Our attention has been drawn to an interview captioned “Probe: Ortom is Seeking Cheap Popularity —Suswam,” in which former Governor Gabriel Suswam virulently attacked His Excellency Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, for the latter’s probe of the ex-governor administration.
The interview appeared in Sunday Sun edition of October 18, 2015 and Sunday Vanguard of same date but with a different headline.
Mr. Suswam is eminently well-meaning and entitled to his views on a number of issues that he raised in the interview. But we find it impossible, nevertheless, to agree with the points he puts forth, or with his main contention.
Suswam advanced his reason for going to court to stop the probe of his administration and has readily concluded that Governor Ortom is merely seeking to achieve cheap popularity by the probe. But we have refrained from commenting on this case in as much as it is in court, to avoid making prejudicial statements.
However, when the ex-governor tried to justify why he left a deficit treasury for his successor and at the same time commending himself for increasing workers’ basic salaries, it does not make sense to anyone. For, though the idea of increased wage for workers is plausible but we believe it is a disservice to the state when a governor increases basic wage without corresponding income, or revenue to sustain its payment.
One would have expected a governor to rather increase the allowances for workers so that when there was not enough revenue or income to pay, it would be inconsequential unlike the payment of the basic wage, which had become problematic thus making it completely impossible to pay extant workers salaries, let alone the new wage.
Mr. Suswam alluded to laying foundation for Governor Ortom to enable him diversify the state economy. This, he said he did by building infrastructure such as roads, walkways, water works at Otobi and Katsina Ala, etc. However, the mere facts that, nearly all those projects were adjudged substandard, or their contracts were inflated, diminishes the claim to have laid any foundation for Governor Ortom to build on to diversify.
Lying in propinquity to the above, therefore, is the fact that, if the road infrastructures; the Otobi, Makurdi and Katsina Ala water Works, among several similar projects, which Mr. Suswam claimed to have drained Benue’s fortune, were either not completed or, worse still, substandard, and yet salaries of workers that he admitted not to have paid for at least four months owing, according to him, to paucity of funds, as what was coming to the state was a negligible sum of money from the federation account, does he not then owe Benue explanation for what he did with the over N9billion state’s share that he sold?
Furthermore, Benue would also demand to know from Suswam: what happened to both the agricultural loan to the tone of N1billion and another N2billion which the Central Bank of Nigeria assisted the state with for SME which account of the loans up till now has remained spurious?
Despite not building any single monument in the state that Mr. Suswam can point as his achievement, there was even another N7billion Local Government SURE—P money which he received which Benue people want to know about. What happens to all these sums of money?
Again, the former governor claimed to have achieved the construction of the Makurdi township walkways as another infrastructural project that gulped huge expenditure but his story cannot be believed because the fact on ground has shown that his predecessor George Akume, it was, instead, who paid for the construction of the walkways. As it were, Suswam only came to inherit the project.
Partly, the import of the foregoing is that, despite collecting bonds and selling state’s shares that ran into billions, Suswam did not pay salaries for months; he plunged the state into unimaginable debts; yet he did not complete even the most basic of life-affecting projects, and he did not just leave empty treasury, rather, what Suswam left was a deficit treasury for Governor Ortom.
In spite of that, the former governor is accusing Governor Ortom of being hostile to him as expressed in the ongoing probe of his administration.
It would be important to realize that the condition Governor Ortom met when he took over from Suswam were not the same as the ones Suwsam met when he took over from Akume, otherwise Suwsam would have done more than what Governor Ortom is doing at the moment.
That said, the issue of being in court all through a tenure as Suswam referenced in his interview to have distracted or made him to derail in trickling down developments was not only about electoral matter as he said, but also bothered on certificate forgery on the part of Suswam. This point must not be mistaken. Neither would anybody be fazed.
For, when Akume came on board as Suswam’s predecessor, he displayed his certificates for every eye to see. Why did Suswam not do same if he had no skeleton in his cupboard over his credentials as he had claimed? This is a poser for him. Similarly, he cannot parade himself as a PhD holder in law because the dealings surrounding how he had a professor arranged for him the doctorate degree, a story shrouded by secrecy, has already become public knowledge.
The issue of vehicles which Suswam referenced in his interview and said to have purchased or donated to the new government, apart from the vans being bought with state’s money which ordinarily is a non-issue, Suswam did not disclose their prices. He should tell Benue people the prices of the vehicles so they can be compared with what obtains in the open market.
On the issue of the local government salaries, record should be put straight that. Ortom never said Suswam did not pay local government salaries. Rather, what the governor said is that the local government wage bill is over-bloated, which is one of the things that has prompted the probe into the matter.
With all the available evidence of the sale of state shares by Suswam and proceeds in billions paid to private accounts, collection of bonds and no evidence of use for purposes for which they were secured; and with multimillion-naira projects such the Makurdi water works not producing result despite the over N169billion debt discovered to have left by Suswam for the new administration — this is aside the backlog of workers arrears of salaries on ground — it is not only frivolous for the immediate past governor to dismiss Governor Ortom’s efforts at probing him as trying to paint him in bad light but also unacceptable to say that Ortom is hostile to Suswam and merely looking for cheap popularity by the probe.
Ortom is not looking for cheap popularity, but doing the dictate of the people of Benue State who gave him the mandate. The people want to know what happened to their money.
Special Assistant on Media/ICT to Benue State Commissioner for Information and Orientation