it becomes the preferred agro-industrial hub in the country and the preferred source of high quality processed products to the Nigerian market and the West African sub-region.
Already, the administration has constructed and installed machinery for the Orange Cleaning and Packaging Plant in Ushongo and Yandev towns. It has also constructed and installed machinery for the Soybeans Cleaning and Packaging Plant in Wannune Tarka, the Bean seed Cleaning and Packaging Plant in Oju, and Garri Processing Plants in Ogwule Kaduna and Ogoli Onyangede in Agatu and Ohimini Local Government Areas.
The Ortom administration has equally signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a foreign investor for the establishment of a Bio-fuel (Ethanol) plant in Agasha Guma local government Area of Benue State. The project which involved the establishment of sugarcane and cassava plantations for the provision of raw materials needed by the plant will also create employment opportunities when completed.
The state has fully embraced the Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme of the Federal Government. At the flag-off of Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme in March 2016, Dr. Dura, Special Adviser on Development Corporation, SDGs and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) explained that SDGs call for concerted efforts towards building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for the well being of the people.
Performing the ceremony, Governor Samuel Ortom said the major challenge faced by the agriculturally-endowed state was to work together to eradicate hunger and poverty in the land. About 210 vulnerable households in the 276 wards in Benue State are benefiting from the scheme through the direct cash transfer.
In addition, the office of the SDGs in the state in partnership with Google Nigeria through its vendor; Mind the Gap on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis trained 2,691 youth in Digital Marketing skills. This has provided a whole lot of opportunities for these youths to become employers of labour.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is also assisting the state government in its poverty alleviation efforts through its Rural Finance Building Programme (RUFIN). The IFAD-RUFIN programme has so far been able to alleviate poverty in three local government areas of the state, namely, Apa, Logo and Naka. In these three local government areas, rural women formed groups for training and linkage with micro finance institutions for access to loans to boost their businesses and living standard.
Mr. Swandip Sinha had in November 2016 led a team from IFAD-RUFIN on a Supervision Mission to Makurdi, the state capital. Mrs Unekwu Ufaruna, Deputy National Programme Coordinator of RUFIN, said that the programme had facilitated financial access of over N30 billion to the rural poor and with 95 to 100 per cent of loan recovery.
Governor Ortom used the opportunity afforded by the visit to appreciate the impact made by the IFAD-RUFIN's financial training and links to micro finance institutions that have enabled the rural people of the state to have access to finance which have significantly boosted their agribusinesses and other investments. He said that the testimonies of some of the people who accessed the loans clearly indicate that the programme has positively impacted on the lives of the rural poor who have been neglected for too long.
Enhancing quality education
Right from the inception of his administration in 2015, Governor Ortom had promised that education would be promoted as the backbone of the Benue vision focusing on quality, access and relevance at all levels. He said his administration is conscious of the correlation between development in the education sector and the overall quality of life of the people. And true to his words, the education sector has continued to receive the desired boost.
Professor Dennis Ityavyer, Commissioner of Education, Science and Technology said that the Ministry has been charged with the responsibility of delivering to the people of Benue State conducive and equal opportunities for the acquisition of knowledge, marketable skills, and positive attitudes, through functional and qualitative education at all levels. He noted that it is in pursuit of this mandate that the Ministry has worked tirelessly to provide the infrastructure to enhance the access to education.
He, however, observed that the prevailing economic difficulties in the country have had its toll on the education sector. According to him, the biggest challenge of the sector is funding. “The requirements of the sector are such that, if the entire state's budget were to be devoted to education, more would still be needed. Given this scenario, though government continues to commit enormous resources to education development, the results are yet near expectation, as contained in the Benue State Strategic Education Sector Operation Plan (SESOP), 2017-2019,” Professor Ityavyer said.
To further enhance quality education, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) provided N3.8 billion and with the payment of an equal amount by the state government, it accessed N7.6 billion which was invested into 740 projects in the primary school sector across the state. It has retrained 10,000 primary and 6,000 secondary school teachers. It also renovated some secondary schools and recruited Mathematics teachers to strengthen science-based education.
The Benue State government is also improving the quality of education in the tertiary institutions in the state, including the Benue State University and the Benue State Polytechnic.
However, Professor Ityavyer, the Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology said that Benue State has a projected funding gap of over one trillion naira within the next three years. This money, he said, is needed in addition to federal allocation to provide critical infrastructure, implement the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM)-Based Education, fund professional development for teachers and supply learning materials including books, ICT and Science equipment.
