Third Open Letter To Gov. Hyacinth Alia

By Matthew Ma
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Matthew Ma

“Your Excellency, dealing with criticism may not be pleasant but it's possible to make the best of it. It's essential to listen carefully to criticism and develop an action plan for improvement based on the feedback. It's also crucial not to take criticism personally but to view it as an opportunity for personal growth. Learning how to respond to criticism will help you become a better leader and a better person of faith.”

Dear Governor, Fr. Hyacinth Alia,
After you were elected the governor of Benue State, I took the liberty of writing two open letters to you. The first was to express my congratulations and acknowledge the daunting challenges ahead, such as the backlog of salary arrears, pensions, and gratuities, and the plight of the IDPs. I also noted the persistent insecurity challenges that have made it difficult for Benue to thrive. Additionally, I highlighted the pivotal role young men and women played in your campaign, who helped you overcome the financial temptations of money politics and secure a resounding victory. A successful government empowers its youth not just by providing for their basic needs but also by entrusting them with positions of authority within the government. The second letter was to extend a warm welcome to you in Government House Makurdi. In my letter welcoming you to the government house, I highlighted several essential aspects for your attention as governor of our state: traditional rulers, Benue Links, industries, local governments, and the Land Use Act. These letters were written several months prior to your political appointments to ensure that I was not replicating your efforts. I must commend you for your excellent work thus far, as you have made significant strides in addressing the issues raised in my letters. As a brother priest, I have noticed that you have done so with remarkable efficiency and without the interference of godfatherism. I want to express my gratitude for your little but mighty beginnings, including some of the recent appointments that have brought joy and pride to me as a Benue son.

Your Excellency, you gained a famous slogan shortly after emerging on the political scene in Benue as a gubernatorial aspirant and candidate - "Yes Father!" While you did not choose this nickname yourself, you came to embrace it as the people of the state recognized you not only as a man of God but also as a charismatic leader who embodies the ways of God. This slogan became a powerful symbol of overwhelming acceptance, and your campaign engagement with it helped you make significant strides in the 2023 elections. Your ability to pull an overwhelming popular vote was due in part to the general sentiment across the state that turning to God was necessary to find solutions to the myriad problems that the state faced. The state was facing a multitude of challenges and required revitalization in various aspects - spiritually, materially, physically, and psychologically. There were numerous deficiencies, such as lack of salaries, inadequate security, insufficient capital investment, absence of ethnic unity, insincerity, dishonesty, lack of integrity, and inauthenticity. However, you responded admirably by assuming your divine responsibilities with objectivity and courage. You displayed the qualities of a promising and honest leader who is not afraid to make necessary changes. Since taking office in May, your impact has been widely recognized, as evidenced by the new slogan coined by the people of Benue, "Governor Talk and Do," which has replaced the previous one. This is largely thanks to your critical political appointments, which have been instrumental in steering the affairs of the state. I want to highlight some of these appointments that have instilled confidence in your administration.

Your Excellency, I must commend your administration for the appointment of Dr. Stephen Hwande as the Chief Medical Director of Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH), Makurdi. Dr. Hwande's impressive biography reveals that he is a seasoned consultant gynecologist with a wealth of experience. He has previously served as the Medical Director and Chief Executive Officer of First Fertility Hospital, Makurdi. Upon assuming office, Dr. Hwande wasted no time in highlighting the dire state of the hospital, which had yet to attain referral status despite its many years of existence. He explained that the facility was ill-equipped to handle complex medical procedures such as renal transplants, brain surgery, and cancer management and lamented the non-functional state of the MRI and dialysis machines. Regrettably, these state-of-the-art machines were installed but never put to use, especially when they could have saved countless lives. Upon taking office, Dr. Hwande disposed of 200-million-naira worth of expired drugs and medical supplies, uncovered over 100 unclaimed bodies in the morgue, reduced medical expenses for children and pregnant women, and consultation fees. Prior to his appointment, patients had to purchase essential medications and supplies, but he has since reduced prices. Based on his innovative, creative, and adventurous nature, Hwande is the perfect choice for his new role of resuscitating, repositioning, and effectively managing the hospital for the purpose of delivering effective healthcare services to the people of Benue.

