By Okpe Odadaudu
Benue State Governor, Rt. Hon. Gabriel Torwua Suswam has been tagged one of Nigeria’s elected governors so far. Suswam who was elected as governor in 2007 was a former of the House of Representatives where he had served two terms representing Katsina-Ala/Ukum/Logo Federal Constituency.
Suswam’s role in the National Assembly, especially as the House Committee Chairman on Appropriation, cannot be forgotten in a hurry as he was grossly involved in the Ministry of Education budget bribe scandal that rocked the National Assembly.
President Olusegun Obasanjo made a pronouncement concerning the incident that made Professor Fabian Osuji, the then Minister of Education, lose his job and was subsequently tried by the anti-graft agencies. His colleagues in the House gave Rt. Hon. Suswam a soft landing as he was only removed as the Appropriation Chairman to another committee.
President Olusegun Obasanjo’s reservation about Gabriel Suswam continued even though they were in the PDP together. The President then while presenting PDP flags to governorship ccandidates of the PDP during the North-Central rally held in Lafia in 2007, public declared Suswam a “big thief”. The way he emerged as the Candidate of the PDP in the governorship primaries was also questionable. Suswam lost in the first ballot and instead of going into a run off, the then Governor, now Senator George Akume, asked some aspirants to donate their votes to Suswam and that was how he became the candidate of the PDP.
After the general elections in April 2007, Governor Suswam emerged winner in an election that was alleged to be marred with irregularities. The candidate of the ANPP in the election, Prof. Daniel Saror, challenged the results before an election petition Tribunal. The Tiv elders and stakeholders persuaded Prof. Saror to withdraw the petition against Suswam. He did.
During his inauguration on May 29, 2007, Governor Gabriel Suswam had this to tell the people of Benue State among other things in his inaugural speech:
“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 the Almighty God to 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.”
Today, after seven years of the administration of Gabriel Suswam, the people of Benue have had cause to regret why they voted him over the ambitious young man from Anyiin, Logo Local Government Area into office as Governor of the State. He has distanced himself from his inaugural speech and engulfed himself in deep corruption, dishonesty, lack of transparency and above all, disservice to his people. His quest for material acquisition knows no bounds. In fact, on several occasions, he has openly bragged that he would like to be the richest Tiv man.
The people of Benue State, on realizing how corrupt Governor Suswam is, voted him out during the general elections in 2011. However, he was able to use his PDP connections to ensure that all election petitions challenging his re-election were not heard and determined on their merits. The judiciary actively supported this venture. In the end, Benue’s scarce resources were heavily depleted.
Corruption has become synonymous with Governor Gabriel Suswam.
The governor, during his first term, was able to call back contractors that had abandoned real projects in the state to return and complete them with monies they previously collected from the state government. He became the self-acclaimed “Mr. Infrastructure”. He spent money on the Greater Makurdi Water Works, cajoled President Jonathan to commission the project without any reticulation.
There is acute water shortage in Makurdi town and environs. A similar fraud took place in Otobi and Katsina-Ala water works. So many lives have been lost due to cholera outbreaks in the so-called greater water works towns.
Local governments in the state have remained financially incapacitated. Funds meant for the local government are continuously used to finance the Governor’s luxurious and flamboyant life style at the detriment of workers. The governor jets out of the country every week to attend parties and night clubs in Dubai, Las Vegas, and the US with friends.
We have not forgotten the cost the state incurs in accommodation at a penthouse in Dunnes, Abuja where one of his mistresses stayed for over four years before a house was bought for her. A permanent Presidential Suite at Abuja Transcorp Hotel, all financed from the till of the State government. The Governor is always gallivanting the world in search of investors especially Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore (where beautiful women abound). No single investor has come to Benue since 2007. What an irony!
The claim by the Governor that his inability to pay workers in the state is due to dwindling allocations from Abuja is a mere fallacy. Are other states not affected by same scenario, why do they pay their workers? Teachers just suspended their 10 month old strike in the interest of the pupils. It was not that government met their demands.
Workers downedtools on July 31, 2014 to protest the illegal and criminal deductions of their salaries on the directive of the governor in order to raise money and pay the teachers. What a way of robbing Peter to pay Paul? Leave and transport allowances have not been paid to civil servants since the inception of the Suswam administration in 2007.
His wife, architect Yemisi Suswam, has also not helped matters. All the few major contracts such as the Makurdi International Market, completion of work at Benue State University Teaching Hospital, and the Law Faculty building of Benue State University, Makurdi were carried out by her own company, Metropole Nigeria Limited. With impunity, she built the Wuye International Market Abuja on a Build, Operate, and Transfer (BOT) basis.
Mr. President recently commissioned this market. She has acquired so many properties all over the country and abroad. So much state funds have been diverted into her SEV-AV Foundation that has not positively impacted the women of the state.
The people of Benue have every reason to regret ever voting Governor Gabriel Suswam into office as Governor of Benue State. Insecurity is the order of the day in Benue State, occasioned by Governor Suswam’s patronage of thugs and cultists. He armed these thugs and cultists who facilitated his rigging of the 2011 election.
These arms are now being used against the innocent people of Benue State. Recently, a PDP chieftain and close ally of the Governor from Kwande Local Government was arrested by the police in respect of gun running. Armed robbers were arrested by the CID State Headquarters and they confessed that this PDP chieftain provided the guns they were using. The police acted swiftly and arrested the chieftain. The governor immediately intervened and the police released him. Whether he will ever be charged is another thing.
The role of the Governor in the Tiv/Fulani crisis in the state has left so much to be desired. The governor and his government completely neglected the internally displaced persons.
Another act of the governor that left the Benue people in bewilderment is the misappropriation of the N500m that was released by the federal government to the victims of the flood.
While other states immediately disbursed the funds, the reverse was the case with Benue. The governor at first directed all the victims to vacate the camps, claiming that they will get to them later. When it became obvious that the money was no more, a Benue lawyer went to court to find out what had happened to the money. He was castigated by the governor who claimed that LGs that were affected were to submit bills of quantity for the construction of primary schools. Last we checked, the money was misappropriated. What a shameless act!
What will Governor Gabriel Suswam be remembered for after serving Benue State for eight years? Benue has paid the price for electing a mediocre man governor. In fact, Suswam has made the PDP very unpopular in the state and corruption has become synonymous with him.
Finally, Governor Suswam has left the administration of the state, which is what he was elected to do and focused attention on the Benue North-East Senatorial seat. He has spent so much money in paying for endorsements from the people. Anyway, the people are wiser now and will be able to elect a true representative. Governor Suswam’s ambition to go to the Senate is not to serve. It is just to shield him from prosecution for corruption and abuse of office that he will face at the end of his tenure as Governor. May God forbid this move by Suswam.
Okpe Odadaudu is a Public Commentator.