Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State says his political opponent in the 2011 Governorship election has no case against him at the Supreme Court. He also spoke on the crisis rocking the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and the polarization of the Forum among other issues.
What is your reaction to the crisis rocking the Nigerian Governors Forum and the emergence of Governor Rotimi Ameachi as chairman?
The issue of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum leadership, let me inform you that the forum is a voluntary forum; no one governor is under compulsion to be a member of that forum. In fact, the governor of Osun hardly attends; the only meeting he attended was this last one that they said they were holding this last election where unfortunately he was the one who recorded and sent on u-tube of which we never had such level of irresponsibility of a colleague recording activities of colleagues and sending it on u-tube. That was the first meeting that
he was attend. What I am trying to say is that no governor is under compulsion to attend that. The founders or those who conceived the idea of governors having a forum was for us to be able to peer review ourselves. When we sit down, we look at issues that affect our individual states and when you aggregate those issues, they become issues that affect the country.
And if you share intelligence and share ideas, we will be able to rule better; that was the essence of that forum and who coordinates what we then call chairman of the forum, is not a big deal. We’ve never had any election. There has never been an election that produced a chairman of the forum. The governor of Rivers was never elected; he was selected. We just sat down and said look, this is the person who will be our chairman and so the desperation which he exhibited in the election was the problem with most of us.
And I insisted and I still insist that if we go into election, any election no matter how small there are consequences that comes with it and I raised this in the previous attempts to have this election. I said we’ve never elected chairman of governor’s forum; Amaechi himself was not elected and so why this election as people call it. Can’t we sit down and say look; you’ve done this let the next person do this.
But the basic problem was that because Saraki left, we had an issue and we decided that no one governor should stay for four years as chairman of the forum. That is two years in the South, two years in the North and we decided that ok, since democracy itself is taking foot, let us have a forum that is governed by regulations and rules. And so we said let us have a constitution. I was a member, Fashola as a senior lawyer (SAN) was the chairman of the constitution drafting committee and what we agree on the governors because they gave us terms of reference that two years in the south and two years in the north for the chairman of the forum and the deputy chairman must necessarily be from the opposition parties.
At the point that this so called new constitution was registered, no one governor, frankly speaking, I challenge any one governor who saw that constitution; the so called registered one before the day of election; no one of course. What believed was that we agreed on this as honourable men and leaders and so that is what is going to happen. Fashola who drafted the constitution still has copies of that.
Somewhere along the line, somebody went and changed what we had agreed on and went and registered it and said that we had signed. Normally, when we go to meetings, all of us sign. So they said that we had signed for the registration of the constitution. Nothing can be far from the truth; we already signed and agree on two years. Ask any governor who was at that meeting who is honest. He will tell you. So, when we noticed that a constitution suddenly appeared and what was inside was not what we agreed on, I raised strong objections. We will never accept this.
First, it is one of the very fundamental problems that somebody will go and change a constitution for selfish reasons and we insisted on that. Majority of us insisted on it. Well, at the end of the day, they said that the chairman which we selected; not elected, the election has ended based on what we have agreed on was to go. And so, since they said there should be election we said let us go there. When we want there, I have never seen that. The person who wanted to re-contest printed ballot papers and had a ballot box and we objected.
Even in ordinary village meeting, once the leadership is to go the house will first dissolve itself, but this man said he wasn’t going to dissolve himself, he will sit in as chairman and conduct elections, ballot papers of which he printed and provided ballot boxes and we vehemently opposed it and they said that they had an election. I learnt that the governor of Osun what he recorded, people were shouting and at the time they were shouting, they said they were counting, I was among the first governors who walked out of that meeting. Of course, it was a sham. It is unfortunate that that happened. But majority of the governors had signed that Jonah Jang should be the chairman of the forum and this is what happened.
We first held the meeting of Northern Governors. In that meeting of Northern governors, we were eighteen. Yobe did not come neither did he send a representative. So eighteen of us unanimously agreed and selected Jang. We asked Yuguda and Shema to step down unanimously and we voted by show of hands in the Northern Governors Forum meeting that Jang is the consensus candidate. We took Jang to the PDP Governors Forum where the chairman of Northern Governors Forum read the resolution of the Northern governors which was adopted.
Then, we went into this just to go and present Jang. When we went and the issue of voting came, we opposed it. We raised issues, first that wasn’t the constitution that we agreed on, second we never had an election, third the chairman must dissolve the house which he refused, and he printed ballot papers and had the ballot box. So what they said there was an election. I was not aware of any election but I know that somebody printed ballot papers. If I am contesting and I say I will not dissolve myself, common sense tells that there is some level of desperation and there is some funny agenda and that is why the so called election led to what you term as crisis. Jang as far as I am
concerned is the legitimate chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum and that is what is going to remain because we never had any election; Jang was selected by consensus, which has been the tradition of the governors’ forum. And so there is no crisis; Jang is the chairman, the rightful chairman. If there is any other person, parading himself, that is his business but as far as I know and majority of the governors know, Jang is the rightful chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum.
It appears the Northern Governors Forum is polarized. Do you share the same sentiment?