He said that currently, there are only 23,445 classrooms available for the one million, seven hundred and eighty thousand, nine hundred and sixty-seven (1,780,967) students enrolled in Early Childhood Development Centres (ECCD) through Senior Secondary Schools (SSS) in Benue State, thus leading to over-crowded classrooms. According to him, the situation calls for judicious and transparent management of the scarce resources by all concerned to achieve optimal results.
To assist government in funding education, the Ortom administration initiated a machinery is called, the “Benue Peoples' Education Project,” (BePEP). BePEP is a platform for crowd – funding with the mandate to garner resources from alternative sources to support public education in Benue State. The mission of BePEP is to serve as a network of funding partners so that every public school in Benue State will have access to the resources needed to implement a world-class learning environment.
In June 2017, the Benue State government keyed into the Home-Grown School Feeding programme of the Buhari administration by recruiting 4,150 cooks for its take off. A total of 272,818 pupils in primary 1-3 out of the 949,047 enrolled in public primary schools in the state would benefit from the programme.
Gender equality and women empowerment
The Benue State government is working hard to actualise its vision of promoting gender equality and empowering women.
The Ministry of Women Affairs has been collaborating with the Eunice Spring of Life Foundation (ESLF), a pet project of Dr. (Mrs) Eunice Ortom, wife of the governor of Benue State to uplift women. Since the foundation was established in May 2016, it has engaged women in skills acquisition programmes to guarantee their future through economic empowerment and wealth generation.
In agriculture, the Foundation embarked on a farming project in four communities Raav, Howe, Taraku and Aondoana in Gwer West LGA of Benue State, where soya beans, maize and sesame were cultivated. The project yielded a harvest of over a hundred bags of the crops which were evenly distributed in the communities. Fifty hectares of land was acquired for demonstration farms where the Foundation in partnership Songhai Farms from Porto Novo, would train farmers to embrace modern agricultural techniques in their farming activities to boost their productivity. The Foundation has empowered women through the First ever Benue Women Economic Summit that culminated into the selection of 841 members from cooperatives that underwent training in agri-business. These women were provided with soft loan facilities to start up or improve their businesses.
However, the Benue State government has not quite lived up to expectation in terms of appointment of women into sensitive positions. In April, 2017, some women staged a peaceful protest to Government House, Makurdi, to demand for more political appointments and elective positions in the state. The women held placards some of which read: “Give more political appointments to women”, “Women are tested and proven'', “Gender justice or no votes'', “give us our rights as women,” and “Women are critical stakeholders too''
Priscilla Achapa, spokesperson of the group decried the non-inclusion of women in Ortom's administration. “Women are not adequately represented in this administration in spite of our commitment, struggle and loyalty to the party. We are critical stakeholders in this administration, what we are requesting as local government election draws closer are; 40 slots of councillors, 15 out of the 23 council chairmen and more representation in government,” she said.
Responding, Ortom said that he would appeal to stakeholders at the local governments to consider more women in their selection processes, and also promised to include more women in subsequent appointments.
The challenges of decent work and economic growth
At the inception of his administration, Governor Ortom lamented the pains workers were going through as a result of non-payment of three-month salary arrears owed them by the administration of his predecessor and promised to immediately make arrangements for the payment of salary arrears and outstanding allowances to pensioners.
To redeem his promise to workers and pensioners, his administration had initially headed for the bond market to obtain a loan of N10billion to pay May and June (2015) salaries of the state workers and the running of government. He followed this up with a commercial bank loan of N5.5billion which he used for the payment of counterpart-funding with various international partners. The state also accessed the N28billion bailout funds from the Federal Government which was used to offset the backlog of salary arrears to the tune of N12.5billion for state workers and N15.5 for local government workers.
Recently, the state government received N6.460billion as its share of the second tranche of Paris Club refund from the Federal Government. In 2016, it had received N12.7billion as the first tranche of the Paris Club refund.
Despite all these loans and refunds as well as the monthly allocation accruing to the state from the federation account, the state is still grappling with payment of salaries as state workers are being owed salary arrears.
This has continued to be a big pain for the governor who had at several fora lamented his inability to attend to workers' welfare, as he wanted due to paucity of funds occasioned by the prevalent economic crunch in Nigeria.
Although Governor Ortom had declared state of emergency on salary and promised to source for funds through every legal means to enable him pay backlog of salaries owed workers and pensioners in the state, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state has lamented the increasing hardship being faced by workers and pensioners in the state following non-payment of salaries.
