By: Tahav Agerzua
Former Governor Gabriel Suswam recently addressed his supporters raising issues of insecurity, misuse of resources, excessive loans, loss of federal appointments, delayed appointment of the Tor Tiv, high taxes, and non-payment of salaries against the Samuel Ortom administration.
We respond to him point by point.
The former Governor is living in denial and is being less than honest by feigning ignorance of the mass proliferation and possession of fire arms by idle youths that he engaged as private armies in his regime. The reign of terror perpetrated by government protected mobsters is too fresh in the memory of the people for anyone to insult their sensibilities by claiming a utopian state of security during his time.The fact that the security situation in the state was very dire and required an amnesty program to abate is an indictment of the previous regime which watched idly as outlaws terrorized the citizens with impunity. Dr. Suswam seemed to have forgotten the unresolved murders of the late Tony Udu of the Examinations Board, Gwa Jande, former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Benue State University, Pastor Adoor of the Lands and Survey, the great farmer, Simon Chaverkper, Charles Ayede, Celestine Tsebee Agber, alias Egbe Nack, in circumstances which many suspect him. It does seem though, that to the former Governor the life of a government official is more import than all those mentioned and many others not listed. The unfortunate assassination of the Senior Special Assistant on special security to the Governor, Mr Denen Igbana, which Suswam callously referred to in his statement is indeed a reminder that despite the efforts of the Ortom administration to protect lives and property, some people who acquired their illegal arms in the last dispensation are still on the prowl. The arrest of a prominent member of Ortom's cabinet on this case is proof that in the current dispensation, there are no sacred cows. Ironically, no member of the Suswam cabinet was ever called to answer any charge despite public outcries on complicity of him or his officials in the several unresolved murders.
The comments by the erstwhile Governor are a half clever move to divert attention from the dominant narrative in the state which is the sustained pressure on the government to immediately commence the implementation of the white paper of the report of the Kpojime Commission which requires that he and his cohorts refund N107 billion. One thought that if Dr. Suswam had a conscience, he would not be talking about allegations of fraud against any one. He remains the first former Benue State Governor to be indicted by a judicial commission of inquiry and to be arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in court over fraud. While has he remained silent about sale of the Benue Cement Company, BCC shares, and those of Julius Berger? Why has he not explained why Benue State has no director on the board of Julius Berger? What about the bonds he collected and diverted to personal use? What explanation does he have for collecting N450 million as overhead arrears two days to the end of his tenure? Governor Ortom would wish to draw a line and move on but his predecessor’s deliberate booby traps keep cropping up.The former Governor’s memory suffered a lapse otherwise he could have recalled that he demonstrated his love for future generations by placing primary schools under lock and key for a whole year in addition to the closure of all tertiary institutions in the state at the time he left office. If he paid the over N3 billion he deposited into the bank account of the Bureau De Change which was exchanged for dollars and given to him he could have accessed funds from the Universal Basic Education Board, UBEC, for investment into the primary education sector. That had to wait until his successor who he said has mortgaged the future of the state came and sourced for funds with which he secured N3.8 billion and matched with an equal amount totalling N7.6 billion for the provision of facelift for over 700 primary schools in the state. What an irony! Dr Suswam’s "Our Benue, Our Future" consisted in hosting his 50th birthday party at more than a whooping N1billion while generations of medical students stagnated at the Benue State University College of Health Sciences for lack of accreditation while the Schools of Nursing and Midwifery as well as the College of Health Technology, Agasha had their accreditation withdrawn for years for the same reason.The combined accreditation requirements of those institutions cost far less. However, the Samuel Ortom administration obtained loans totalling N53.5 billion since coming into office arising from the recklessness and looting of Dr Suswam and his company of 52 who left a deficit treasury. N38 billion out of the amount were palliatives initiated by the Federal Government to cushion the devastation caused by the previous regime.N28 billion was bailout to pay arrears of salaries left behind while N10 billion was to address the infrastructural deficit in states.Similar amounts were loaned to states throughout the country and Benue State which was in distress couldn’t have declined the offers.It was the deficit treasury that constrained Governor Ortom to obtain a N10 billion facility with which he paid May and June 2015 salaries and also ensure the take-off of his administration. Following the insensitivity of the the previous government development partners had left the state and funds set aside for projects by the partners could not be accessed. This made it imperative to obtain a loan of N5.5 billion to pay and obtain matching grants of the same amounts. For instance, N3.8 billion was paid to UBEC and a matching amount obtained just like the N1.2 billion counterpart funds paid to the Millennium Development Goals whose projects span the length and breath of the state. When the former Governor casts aspersions on his successor for taking loans, he recalls his time when bonds and loans that were not needed but obtained were diverted into private pockets to fund private projects within and outside the state. If Dr Suswam and his G 52 bring back the loot all salary arrears and retirement benefit would be paid with a handsome balance left for investment in critical infrastructure.
