Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswan, in this interview with George Okoh, speaks on the achievements of his administration, his senatorial ambition and other sundry issues
You are one of the governors that are very close to President Goodluck Jonathan, what do you think his chances to win the 2015 polls?
Well, the president is my boss and yes I am close to my president. I want to say the president has done well for the country in spite of the security challenges that we have. There is nothing a person would have done better than what he has done because this is something that nobody anticipates.
I believe that he has very bright chances of winning the presidency of this country when he finally declares. I think majority of the PDP governors are behind him; all of us are standing behind the president. He has shown that in spite of high level provocation from certain quarters, he could maintain some level of maturity that clearly stands him out as the person to beat in the coming elections.
Given what is happening in areas where APC stole from us, like Ekiti, it is clear that the people of Nigeria prefer PDP to APC which is propaganda party.
But as a sitting president who has the constitutional right to re-contest for a second tenure, I don’t think that is a problem.
But there is a new phenomenon, the impeachment gales. All opposition governors have faced impeachment and the presidency is being blamed for the impeachment threat in Nasarawa. Isn’t it a deliberate ploy by the PDP?
No! That is not true. If you look at some of these states where these things are happening; Adamawa for instance, there are local issues in Adamawa as a state and the governor that was removed was elected on the platform of the PDP with all the House of Assembly members. When he decamped, he did not decamp with them and so under such situation it become quite difficult for them to operate. The overwhelming majority of the legislatures are in the PDP and it became very difficult for him to operate and I think they couldn’t work together. And so the house used its constitutional powers to do what it did. I don’t think that the president has anything to do with that.
Ditto for Nasarawa State which is unfortunate; the governor got elected on the ticket of CPC with four members of the state House of Assembly as against PDP’s 20. I think they have been working together but something happened somewhere. It has nothing to do with the president.
You will be contesting against Senator Barnabas Gemade for the Benue North-east senatorial districts election come 2015. What exactly is the motivation?
I am already for the contest. I went to the House of Representative because the people in my constituency felt that they needed a young man who has shown signs of good representation and they overwhelmingly voted for me at the age of 32. They re-elected me and in 2007, I contested among many heavy weights but my people still felt that I will provide good leadership and they elected me. In spite of the evil machinations of the APC in 2011, they were unable to beat me because the Benue people believed in what I was doing.
I am going to exit next year and the people in my federal constituency feel very strong that with the leadership I have exhibited in the previous elections that they have given to me, it wouldn’t be right for me to just leave office and go and engage on other things but I should go ahead and serve at the national level in the Senate and since they are the people who have been electing me, if they now decide overwhelmingly that I should go to the Senate, of course, I will respect that.
And so I am in the contest and I am going to put myself through the democratic system. I’m not saying that they should go and declare me as the only person; I am not going to ask that anybody to step down for me. If there is an incumbent Senator and he also wants to contest, let us go to the field. I am ready to go to the field with him.
What is the significance of your endorsement in Kwande?
You know the Tiv people have a very unique culture which dates back to our ancestors. If your brother or neighbour has something that you like, you can borrow even positions. This thing has happened even in time immemorial and so by zoning of the Senate seat to Benue North East, the seat is supposed to go to Kwande. So if I want to contest as I did, I would go to Kwande and appeal to them whether they will agree.
And so the Senate is for Kwande people and I went there and the entire people; the traditional institution, the youth, party elder, party officials and all of them gathered and said yes I have come with respect and so they have loaned to me the seat. If the incumbent senator wants to contest, nobody is going to stop him; we will put ourselves before the delegates.
After the six months teachers’ strike, there came the issue of pay cut. Can you give us an insight into the position you are now?
It is now almost impossible for us to even run government because every single kobo that comes into this state now is going to recurrent expenditure. And that is why in spite of the fact that our children were out of school, I wanted these people to reason as to why what they were requesting for was impossible for the state to carry.
The function of the state is not just to be able to pay salaries. There are other very important functions and those ones are even more important than the wage bill. And that means it will stop; you can’t buy drugs in the hospital, you can’t buy items that you can run government with because of paying wage bill. So we have degenerated to the level that down the road, it will become impossible to even put fuel in the official vehicle of government functionaries that is where we are.
I have negotiated with the teachers and the workers and they have called off the strike but the sustainability of that is where the problem is. It is not just me who has few months to go. What about the person that comes in after me, can that person sustain the situation that we have found ourselves in?
There is such a huge wage bill that is unthinkable that we will be paying salaries in the local government to the tune of N4 billion. Where can you raise that kind of money and then within the main civil service, about N3 billion, where can you raise that kind of money?
And put local government and state together, we hardly get up to N7 billion, so all that we now have to be doing is to be taking overdraft to add to pay the salaries. So we are in a quagmire; we are in a big problem and I think that if we adjust the revenue, that is what most states are agitating for – the adjustment in revenue formula. That is the only way that states will have more money, that is the only way we can accommodate this kind of situation otherwise, I want to say that if the situation continues; the dwindling resources of the federation, I don’t think some states will be able to sustain this.
To what extent would you say the invasion by the Fulanis affected Benue State?
It has affected the state badly, including financially. Like I said, with the dwindling resources, we had to cough out money to attend to the security situation that bedeviled us in the last few months. Also, socially and economically, most of the people who were affected were the local farmers that supply food to other parts of the state and the country. Those people have not been able to go back to their farms.
So, economically it is going to be a big problem towards the end of this year, 2015 and that is why I am still putting a lot of efforts to making sure that all of these people get back to their homes. People were displaced from their natural environment and moved into areas that were alien to them and so there is a social dislocation. The children who were going to school in those places were displaced; most of them have lost a lot of time. They can’t recover that, some of them unfortunately died in the process and some would not even be able to go back to school because their parents have not been able to go back to their villages.
I have made some appeals to the federal government to assist us to at least attend to these people. The federal government has done quite a lot in helping but we still need more help so that we will be able to resettle some of the people back in their homes.
What quality of person you would wish to succeed you?
Well, I want somebody with a lot of maturity. You know Benue is a very difficult state and so we need somebody who is matured, who can accommodate a lot and who is focused; who is not easily distracted. The person must have these qualities.
Source: This Day