Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Benue Probe Panels and Suswam’s Administration By Terfa Abul

After a successful handover of the reins of power to his successor on May 29, 2015, after eight years of service to his state, Gabriel Suswam, the immediate past governor of Benue State, has opted for a low profile. He has made only one public appearance since leaving office. That was August 14, 2015 at the funeral of his close political associate, the late Hon. Atoza Ihindan, who was cut down by yet unknown political assassins.



Suswam has equally avoided public comments in the media preferring to maintain a dignified silence even on matters of state,some of them pertaining to his performance in office as governor.

Those who know Suswam very well can attest to the fact that he is a man of the people, who loves company and public appearances as much as he loves engaging the media on issues. Why has the former governor chosen to maintain studied silence when his tenure is being put on the scale by the new administration? The answer may not far fetched. As former governor, Suswam sees himself as a statesman who should carefully weigh his comments on public matters so as not to unduly overheat the polity thereby constitute a distraction to those charged with the responsibility to provide leadership at this point in time.

Although Suswam has maintained his quiet stance on issues, it appears the new administration in Benue State is still not comfortable with his silence and seeming inactivity and would want to drag him to the ring for a political bout. The many probes launched against Suswam speak volumes in this regard.

At the last count, there were about five probe committees launched with fanfare by the Orton-led government against the Suswam administration.
 The first was personnel audit of all workers on the state payroll. This probe was ordered by the new administration few days after assumption of office. The objective was ostensibly to check the state’s payroll to fish out ghost workers and possibly reduce the wage bill. That appeared on the surface an objective exercise. But, the real reason for the exercise was to identify those employed by the Suswam administration in its last two years in office for retrenchment. In pursuit of this veiled political agenda therefore, the new administration did not wait for a report of the audit, it went ahead and removed from the payroll, all those employed by the Suswam administration since 2013, when it had two clear years to the end of its tenure.This obvious politica lwitchhunt has sent nearly 1000 staff off jobs. The “offence” of this people is that    they were employed by Suswam, even though due process was followed in making the appointments.

The second probe of the Suswam government was carried out by the Transition Committee. The committee headed by Chief Mike Iordye, who incidentally served for six and half years out of Suswam’s 8-year tenure as Head of Service. The Transition committee which was supposed to receive hand over notes, study and summarise same for the new administration, turned into a probe committee as it traversed the state visiting projects sites. It summoned dozens of civil servants and other private persons to appear and testify before it. The Committee submitted a report with spurious findings on the debts left behind by the Suswam administration.

Not satisfied with the Transition Committee, the new administration inaugurated two judicial commissions of inquiry, all in one day. The first was to investigate and determine all revenues which accrued to the state since June 2007 when Suswam assumed office to May 2015 when he left office. The Panel headed by Justice Margaret Kpojime has six months to determine how such revenues were applied, the contracts awarded, who awarded the contracts, the status of the various jobs, and whether there was value for money in the transactions, to identify any case of malfeasance and recommend appropriate measures for consideration of the government.

The other probe panel is mandated to verify all government assets. The committee headed by Mr. Moses Atagher, a Lawyer and former Acting Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank, has the mandate to determine all assets of the state, landed property, vehicles, shares, equipment, factories, etc, their location, whether such assets were under lease arrangement, to determine the identity of    the persons behind the lease, the terms of the lease, whether there have been improvements on the property, etc.

All these probe panels have since commenced sitting in Makurdi, the state capital. The target from all indications is to get at Suswam, destroy his political base, perhaps ruin his reputation, cast his administration in the worst light.    Although the administration in the state has denied that it was out to witch-hunt, the series of probe and mandate given the probe panels points directly to the desperation to nail Suswam by all means.

Unfortunately for the administration, the Suswam bashing has so far proved counter-productive as the achievements of his administration which is under is ready to confront the present actors on the political stage where ever they go.

Take a look at the numerous infrastructural projects executed by Suswam. Most of the streets in Makurdi, Gboko, Otukpo and Katsina-Ala were tarred during his tenure. Over 1000km roads were built linking each of the 23    Local Government headquarters in the state. Most of the roads were completed and commissioned, some were at different stages of completion. The rural communities got a fair deal as over 150 communities benefitted from rural electricity projects. The Benue State University particularly benefitted from several projects including a new Faculty of Law complex, convocation square, lecture theatres, faculty offices among others. The University Teaching Hospital was completed and accreditation of the School of Medical Sciences achieved to enable Medi- cal students graduate from the University.

The Suswam administration completed three major water projects in Makurdi, Otukpo and Katsina-Ala to provide potable water to the populace. The administration constructed an ultra-modern Government House with offices, Logde, banquet hall and Guest    Houses. The facilities are    being    enjoyed by the new helmsmen.

Suswam’s ill-luck is that his party, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) lost at the polls in the last general election. The on-going political malevolent guised in judicial probe panels is a direct byproduct of the outcome of the hotly contested elections.

The inclusion of those who previously served the state and were involved in the very activities now under probe exposes the desperation to craft reasons for Suswam’s political subjugation within the realms of Benue politics. But, how far will political vendetta go under the guise of Judicial probes?

The former governor is confident he will come out clean from the probes. He is sure of his record of activities and has stated that he would subject himself to the probe.

•Abul writes from Katsina-Ala, Benue State.

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