By James Ibechi
With additional reports by benue.com.ng
Since 1976 when Benue State was created out of the Old Benue-Plateau, Oju LG has remained one of the few oldest councils that were birthed alongside the state. Yet, it has for a long time been the most neglected and backward in terms of development in all ramifications of the word.
Tiv and core Idoma politicians regard the place as the political backwaters of the state. Local government councils that sprang up long after Oju’s inception have dwarfed it when it comes to the indices of infrastructure, socio-economic and political development
The Igede indigenes have faulted the socio-political marriage of Igede to Idoma, over perceived marginalization and cultural difference, and have been in throes of agitation for a separate kingdom for long but to no avail.
And now, they have their destiny in their palms. Money which comes for development of public infrastructure is diverted into erections of personal buildings and business structures by public officers who are opportune to be entrusted with the public funds.
And you look at the topography of Igedeland now, what you see are a delight to the eyes, no doubt. Types of duplexes and skyscrapers that adorn Makurdi, Gboko, Otukpo and even Abuja, are now a common sight in the land, a development which had for a long time eluded the area that is as old as the state itself. The place is transforming. The speed at which the township of Oju LGA and sections of Obi is developing surpasses Otukpo. This is good.
However, while many private hands develop their portions of the land through their hard earned monies, the sources of the development on the part of the public figures remain spurious.
And as such, as Governor Samuel Ortom begins probe of Gabriel Suswam’s administration, there is indication that a link between the sources of some of the personally owned gigantic structures and the government’s missing billions which the new governor is looking for in the probe of Suswam may be established. But it is unfortunate that the most ugly news will first come from Oju.
Thus, the early discovery in the move to probe the former governor, that over 700 boreholes said to have been sunk by BERWASA across Oju LGA for the use of Oju people — as no borehole was found on ground — was fake is a serious flipside. BERWASA is made up mainly of Igede indigenous operators. This is an irony.
Read the full news of the shocking discovery as published in benue.com.ng below:
A peep into how the finances of Benue State were looted by officials in the administration of Gabriel Suswam, the immediate past governor of the state have begun to emerge with mind boggling revelations on government expenditures.
These revelations were contained in a two-volume report submitted to Governor Samuel Ortom Wednesday at the old Banquet Hall in the Peoples Government House, Makurdi by the 16-member Transistion Committee, led by its Chairman Transition Mr Mike Iordye.
In his seven page speech, the Transition Committee Chairman disclosed that “during the tenure of the immediate past administration in the state, there was very high level of impunity in the business of governance. There appeared to be a calculated atmosphere of confusion, as governmnet institutions like that Civil Service Commission that would have ordinarily provided the needed direction, championed the course of impunity in the state.”
The committee also announced that investigations showed that the former administration left a debt burden of over N130billion. A preliminary report had indicated that the state owed 90bilion.
Consequently, the Committee observed that throughout the eight year tenure of the last PDP administration in the state led by Suswam, “rules, regulations and procedures governing the conduct of government business were brazenly set aside. This facilitated the subsequent massive corruption, fraud and naked theft of government funds which took pla in the state.”
For example, Iordye further stated that “contracts were heavily inflated” with many of them “abandoned across the MDA’s, especially at the Ministry of Works and Transport, Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Environment and Urban Development, Ministry of Lands and Survey, Government House, and the ministry of Water Resources and it’s parastatal, BERWASA. This happened after the contractors had collected huge sums of money.”
Apart from the huge debt profile the Suswam administration left behind, there were questionable expenditures carried out by officials of the state in the past administration.
One of such blatant disregard to prudence in the expenditure of the state finances is how a whopping sum of over N6.507billion meant for SURE-P, a federal government initiative in the state with a total receipt of N7.743billion disappeared and was not accounted for leaving a paltry total expenditure at N1.236billion from May, 2012 to December,2014.
The committe also found out that in 2014, a stockbroking firm known as M/S Elizir Securities were mandated by the former Benue state Governor Suswam through the former State Commissioner of finance, Hon. Omadachi Oklobia to “sell down N10 billion worth of stock” belonging to the state governmnet. After the sales, the “sum of N8,368,699,932.30 was subsequently realised”.
