As Violence, Corruption, Squandermania Reign Supreme.
For Gabriel Suswam, these are certainly not the best of times. Indeed, since he mounted the saddle as Governor of Benue State way back in 2007, never has he been assailed by multiple problems at the same time as he now faces. These include allegations that he had forged his college certificate and is therefore unfit to be governor, near-bankruptcy of Benue’s treasury, frequent industrial crises by civil servants, election-related cases that appear to be inexorably moving towards his exit from power, and so forth.
By way of contrast, it is instructive to note that Suswam had overcome his post-election jitters in 2007 almost effortlessly, with his main challenger in that governorship poll said to have been allegedly “settled”. Hence, despite the well documented irregularities that characterised the poll, the governor never had to contend with any potential tricky case of the election petition tribunal.
This time, however, respite seems far from the governor’s horizon, with two seemingly water-tight election petitions hanging on his neck. One of these – initiated by Suswam’s ACN
challenger in the April 2011 poll, Steve Ugbah – swayed against the governor only last week when the Supreme Court delivered a damning verdict against Suswam.
Ugbah had dragged the embattled governor to the Benue Election petition tribunal alleging sundry irregularities in the disputed poll. But in an apparent bid to pull the rug off his opponent’s feet, Suswam had rushed to the Appeal Court in Makurdi and had Ugbah’s case dismissed on technical grounds. To the utter amazement of not a few persons, the Appeal Court had spurned the main matter and dismissed Ugbah’s case on the grounds that he had filed an ex-parte without the leave of the tribunal.
Dissatisfied with the Appeal Court’s verdict, Ugbah headed for the Supreme Court. The apex court set aside the lower court’s verdict, ordering that the ACN candidate’s case be heard on merit. In the judgment read by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapha, the court unanimously ruled that it was wrong for such a case to have been dismissed on frivolous grounds.
Delivering judgment last Monday, the Supreme Court held that it was wrong for the court of Appeal to apply mere technicalities rather than going into the merit of the petition.
In preaching the gospel of substantial justice, Justice Musdapha said, “it is too early for me to start losing my head. What is the different between letter and motion exparte? Everybody is watching us. I am begging in the name of justice, matters should be decided on their merit and not on technicalities.
“Our responsibility to whoever comes to us is to do justice without technicalities. Where is justice after the tribunal itself had granted prehearing, notices and the same tribunal fixed a date for hearing and days after, somebody now brought an application to dismiss the matter, where is justice in that situation?
“They just want to take an easy way out to finish this matter. We will say no to it. Democracy is the number of the people who voted for A or B. let justice be done.
And “accordingly, we allow this appeal and restore the decision of the tribunal,” the court declared. As the case returns to the tribunal and with the certificate forgery case also gathering momentum in the court, Suswam’s fate hangs in the balance. This is more so as like Ugbah, Daniel Saror, the ANPP governorship candidate in the last poll, has also reportedly vowed to pursue his case to a logical conclusion. In the celebrated case, Saror alleged that Suswam had forged his 1982 WAEC result.
It would be recalled that when news of the alleged certificate forgery broke earlier this year, officialdom went wild in Makurdi. Thugs, believed to the acting on the orders of Government House, laid siege to the Makurdi office of the Lagos – based newspaper that published the story
even as not a few vendors were reportedly manhandled merely for being in possession of the offensive paper. Not a few people found it strange that despite Suswam’s robust claim that his Government College Makurdi certificate is genuine, he is apparently scared of any publication or case pertaining to his fake credential.
The same desperation was evident in the legal battle raging between ACN’s Steve Ugbah and Suswam. Ugbah, whose party gave Suswam’s PDP sleepless nights before and during the last general elections, has reportedly survived more than one assassination attempts since he launched his legal war. In fact, he pointedly fingered the governor as the mastermind of those and some other sponsored attacks.
