Ortom, Suswam in war of words
•’Governor running an administration of deceit‘
• Ex-helmsman accused of arming youths, formenting insecurity
That the relationship between Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and his predecessor, Gabriel Suswam of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is not cordial is palpable.
The affinity was strained in the months of intrigues preceding last year’s governorship election; the moment Suswam did not endorse Ortom’s aspiration to succeed him.
Ortom has, out of frustration decamped from PDP and pitched tent with APC, where he eventually emerged the party’s governorship candidate for the 2015 election and subsequently became the governor.
He defeated Prince Terhemen Tarzoor, PDP’s candidate backed by Suswam. And since then, it has been a cat and dog bond for the two prominent politicians in the state. Both personalities have seized every available opportunity to attack each other.
The media has been awash with reports of accusation and counter-accusation of fraud leveled against Suswam by the Ortom administration since its inception.
Of course, devotees of Suswam rose to the occasion and accused Ortom’s government of malpractice, corruption and other maladministration.
The PDP flayed the incumbent governor for alleged deliberate attempts to erase the face and identity of Suswam from projects the latter executed in the state. For instance, the party said that Suswam’s name has been removed from the memorial plaque of the Benue State University Teaching Hospital.
However, analysts have ascribed the bitter war between the two former friends to some serious political differences occasioned by interests.
Keen observers of events in the state claimed that Ortom had at most forum accused Suswam of running the state aground financially with mind bugging figures being bandied around by the state governor and his party as having been misappropriated.
“The governor, for example, had at different times, given figures such as N90 billion, N130 billion, N150 billion and so on to depict the level of fraud allegedly committed by the Suswam government. The governor had also setup two judicial panels to investigate Suswam’s tenure and determine how funds available to the state were utilized,” Huassaini Mohammed, an Abuja based public commentator stated.
The cold war between them bubbled up recently when they engaged themselves in war of words at different public events.
Suswam had in a speech at the PDP caucus meeting in Makurdi, upbraided his successor as running a government of deceit.
In particular, he condemned the appointment of sole administrators to man the affairs of the 23 local government councils in the state arguing that it was not in conformity with the laws of the land.
Apart from noting that the action was contrary to due process, the former governor accused Ortom of adopting a style of governance that has engendered hate and bitterness in the state.
His words: “Benue belongs to everyone of us; it is not an individual’s estate. So, we should not fold our hands and allow things to go the wrong way, or how will a government cancel plans to hold a local government election, when many people had spent money to purchase forms? When we were in government, we ensured that democracy was operated down to the third tier of government. We conducted a free and fair election that did not attract dissenting voice.
“Benue is in a big mess. We must stand up and speak loudly against this government even it means going to jail. I cannot chicken out because someone is threatening to take me to jail. We must fight for the future of our children. At the right time, we will expose them. We must remain resolute and remove this deceitful government in 2019.”
However, Governor Ortom would rather not be drawn into responding to the issues raised by the successor. Instead, he accused Suswam of being responsible for insecurity in the state.
He claimed that Suswam bought arms for youths, which culminated in insecurity in the state.
Speaking during the preparations for the destruction of over 600 illegal weapons at Benue Peoples House, Makurdi, he said his administration has restored security through the introduction of the amnesty programme that had the carrot and stick approaches.
He explained that after the weapons had been voluntarily surrendered by some youths under the carrot approach, the stick approach was introduced for those who refused to surrender illicit weapons in their possession.
According to the governor, Suswam is not happy at the measures to restore peace and security in the state hence the attack on his government.
“We are after such criminals and Suswam is not happy. Suswam is supposed to commend the present administration’s efforts, but, ignorantly he is condemning the amnesty programme when he was expected to be busy defending himself and other persons that allegedly diverted N107 billion between 2007 and 2015,” Ortom contended.
He challenged Suswam to go and confirm for himself the weapons recovered, Governor Ortom said he, Suswam, was the first governor ever accused of diverting so much money when civil servants, pensioners and contractors had not been paid.
He said Suswam and all those suspected to have looted the treasury were being tried in courts of competent jurisdiction and vowing that he would never allow criminals to continue to molest, assassinate and abduct people.
He explained that destruction of the surrendered weapons would be done in the full glare of the public and the press in the next one week and warned that the amnesty programme should not be seen as a sign of weakness.
Suswam had in June stated that the issue of the peace and security of any state was too weighty and sensitive a matter to be trivialize in the walkway of petty politics, as such was dangerous and capable of undermining the deeper foundations of the prosperity and wellbeing of that state.
“For Governor Ortom to seek to extend his endless and rather shallow blame game against me to the issues of security in the state, which flies in the face of reason and truth is an unfortunate and sad reflection of his lack of appreciation of the weight and responsibilities of the office of governor, and this is further suggestive of a basic lack of capacity on his part for such high office.
“I left Benue State in a much better state of peace and security than I met it, and it is my advice to Governor Ortom to strive with all the resources at his disposal to improve on my legacy,” he asserted.
Conversely, the governor countered by accusing his predecessor of having a hand in some unresolved murder cases that occurred during his regime.
The Special Adviser on Media and ICT to the governor, Mr. Tahav Agerzua, said the circumstances through which some persons were killed under Suswam’s administration left fingers pointing at none other than the former governor.
“Dr. Suswam seemed to have forgotten the unresolved murders of the late Tony Udu of the Examinations Board, Gwa Jande, former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Benue State University, Pastor Adoor of the Lands and Survey, the great farmer, Simon Chaverkper, Charles Ayede, Celestine Tsebee Agber, alias Egbe Nack, in circumstances which many suspect him.
“Ironically, no member of the Suswam cabinet was ever called to answer any charge despite public outcries on complicity of him or his officials in the several unresolved murder cases,” Agerzua contended.
He reiterated governor Ortom’s determination to stamp out criminality from the state saying his administration “will continue to support all the security formations in the state to help weed out those remaining criminals who have spurned the Governments generous offer of amnesty.”