Your Excellency, it gave me great pleasure to witness your second appointment of Mr. Terseer Mnzuulga as the Director General of Radio Benue. As a veteran journalist, Mr. Mnzuulga had previously worked with Radio Benue and Radio Nigeria before this appointment. Even as a child, I remember eagerly awaiting the systematic pronunciation of his name on the Radio. Mr. Mnzuulga is one of Radio Nigeria's finest presenters, having served on the network for decades before retiring after 35 years of service. I am delighted that you have appointed him to head the dilapidated Radio Benue, as his professionalism and accomplishments as a world-class presenter make him an excellent candidate for this position. I hope that younger broadcasters from Benue will learn from him, as he began his career as a Disk Jockey (DJ) at Radio Benue before joining Radio Nigeria to cast the network news and anchor various programs such as Radio Link, Politics Nationwide, and Mandate Studio.

In my previous correspondence, I shared with you the story of Scholastica Onyeka, a journalist with the Sun Newspaper, who reported that the privatization process between the Benue State government and its transport company, Benue Links, had been suspended by the Federal High Court in Makurdi. Ms. Onyeka explained that in August 2021, the state government had put up 25 of its public assets, including the transportation company, for sale or concession due to their deteriorated condition. However, Benue Links challenged this decision in court, arguing that the company had operated successfully for over three decades. Nonetheless, over time, passengers became increasingly dissatisfied with the service due to mistakes, delays, and breakdowns. The transportation situation in Benue and its surroundings had become a severe challenge. To state that Benue Links was facing difficulties would be an understatement. The transport system was severely damaged, and the use of old, outdated vehicles had a detrimental effect on the environment. In short, there was a dire need for modernization. Furthermore, the absence of a government-owned vehicle in the transportation company's fleet was a clear indication of the company's run-down condition. The majority of the cars used by Benue Links were privately owned and leased to the company. I am grateful for your commitment to the people of Benue. Your addition of 100 buses to the Benue Links company will provide affordable transportation for passengers during this festive season. I eagerly anticipate the opening of new routes and a decrease in fares for travelers. I hope that farmers, market vendors, civil servants, and all residents of Benue will benefit from these new buses and enjoy improved travel experiences.

Your Excellency, I must commend your decision to appoint Comrade Alexander Fanafa as Benue Links Acting General Manager. It is a well-deserved appointment that has received widespread praise. Mr. Fanafa is a skilled transport administrator who has demonstrated a commitment to excellence and fairness in his previous role as the manager of the Abuja branch of Benue Links. His appointment is indeed a round peg in a round hole. However, it is essential to note that for the transportation sector to become a center of attraction, there is a need to improve service delivery. The Benue Links transportation sector must become more secure, safer, and sustainable. The previous incidents of killings, abductions, and abuse of passengers are unacceptable. Additionally, the company must address issues such as random pricing, poor health and safety standards, lack of working standards, and poor communication. Benue Links should take note of the attention it has received and use it as an opportunity to improve its operations. By adopting better strategies, providing high-quality services, and enhancing its innovation and efficiency, the company can achieve sustainable growth, meet customers' expectations, and stay ahead of its competitors in the market. This will help the company retain its existing customers and attract new ones, resulting in increased profitability and market share.

Politics is said to be dynamic on a global level. Still, it is incredibly vibrant in Nigeria due to the sequence of political events that have taken place since the return to democratic rule in 1999. In recent times, the game of politics has been played at a fast and furious pace, particularly by political elites who hold decision-making positions for the country, leading to an increase in godfatherism. Despite being known as the food basket of the nation and striving for stability in its diversity, Benue state has yet to live up to its full potential due to its brand of politics, which is constantly plagued by godfatherism. From George Akume to Samuel Ortom, Benue politicians have shown a tendency to seek out government contracts for political appointments and embezzle state funds. Politics in Benue has become prohibitively expensive for ordinary citizens. Often, candidates are handpicked by influential individuals to run for office, with the goal of furthering their interests at the expense of the people. This practice not only hinders progress and development but can also lead to bitter disputes between the power brokers and their chosen candidates. When a candidate rejects the guidance of their patron, it typically results in poor governance. Examples of these struggles can be found in the clashes between Godwin Obaseki and Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, George Akume and Samuel Ortom of Benue State, and Bola Tinubu and Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State.

