Monday, 8 June 2015

SUSWAM: Yesterday's Emperor, Today's fugitive

A mild drama occurred at the post inauguration Luncheon hosted in honor of the new Governor of Benue State Chief Dr Samuel Ortom at the Banquet Hall of Government House Makurdi on May 29 2015. As guests arrived, the portrait of the immediate past Governor of the State hung conspicuously on the left side of the high wall, away from the collection of portraits of former Governors of the State as if he was still the "main man".

While hushed discussions were going on regarding this breach of protocol, three young men arrived with a tall ladder. One of them sprightly climbed and removed the inappropriate image, leaving that of the new governor to occupy its rightful place. A loud ovation and huge applause followed from the guests who were already seated in the Hall.

This short drama effectively signified the end of one era and the beginning of another. For the first time in eight years, Gabriel Suswam was no longer the Lord of the Manor as Governor of Benue State. It reminded me of the transient nature of power. The impotence of man in the face of change became obvious. I said in my mind, what a life!. Here was the image of a man who once bestrode the Benue Political landscape like a colossus, whose word was Law and whose whims were the norm.

Here was the image of a man who used every weapon at his disposal to conquer his opponents, intimidate his peers, subdue his superiors and oppress the downtrodden for eight years being thrown away like a bad habit.

Gabriel Suswam's eight years left in its wake tales of sorrow, tears and blood. His tenure touched every strata of the Benue society albeit negatively. A State of very educated people with a very proud heritage laid prostrate before an emperor .

Gabriel Suswam's emergence as Governor in 2007 bore the imprints of one destined by the stars to be King. He contested the primary election of his Party alongside political giants like Dr Paul UNONGO, Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, Deputy Governor Ogiri Ajene, Deputy Speaker Ralph Igbago and a host of others. He was the least experienced among the contestants.

At the count of votes, Suswam did not garner enough votes to win. In a strange political maneuver master minded by the then Governor George Akume, two of the aspirants, prince Ajene and Hon Igbago not only withdrew from the race but also "donated" their votes to Suswam to emerge Winner.

That is how Suswam became the candidate of the PDP. He went on to "defeat" the very popular former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and Minority Leader of the Senate, Prof Daniel Saror who ran on the platform of the ANPP.
There is a popular saying that "he who the gods will destroy they first make mad". This truism found greater expression in Benue under Suswam. The first victim of his rampaging and inordinate ambition to completely dominate the political terrain was senator George Akume. He not only moved to demystify Akume, he dealt ruthlessly with his perceived supporters in government and even in the civil service. He vowed that Akume will never return to the Senate while he was still alive. He conscripted the Tor Tiv in this ignoble project.

Another group that fell victim to Suswam's burning desire to conquer all were his peers who grew up with him and witnessed his struggles in life. He particularly disdained those whose parents were well to do. In a sarcastic expression from one of his victims, Suswam hated every one that sang the nursery rhyme "twinkle twinkle little stars". This is a reference to those who went to elite schools.

The biggest example of his hatred for his peers manifested at his belated wedding to Architect Yemisi Balogun which held a few months after they assumed office as Governor and First Lady respectively. Gabriel Suswam who grew up in rural Zaki Biam and went to school in Adikpo and Makurdi all in Benue State had no friend worthy of being his Best Man. Rather, he chose Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa whom he had barely known for four months to be his Best Man. What a friend we have in Suswam.

The traditional institution was not spared in Suswam' s misrule. He dragged the hallowed institution of kingship to the murky waters of politics. The Tor Tiv dropped the toga of father of all and became more than a card carrying member of Suwam's gang in the PDP. At a point, he became the Chairman of Suswam's PDP screening Committee to select a gubernatorial candidate.

The greatest violence he visited on the traditional system was his hurried creation of first class stools with the sole aim of foisting his elder brother and Benue's enfant terrible, Terkura Suswam as king of Sankera people. His intention was to reward terrorists that sustained his infamous reign. Thankfully, Governor Ortom has set the machinery in motion to reverse this ugly trend in deference to a court order.

Elder Statesmen also fell victim of Suswam's mephistophelean politics. He had a policy of decimating personalities that wield influence in Benue. Thus, those who the society looked up to as icons and leaders were reduced to paupers and yes men. Benue became the easiest place to trade honour for a mess of porridge. Suswam referred to such elders that includes top politicians, retired civil servants and captains of industry as "ancestors" who must give way.

