SUNDAY OGLI looks at Governor Ortom’s first 100 days and looks back at the reign of former Governor Suswam; the many things he did and or did not do A CHAIN of developments have
helped to shape contemporary
discourse in Benue State in the
recent time. The first was the
issue of salaries to government
workers, leading to anger. The
second (resulting almost wholly
from the first) was the electoral
Tsunami that swept the Peoples
Democratic Party (PDP) out
of power and replacing it with
the All Progressives Congress
(APC). The third is the current
honeymoon between the new
political leadership and the
citizens who are savoring their
new union that was forged by the
wind of ‘change”.
There are two sides to the
honeymoon between Governor
Samuel Ortom and his supporters.
On one side is the love for the
governor by his supporters which
is so strong that it has blinded them
to any wrong thing he has said or
done, or is capable of saying or
doing. In fact, they have virtually
canonized him. On the other side
is the hatred the APC supporters
have for former Governor Gabriel
Suswam that has equally blinded
them to anything good in him and
his eight years in office. Suswam
has virtually been demonized.
But we are familiar with political
honeymoons in Nigeria. In 1999
when Olusegun Obasanjo was
elected civilian president of this
country and George Akume
civilian governor of Benue State,
after about 30 years of military
rule, Nigerians including Benue
people, found themselves in a
refreshing honeymoon. Few years
into their administrations, the
honeymoon ended; and when
they left office, they were vilified
and demonized. But today, all
is forgotten and forgiven and
both Obasanjo and Akume have
become political icons with
passage of time and political
alignments and re-alignments. It
follows, therefore, that the current
honeymoon will end and Ortom
and Suswam will find themselves
in the court of history.
How will history judge the two
leaders?
Ortom clocked 100 days in office
September 5 as governor with little to show; similarly not much
can be said about his place in history.
But we can preview Suswam’s place
because he has already closed his
“defence” after serving for eight
years as governor of the state.
Suswam assumed the
governorship of Benue state
in May 2007 fully prepared to
provide leadership for an all-round
development of the state. Evidence of
that preparedness was contained in
a well articulated development blueprint
titled, “Our Benue, Our future”
The objective of the document
was to “formulate a programme
of activities that would advance
development in the key areas of
political and economic governance,
agriculture, commerce, industry
and tourism, education, health and
social welfare, women and youth
development, local and foreign
investment promotion as well as
infrastructure and environment”.
In his first term, Suswam
concentrated on the provision
of infrastructure in both rural
communities and urban centers of
the state. By the time he marked his
first 100 days in office, he had tarred
over 100 kilometers of township
roads and streets in Makurdi, a
development he progressively
extended to other towns like
Gboko, Katsina-Ala and Otukpo.
As the first term wore on, Suswam massively awarded project contracts
and executed them across the
various sectors which also cut across
ethnic, geographic and political
constituencies of the state. Hundreds
of kilometers of roads constructed,
reconstructed or rehabilitated by
his administration, complemented
by bridges, have linked most of
the local government areas in the
state. Three major water works – the
Greater Makurdi Water works, and
two water works in Otobi (Otukpo)
and Katsina-Ala, stand tall among
the water projects aimed at making
drinkable water available to the
people. Although they may not
yet be delivering water to all the
sections of town, streets and homes
conceived, it is expected that his
successors will handle reticulation
works to deliver water to more
homes and other users, government
being a continuum. It was in the
same spirit that Suswam completed
and commissioned the Benue State
University Teaching Hospital,
Makurdi, building new general
hospitals in local governments that
had none before his time as well as
renovating and providing equipment
to existing hospitals and other health
facilities.
Local government (headquarters)
like Oju, Konshisha and Agatu
that hitherto were not electrified
got hooked up to the national grid
eastern part of the country which
imposed huge security spending
in the national treasury. The third
shock was the approval of a new
national minimum wage which
states and local governments
were forced by law and industrial
pressure to implement without
due consideration of the individual
capabilities of the different entities
of government.
It was in tackling this mismatch
between his zeal for transformation
and dwindling financial resources
as it affected labour matters that
put a spanner in the works of
Suswam’s otherwise smooth
sailing administration.
But he actually set out with a
determination to be a friend of
labour. Before Suswam took over,
Akume had granted approval
for the employment of nearly
700 people in the various cadres
of the state civil service in the
last year of his administration.
Suswam was advised to terminate
all the new appointments but,
determined to resolve the issue in
favour of employment creation, he
directed that the new appointees
be screened and those who were
found qualified and suitable
were absorbed into the service.
This decision was applauded
by both the labour unions and
the general public as it showed
Suswam as a humane leader with
accommodating virtues.
Another labour issue, which
Suswam inherited from the
Akume administration was the
two months of unpaid teachers’
salaries for June and July 2006,
which became popularly known
as “JJ or Double J” in labour
circles. The Akume administration
had withheld the salaries for the
period the teachers went on strike,
invoking the provisions of “no
work, no pay” in the Labour Act.
In keeping with his campaign
promise, Suswam paid the salary
arrears amounting to N475,
723,361.52 within the first 100 days
of his administration. The gesture
was hailed by all workers in the
state.
This was followed by a salary
increase for teachers and core civil
by the Suswam administration.
Extension of power to neighbouring
communities from these centers,
through government, community
and individual collaborative efforts
have ensured that a significant
proportion of the state’s rural
community now enjoy electric
power supply with a commensurate
boosting of economic and social
activities.
Suffice it to say that his aggressive
execution of projects earned him
numerous awards and recognitions
within and outside the state as well
as overseas. It also earned him such
aliases as “Mr. Infrastructure”, “Mr.
Peace”, and “Mr. Security”
However, his large appetite for
the transformation of the state was
not marched by a corresponding
support from the local and external
environment. Therefore, arose a
mismatch between the expected
steady flow of long term funding for
projects conceived for execution over
the long term and the economic and
social shocks that constrained the
inflow of resources. The first shock,
from the external environment, was
the international financial meltdown
of 2009 – 2010 which led to the fall
in crude oil prices, federal revenues
and allocation to state and local
governments. The second was the
national security challenges posed by
the activities of terrorists in the north


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