By Aondohemba Mannasseh
The unthinkable in the camp of the Benue PDP happened last Saturday. The Executive Governor of Benue State Rt. Hon. Gabriel Torwua Suswam Ph.D CON, the self acclaimed Black Cat of Benue State, known to many as the ‘Strong Man of Benue Politics’, and to others as ‘Or Kuhe Mom’ kissed the dust in his ambition to represent the good people of Benue North East (Zone A) at the red chambers of the National Assembly.
Suswam is in the twilight of a second tenure as Governor of Benue State. A position he assumed after eight eventful years as a Member of the House of Representatives for Ukum, Logo Katsina-Ala Federal Constituency.
The emergence of Suswam as the Governor of Benue State in 2007 signaled a lot of hope, not only for the much anticipated transformation in Benue State, but for the very political future of the young man who was in his early 40s. It was a time too much battles were fought on the Benue political land scape. Mku vs Akume, Gemade vs Akume, Paul Unongu vs Akume, Akume vs David Mark and other supportive soldiers like Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, the Rtd Commissioner of Police, Maurice Tsav, Publisher of Alternative News Paper, Prof. David Iornem, Publisher of The New Times TNT ETC.
Intuitively, there appeared a common understanding among the political class to burry their differences and give governance a chance. By this arrangement, the major political gladiators in Benue State became in one accord behind the new governor to ensure that he delivers his mandate to the people of Benue State. As a result of the above, Suswam became a king in the actual sense of it, changing bigwigs from one political function to another. He was actually enfolded in the love of the people of Benue State.
Eventually, the African mentality reared its ugly head in Suswam. He had no one to challenge his second tenure and praise singers rouse to the occasion reminding him of his absolute powers as the Executive Governor of Benue State. He could do and undo. Suswam quickly assumed the position of an electoral umpire determining who would win elections and who would lose.
Chief among those to lose elections was his godfather and former Governor of Benue State Sen. George Akume. In a move which elder statesmen like Wantaregh Paul Unongu vehemently opposed. Suswam drew a battle line with his former boss, easing out all appointees perceived to be loyal to the former governor and shopping for his replacement in the senate.
Indeed, hitherto this act by Suswam that seemed like biting the finger that fed him, the road to Makurdi Government House was a one way traffic. Forgetting the fact that he will himself need the verdict of the people to return to power, Suswam invited woe onto his political career by engaging Akume, a generous man with solid political structures and sympathy within and outside Benue.
The above drama climaxed into Suswam’s first hottest political test of his life. The Ugba phenomenon that crisscrossed Benue State. In the end, Suswam finally had a test which consumed a significant part of his physical, financial, intellectual and executive resources. Though he won his re-election in very controversial circumstances, he failed to stop Akume’s re-election even as he pushed him out of the ruling party.
The euphoria of celebration of Suswam’s second tenure totally overwhelmed his handlers that they sought continuous engagement of Sen. George Akume to the detriment of the governor. Although Akume suffered some bruises in the course of the political battle, Suswam was most severely battered as he had more at stake. The situation was akin to a young man on his way to the farm engaging an old man who is returning from the farm.
At the end, Akume came out stronger as he had inherited the opposition apparatus in the state in addition to his large political following. His outing at the senate was also a morale booster for his supporters as he was favored to head the ACN caucus in the senate and later became the Minority Leader of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria while Suswam made no further additions to his career politically apart from returning as governor under the shadow of the Senate President David Mark.
However, Suswam gained further confidence when he was not only favored by the paramount ruler of the Tiv people, the Tor-Tiv Iv Chief Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkura, but elements within Sen. Akume’s opposition party in zone A started the Akume must fall agenda. By this time, the local government elections were conducted and the PDP ‘cleared’ all seats in the state. -The opposition had been buried according to numerous public commentaries on Ashi Waves written by the Zege Iwanger I Tiv and sole contender for the Tor Sankera stool, the governor’s elder brother Chief Dr. Terkura Suswam, and Suswam’s late commissioner for information and orientation Conrad Wergba.
Sooner or later, the PDP started ‘reaping’ from the fallout between Akume and Zone A elements including Prof. Daniel Saror, Prof. David Iornem, Rt. Hon. David Mzenda Iho, Elder Ninga Biam, Ambassador Gbasha, Col. Benjamin Aboho, Sen. Joseph Akaagerger and in Zone B, Sen. Iyorchia Ayu.
Suswam felt that with the decamping of the aforementioned politicians into the PDP from the Benue North East, his senatorial ambition was a done deal. He did not waste time to organize series of decamping ceremonies where a lot of state resources were expended. He became a happy man. At the decamping ceremony of Prof. David Iornem in Lessel, Suswam could not betray his emotions and openly boosted to party faithfuls that ‘we are decapitating the APC, we are annihilating the APC’
Most of the new decampees became members of the Suswam Senatorial Campaign team. The most shocking was Sen. Akaagerger, a former military governor of Katsina State, a retired colonel, a Ph.D holder in law and former senator representing Zone A became a member of the Suswam Senatorial Campaign team serving under Hon. Terfa Atir, a former House of Representatives Member.
With the above politicians and state power in hand, Suswam openly challenged Chief Barnabas Gemade to ‘physical combat’. He was able to like in the case of Akume push Gemade out of the PDP by allegedly hijacking materials meant for the conduct of the party congresses. Suswam became like his elder brother, sole contender for the PDP senatorial ticket for zone A which he eventually got at a stage managed exercise in Kastina-Ala.
Prior to the exercise, Chief Gemade had decamped to the opposition All Progressives Congress APC where he also clinched the Benue North East Senatorial ticket of the party. Pairing with Akume, Chief Gemade automatically inherited the opposition structures in Zone A with the support of Akume. With the fallout of the PDP gubernatorial primaries, Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom, the former Minister of Industries, Trade and Investment also decamped to the APC to join the duo of Akume and Gemade.
These events never meant anything to the governor as he had received the endorsement of the political class and Traditional Rulers in Kwande, the intermediary believed to be the rightful owners of the Zone A senate seat in line with the Tiv sharing formula of Ya na Angbian.
Suswam’s confidence was further boosted by the fact that he had presidential backing and as it is with the culture of the PDP, he openly boosted that nothing would stop him from going to the senate. The PDP it was believed perfected rigging plans which were to begin with the sacking of the INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega and subsequent suspension of the use of the newly introduced electronic card readers, suspension of the use of permanent voters cards and resort to the use of temporary voters cards.
However, attempts by the PDP to actualize the above targets met heavy resistance from the general public, the National Assembly, Civil Society Organizations and the International Community.
The reality downed on the PDP and indeed Suswam that elections will be conducted by Jega and in the most credible manner. He will have to painfully face the verdict of the people of Zone A.
Running home, Suswam ran behind Chief Barnabas Gemade who had already taken his campaign to the locals in Zone A. The governor dolled out cash in mouth watering sums to electorates and donated other valuables like vehicles, motorcycles and late hour appointments to oil his political machinery and goodwill among the voters.
However, the village to village campaign of the governor appeared to have come too late. Zone A people had decided the fate of the two politicians and on Saturday, 28 March, 2015, the people passed their verdict which saw the fall of the ‘ strong man of Benue politics’ and the arrest of the Black Cat Gabriel Suswam