“Being in the opposition party here in Benue has been quite hazardous in recent times”, remarked a chieftain of ACN whose spoke to this reporter on condition of anonymity. “They have been using all sorts of terror tactics against us with reckless abandon, particularly prior to the poll and ever since our governorship and some legislative election cases were taken to the tribunal”.
Actually, the infamous reign of terror has been pervading Benue since Suswam and his predecessor, George Akume (now a senator on ACN platform) parted ways. Witness, for instance, the barely concealed persecution of many public office holders who are close to Akume, notably the then chairman of Gboko local government area. He and his ilk were hounded, harassed and hunted relentlessly for no other crime, than being close to senator Akume, according to an insider. No less worrisome is the unprecedented squndermania and outright corruption which have virtually rendered Benue bankrupt, with the national assembly, famously describing the state’s financial condition as critical one of the legion of avenues the state’s funds are being wasted with gusto, a reliable source disclosed, is Suswam’s seemingly endless foreign trips supposedly in search of ‘foreign investors.’ On such a typical trip, he would be accompanied by countless political appointees, palace jesters, family members and so many others who have no business there, the source disclosed
Which explained why the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) repeatedly cried out against what it called Suswam’s frivolous foreign trips. In one such outburst, secretary of Benue wing of CNPP Agayor Chagba had lamented that “most of the time Suswam is either in Abuja, Lagos, or in the USA, all in the name of looking for foreign investors”.
Shockingly, Suswam reportedly spent princely N994,615,080 on foreign trips in 2009 alone. Since then the figure has almost tripled, another source disclosed. Can you imagine that a state as poor as Benue spend more money on foreign trips than on infrastructure and other critical sectors?
It would be recalled that when his then commissioner for finance, Mr Oklobia faced the press in an attempt to gloss over the unprecedented wastage and graft in Suswam’s administration (as labouriously detailed by chairman of the movement for Democracy, Hon. Clement Uhondo) he inadvertently exposed some can of worms, even as he cleverly dodged many of the questions posed to him by the press. He, for example, failed to explain exactly how many billions the Suswam government had expended on many multiple- billion naira contracts since 2007!!
As incredible as it may seem, even that Finance commissioner could not quote the correct amount of money spent by Suswam in various sectors. For instance, the then Health commissioner, Dr. Jairus Erube, declared that “equipment and drugs were procured for hospitals in the state to the tune of N 1.5 billion;” yet Oklobia claimed that only N1.1 billion had been expended on the entire health sector during that period!
DESERT HERALD gathered that Suswam’s regime has allegedly gone haywire since then.
According to a senior staff of the ministry of finance, “accountability and probity have been thrown to the dogs here, as funds are expended from different sources in a manner akin to a drunken sailor”.
The official, who asked not to be named, added: “there are times when funds are approved for the same projects here (ministry of finance) only for you to hear later that funds have been approved for the same project either at Government House or at a particular ministry, without our knowledge. It’s all crazy and weird. Worse of all, contracts that are supposed to be as little as N500 million or even less, are awarded in the legion of billions of naira just like that”.
Small wonder, things appear to be falling apart across the state. For instance, workers, salaries are delayed seemingly forever, even as higher institutions in Benue, including Benue Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, were shut for many months recently as workers downed tools over poor andor delayed wages.
By COMFORT ONCHE
- S’Court orders re-trial of Udoedeghe, Ugbah’s petitions (vanguardngr.com)
- … Benue: Suswam’s peace (vanguardngr.com)
- BENUE TRIBUNAL: Insecurity clouds petition against Suswam (vanguardngr.com)
- Suswam vs Ugbah: Benue election tribunal to rule on preliminary objection Friday (vanguardngr.com)
- Tribunal dismisses ACN petition against Suswam (vanguardngr.com)
- Minimum Wage: Governors have no excuse for implementation – Abatemi-Usman (nuraabatemiusman.wordpress.com)
- Fired Queen of the North ferry captain loses after lengthy appeal (theprovince.com)
- Information czar has right to view CBC documents: appeals court (canada.com)