When you were selected as the gubernatorial candidate for the All-Progressives Congress in Benue state and later elected as governor, many Benue residents believed it would be business as usual. They assumed you would be a puppet for another and eventually be rendered ineffective. However, the narrative has shifted. A new language has been adopted, and you have changed the game. People now claim you are no longer affiliated with the APC and act independently without consultation. You have even been accused of ignoring calls. Our priority is what is best for Benue. Those who disapprove of your leadership approach should wait until the end of your tenure, after which they can revert to the status quo. I want to express my gratitude for your commitment to upholding the federal character principle in your appointments to public service and institutions within the State. As a diverse and multi-religious territory, it is crucial that all government appointments accurately represent the various religious, ethnic, linguistic, and geographic backgrounds present in Benue. It is imperative to avoid favoritism in appointments, as it poses a significant threat to the growth of Benue's democracy. I commend you for avoiding the errors made by your predecessor and for prioritizing fairness and inclusivity. It is now clear that the days of godfatherism are numbered. Any so-called godfathers operating in the state are only buying time. Eventually, the final whistle will blow, and the game will conclude.

What should be your next focus? While several areas require your attention, I would like to draw your attention to a few. The Benue State Executive Council approved the establishment of the Benue Printing and Publishing Corporation on March 3, 1977. A committee of three was formed on April 20, 1977, to research ways and means of setting up the Corporation. The committee members visited Jos, Kaduna, Ilorin, and Benin between April 22/29, 1977, to collect data from already established and functioning newspaper houses. Consequently, a Senior Officer of the State Ministry of Information was appointed as the Editor/Coordinator for the state newspaper, now known as "NIGERIA VOICE." The paper was initially printed at the Star Printing and Publishing Corporation in Enugu and managed by the staff of the State Ministry of Information until the military regime handed it over to civilians in 1979. The Nigeria Voice, a prominent weekly newspaper, was founded on July 6, 1979, by Group Captain Bayo Lawal, the Military Administrator, with the goal of making the publication more accessible to the public. The state government allocated a section of the Government Press premises along Otukpo-Aliade Road, Makurdi, to BPPC and provided the Corporation with a permanent site along Gboko Road. On April 8, 1982, President Shehu Shagari inaugurated the new facility, and the Nigeria Voice began issuing daily editions. Despite facing several obstacles, the Nigeria Voice remained a relevant source of news. It expanded to include four titles in its stables: The Voice, The Sunday Voice, Voice Sports, and The Weekend Voice. Thanks to ample funding, these titles were frequently published and distributed throughout the country.

During the administration of the late Rev. Fr. Adasu, Governor of Benue State, in 1992, the Corporation (BPPC) was shut down and converted into a limited liability company in an effort to become self-sustainable. However, the attempt to restore the Corporation to its former status did not succeed, resulting in its closure on March 14, 1992, due to financial losses. This unfortunate event led to the decrease of some staff, while others were placed on compulsory leave or resigned voluntarily. The State Government eventually took over the payment of salaries of staff in August 1994. It provided logistics for the Corporation's operation, which is still in question regarding its current strength and operations. I would like to know whether the edition is still published on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday as it was before and if the company has modern computer sections, equipped studios, and modern web and printing machines with color facilities. If the answer is no, could you kindly assist in reviving this company to serve as the nerve center of the industry or organization in our State.

The Makurdi Modern Market, a significant source of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for Benue State, is in dire need of government intervention. The market stands as a testament to the achievements of the late Aper Aku, the state's first civilian governor, who left behind an admirable legacy that some argue has yet to be surpassed. Unfortunately, the market has suffered several devastating fire outbreaks, with the most recent one occurring in 2019. These incidents have caused traders to fear for their livelihoods and have resulted in a decline in business. Despite these challenges, the authorities have yet to take decisive action to address the situation. The current state of the market is being attributed to the previous administration's shortcomings. Unfortunately, the market is in dire need of rehabilitation due to constant fire outbreaks that left most of its stalls destroyed. Navigating through the Modern Market premises is now a challenge due to potholes and cracks on the once well-maintained roads. It's disheartening to see how this market has lost its modern touch and now resembles a village market in one of our local governments. Your Excellency, despite the financial obstacles your government is facing, there is still hope for the market's revival. We kindly urge you to explore ways to restore the market to its former glory so other shopping malls won't sprout up in Makurdi as an alternative to the struggling traders at the Modern Market.

