By Hon. Odeh Ageh
The words of our elders are words of wisdom, so goes a saying. If Benue people had listened to former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the state would have moved on to be counted among the well governed.
But alas we did not heed to his warning and today after leaving office Dr. Gabriel Suswam the former governor of the state has continued to put the state in the news albeit for wrong reason.
Now rather than focussing on delivering dividends of democracy to the people Governor Ortom is being distracted by the former governor by his uninformed utterances. We would have simply ignored his ranting and railings because we know it is typical of a drowning man who would want to clutch onto any straw for survival but that would have been mistaken as agreement with the barefaced lies he is churning out every day to deceive the gullible members of the public.
Recently, he went to Benue.com.ng, an online news medium and dished out fallacies. We are therefore constrained to reply to the distorted facts he let out, if for anything, to set the record straight.
We consider it quite ironical that Mr. Suswam would go to
town with a tale of his concern for Benue workers. Is he talking about the workers he completely neglected for almost one calendar year by refusing to pay their salaries? So when he said: “plight of workers and people of Benue State,” what did he mean to say? We candidly believe the former governor is not talking about salary as Governor Ortom is up to date in the payment of salaries since taking over the mantle of leadership.
The former governor also eulogized and idolized late governor Aper Aku, if he is so much impressed with the ideals and performances of the late governor, why did he sell his signature and landmark projects that included Benue Cement, Benue Shares in Julius Berger, as well as Guest Houses of the state to himself and his cronies?
If Dr, Suswam did not know, late Governor Aku did not suffer any form of the ordeal in the hands of Benue people but was a victim of the general military action that befell leaders of his time which he however came out unstained. The question to ask is, will Mr. Suswam come out with his head held high after the anti-graft agency, the EFCC, finishes with him? Again, unlike Aku, is Suswam not aware that the entire Benue society is of the consensus that he should be called to account for his stewardship?
In a press release published in the news website, Suswam talked glowingly about the founder of Benue State University. While we agree with him that Rev. Moses Adasu was a great leader and indeed performed creditably in office by giving his all to the state, Suswam on the other hand could not follow the step of his cherished leader but used the taxpayers money to build and commercialized female hostel in the same university. Ever so conscious of profit making, he collected N50, 000 for hostel accommodation from hapless students.
Again, it is surprising to hear now that Suswam cherished so much but never demonstrated it when the man was alive. It is on record that the late governor died when Suswam held sway in the state but no record to show that his government showed concern for the welfare of the late leader.
The former governor delved into the unthinkable by being a self-praise singer when he said he acquired a robust leadership acumen. Was he in anyway talking about his inglorious days in the House of Representatives? That was the period that former President Obasanjo came in contact with him and sounded a note of warning with hindsight in the full glare of the international media in the heart of Makurdi when he said that Suswam is not to be trusted. In any case, is searching out juicy committees to chair a mark of great leadership? We beg to disagree.
Now we know better and agree with Obasanjo that Suswam should not be trusted. Unfortunately, we learned this too late because the state is now left with several bruises to show for his mismanagement of the commonwealth of the people of the state.
How come Suswam said no government was ever probed in Benue State? How can he suddenly develop short memory when he rightly pointed out that Aku was investigated and incarcerated?
In the history of the state, we stand to be corrected, no administration ever left the state bare as Suswam did. Akume his predecessor did not do that. Rather he started and almost completed some projects. He contracted and fully paid for others before the entrance of Suswam into leadership. The Teaching Hospital, College of Health Sciences and others are a case in point. The only project which Suswam initiated and completed, the Presidential Lodge, was highly overvalued. The roads he constructed could not withstand little pressure and so washed away in no time. The contract sum of his projects are adjudged to be the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.
The former governor needs to be reminded that his probe was endorsed by the generality of Benue people including the top stawarts of his party. In fact, PDP chieftains were more vehement in their call for his probe when Governor Ortom convened a town-hall meeting with the state stakeholders.
It would be recalled that Suswam did not just threaten the local government system with annihilation but truly lived up to it. He categorically said he would make the local government system unattractive and he did just that with reckless abandon. He recklessly diverted their funds, paid no regard to extant laws on recruitment, but threw all decency to the dust bin and went berserk by recruiting his cronies. Even at the wee hour of his administration, he recruited 4000 workers out of which 90 percent was from Sankera axis of the state, his home town. Is that action a fair deal to the demography of the sate? Definitely, no. The mess Suswam created could be felt in all areas of our state life.
The period of Suswam was replete with massive looting, unstable and unreliable salary, contract inflation, over invoicing, lack of due process, gangsterism and thuggery in which the commander in chief of his thugs was paid royalty and held in awe as his convoy matched those of Nigeria’s president.
The grouse of Suswam is that unlike his time the APC government came with succour and a soothing balm for the people to his chagrin. But the new milk of human kindness and the fear of God which are the guiding principles of the present administration will not allow Ortom’s Government in the mould of that of Suswam.
In continuation of his austere practices without recourse to labour law and aftermath effect of salaries increase but only with the intent of playing to the gallery, Suswam jacked up workers emolument. This is a far departure from what is obtainable in sane society where effort is geared towards ensuring a larger percentage of budget is set aside for capital project. But Suswam went for the opposite. Even to engender a conducive atmosphere for a private sector to strive, he did none of that. Instead, he increased workers salaries to act as a blindfold to the people so that he could loot the state blind. It is now glaring that the salary increase was actually a diversionary tactic.
Benue people know that since coming to power, APC and Governor Ortom have been open to them. It is only Suswam and his co-travelers who do not want to accept the fact that the game is up and should rather pray for forgiveness, restitute and receive pardon.
He talked about lies but who is actually lying? Is it the one that diverted about N8.3billion worth of shares of the Benue Cement, N1.5billion worth of shares of Julius Berger and N15billion bond money that is lying or the one calling for accountability?
What Mr. Suswam want the present government to do is to gloss over the unpaid salary issue and move on. Would that be a proper thing to do? Certainly not?
The issue of accumulated debt is a ruse because there were no debt handed to him by his predecessor. The debt incurred by the present government which Mr. Suswam is alluding is only meant to settle salary arrears inherited from his administration. This, however, is structured for over 20 years unlike his debts.
How could Mr. Suswam say that he accumulated no debts when in actual facts he had credibility problem which made him not to access loan facility which was why even though he applied for over N10billion bond at the wee hours of his administration with intent to loot but got approval for only N5billion.
Again the N5.5 billion loan sought for by Governor Samuel Ortorm is meant for counterpart funding that will attract more funds from development partners for the development of the state.
To God be the glory, due to the support the administration of Ortom is enjoying, no divergent opinion in form of demonstration or otherwise on the moves by His Excellency Governor Samuel Ortom to cushion the effects of the maladministration of Suwsam. As it is now, pensioners are next in line for settlement of the arrears which was not captured in the funds so far accessed, due to the fact that the original request for bail out was slashed by more than half.
We, however, want to plead with Suswam that now that he has become born again as to care for the welfare of the people, let him return all looted funds so that pensioners could be paid since it was his greed and avarice that put these senior citizens in their pitiable condition.
We think Suswam should really bury his head in shame because he added no value to the state but rather plundered it and left it thereby leaving it worse than he met it. The state was held prostrate by him; he left it comatose, bereft of all forms of modernity and was gasping for breathe until Governor Ortom came to the rescue.
He should stop paying huge sums of looted funds to media houses for whitewash as no brush and paint can brighten his already tainted personality.
Hon. Odeh Ageh is Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Benue State.