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By Peter Awunah, PhD

Yesterday, the 5th of March, 2024, I was sitting somewhere in Maitama, Abuja with my friend of many years, Johnson Anosike, a development economist from Anambra State when a news item popped on his phone and he turned to show me. The news said “Leadership Newspaper honours Alia with governor of the year award”.

Johnson looked at me with a wry smile and said “Peter, how much did the award cost Benue State?” Before I could manage to utter a word, my friend continued, “Why is your governor so desperate for power and attention?” I was still trying to figure out what exactly to tell Johnson when he added, “Do those guys at Leadership newspaper care to find out what other governors in the country like Umar Bago of Niger State, Agbu Kefas of Taraba, Alex Otti of Abia and others are doing in their states? What is wrong with these people?”
At that point, I could only nod my head and agree with Johnson. I couldn’t counter his statement of facts.

The point that hit me harder was the first one “Peter, how much did the award cost Benue State?” I knew that the award must have cost my state a fortune of its resources. Governor Hyacinth Alia is not close to being the best performing governor in Nigeria even by an inch. Whoever made that choice must no doubt be smiling to the bank by now.

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When I returned home yesterday evening, I was still pondering over Anosike’s posers and decided to revisit the Leadership award to Governor Alia. I went to the newspaper’s website and read the story of the award in detail to know why the medium arrived at their choice, and I found nothing tangible to write home about.

One of the paragraphs justifying the choice of Governor Alia read thus: “By these unprecedented approaches in empowerment of Benue farmers, Alia’s declaration that his administration would ensure food security, increased yields, and a thriving agricultural sector has properly kicked off.”

When I saw the words “food security” in the above portion of the Leadership story, I felt a sting of shame. So Governor Alia whose people are predominantly farmers and who have been chased away from their ancestral lands and farms with many of them being killed daily by herders had gone to Abuja to receive an award for “ensuring food security”?

Governor Alia’s Chief Press Secretary, Tersoo Kula was quoted in one of the paragraphs as saying hat his boss has done pretty well in area of security when he said “…ease of doing business, and reforms in the health sector, transportation sector, and Security during his short time in office, were indices considered for the governor to be selected for the award”.

At that point, I concluded that indeed Alia is not a sincere person. If his spokesman could look the traumatized Benue people in the faces and say that his principal is doing very well in securing them, I suggest that the governor should be considered for the award of “Most Dishonest Governor of the Year”.

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In the same report on Alia’s award, I read the newspaper say he was adjudged the best “For demonstrating leadership, ensuring prudence, blocking waste and fighting corruption to a standstill since he assumed office as the helmsman of Benue State”.

Really! A governor who is running the government like his private company with zero transparency and accountability? How has Alia blocked wastages in government when he is reported to be buying mansions in Abuja and other parts of the country? His fleet of convoy vehicles is rated as one of the most expensive among the present crop of governors.

How is Governor Alia fighting corruption when his officials are being investigated by anti-corruption agencies and even the National Assembly? The other day the bureau of local government affairs under him was accused of diverting N20 billion belonging to the 23 local governments of the state. A few days later, another report indicated that Alia’s government misappropriated N46 billion in just four months in office.

Alia boasts of paying salaries of workers and pensions but he has been mute on how much his administration has received from the federation’s account since he became governor and oil subsidy has been removed. He has not said anything about the arrears of salaries that he promised to clear within the first 100 days in office.

Governor Alia snubs due process in governance. He awards white elephant projects unilaterally and the contract costs are inflated above the known standards of construction. He increased his approval limit from N50 million to N250 million and since then has been spending the state resources without questions from any quarter. The trending deception on display in the state now is that he is constructing flyovers in Makurdi and Gboko. That is a misplaced priority which Alia himself knows he is only playing to the gallery. Township roads in Makurdi are in a terrible condition and the town is littered with refuse in all its corners, but the governor is more interested in a flyover.

The States’ Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) law otherwise known as Due Process Law is in existence in Benue State, but Governor Alia is not obeying the law in the award of contracts.

I do not know anyone on the board of Leadership newspaper but I believe that members of the board will read this article of mine. Their choice for the best performing governor is not only a poor one but has once again exposed corruption in every facet of our national life as a country. Awards of performance in governance should not be for the highest bidder! The media is the fourth estate of the realm and must at all times base its decisions and choices upon facts which, as they say, are sacred.

That award to Governor Alia of Benue State is unmerited and lacks every glimmer of credibility!

(Awunah writes from Durumi, Abuja).

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