Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Benue State Stakeholders Forum: Truce Parley Or Political Conspiracy? By Solomon Ayado

Recently, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State convened an all inclusive stakeholders’ forum to discuss issues of reconciliation and economic development, but the absence of key members of the opposition at the forum is brewing controversy as to whether the meeting was really intended to bring peace or was propelled by political conspiracy. SOLOMON AYADO writes.

In the past, there had been series of meetings of stakeholders in Benue aimed at seeking peace,

political stability and the development of the poverty stricken agrarian state. But the extent to which decisions reached at these meetings have helped in solving these problems leaves much to be desired. The question on the lips of keen observers at the moment is whether these meetings were worth the trouble in the first place.

However, the 2015 stakeholders forum recently held in the People’s House Makurdi was instructive in   a sense that it was the very first to take place under the Governor Samuel Ortom led administration. Pundits believe that the meeting was fruitful, as it largely discussed the way forward for the state. The thinking is such a meeting which had both members of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and those of other opposition parties, including the People’s

Democratic Party (PDP) in attendance was indeed a fertile ground for talks bordering on peace and political stability.

But there are other political watchers in the state who have expressed doubt as to whether the motive behind convening this year’s stakeholders forum was sincerely to broker peace and harmony   among politicians in the state. They maintain that they are not sure of any genuine plan to carry members of the opposition parties, especially the PDP along on matters of development in the state.

They say they are waiting to see how the much talked about plan to foster the kind of peace that could enhance unity among prominent sons and daughters of the land, irrespective of their varied political party affiliations would unfold into a pleasant reality.

But Governor Ortom has continued to clear such doubt. At the meeting, he explained that it became imperative to constitute a participatory government in which all citizens will have their say. He insisted that his administration would promote the growth and development the state needs in accordance with true democratic principles of due consultation, full disclosure, transparency, inclusive participation, responsive leadership, rule of law and due process.

The governor also unveiled the blueprint of his administration tagged ‘Our development blueprint; our collective vision for a new benue’ at the meeting. He thanked the stakeholders for responding swiftly to the invitation which he said was sent at short notice. He also apologized for his   inability to invite all critical stakeholders.

Curiously, while most major stakeholders graced the forum despite Governor Ortom’s explanation that the notice for the meeting was short, former Governor Gabriel Suswam and former Senate President, David Mark, as well as some prominent members of the PDP were conspicuously absent. Even non partisan persons who are also critical stakeholders were said to be present. It was gathered that Suswam, Mark and their supporters deliberately refused to show up. Sources close to the opposition said they stayed away to hide their shame because of the political mess the opposition PDP in the state was currently enmeshed in.

Pundits argue that if the stakeholders forum genuinely had reconciliation and stability as its prime, then Senateor Mark and Ortom’s predecessor, Suswam ought to have been present at all cost. They said the former governor and the former number three citizen of the country and a serving Senator from Benue South district would   have attended the meeting in order to contribute their quota to building peace and development in the state. There are unconfirmed reports that Suswam deliberately stayed away from the meeting to avoid being booed and bashed by some irate youths who had planned to take on him. Most people in the state believe fanatically the allegations that the former governor caused the financial rot in Benue, looted the state dry and left it in shambles.

But Suswam has since explained why he was not at the meeting. He said, while he was not formally invited to the meeting, the meeting was very much dominated by APC elements. According to him, the meeting which was basically arranged to perfect the gang-up by the governing party against the opposition sought ways on how to confine the PDP in political oblivion.

Interestingly, political pundits have said they wonder how true Suswam’s claim could be, when prominent members of the opposition who spoke on behalf of the PDP at the forum were singing   different tunes from what he is alleging. At the meeting, a PDP chieftain, Chief Abu Shuluwa lauded Governor Ortom’s anti-corruption crusade and urged him not to leave anyone out. The elder statesman said even though the PDP was planning to wrestle power from the ruling APC in 2019, the opposition party was satisfied with the governance style of Ortom. He urged the governor to learn from the mistakes of the past administration.

“The PDP is very happy with you. The original PDP that I represent is very happy with you for this 100 days so far. Anybody hiding under PDP to say bad things about this government is not a member of my PDP – the original PDP”, Shuluwa said.

But some PDP members sympathetic to Suswam who were at the meeting told LEADERSHIP that the former governor was right when he raised suspicion of political vendetta. They said the stakeholders forum dwelled its discussion basically on the total collapse of the state’s economy. This they said sparked more anger and disdain for Suswam. Notable speakers were said to have hammered on the need to probe the administration of former governor Suswam with a view to recovering the alleged stolen funds.

At the forum, Senators Barnabas Gemade from Benue North East and George Akume from Benue North West, as well as the immediate past deputy governor, Steven Lawani among others who spoke all urged Ortom to ensure the probe of the past administration. They asked the governor to ignore those claiming that his anti-corruption crusade was a witch-hunt. They maintained that the previous administration diverted state funds which must be accounted for.

For instance, General Lawrence Onoja (Rtd) said, “We are here to encourage Samuel Ortom, and he is doing well so far. All those found guilty of corruption should not only return them but also go to jail. I commend your amnesty programme. You are doing very well”.

On his part, Gemade said, “This is the beginning of a new era. Running an inclusive government is what is more important to me. When you are not running an inclusive government so many people are locked out. The first step is to ensure that what ought to be in the kitchen is brought back.

Taxation must be stepped up and good use of tax payers money will encourage the people to pay”.

But contrary to the views of critics from the PDP camp, most persons in the state, particularly members of the ruling party are insisting that Governor Ortom has shown a rare ability to building unity and rapid development in a manner that ignorance, poverty and diseases would soon be totally   eradicated from the agrarian state.

They believe that the stakeholders forum is satisfactorily a step in the right direction for enhancing political stability irrespective of divergent party lines. What is, however, left to be seen is the sustainability of the initiative and the desired support from all stakeholders.


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