In the course of his domination of the Benue political space, Suswam not only destroyed the political order but also propped up the most vicious set of leaders who in every way mirrored his character and helped him institute a reign of terror in Benue State. The state witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of illegal arms where thugs and outlaws had a free reign, intimidating opponents in his name.

This state of affairs was foretold in the bible .In Ecclesiastes 10 vs 5-7 it says " their is an evil which I have seen under the sun as an error which proceedeth from the ruler. Folly is set in great dignity and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen servants upon horses and Princes walking as servants upon the earth" This explains why Suswam propped up Terngu Tsegba to upstage his benefactor Senator George Akume in the senatorial race of 2011. This is the reason why he brought one Mathias Byuan to disgrace Barnabas Gemade in 2011 PDP primaries. It is for this reason that he brought one John Tondo, a civil servant and his land agent in Abuja to become Commissioner for Lands in Makurdi to help him perfect one of the worst regimes of land grabbing and primitive accumulation .Overall, he formed a kitchen cabinet comprising the lowest of the lows because of his quest to be the lone star in the political firmament.

When King Saul in the Bible deviated from his expected role as King, the glory of God was said to have departed from him. So is the case with Suswam. He lost the face of God and trusted in his armour and chariots. Every man or situation became a commodity to be purchased. However, Suswam's fall has divine stamps all over.

First, as his regime wound down to an inglorious end, his most vicious attack dogs started succumbing to the cold hands of death. One Conrad Wergba who built a reputation of a blood thirsty sadist was the leader of Suswam's terror squad. He died in the midst of Suswam!s cold calculations to emerge Senator. He was his Chief Strategist and terror consultant. Until his death which drew wild jubilations in Benue, Wergba was the Commissioner for Water Resources.

Another terrorist that was divinely plucked off the face of the earth was one Aondowase Chia whose role was to verbally assault anyone who opposed Suswam. Nigerians will recall that Aondowase Chia before his death said Gen Muhammadu Buhari was "quarter to go". He slumped and died a few days later. He may have unwittingly prophesied his own death. He was the commissioner for youth and sports.

The hand of God in the deconstruction of Suswam cannot be overstated. One of the greatest political tsunamis in the country occurred in Benue in 2011. The ACN under the legendary Senator George Akume led a great mass movement that almost swept away Governor Suswam. The ACN candidate was the internationally acclaimed scholar and Professor of Marketting at the prestigious California State University Hayward in the United States, Steven Ugbah. However, being the clever fox that he turned out to be, he utilized his links with a patently corrupt and immoral judiciary to obtain strange judgements to remain in office. Those judges no doubt will forever be ashamed of that pronouncement. The people voted him out but God said it wasn't time.

With the benefit of hindsight, we are thankful that Suswam didn't fall in 2011. If he had been removed from office, President Goodluck Jonathan with whom he shares a close relationship with would have given him a huge appointment, probably a ministerial slot that would have made him larger than life. By the time Suswam fell after an uneventful second term as Governor, he had no President in Abuja, could not install a successor in Benue and woefully failed in his ill advised ambition to become Senator. God's time is the best.

Suswam's disastrous fall had serious implications on the political coloration of the state. Benue, which hitherto was an impregnable fortress of the PDP when the likes of Gemade and Akume held sway became a safe bet for the opposing APC to the utter shock and consternation of political observers.

The story of Gabriel's failure at the senatorial polls will make a great script for a nollywood movie. He woke up one day to say he was going to the Senate which he understands to be the natural progression from his tenure as Governor. He set out to undo his primary benefactor, Senator Barnabas Gemade who was only completing his first tenure as Senator. Suswam who spent eight years in the House of Representatives and a further eight years as Governor wanted to supplant one who was only serving his first four years in public office. He not only disparaged Gemade at every given opportunity but boasted that only God could stop him from becoming a Senator. For once, his prophesy was fulfilled. God used the people of Benue NorthEast Senatorial District to stop him.

