By Iorliam Shija
Ordinarily, whilst speaking monotonously under duress should be reserved for such rare and dreadful situations far away from civilization, today in our state, Benue State, even under an intelligent young man as governor in a democratic set up, we find most people speaking to him, doing so under pressure like Foley, Scotloff and Haines did. Many people in the state; the traditional rulers, press, pastors, priests, elders and perhaps friends of our governor, Dr Gabriel Torwua Suswam who has just few months to complete his two terms in office, still feel more comfortable to talk to Suswam under unprovoked duress, saying only those things that would please him. This, which they have successfully done in the most part of his tenure, has not helped Suswam and the people of the state though.
Were people not to talk to suswam, who is fondly referred to, even by the ever budding local media as our “amiable governor”; “messiah of Benue” and the likes, under duress or pretence, they would have told him that he is a shame. They would have told him that since 1976 when Late General Ramat Murtalla Mohammed created Benue from the old Benue-Plateau, the people of that agrarian state have not suffered under any leader like they are doing now under him since May, 2007.
To be fair to Suswam, it is important to put on note that Benue has had a couple of poorly performing governors before him; prominent among those being Group Captain Joshua Obademi who was in charge of the state from 9 December 1993 to 22 August 1996.The issue of Obademi was most painful perhaps because, he took over from Reverend Father Moses Orshio Adasu; the governor adjudged by many people in the state to have used his short period in the office from January 1992 to November 1993, to offer purposeful leadership which climaxed in the establishment of Benue State University which is one of the greatest achievements ever from Government House Makurdi.
Dr George Akume, at the moment the longest serving Benue State governor of all time; a record that Suswam shall break next year, came on the stage with a promise and hope at the dawn of a new dispensation. He too, ended up with his flops. But what Akume couldn’t do in structural development, building of long standing institutions, developing agriculture and working towards actualizing a sizeable internal revenue to set the state on a viable economic base, he complemented through his brand of “stomach” infrastructure. Akume, at least was able to cover his sins with the human angle he brought to governance. Whether it changed anything significantly or not, is not my concern here.
That said, it is although rather shameful that Suswam didn’t only tow the line of these other poorly performing governors, he is going down in history as the worst of them all. I say this, first because I don’t speak under duress; and secondly, that I have facts to back-up my claims. Suswam’s regime is shameful because he was one of the youngest governors ever to have ruled this state when he became governor. For that, he came to the throne, not just as the son of Tingir Dom Agya, but as an Ambassador of the marginalised, misunderstood and deprived Benue youths. It was the general belief, especially among the young people, that one of them would vindicate and further enhance their stake in the polity. However, it is rather shameful that after Suswam has dutifully spent seven years and counting as governor, Benue people are still nostalgically looking for someone that will match the records set in 1979 by an older person and maybe, it will take a long time before a young person is allowed to rule the state again.
Between October 1979 and December 1983, Suswam should definitely be in secondary school or had just finished. That was when Mr Apollos Aper Aku was the governor of the state. Aku, had his challenges; he had his critics; he had made his significant mistakes; he was even accused of corruption by the likes of SJI Akure; the military even threw him in prison on corruption charges; but through hindsight, after over thirty years, no governor, even when the opportunities available to the likes of Suswam were not there to the man, has beat this record in terms of tangible achievements that have direct bearing on the people.
It is shameful that Suswam, with the sophistication of governance these days, manned by better educated personnel and cheap cash from the center, prefers to build financial empires of his own, family members and cronies, above result-oriented leadership that will benefit the people like Aku and Adasu before him attempted. This is shameful.
Today, there is poverty everywhere in Benue. Staff salaries are not being paid; senior government staff who should hold their heads high have become beggars due to the failure of Suswam’s administration to pay their entitlements. Most of his political appointees that he had supposedly brought to help him have been exposed and made redundant. Although these men and women came in with varying degrees of expertise and hopes, Suswam has either deliberately refused to use them or is unable to put them to commensurate usage, and today, most of them are going down with him as failures. This is shameful. Maybe, I should also blame them for refusing to resign. This too is shameful.
Whoever becomes the next governor of Benue State will not only have a lot to learn from Suswam’s regime, but will have to console the people. Before then are seven months left of the last four of Suswam’s eight years which is some time. Though it won’t be enough to allow Suswam develop an Agricultural plan, build schools (even if just by the road sides as Tanko Al-mukura has done), and other long term plans, he can reduce this shame by first paying Benue Staff the salaries he is owing them, especially the teachers. These seven months are also enough to bring back those educational institutions that are now on strike back to life; these seven months, Suswam could also make Greater Makurdi Water works, truly work. Seven months are also enough for Suswam to pay those poor old pensioners their stipends; he could also pay contractors their due. Who knows, perhaps Suswam will use these seven months to reduce the shame that he has brought on himself and the young men of Benue State.
Iorliam Shija is the Editor-In-Chief, Nigerian Peoples Post. He tweets @KSN_Online