Thursday, 19 May 2016

Ortom, Suswam And Politics Of Probe In Benue

SOLOMON AYADO writes on the ongoing probe in Benue State and the seeming frosty relationship between incumbent Governor Samuel Ortom and his immediate predecessor, Gabriel Suswam.

The dimension with which the ongoing probe in Benue state is being dragged may fast degenerate into a total political war hence the verbal attacks and skirmishes between the incumbent Governor Samuel Ortom of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) and immediate past governor Gabriel Suswam of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Nobody including members of the political class in the agrarian state have had any premonition that the once existed friendly relationship between the incumbent Governor Ortom and his predecessor, Suswam would be covered with frost and their cordiality be devoid of warmth.

The towering of their political alliance was very invigorating until the last governorship election when the slant inclined to a bend and their mutual understanding was presented with a bias.

The expectation of having an unsettled disagreement between predecessor and successor is no longer news, only the handling of the ugly development can be what would be now be put to test. The reoccurring disharmony between exiting and incoming leaders somewhat depict a payback scenario.

In Benue state, the duo of Ortom and Suswam may have no assumption that their cordiality would be pushed to the mud. They were best of friends and had belonged to same political party, the the ruling PDP.

Retrospectively, Ortom became the National Auditor of the PDP before he was later appointed as minister of state for trade and investment, and subsequently as supervising minister of aviation, while Suswam was governor of Benue state and one of the closest ally to former president Goodluck Jonathan. It was said that Ortom’s appointments were single-handedly influenced by Suswam whose closeness to Jonathan made the claim very undoubtably.

Until his coming to run for the governorship of the richly agricultural state, there was no crack in the relatedness of the buddies. Interestingly, their friendship culminated into a serious family tie between the Suswam’s and Ortom’s.

Governor Ortom’s seeming fall-out with Suswam is one development that shocked many political leaders and supporters. During the campaigns, Ortom had addressed all journalists in Benue state and said that Suswam was a jolly good friend he (Ortom) cannot afford to loose simply because of politics. He narrated how Suswam influenced his political and economic growth, noting that his private residence and Oracle business was uplifted through the financial assistance of Suswam.

Still, Ortom dumped Suswam and the PDP, shortly after the primaries and defected to the APC. His crisscross was propelled by the fact that he had unexpectedly lost the PDP ticket to Terhemen Tarzoor who, many political pundits believed was Suswam’s favorite candidate.

But before the conduct of the PDP primaries, there were varied calls to Ortom from top notch of the APC, urging him to defect and secure ticket under the then opposition platform. This however, was due to the fact that the APC in the state led by former senate minority leader, George Akume was not at home with the candidature of Barrister Emmanuel Jime who was representing Makurdi/Guma federal Constituency in the House of Representatives.

Like the rejected corner stone, this was how Ortom dumped PDP and switched to APC, few days to the governorship election and won ticket. Ofcourse, he was quickly granted waver by the party and immediately got nominated as sole candidate for the governorship election.

While some analysts pointed accusing fingers on the hate campaign and propaganda melted out by Ortom and his supposed political father, Senator Akume to the administration of Suswam, others posited that the violent pattern of opposition at the time was the major reason that forced Suswam not to witness the swearing in ceremony but to flee the state barely 12 hours to Ortom’s inauguration.

But assuring of his cordiality and cooperation, Suswam had few days to the inauguration of Ortom, donated to him assorted brands of SUV Prado and Lexus vehicles to enhance transportation. During the formal presentation of the vehicles in government house Makurdi, Suswam explained that the donation was not in anyway a trap but normal ritual hence, according to him, his predecessor Akume did same to him while he assumed office as governor in 2007. He further requested Ortom to beckon on him any time there was need to offer explanations on state issues.

As if it was malicious, Governor Ortom shortly after assumption of office, even before his constitution of the state executive council, named two judicial commissions of inquiry-assets and funds recovery-headed by Justice Elizabeth Kpojime to probe the administration of Suswam from 2007 to 2015. According to Ortom, “the probe was not personal but mandate by the people to verify the exact assets and financial status of the state.”

To further show clearly that the relationship between Suswam and Ortom was deeply sinking into muddy waters, disagreement ensued between the duo, over the actual debt profile of the agrarian state. Suswam claimed to have handed over N9 billion owed debt but Ortom debunked, described it as a blatant lie and stated that preliminary investigation by the transition committee had revealed about N130 billion actual debt profile.

“The Mike Iordye led transition committee discovered that as at the time the administration of Ortom took over, arrears of pensions and gratuities stood at over N16.7 billion, arrears of salaries was over N9.5billion while contractual obligation was N72.03 billion.It said commercial bank loans stood at N11.129 billion, CBN loans N585 million, state revenue bond N9.694, foreign loans N9.818 billion with judgement debts standing at N1.236 billion totaling over N130 billion.” Ortom stated.

But Suswam said: “ I left a debt profile of about N9.2billion or there about and that is what I left behind and that is the bond that we borrowed.The debt profile of N130 billion or so as speculated is in the figment of the imagination of those who are saying it. But having said that, the current government has in few months borrowed over N15 billion at very exorbitant interest rates for the purpose of paying salary arrears and for starting government but that money is finished and now we have money borrowed at nine percent single digit from CBN for N28 billion and put together in fews months, the government had borrowed about N43billion and it was just five months for a government that might spent four years. So I am wondering wether at the end of the day there would be any space at all for the generation of Benue that are yet unborn.”

Also, wether it is a vendetta tactic or any vindictive move, Ortom had quickly upturned all the last minutes actions of his predecessor including the appointment of first class chiefs of the Tiv Chiefdom.

Meanwhile, there were widespread insinuations that Ortom and Suswam were holding secret meetings to resolve their differences over the probe and that they have agreed, due to their varied political craftiness, to play politics with the sensibilities of the agrarian people. Another version said the political maradonas would soon realign hence the political adage that ‘no permanent enemy nor friend in politics.’

But more worrisome is the recent chase out of Suswam from a residence located in the highbrow Lobi quarters Makurdi which he claimed to have bought from state government, several years ago. The assets recovery panel in conjunction with a Makurdi High Court revoked the purchase of the property, saying the procurement did not follow due process.

Commenting on the matter, a community mobilizer based in Makurdi, who simply gave his name as Kwagh-Gande appealed to Ortom and Suswam not to forget the dampen political and socio-economic dwindling status of the agricultural state. He urged them “to eschew politics of bitterness and malicious power play in order to proffer proactive measures that would alleviate the suffering condition of the people.”

Considerably, the inability of the political leader, George Akume to bring together the disagreed former governors with the aim of amicably sorting out the lingering financial issues of the state has nearly depicted a gang up. This is even as Suswam has categorically refused to surrender to probe on claims that it was a witch-hunt and that the process is skewed hence it was not extended to his predecessor, Akume.

Recently, Ortom has while fielding questions from newsmen in Makurdi, explained that 52 names of past government officials, led by Suswam, were released by the judicial commission to refund some looted funds. He stated that he (Ortom) will soon hand other the accused persons to the EFCC and ICPC for prosecution and onward recovery of the stolen monies. But Suswam has maintained that the probe cannot hold waters hence it was not genuinely constituted and with every bias.

In whatever manner or whichever way the probe would proceed and finally end, the real intention of Governor Ortom may soon be pictured in a nearby future, just as the people will see clearer wether Suswam can escape the hook and or refund the alleged diverted funds. But wether the duo are masterly playing politics with the probe, only time shall tell.

By Solomon Ayado

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