The union had boycotted the 2017 Workers' Day celebration to protest the non-payment of workers' salaries and monthly pension of retirees. Comrade Ordue Tartenger, Chairman of the Benue State Chapter of TUC said the decision to boycott the celebration was taken in solidarity with the affected workers and pensioners.
The signing of instrument of ratification of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change by Nigeria on March 28, 2017 by President Muhammadu Buhari requires that the country and its sub-national governments, including Benue State must urgently undertake planned action to combat climate change and its impact.
However, it appears that Benue State has not been able to effectively strengthen adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters. This was why the Benue State government found it difficult to curtail the rampaging flooding which displaced about 110,000 people in 24 communities in the state including Makurdi, the state capital on August 27, 2017.
Boniface Ortese, Executive Secretary of Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) said that over 2,769 households were ravaged by the flood.
It is believed that the Benue flood, apart from being a natural disaster, was made worse by blocked drainage and the erection of buildings on drainage channels. To prevent such disasters in future, the state government embarked on the demolition of illegal structures along the flood plains. Joseph Utsev, Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment said the government was planning to dredge the River Benue to provide a permanent solution to the recurring flood in the state.
He urged the Federal Government to include Benue among states to benefit from the N1.6 billion ecological intervention fund. Utsev said that if adequate budgetary provisions were made, such disasters could have been mitigated since natural disasters could only be controlled.
Peace, justice and strong institutions
The Ortom administration believes strongly that to achieve peace, justice and strong institutions by 2030, efforts should be intensified to secure the lives and properties of Benue people.
To achieve this goal, the administration introduced the amnesty programme which has the carrot and stick approach. The programme has been embraced by over 700 youths who submitted over 600 arms, light weapons and thousands of ammunition.
One key security problem which has led to bloodbath in Benue is the incessant clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. Records show that between 2013 and 2016, no fewer than 1,878 men, women and children have been killed in cold blood across the affected 12 local government areas of the state. To ensure peace between farmers and herdsmen as well build inter-state peace relations, Benue and Nasarawa State governments resolved to put to an end, the lingering crises between suspected Fulani herdsmen and farmers at the border areas of Agatu and Nasarawa. Governors Ortom and Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State held a crucial meeting on the issue in Makurdi and called on security agencies in the two states to take the necessary steps to check the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and ammunition in order to forestall the reoccurrence of similar crises.
However, Governor Ortom emphasized that ranching was the best solution to the clashes between the herders and farmers in the state. To further affirm the governor's position on the issue, the Benue State government enacted the Open Grazing (Prohibition) and Establishment of Ranches Law, 2017 and commenced its implementation on November 1, 2017.
The law, apart from providing for the establishment of Ranches and Livestock administration, regulation and control, also provided that anybody who engages in cattle rustling shall be liable on conviction for imprisonment for a term of not less than three years or N100,00 per animal or both.
On July 8, 2017, the Benue State government had officially reported the atrocities allegedly committed by the Fulani herdsmen to the United Nations as well as their recent threat to mobilise against the Anti-Open Grazing Law enacted by government. Ortom presented the case to Edward Kallon, UNDP Resident Representative in Nigeria, for onward transmission to the UN when the latter and the UN country team paid him a courtesy visit in Makurdi.
In his speech, Kallon announced the organization's plan to work with the Benue State government in the areas of mobilizing international development partners to set up a trust fund to assist in sustaining peace and security. He noted that peace and security were key in the implementation of the SDGs which the UN would help Benue state to achieve.
To create a good working environment for the judiciary to effectively serve as “the last hope of the common man”, the Ortom-led administration also approved the renovation of the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice, and Judges Quarters in Makurdi and Otupko.
The administration also granted Amnesty to 127 convicted persons based on the recommendation of the advisory council on the prerogative of mercy. In exercising its constitutional powers of amnesty, the advisory council on the prerogative of mercy, also secured the release of 25 convicts, reduced the prison sentences of 10 inmates, commuted the death sentence of 18 inmates to life imprisonment, and paid the fines of 74 inmates.
In order to decongest the prisons and ease the suffering of inmates, contract for construction of more cells at Makurdi Medium and Security Prison has been awarded.
Despite the fact the economic difficulties in Nigeria appear to have greatly impinged on the ability of the Benue State government to make the desired progress in implementing the SDGs, Ati Terkula, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on SDGs-Media/ICT is confident that the Ortom administration will achieve the SDGS through its avowed transparency and commitment to the global goals.