No evil is mourned when it is gone – William Shakespeare
As the handover date approaches, it is pertinent to write a score card of the out-going administrations in order to know those who have performed creditably well and also to bring those who have performed poorly to the fore, and also to make projection about where they will be heading to, after they have handed over to the incoming administration.
One of the governors who will be handing over on May 29th, 2015, is Dr. Gabriel Suswam. The last eight of Gabriel Suswam as governor of Benue State, has been one which the people of the state regret and will never forget in a hurry. Corruption, dishonesty, disregard for the people of Benue are common features of his administration. In fact, Benue State was run like a family business between the governor and his brother, Dr. Terkura Suswam (the self-acclaimed assistant governor).
The governor prides himself as Mr. Infrastructure, yet, when you pay a visit to the state, there is hardly any infrastructural development there. Infrastructure such as drainages could not be built by governor Suswam; one therefore wonders the yardstick he and his blind supporters use to describe him as ‘Mr. Infrastructure’. With the rainy season, most of the roads in Benue will be impassable due to flooding, farm produce become wasted because there are no roads to transport harvest to the market. This is a state where 95% of its citizens are farmers; little wonder there is massive poverty in the state.
In fairness to Suswam, he built the Faculty of Law Complex. Even in that project however, there is the issues of inflated cost, and the building is not up to the standard that was contained on paper. Apart from that building, there is absolutely no other concrete thing done by Mr. Suswam within the last eight years.
The educational sector has suffered immensely under Suswam’s administration. At some point, all arms in the educational sector were on strike for one reason or the other. Primary school teachers went on strike for close to nine months. The Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union COEASU) embarked on strike for about eight months. They called it off after they got tired of staying at home without any response from the state government. Right now, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Benue State University Chapter has been on strike for more than two months, and there is no hope on when the strike would be called off.
Workers in the state have not been paid salaries for more than eight months. The state is at a stand-still, and the governor feels good about it. when the issues of salary payment is brought to the fore, the governor and his retinue of political aides who are feeding fat on the resources of the state will cry out that there is no money. What has been happening to the monthly allocations? The governor said the monthly allocation is just a paltry three billion naira. That is not true! From January – June 2014, the total money allocated to Benue State was N28.03 billion, which translates into about N4.7 billion every month! Where is the difference of N1.7 billion going into? In fact, if the total allocation in Benue State is added to other money he gets from other sources like the SURE-P, VAT, etc it gives an annual income of about N75 billion, amounting to an average of about N6 billion monthly. In July 2014 alone, the State got about N10 billion. How much is the monthly wage bill of Benue State workers? First, the governor cut down salaries of workers by 15%, and then he graduated into owing them for several months. Can one be more wicked?
The governor spent billions of naira on the greater Makurdi water works project. Sadly, until this day, there is no running tap in Benue State. The people live and depend on well water. Those who can afford it, buy water from water vendors. This is the harsh condition the people of Benue State are exposed to. All the industries in the state have wound up since he came on board. The Taraku Oil Mills, Otobi Burn Bricks, Tomatoes Industry at Tarka and the Plastic Industry at the Industrial lay out Markurdi, are all in comatose. The impact these companies would have had on the economy of Benue State, and in the lives of the people are tremendous.
Under the Gabriel Suswam administration, the debt profile of Benue State has blossomed to an unprecedented level. In 2011, the governor secured a N13 billion bond; in 2014, the governor obtained another bond of N11 billion. With few months to the expiration of his tenure, the governor sought to obtain a bond of N6 billion, which was thankfully turned down by the House of Assembly (House of Assembly? What happened to them?). The maturity date of these bonds is long after the expiration of his tenure; a shrewd ploy to jeopardize the future of the state. The sad point is that these monies are not used in way that will enhance the lives of the people of Benue State. The people will therefore, be paying for what they have not benefited from. The State Inland Revenue Service is in the governor’s private pockets. He milks every dime obtained by that institution.
The major beneficiaries of the massive embezzlement going on in the state, are the cronies and close associates of the governor. They acquire choice properties both within and outside the state; almost all the lands in Benue State have been sold to either the governor or his crony. Some of the personal houses of his political associates have been bought over by government at three times the actual amount.
Also, during the build up to the election, the governor used billions of naira to convince the people of Kwande to give up their Senate (which was zoned to them) slot to him. According to him, he “loaned’ it from them. On the eve of the election, millions if not billions were distributed in order to get votes. On Election Day proper, money was shared massively. A government that has been unable to pay its workers for several months due to lack of money, suddenly sharing billions in order to win election?
With these monumental embezzlements by the Executive governor of Benue State, Dr. Gabriel Suswam, it will be unfair to the people of the state if he is allowed to spend his retirement spending the money he has embezzled from the state. An investigation into his administration should be conducted and where he is found wanting, he should be called upon to explain his role in the monumental fraud carried out under his watch; and where he fails to do this satisfactorily, he should be tried and if found guilty, sentenced according.
With barely three weeks to the handover date, the governor is busy employing workers. What he hopes to achieve with this, remains to be seen. One expects the outgoing government to keep itself busy with preparing handover notes, and not issuing out employment letters to people; people he denied jobs for the past eight years. The incoming government must however, not fall for the trap and the people must see through this gimmick.
The general apathy by the people of the state must change. A situation where the people fail to monitor every dime that government gets and spends is the reason for the massive looting and embezzlement by elected officials. As things stand today, the people of Benue State regret voting for Gabriel Suswam as their governor. In fact, the few days left to handing over is too far to most of them. The exit of Suswam from the political scene is good riddance as far as the people of Benue State are concerned.
As a new regime comes on board in May 29th 2015, the people must follow this government bumper to bumper and ensure it doesn’t commit the same mistakes. Dr. Samuel Ortom must know that he has a big job on his hands. As for Gabriel Suswam, a space in prison is certainly waiting for him.
Frank Ijege writes and tweets via firstname.lastname@example.org and @foijege respectively.
article first published in http://www.benue.com.ng