Suswam not only manipulated Gemade out of the PDP primaries, he chased him out of the PDP, believing that he will hide under the cover of the PDP umbrella to win. How wrong!. He was thoroughly disgraced by a combination of the following factors.
1. The power of God
2.the transparency of INEC
3.the votes of the people,
INEC card reader became his albatross, the enormous state resources he deployed for the election were wasted,
God hates injustice in any form. Suswam's mistreatment of Gemade drew the ire of God and the wrath of the people. His entry into politics in 1998 was facilitated by Chief Gemade. As the convener of the PDP in Benue at formation, he used his influence to Favour Gabriel Suswam over Atoza Ihindan who is married to Gemade's immediate elder sister in the contest for the House of Representatives seat for Katsina Ala/UKum/logo federal constituency. This is the same person that Suswam cheekily sent one John Tondo to tell at his 66th birthday celebration to surrender his Senatorial seat to him because he is too old. Gemade painfully left the PDP he once chaired and picked the APC ticket. He roundly defeated Suswam and has consigned him to the dust bin of political history.

As a scholar of drama, I know that in a Tragedy, all tragic heroes possess tragic flaws that ultimately lead to their destruction. In Suswam's case they were numerous. They include, greed, avarice, and vengefulness. Suswam as Governor bore grudges with people who offended him in secondary school and was never ashamed to mention such.

The final nail in Suswam's political coffin was hit by himself. Basking in the euphoria of a Godlike invincibility, Suswam along with the Tor Tiv muddled up the PDP governorship Primaries and this cost the PDP its previous stronghold of Benue. In the build up to the primaries, the PDP paraded some of the most brilliant personalities seeking to fly its flag. Suswam's deputy, Steve Lawani was one of them. The list included former Ministers Dr samuel Ortom and Sam Ode, professor David Kerr, Engineer Felix Atume(Registrar of COREN) Dr EUGINE Aliegba, former Permanent Secretaries Tivlumun Nyitse and Hinga Biem etc.

However, to the utter dismay of all, Suswam and his group in the PDP settled for the youngest and least experienced of the lot, one Terhemen Tarzoor whose greatest claim to fame was an ill fated stint as Speaker of the Benue House of Assembly, a position he assumed through a fraudulent invention in Nigerian politics. Tarzoor upon realizing that he was losing the State Assembly Seat to his ACN counterpart went and created imaginary polling units which he called Fulani units and awarded scores to himself from the nonexistent units to emerge winner. It took the Tribunal a few days to knock him out. By this time, Suswam had arm twisted the Assembly to elect him Speaker. When the fraud of the Fulani unit was established, Tazoor was disgraced out of the hallowed chamber.

This is the character that best suited Suswam's agenda which was the establishment of a kakistocracy in Benue State. He swore that Dr Samuel Ortom can only be Governor in Benue over his dead body. This time, his prophesy failed. He saw Ortom become Governor with his two open eyes korokoro. Of course Dr Ortom picked the APC ticket and prevailed over Suswam's anointed candidate Terhemen Tarzoor, alias the man wey sabi.

At the thanksgiving service to mark his assumption of office, Governor Ortom had a startling revelation to make. He told the shocked congregation that the powers that be in the previous government told him to his face that he cannot be Governor because since he is a born again Christian , there will no longer be wild parties, drinking and womanizing in Government Hose.
Wild parties, drinking and womanizing!!!!!!!. These were the driving forces of governance for eight years in Benue. The state was reduced to loinocracy (governance by the loins). Benue became an open field for trade in vice, operated by pimps, madams and hangers on. Anybody outside this circle was treated like a leper. Friends were humiliated and some who had no self esteem were converted to aides.

Issues of service delivery were secondary. It is a tragedy that after eight years in office, there is little or nothing to remember this otherwise amiable young man for. He spent that amount of time occupying space and time, while in power, he accumulated unbelievable wealth while the people of Benue sunk in the abyss of poverty.

At the end of his tenure which seemed like eternity, Suswam fled the Country on the morning of handover. He could not face the people he traumatized and intimidated for eight agonizing years. Today ex Governor Suswam is lonely, in self exile perhaps wondering how he managed to etch his name into Benue's Hall of shame. He has become the butt of jokes and even the seedy people who benefitted from his obscene rule are distancing themselves from him. He cuts a lonely figure in self imposed exile even when no one is chasing after him yet. How are the mighty falling?.

What a tragedy, from an all conquering emperor to a lonely fugitive. This is a lesson for all. Never entrust power in the hands of some one who hasn't developed the capacity to justly exercise it.
Kenneth Tersoo Gyado

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