By Nathaniel Ikyur
I have read certain commentaries profiling the administration of former Benue State Governor Gabriel Torwua Suswam in glowing light. And that’s wonderful. They contain some representations on legacies left by the immediate past governor in his eight year governance of this 40 hear old state. Interestingly, it’s not surprising that these legacies are only been thrown at us now that Suswam’s balance sheet is been audited through various forms of committees and judicial probes set up by Governor Samuel Ortom.
These legacies, according to his ‘Media Team’, range from infrastructural development that dots the landscape of the state to many as could be defined by these campaigners. To understand this new slant, it’s obvious these publicists now seek to raise the performance bar for the last administration. Of course there is no harm in doing that. But in so doing, there ought to be some balance.
Everybody who was in Benue state from 2007 to early 2008 would say that Suswam started well. Or that is what we were made to believe. Whether it was window dressing that he used to curry public support in those early days in power is a different ball game. I, like many others were swayed by the ‘speed’ with which he went to work in so short a time after assuming office in 2007 without preparing a budget.
Although there arouse contradictions as to how such contracts were executed, the bottom line is there were some sparks in his early days as governor. The only challenge is that all of that died down as weeks and months went by.
I will therefore be uncharitable to the former governor not to agree with his ‘Media Team’ on all of the narrative been churned out. But you see, legacy is legacy. It comes in different forms. So I take on the ‘Other Legacies’ former Governor Suswam left for Benue. It will shock you that some of these are daylight rape of legacies left by the founding father’s of this state.
For instance, within the context of the former administration, it is a great sign of an enduring ‘legacy’ when the Suswam administration caused the sale of Benue State shares in Benue Cement Company, BCC, a company commissioned in 1980 by former President Shehu Shagari. Suswam was just in year two in the secondary school then. Yet he could sell such an investment belonging to over 4 million people without blinking an eyelid is hurting. Was there a replacement in terms of value investment? There’s none of it to my knowledge. So you see, this is also a legacy.
The story goes like this. Early in his administration, the former governor was always in the company of some of his PDP South-South governors whose federal allocations were huge. They could afford large lifestyles but not for a governor from rural Benue. Any attempt to do that would mean slicing off some cake meant for many.
And so in 2014, at the peak of very low inflow from the federation account, the former governor mandated M/S Elixir Securities through his commissioner of Finance, Omadachi Oklobia to sell N10 billion worth of stocks to raise funds. (Remember these were Benue State owned stocks and not his personal legacy.)
A total of N8.4 billion stocks were said to have been sold but out of this. Even a non indigene, Mr Emmanuel Ebere, regretted that this action was in bad taste. He was Makurdi Branch Manager of Zenith Bank Plc. The banker had confessed to the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Commission probing all financial transactions of the state from 2007-2015 that N5.3 billion was paid into a Zenith Bank account, which was later found to be an expenditure account for the Ministry of Finance. This amount was later moved to a private account. Strange, isn’t it? Well, it’s all part of t legacies.
As part of his legacy, the sum of N2 billion from the proceeds of the state shares in the construction giant, Julius Berger Plc were again paid into the account of a Bureau de Change belonging to Fan Fact Resources, owned by one Abubakar Umar who resides in Kuje, Abuja. Umar is the sole signatory to the account and lucky beneficiary of the Benue ‘legacy’.
And who am I to question what constitutes a legacy to an administration? For the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs to have paid the sum of N18.7 billion meant for primary school teachers’ salaries into an Account No. 1017993231 with First Bank in Makurdi is also a legacy. I dindt make this up. It was Mr Emmanuel Ikpe, the Permanent Secretary of the Bureau who revealed this.
Former Special Adviser of the Bureau, Mr. Solomon Wombo did not deny this either. In a hurried interview he granted a national tabloid to save face, he only differed in the texture of the process of withholding the sum. He said it was for ‘safe keeping’ on behalf of primary school teachers who were protesting none implementation of their salaries based on the 27% agreement. Wombo, a banker told us that the amount was to yield interest. For who? Teachers or the state governor? What Hon Wombo failed to let us in is at what percentage and how much accrued at the end of the day and how was the expenditure pattern followed in the ‘top up’.
It has also been discovered that certain companies and individuals received various payments that ran into millions with questionable contractual templates. One of such was Messrs Ameh Technology. This contractor received a monthly sum of N3.4 million monthly from the Bureau for Local government for a non existent contractual agreement with the company for the supply and maintenance of generating plants in the 23 local government areas of the state. This is also a ‘legacy’.
In the estimation of the Suswam campaigners, the monthly payment of between N40 million and N45 million to Ashitech, Ashifood and Akpo Integrated Limited with dubious claims is a form of legacy. The companies are said to be owned by Suswam’s elder brother, Chief Terkula Suswam Tingir.
It sure is another legacy when erstwhile Permanent Secretary of the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Asen Sambe admitted before the Justice Kpojime Commission that N6.4 billion received by the Bureau from the Federal Government between August 2002 and 2015 under former governor for the development of local government areas was misapplied. And why should it be so easy to misapplied such sums without punitive measures?
It is interesting to note that out of the N6.4 billion Sure-P money received by the Bureau, only N2.5 million was said to have been given to the local government councils for development. Even as at the time of this piece, it’s not clear where the bulk of that money went to. Anyway, we may have a lead after Justice Kpojime turns in her committee report on the other legacies of Suswam in no distant time.
The testimonies that have been coming from all the investigative panels suggests that financial regulations were grossly abused by operators of the immediate past administration. Monies were randomly moved around from one bank to another under flimsy excuses. Similarly, movement of cash with some dubious claims by officials of government or its agents was so rampant. In most cases, such officials could not lay claim to any minutes of the State Executive Council approving such transactions. In any case, i see that as another form of reckless financial legacy.
A former branch manager with Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Makurdi, Aguma Uloko acknowledged to have collected the sum of N7 million cash from officials of the Ministry of Finance in August 2014. The lady had admitted before the Commission that out of N168.6 million naira she collected, only seventy million naira was actually signed and collected from Ministry of Finance officials. She was also confronted with evidence which showed that on the 11th of August 2014, one Abel Musa, a staff of the bank under her signed and collected N16 million cash on her behalf. On the 7th of August 2014, the same Abel signed and collected N8 million while on September 3rd, 2014, records showed that the former branch manager signed and collected N118.8 million from the Ministry of Finance officials for lodgment in the Ministry’s account with the bank. Although the lady banker had insisted she signed acknowledgement for receipt of only N70 million, she failed to show to the Commission or any record where she deposited the money.
I could go on and on. But you see the different format of legacies? This is the flip side which we want answers. Even if His Excellency Suswam gives a damp on what Justice Kpojime-led panel is doing, he swore on the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, to defend and protect our commonwealth. It will be welcome if he steps forward to answer his name.