It's unfortunate that a former governor could degenerate to the level of a tribal champion, even a deceptive one. Political appointments can never be permanent and are not determined purely on partisan basis. There are also many other reasons why people get and lose positions.There was a time that Benue was virtually a PDP state yet it lost the three prominent positions of Chief of Army Staff, Minister of Industry, and Head of Service occupied by prominent indigenes. During Suswam’s tenure as Governor, the state also lost EFCC chairman, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, and Comptroller - General of the Nigerian Custom. The Tiv and Benue State at large would have made history for producing the first female Comptroller - General of the Nigerian Custom if Mrs Rhoda Ako's Acting appointment was confirmed, but this didn't happen. The Buhari administration is still in its infancy and not just Tiv sons but Benue indigenes could still be appointed into prominent positions at the federal level. Still, one wonders if Professor Bem Angwe, Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr Paul Angya, Acting Director General of the Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, Evangelist Tor Uja, Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission, NCPC, as well as the ambassadorial nominee, Demenongu Agev, are not Tiv sons. Governor Ortom however, continues to lobby for more appointments of Benue indigenes. The wind of change which blew across Nigeria cast the PDP into the opposition which the Tiv people had rejected. Why would the former governor seek to lure them back? Which faction of the PDP would he take them to? No one with his complete senses would follow a leader who had lost his sense of direction.
It beats the imagination that someone who trampled on the Tor Tiv and the traditional institution in the land and brought it to unprecedented ridicule and public scorn would turn round to cast himself in the mould of its protector and guardian. Although the former Governor seems to have suffered from memory loss, close watchers of the institution can testify that at his instigation the immediate past Paramount ruler of the Tiv descended to the lowest levels of partisanship never witnessed in the land before. His whims and caprices dictated the direction of the institution. At the twilight of his tenure, Dr Suswam became so desperate to make his elder brother a first class Chief that he denigrated the legal process and series of litigations ensued challenging the legitimacy of the law he hurriedly crafted to suit his selfish objectives. That law promulgated to serve the interest of an individual whose aim to establish a family dynasty was aborted has to be sanitized before a new Tor Tiv would emerge. When he cries foul about the delay in the appointment of a new Tor Tiv, Dr Suswam is indeed lamenting his inability to make his brother a first class Chief. Quite unlike him, Governor Ortom has no relation in the race for any stool and is only committed to ensuring due process and the rule of law in the appointment of a new Tor Tiv and other chiefs.
The Benue State Internal Revenue Service, BIRS, is implementing the 2015 Revenue Law assented to by Governor Gabriel Suswam who turns around to castigate the service. The informed know that tax is an issue of law and that anyone who flouts the law should be prosecuted. BIRS has been clamping down on those found suspected of inflating its rates as well as illegal check points. Recently, several people were arraigned in connection with that and remanded. Governor Ortom also ordered a probe into that and also banned unauthorized associations and individuals from collecting taxes in the markets and on the highways. As someone democratically elected and who is sensitive to the people, Governor Ortom is aware of the hard times and has directed a downward review of the rates and even commenced the process of amending the law to wear a more human face. He had responded in a similar manner on the conditional charges at the Benue State University. May I appeal to the people to resist being instigated to block the high ways in the name of protests as there are better channels of communication.
The difference between the Ortom and Suswam administrations' is that while one had the money from various sources and was diverting it into private pockets, the other doesn't have enough to meet basic obligations as a result of declining allocations. The other was secretive and ostentatious, this one is transparent by involving labour in the disbursement process and frugal in spending. One was paying half or even quarter salaries, ours is paying full. They did not implement the minimum wage for primary school teachers, we have. Yet the challenge of salary payment is nationwide as 27 states are currently affected. With the payment of February and March salaries at the state level, we are owing four months at the state and five at the local government level. But Benue State University has been paid salaries up to date, our challenge is to pay allowances there.
Governor Ortom sorted out the accreditation at the College of Health Sciences and three sets of more than 70 doctors have since graduated from the institution. The major issue at stake is the refund of N107 billion which would enable the Ortom administration to clear the current salaries owed workers in the state as well as retirement benefits of retirees with the investment of the leftover in the provision of critical infrastructure. See what Governor Ortom has done with the N10 billion infrastructure facility obtained from the federal government. The Schools of Nursing and Midwifery have been reconstructed for reaccreditation, work has resumed on 11 abandoned roads across the state while construction is on-going on two new ones, the old Assembly Complex has been renovated while work on the new Complex is about to be completed. Work on the Deputy Governor’s office and the Cancer Screening Centre started by the former Governor is also on-going, courtesy of the N10 billion besides the investment of N7.6 billion and N2.4 billion in primary education and Sustainable Development Goals as well as other projects by development partners in all sectors across the state. The Benue Printing and Publishing Corporation as well as some structures at the Entrepreneurship Development Centre are also currently being renovated . While the Ortom administration is setting new standards of accountability and prudent use of the little resources available, Dr Suswam and his co-travellers are engaged in propagation of mischief and circulation of phantom accusations all in an attempt to judge this administration by their own standards. I wish to reiterate that no tantrums or acerbic vituperations can deflect the focus of the state government from bringing to justice anybody who has been involved in destroying the economic fabric of the state for personal gain.

Tahav Agerzua is the Special Adviser on Media and ICT

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