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The sunny side of Benue

We were just waiting to die before Gov. Alia came and made it Christmas to remember – Pensioners

 

From Scholastica Hir, Makurdi

The 2023 Christmas celebration has come and gone but the thrills, frills and excitement remain indelible in the minds of residents of Benue State.

•Alia in photographs with children during the Christmas party in Makurdi

 

Some residents who spoke to Daily Sun recounted their excitement following the numerous measures implemented by the state government to ensure that the people of the state had a merry Christmas.

Pa Simon Odeh, one of the pensioners in the state after serving meritoriously, was a beneficiaries of the government’s good deed.

Over the years, Pa Odeh had suffered high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and other ailments that made him fragile and unable to continue his farm work. So, he depended solely on his pension. But the payments trickled in. It even stopped coming at a time. As a result, he was not able to afford his medication when needed.

•Bags of rice at SEMA warehouse

He was not also able to keep up with his doctor’s advise to abstain from certain food that were detrimental to his health and to eat others since he could not afford them. His health deteriorated and this put his family, especially his aged wife on the edge.

He said: “We were waiting to die until Fr. Alia arrived as the state governor. We had so many bills to pay, especially medical bills, school fees, rents and others. Our health were failing, we had no food to eat, we could not go to our farms because of insecurity and we lived our lives in fear.

•Alia and his deputy during the inauguration of the buses

“Sometimes, we prayed that death should come so that it can put an end to our long suffering but all that is in the past now. I didn’t believe that a day will come and a bloody pensioner like me could afford to provide for my family, not just food but the kind of food prescribed for me in my condition.

“For a long time now, my family sits and watch when Christmas comes. We see other families go about the preparation for the celebration but this time, it was Christmas to remember for me and my family. Thanks to our new governor.”

•Alia helping a beneficiary to lift a bag of rice during the distribution of palliatives at SEMA office

Pa Odeh was not alone in this euphoria. Many civil servants, especially teachers, who could hardly afford three meals a day due to non payment of salaries for about 12 months at the state level and over 40 months at the local government, said since May 2023, they have began to experience a new lease of life as the new government has improved on their welfare.

Mrs Janet Akula, a widowed primary school teacher, told this reporter that in the last five years, December 2023 was the first Christmas that she went to the market to purchase Christmas clothes for the children.

“We didn’t have salaries, it only came once in a while. We borrowed to do everything: feeding, fees, rent, medical bills, name them. But this 2023 Christmas was different. For a long time, I didn’t just get paid but this time I got my salary early in the month and that enabled us have a good celebration. I feel very good about that and I pray this is the beginning of good tidings for us in Benue State,” she said.

A poultry dealer, Mrs Rose Akula, who commended the state governor for prompt payment of salaries, said there was money in circulation, and a lot of people were able to purchase what they needed. She said it rubbed off positively on people in business like her.

“I do poultry business and I know how the business has been going and those who have been patronizing me – only big men and average civil servants. But last December, I had customers who are not big men, including artisans, bricklayers and truck pushers. All those people who were not coming in the past patronized me and they bought more than one chicken at a time,” she volunteered.

Recall that after his election as governor,  Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia, in his acceptance speech, stated that his victory, which he dedicated to the people of the state, will bring the much needed liberation and change that the people have yearned for for years. He had promised to not only pay salaries as at when due but to clear the backlog of arrears of salaries, pensions and gratuities, among other packages to set the stage for a prosperous Benue.

Alia actually matched words with action by paying salaries on the 25th day of every month. Recently, pensioners marched to Government House in appreciation of his gestures and in December, he paid pensioners in addition to two months p arrears.

Also in December 2023, Alia distributed palliatives to citizens of the state. Recall that the removal of fuel subsidy had brought untold hardship on Nigerians and those in Benue were not exempted. In the bid to cushion the effects, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu rolled out billions of money as palliatives to states.

Alia disclosed that out of the N5 billion, which was meant for the state, he had received N2 billion which he  spread across various sectors of the state economy to ensure life became easier for the people. This included payment of WAEC and NECO registration fees for all students in public schools in the state for the 2023/2024 academic session and training of 10,000 youth on ICT, among other initiatives.

The Benue people were further thrilled when, few days to Christmas, the governor announce the sharing of rice and other grains for the people. Alia had stated that the state received five trucks of rice which amounts to 3000 bags of rice.

During the flag off of distribution of the palliatives at State Emergency Management Agency, (SEMA), office in Makurdi, the premises was packed full. Alia, who stated that the palliatives were for everyone in the state, started with the downtrodden.

He said: “This is the third phase of the palliatives which is the distribution of grains, mainly rice and maize. The grains include 21 trucks of corn and 35 trucks of rice. They would be shared down to the 227 wards in the state, to all civil servants, primary and secondary school teachers in the state traditional rulers, trade unions and People With Disabilities (PWDs), among others to aid the people celebrate a good Christmas.

“Categories of beneficiaries include but not limited to the less privileged, widows, okada riders, Keke NAPEP operators, orphanages, correctional facilities and pensioners among others.”

This announcement caused the crowd to cheer the governor with some of the keke operators and okada riders describing his gesture as first of its kind. A leader of Okada riders in Makurdi, who identified himself simply as Silas,  expressed joy at the governor’s gesture and thanked him for reaching out to all and sundry at the season.

“That has never happened to us before. We have never been given free rice before. But this Christmas was good. We only hope for improvement and progress in the economy of the state and country so that thing will improve for everyone,” he said.

For residents who traveled using the state transport company, Benue Links, their experience with the fares was also worth celebrating. Recall that out of the palliatives funds received by the state government, Alia purchased and supplied 100 buses to Benue Links to reduce the  cost of transportation for residents. During the launching, he said the buses would ply the state’s 23 LGAs  and 36 states of the country, including FCT at a subsidies rate.

During the yuletide period, while the federal government gave travelers 50 percent transport cut, Alia magnanimously did same for people, who travelled from the state.

An Igbo trader, Mr Emmanuel Echebiri, said: “With such incentive coming at Christmas period, it was a good relief. I travelled to Owerri with my four children and my wife. We paid just N10,500 each. Imagine what would have happened if the fare was not subsidized.

“With the fuel price and how transporters increased their fares during period, it would have been an impossible mission to travel with my family. I appreciate the state because that helped us traveled with ease.”

Another resident, Joy Igbabul, a student of Benue State University, said the buses provided by the governor made traveling enjoyable. “It was not like in the past when vehicles breakdown on the road. It was like a dream traveling to Gboko and Katsina Ala in new buses and at a reduced price,” she said.

The fare that was reduced was Benue State level of palliative to enable the people travel without pains and enjoy their celebration. Certain places were reduced to 50 percent and others to 40, 30 and 60 percent. That was the directive of the governor and I can tell you that the people really were appreciative of the gestures,” a management staff of the company who didn’t want to be named, told this reporter.

“We enjoyed that transport subsidy. A number of my friends and I took advantage of the opportunity to dash here and there during that period. But we just hope that the federal government will do the needful and reduce the price of fuel so that things will get better. But in all, I appreciate the governor for his palliatives to the Benue people,” another resident said.

The children were not also left out as the state government organized a Christmas party for them, which he attended personally. It was a great moment for them to see the people’s governor.

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