The land sustains every aspect of our lives by providing essential life-support systems. It serves as the foundation of our economy and society, as well as the environment in which we live and act. Our decisions regarding the land have far-reaching impacts, affecting not only the land itself but also the water, oceans, air, atmosphere, and the life they support. The land is not a mere resource to be exploited but rather a vital instrument for achieving biological, socioeconomic, and physical environments. Its significance is multifaceted, preserving the indigenous knowledge of local inhabitants and their cultural heritage. Unfortunately, the recent trend of land exploitation, such as the "Born Soil" (indigenes) phenomenon in Benue State, has become increasingly severe and detrimental to social, economic, environmental, and human rights. These practices are part of a more significant trend of large-scale land acquisitions that pose severe threats to our State. The issue of land disputes is not a new phenomenon, but it has been on the rise in recent years. In my village, I have faced harassment and intimidation from the local elders and youth due to a land dispute. The issue began when some elders attempted to sell the land that belonged to my family, claiming it as their own. They thought that my distance from home would give them enough time to sell the land without getting caught. Unfortunately, the deal did not go through, as I knew of it. The land in question has been in the family's possession for 47 years and contains seven graves, as well as the remains of my father, mother, and four siblings. Furthermore, eight children from my siblings currently reside on the land. The situation raises questions about how individuals can dispose of someone's land, especially when it has been their home for many years.

The situation of land grabbing is generating unhealthy communities in our State. Unfortunately, perpetrators of this act cut across different categories of individuals, from thugs to chiefs and even traditional rulers. Consequently, some of these communities, which are agriculturally inclined, have remained inactive because of killings and ethnic clashes. I have noticed with keen interest the alarming rate at which the activities of the elders under the auspices of “Born Soil” in the communities of Benue State have discouraged development in some communities. It is on record that most lands in these communities are unexplored as a result of the activities of these elders. It surprises me when I hear a group of elders giving themselves some portfolios as the Land Committee Chairman or Secretary of Mue Ter. They can go to every nook and cranny and demand that you leave the land because you are not one of them. Failure to comply with their demands would result in ethnic clashes, killings, and the demolition of properties and houses. In most cases, the activities of these elders appear to enjoy the tacit approval of the Traditional rulers, as some of the elders exhibit untold confidence in the claim that the land belongs to them. I appeal to you as Governor to dialogue with the Tiv Traditional Council and chiefs about the need to protect our communities, our people, and land. The traditional rulers, on the other hand, should educate their communities about the standards, customs, regulations, and practices of living together. Your government should issue a public statement condemning anyone sponsoring hooligans to destroy and kill our brothers and sisters because of land. And finally, your government and agencies of land distribution should set up a special task force to deal with any community that would want to create chaos for your administration.

Five decades ago, Nigeria established the River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) to restructure its waterways based on UN recommendations. In accordance with these directives, the government created the Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority to tackle food scarcity issues that arose after the Civil War. Its mission was to design, preserve, develop, manage, and provide both surface and underground water resources and services to all inhabitants of Benue, Nassarawa, Plateau, and Kogi for various purposes. The organization aimed to enhance access to water for domestic and industrial use while safeguarding the environment. It relied on the State's agricultural resources to achieve its objectives. However, despite the State's abundant resources, the company failed to fulfill its goals due to political and policy issues in the farming sector. The failure triggered discussions on how a state as blessed as Benue couldn't manage this company. The question on everyone's mind is, can this company be revitalized? In order to revive a company that has been successful in the past, it is necessary to have a strong foundation built on four essential pillars: resilience, engagement, agility, and loyalty. These pillars determine a company's ability to overcome obstacles and bounce back from setbacks. The Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority can benefit from these pillars to address challenges and continue to thrive. We urge your administration to consider these pillars and adapt them to the company's needs so that it can continue to grow and succeed.

Your Excellency, as someone in a position of leadership, it's possible to encounter two types of criticism: constructive and destructive. Constructive criticism is based on accurate observations and is intended to help the recipient improve. It's carefully considered and meant to be helpful. Destructive criticism, on the other hand, may not be based on accurate perceptions and may be given with ulterior motives such as undermining your leadership or boosting the critic's own ego. The goal of destructive criticism is not to help but to hurt. While some may appreciate your leadership, others may criticize every policy you implement. While criticism can be helpful for personal growth, it can also be discouraging. According to research, criticism can cause people to feel inadequate and negatively impact their productivity. However, criticism can also catalyze personal growth. As a college student, I found that constructive feedback from teachers helped me learn and improve. Constructive criticism can be a valuable tool for improvement when given with the intention of helping you grow. On the other hand, criticism that is insulting or demeaning is not constructive. Instead, this kind of criticism is a personal attack. Your Excellency, dealing with criticism may not be pleasant but it's possible to make the best of it. It's essential to listen carefully to criticism and develop an action plan for improvement based on the feedback. It's also crucial not to take criticism personally but to view it as an opportunity for personal growth. Learning how to respond to criticism will help you become a better leader and a better person of faith.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.