with additional reports by James Ibechi
Many things are as monumentally ugly as venal that are oozing out of Benue State in the last days of the administration of Governor Gabriel Suswam.
If the news on Joy FM is not about huge unpaid salaries owed to LG workers, and a few millions scarcely released by the outgoing governor to scratch the about 6 months outstanding salary arrears on the surface do not get to the hands of workers as half or quarter measure, as a result of which, for example, Oju LG NULGE has called its members to a protest strike, thereby shutting down the LG secretariat and paralyzing the activities of the council, it is about the outgoing governor caught in a last minute obnoxious moves to cripple the incoming administration of Sam Ortom even before it has taken off as evident in the ill time recruitments being carried out in the state civil service and in the traditional council.
It is either as said above, or worse still, aside the several abandoned projects waiting for the incoming government, Ortom will also be inheriting a huge debt from Suswam on May 29.
Daily Post has reported that the outgoing governor had incurred huge debt.
It said that as at June 30, 2014, the external multilateral debt of Benue State, according to the Debt Management Office was $28,791,949. 55.
This has raised eyes brows among Benue natives, who have wondered how the state got there after the debt relief by the Paris Club and other multilateral creditors in 2005.
It could be recalled that under the Federal Government brokered agreement, Benue State enjoyed a debt relief of $242 million from the Paris Club and £92 million from London Club of creditors.
Before Suswam assumed office in 2007, domestic debts to contractors in the state were reduced considerably by the Akume administration.
Many believe that the state was debt-free when Governor Suswam assumed office on May 29, 2007.
Also, Suswam’s eight years as the number one man in the state no doubt enjoyed serious bashing and criticism from citizens over non-performance and incompetence.
From the agricultural sector, education, health, sports, just to mention but few, the governor is believed to have nothing or much to revive them.
The collapse of primary education in the state
In 2014, children attending public primary schools in Benue State were stuck at home for 10 eight months following a deadlocked dispute over teachers’ salaries since the implementation of the national minimum wage.
Other tertiary institutions were also shut for months over the governor’s refusal to pay lecturers’ salaries.
Though he had promised to give top priority to the education sector, the promises have turned out to be mere tales as evidenced in the closure of most tertiary institutions including the Benue State University.
In the state today, industries like Taraku Mills, Otukpo Burnt Bricks industry, Benue Breweries, Katsina Ala Fruit Juice Company, Makurdi Sheraton Hotel, the Greater Makurdi Water Works, among others, have either fizzled out, liquidated or taken over by weeds.
Painfully, various road projects for which huge sums of contract sum have been awarded have been abandoned.
The governor had obtained a whooping N18 billion bond from the capital market to enable him fund what he described as ‘critical projects’ including: the reticulation and upgrading of water works in Makurdi, Otukpo and Katsina Ala; upgrading/ rehabilitation of Daudu-Gbajimba 48.50 km road; rehabilitation of township roads; construction Wannune-Ikpa-Igbor 36.732km road; construction of Oju-Obusa-Utonkon 51.48 km road; construction of Taraku- Naka-Agagbe 61 km road as well as the completion of rural electrification projects, among others, which have been captured in the 2015 budget. These have all been abandoned and the money has not been accounted for.
Worse still is the abandonment of contract for the rehabilitation of the state-owned media establishments like Radio Benue, The Voice Newspaper and the Benue Television project which has gulped about N628, 889, 919 since it was started more than seven years ago.
Frozen accounts, another bad omen
Justice Ademola Adeniyi of a Federal High Court in Abuja had ordered the freezing of accounts belonging to Benue in Zenith Bank, First Bank of Nigeria and First City Monument Bank Plc over their alleged refusal to release funds for the payment of wages and allowances of court workers in the affected states.
“An order nisi is hereby made attaching the money belonging to the 15th and 16th judgment debtors/respondents domiciled with Skye Bank Plc, Makurdi Branch – account number 170008758, to satisfy the judgement awarded in favour of the judgement creditor/applicant,” the judge said.
This development is another bad omen for the incoming administration as many see it as another plot to roughen the road for him and his team.
However, on assumption of office after an eight- year stint in the House of Representatives, Suswam had vowed to make the welfare of workers and pensioners his top priority.
Sadly, today, he is leaving office with five months unpaid salaries. Most of the workers have either died in penury or fallen sick due to non-payment of their salaries and entitlements.
During his inauguration on May 29, 2007, Governor Suswam said: “In accepting your mandate here today, I pledge before you all, before my creator, the only living God I serve, that I desire to give my people no cause whatsoever to regret.
“I desire and pray that the Almighty God will make me surpass the achievements of my forbearers who have brought us this far….Our administration is committed to creating a transparent, honest and egalitarian society based on the rule of law.
“We shall, therefore, wage a war against corruption just as we shall insist on high standards of probity and accountability from public officers. This administration shall promote greater transparency in the handling of government business and shall insist on due process in all government transactions.
“For, according to Thomas Jefferson; one of the foremost of American presidents, ‘when a man assumes a public trust, he must consider himself a public property’. I agree absolutely with this thesis.”