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9 May 2016

MUST READ: Suswam, N44.7bn and the rest of us

By Nathaniel Ikyur

When Justice Elizabeth Kpojime submitted the report on the Judicial Commission of Inquiry Into Funds Accruing/Received and the Utilisation of Benue State Funds/Assets, it recommended two main items to Governor Samuel Ortom.

One, the Commission “recommended for direct refund” of the sum of N107, 609,321,106.00.

The Commission also said the sum of Forty four billion, seven hundred and twenty one million, five hundred and fifty three thousand,four hundred and sixty seven nainaira, seventy kobo (N44,721,553,467.70) be further investigated to ascertain the veracity of these expenditures for possible refund.

So, this is the latest item of news making the rounds in the state. As could be predicted, it has pitched government and it’s supporters on one hand and the opposition elements in Benue on the other. This is following Governor Ortom’s public declaration Sunday, May 8th that his administration has commenced action on that recommendation.

In all, the seven-member panel found that the Gabriel Suswam administration did not execute itself creditably in accounting for the sum of One Hundred and Fifty two billion, three hundred and thirty million, eight hundred and seventy four thousand, five hundred and seventy three naira, seventy kobe,  (N152, 330,874,573.70).

On item 74 of its report as contained in Volume ll, the Commission stated inter alia:

“In chapter 2 of this report,  the Commission found that within the period under review, a total revenue of over One trillion naira accrued to Benue State. Rather than commensurate value of development,  the Commission has in this and the foregoing chapters, documented findings of monumental acts of corruption.

“The report is replete with outright looting, reckless breach of financial regulations and due process. These have bled the state economy and foisted degenerative poverty and disease on majority of the state citizenry. The present administration has as a result inherited a crippling debt burden with attendant adverse effect to the future of the state,” the report added.

There are 7 items listed under the recommendations for the investigations into how the sum of N44.7bn was expended.

As clearly stated, this is part of the genesis of our financial crises.

Top of this, is a transaction for the sum of thirty five billion, twenty five million, three hundred and sixty eight thousand naira, (N35,025,368,000.00) captured as amount expended on “logistics funds for security surveillance.” Here, only the former governors name was mentioned to be so questioned.

Another transaction in this bracket of investigation is that of the “actual value of work done at the Greater Makurdi Water works by Messrs Gilmor Construction Limited amounting to the sum of N4.9billion.

Another company believed to harbour the interests of the former governor, Metropole Development limited will be investigated to explain the actual value it carried out at the Makurdi Ultra-Modern Market. The sum of N2,800,121,630.46 was alleged to have been paid to the firm.

This fresh investigation will also review the contract awarded and paid for the construction of Katsina-Ala Yam Flour factory to the tune of N524,579,433. 00. The former managing director of Benue Investment and Property Company,  BIPC, Mrs Brigid Shiedu will also explain how the sum of N1billion being sale of shares retained by the company was utilised for the period under review.

Another payment which was made to Focus Prospectus limited is said to be illegal. It amounted to Two Hundred and Fifty Two million, six hundred and seventy five thousand, four hundred and four naira  thirty two kobo (N252, 675,404.32).

To exhibit absolute transparency in how the Ortom administration conducts it’s business,  the Kpojime panel asked the state government to further investigate the actual cost the former administration purchased official vehicles for the governor, his deputy and their spouses which amounted to Two Hundred and Fourteen Million, eight hundred and and nine thousand naira (N214,809,000.00).

The purchase and receipt of these SUV vehicles attracted widespread condemnation from Benue citizens at the time that salaries of public servants were owed.

So where did Governor Samuel Ortom go wrong in constituting this panel and insisting that the report be properly acted on?

Invariably, the outcome of what the Kpojime panel did is for the good of every Benue state citizen, now and future generations. It is not much about any individual or persons perceived to be opponents or loyalists of the present government.  The action by Governor Ortom should elicit hope in all of us.

Unfortunately, different colourations have been added in the resolve to unbound  this deliberate policy to impoverish the majority but elevate a few to the place of perpetual dominion over others. Rather than queue behind the governor, politics of bitterness and outright falsehood has been employed by these same cabal. They have engaged some who, either out of lack of knowledge of the consequences of their actions on our state or deliberate mischief, have elected not to acknowledge any good intentions of the Ortom administration in recovering these monies. Yet, these same group and individuals, find it convenient to applaud what President Muhammadu Buhari is doing at the federal level, recovering funds allegedly stolen from the treasury of our country in its anti graft war.

What we see here is that a colony of recruits on the cyber space, have gained notoriety and placed the opposition to mean deliberate falsehood and twisting of facts just to even scores and denigrate the administration of Ortom. In doing so, they have continued to whip up false sentiments as if official embezzlement has been institutionalised in Benue. A situation where past officials whose tenure is been questioned but rather hide under some of these dubious characters is akin to killing our collective dream.

We go into public office not for our personal gains but to serve. In doing so, we must acknowledge that the service we render should outlive us. Which means we must be called to give account of our stewardship anytime the need arises. That way, we’ll be developing a culture of accountability. Only then that we’ll be taken seriously as a state, desirous to carve a niche for herself in the committee of developing states. A situation where a past leader(s) accused of official graft who  uses the same funds he/she would have used to inspire development to wage a devious war of attrition against an incumbent government is counter productive. It’s a dangerous precedence brewing.

For sure, the crises of financial deficit in the state, and at the national level we’ve found ourselves now, is indicative of our failures in the past. We must therefore take decisive steps to stamp out evils from our leadership cadre at all levels. It is not about Governor Ortom or Suswam as individuals. It’s not about any of the former officials so indicted today by the Commission of inquiry per se. It’s about enthroning values for the society. It’s about accountability and self development.

Believe it or not, those clamouring that Governor Ortom should sweep the recommendations of this commission under the carpet simply because he might receive the same treatment tomorrow are the real enemies of the state. Governor Ortom is inspiring good examples through this probe. For those who love Benue, let us all stand up and support the governor to, not only recover every kobo taken away from our commonwealth illegally, but help to sustain the culture of transparency and good governance in the state. Not through propagating falsehood because that in itself is destructive.

When we stand together in unity and support the governor, nobody, now or in future, will ever take us for a ride and embark on an the expidition of plundering our commonwealth to his or her private gains. For me, #IStandWithOrtom
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Item Reviewed: MUST READ: Suswam, N44.7bn and the rest of us Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Link Naija