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17 Mar 2016


Former Governor Gabriel Suswam’s snobbish and dismissive response to the Whitepaper on the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Commission of Inquiry as being circulated on media platforms came exactly according to prediction. No one had expected him to accept the report, let alone the Whitepaper. He fought tooth and nail, through the legal process, to stop the work of the commission in the first place but failed.
Try as hard as he did to disparage the commission’s report and its Whitepaper after studying it for more than three weeks, his reaction could not controvert major findings.
For instance, former Governor Suswam did not bring out alternative figures about the total revenue which accrued to the state during his eight-year tenure to those which the Commission released.
The Kpojime Commission found that One trillion, twenty-one billion, nine hundred and thirty-one million, forty-three thousand, one hundred and sixty-three naira, and sixty-three kobo, (N1, 021, 931, 043, 163, 63) only, came into the coffers of the state from 27 sources during the period.
The report stated that “out of this amount, the actual appropriated amount was eight hundred and two billion, forty-four million, seven hundred and thirty-five thousand, three hundred and thirty-six naira (N802, 044, 735, 336. 00), leaving a balance of two hundred and nineteen billion, eight hundred and eighty-six million, three hundred and seven thousand, eight hundred and twenty-seven naira, sixty-three kobo, (N219, 886, 307, 827.63) unappropriated.
Dr. Suswam neither challenged these figures nor brought out alternative ones to contradict the findings of the Commission in this aspect.
His argument that he executed projects and ran government with state funds and so should not be requested to make refunds does not address the issues raised by the Inquiry.
“The little amount allocated to capital expenditure was characterized by lack of due diligence in contract awards, contract inflation, abandonment of projects after collecting payments as well as payments for jobs not done, while there were multiple payments for same jobs. All these resulted in a huge expenditure profile without a corresponding physical development,” the commission stated.
The former Governor failed to address these issues in his reaction.
One of his shots which went wide was the observation that the Commission’s report failed to rope in both Governor Samuel Ortom and former Governor George Akume.
His assertion was anchored on the claim that Ben Plastic Company was leased to Ortom before he became governor and that Oracle Farms belonging to Ortom also benefitted from the N1 billion Commercial Agriculture Credit Loan Scheme and yet the report of the Commission failed to find them culpable.
According to Dr Suswam, the report should have also found Senator Akume culpable for having sold some of the shares and factories owned by the state government.
One thought that as a lawyer, the former Governor would be able to differentiate between a corporate personality and an individual and that as such holding Samuel Ortom culpable for a transaction entered into with either Oracle Business Limited or Oracle Farms would not be tenable.
Moreover, at the time the transactions mentioned occurred Governor Ortom had resigned his membership on the board of both companies besides the fact that the Commission did not find any of the companies culpable because due process was followed in the transactions in which they were involved.
If it were a matter of listing beneficiaries in both cases and Oracle Business Limited or Oracle Farms were omitted one would complain but the issue with the commission’s report was abnormalities and it did not find them in the transactions involving the two companies.
With regard to Senator Akume the terms of reference of the Commission did not cover his tenure as Governor.
Dr. Suswam also wondered why he has been held responsible for actions of other top government officials.
The reason is not farfetched. The present cash flow system in most states implies that the Governor has to give his approval for all funds to be released hence he has to be held responsible for such approvals.
Even where he is not directly involved his consent has to be obtained before transactions are consummated.
The story that as Governor he did not interfere with the disbursement of local government funds is one for the marines.
The Commission found otherwise.
The report was very specific about vehicles and dates on which they were procured and the issues it had with the procurement and an effort of Dr. Suswam to allocate years to such transactions is rather self-serving and unacceptable.
It beats one’s imagination that the former Governor would find reports about his conduct and that of his collaborators which drove the state to the brink “laughable.”
No wonder, this is the kind of insensibility that foisted untold hardship on the people.
Vital state institutions such as the School of Nursing and Midwifery Makurdi, and the School of Health Technology, Agasha lost accreditation for several years while issues relating to the accreditation of the College of Health Sciences at the Benue State University, where medical students stagnated for 12 years were considered “laughable.”
Meanwhile, birthdays and related celebrations at which pomp and ostentatious displays were exhibited became priority projects.
While the people already gave their verdict by voting out the former Governor’s party and ensuring that he lost his senatorial bid his optimism for a so-called D-Day in court is bound to be forlorn hope as all the other court cases against Governor Ortom and his administration have been.
Yet the former Governor submitted that his supporters pressurized him to comment on the Whitepaper. If such supporters had wanted to help him they should have pressurized him to honor the panel’s invitation. If he had responded as invited and made these submissions there, this information he is now belatedly sharing would have been formally documented for posterity even if he didn’t get a favorable verdict from the panel.
Still, inspite of the booby traps laid on its way and the deliberate programming by the old order for the Ortom administration to fail, it has remained focused and on course making steady progress.
Milestones recorded so far include the graduation of 40 medical doctors from the College of Health Sciences of the Benue State University who had stagnated for 12 years, on-going reconstruction of the School of Nursing and Midwifery as well as School of Health Technology, Agasha for re-accreditation which they lost under the previous administration.
Others are the successful implementation of an amnesty program which has enhanced peace in the state, resumption of work on the Daudu-Gbajimba road, on-going work on the new House of Assembly Complex, water supply in parts of Otukpo and Katsina-Ala, and provision of a new transmitter at Radio Benue.
With the recent procurement of a N5.5 billion facility approved by the State Assembly, N3.8 billion has been paid to the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, and an equal amount accessed making the state to have N7.6. billion for investment into its primary schools.
From the amount N1.2 billion has been paid as counterpart for MDG/SDG projects with N2.4 billion already accessed and disbursement for conditional grants scheme projects across the state already commenced. This will soon manifest in massive improvements in health, education, water supply and economic sectors.
The N10 billion infrastructure facility also obtained recently by the Ortom administration is already poised to ensure the return to site of contractors on abandoned road contracts and mobilizations to site for others.
The challenge of the quantum of salary arrears left by the previous administration was tackled with a N28 billion loan while the current difficulty in salary payment is being handled by the involvement of unions in a transparent and accountable disbursement of state resources.
The Ortom administration’s zero tolerance for corruption is manifest and the fight against the menace is being pursued with vigor.
The people of the state now know those who laughed at their plight and dismissed their pains as laughable as they always do with all serious issues.
They also know those who are committed to addressing the challenges.

Tahav Agerzua,
Special Adviser,
Media and ICT.
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