However, out of this amount, the “committee found out that a sum of N5.3 billion was paid into a Zenith Bank Account No. 1013852648 which was found to be an expenditure account of the ministry of finance. The other Zenith Bank account No. 1013677218 where the sum of N2,068,699,932.30 was paid into was found not to belong to Ministry of Finance or any agency of the Benue state government.”
Unfortunately, the transition committee told the governor that “all efforts by the committee to trace the identity or owner of the account failed as neither BIPC nor Elixir securities were willing to co-operate.”
Another questionable financial transactions discovered against the administration of Suswam was how the “sum of N4,364,653,985,00 was said to have been transfered to government treasury from the expenditure account of the ministry of finance, while the sum of N355,931,979.00 was transferred back to BIPC and the balance of N534,700,000.00 was withdrawn and paid in cash on curious expenditure heads within just four months.
A close look at the books of the state showed that on October 17, 2014, the sum of N60Million was alleged to have been spent on a what the officials termed “Military Retreat,” while the sums of N500million, N45million and N128million was withdrawn on 14th and 20th November, 2014 as well as January 12, 2015 under a “Government House expenditure” account purported to be augmentation of the accounts of the seat of government.
On January 13th and 14th, 2015, officials in the Benue state Government House under Suswam again withdrew cash in two tranches to the tune of N100million and N17million while another phoney cash withdrawal under what they called “UBA Capital” to the tune of N29.7million was made.
On the debt profile of the state, the Committee discovered that as at the time the administration of Ortom took over, arrears of pensions and gratuties stood at over N16.7billion, arrears of salaries were over N9.5billion while contractual obligations was N72.03billion. Commercial bank loans stood at N11.129billion, CBN loans N585million, State Revenue Bond N9.694billion, Foreign Loans N9.818billion with judgement debt standing at N1.236billion totalling over N130billion.
The committee revealed that inspite of glaring financial recklessness disvovered, it had not taken a look at the local government debts “except arrears of pension and gratuity which was presented by the local government pension Board to be N10,065,633,415.26.”
Iordye who was at one time Head of Service in the Suswam administration explained that in the course of its work, “the committee found with utmost dismay that there were many industries in the state and other commercial investments and a large number of them were on lease for long periods of time at ridiculously low prices.”
As one of ways for the committee to get to the root of some false declarations in the handover notes, the Committee on Friday 3rd July, 2015 undertook the inspection tour of Oju local government are to “confirm the existence” of 751 non existent boreholes claimed to have been sunk by the Benue state Rural Water and Sanitation Agency, BERWASA.
Committee Chairman called on the state government to recover these monies immediately.
The committee’s five-point term of reference included among others;
*to study the handing over notes of the immediate past administration under the leadership of Rt. Hon Gabriel Torwua Suswam, interact with all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in the State Public Service and ascertain the state of Affairs as at the time of handover.
*To ascertain the assets of the state including physical assets and investments,
*To ascertain the level of indebtedness of the state including commercial Bank Loans, State Revenue Bond; Arrears of Pensions and Arrears of Gratuities, indebtedness to contractors, judgement debts; Foreign Loans; Arrears of Salaries; and CBN loans;
* To review the revenue collection machinery of the state with a view to improving revenue generation; and
*To consider any other matter incidental to the smooth take off of government.
Members of the 16 member Transition Committee include Mike Iordye, Akange Audu, Arc Joe Kyaagba, Terwase Orbunde, Barr Tagema Takema, Maj-Gen Lawrence Onoja (rtd) as well as Prof Johnson Onah.
Others are Prof Steve Ugbah, Rhoda Ako, Hon Titus Zam, Paul Udenyi, Patricia Kupchi, Dr Christopher Obilikwu Obute, Mrs Helen Bendega, Nancy Awuese Torhee as well as Boniface Nyaakor, the director of EXCO who also served as secretary of the committee.
The report of the Transition Committee have been handed over to the Judicial commission of Inquiry for further necessary action.