There is no pretence about it because I will find it difficult to sit in a meeting which we attend as leaders we’ve taken a decision and people will go outside and do something else. It is difficult for some of us to sit in meetings with people like that. And so, it is true the Northern Governors Forum is polarized. It is polarized because it is no longer honorable to meet as a people and take a decision. If people can do that then most of us don’t see reasons why we should sit in such a meeting because before, any decision that we took was a collective
decision and this point we take a decision and some people would go out and be saying something different. Of course, Yuguda said something and I think I fully associate myself with the views expressed by governor Yuguda. We need to check up ourselves otherwise it will be difficult for us even the Northern governors to trust each other again because people will not be ready to sit in a meeting and discuss something knowing that what other people will go out and do will be different from what we jointly agreed on. So that presents some challenge and difficulty.
Your campaign posters for 2015 senatorial seat have flooded Benue state in recent time. What is your intention?
As a politician, people who are my supporters would want me to continue to be in politics and continue to be relevant in the political circle. It is good for people to speculate and urge you to contest. That means that your ambition is not inordinate; I am not somebody with inordinate ambition but I have said that at the end of this year, I should be able to tell you people exactly what I want to do. For now, I actually want to concentrate on my job as governor. The speculation as you said, if I go any where now there are banners, there are shouts and all of that. It creates a lot of distraction actually and so I want to wait till the end of this year for me to make a statement on the speculations that you are talking about but it is a welcome development.
How about the Benue governorship race in 2015, what is the zoning arrangement and who do you want should succeed you?
It is not something that I as an individual can sit down here and tell you that governorship of Benue is zoned to this and that. But what we normally do is that people will contest. When I contested, people contested in all the zones but when we sat down as a party, that is within the PDP, it was decided that this governorship should go to this place. At this point, it is premature for me to say that. So every person who wants to contest from any of the zones, they are contesting. You have people from zone C, from B and from zone A are
all contesting. I believe that when Senator Akume contested it was the same thing, when I contested it was also the same thing. But at the end of the day, we will all decide as to where it is going to go; there is no controversy about that. I know that there is anxiety in certain quarters but I think the party, within the PDP, I don’t know about the other smaller parties merging up to have some strength but within the strong political party called PDP, we have a system that we use at arriving at that.
The former governorship candidate of the ACN, Prof Steve Ugbah, has his petition against you still at the Supreme Court. Is it true?
This is news to me that the ACN are still at the Supreme Court. The substance of the case has been long decided. What they were doing, was that they found a way of milking their supporters that they have a case in court and they have been living on that. I believe that this is what is still continuing. When they say the case is in the Supreme Court, they ask their supporters to contribute. They don’t want that to stop so they are still telling them that the case is still at the apex court but the substance of the case has been long decided. The case that I know is in court is the case of Kakih where he said that I forged result.
The matter has gone to the Supreme Court and we were served. You know the Appeal Court dismissed it and it moved to the Supreme Court. I am aware of this one because my lawyer had told me that we have been served. But for my opponent to say that they are in court, I don’t know but I know and all of you know that the case was decided by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court threw out the petition; I don’t know what else would be remaining for them.
The infrastructural development projects of your administration are fast dilapidating. Do you have any maintenance mechanism in place?
One of the problems that we have as a country is lack of good maintenance culture. I am also worried and we started putting it to paper. We want to revive the agency. There was a specific agency that was saddled with that responsibility that was subsumed under the Ministry of Rural Development and we want to either create a department under that or create a road maintenance agency separately.
But we are deliberating on that where we can buy equipment and give them to maintain some of the roads. Most of the roads, the rural roads actually, are not meant for the kind of load they are carrying. If you go to most of the roads, if you go to zone C especially, the entire heavy duty vehicles that are going to the south-south, south east, all of them have diverted to the roads which we constructed. Those roads were not made for that and under such circumstances, it won’t be surprising to me that some of them have already started breaking. It
is unfortunate that has happened. Those of who are from zone C or those who travel there, if you go there as I talk to you, all the vehicular movement have been completely diverted to the rural roads which we built because they are better than the federal roads. So, we have challenges but in some places, the contractors have gone back. If you go now, Dantata and Sawoe is fixing some of the areas that have failed.
Even those roads, all the yams, these Ibo traders who buy yams, they have also diverted all the movement of their vehicles to the rural roads and the stress on the roads is much more than what it was meant to carry and so we have that problem. But the issue of a maintenance agency is on our table and in a few months, we will decide whether we will create a department or an agency standing on its own in the state to address that.
On the constant attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen on Benue farmers. What are your efforts to remedy the situation?
All of you are aware that I made and put in a lot of resources to address the issues of security. The recent phenomenon of Fulanis attacking our farmers is something that to some large extent, is trying to defy all solution that I seek to put in place. I have held meetings with them. I have done everything humanly possible, but we are still experiencing a lot of challenges in that regard. I have also written to the president to help the state address some of these issues. We have taken some recent measures to help address this issue and I will still be meeting with my colleague from Nasarawa state because the route that these people take comes through Nasarawa and some of them when they attack they withdraw back into Nasarawa state.
So, I need to seriously address that with my colleague so that jointly, we can keep some security personnel along our border and the likely routes that they will take. We have also now started patrolling the waterways constantly. These are the measures taken to curb the incessant attack of these Fulani mercenaries crossing to Benue or attacking the Benue people who are on the other side of River Benue. There are other serious security measures which we have taken and I can assure the people of Benue that as difficult as this is, we are finding a solution to it. I swore to protect lives and property and what I have seen pains me to my bones where children of eight months, two years are being massacred by these heartless people; I believe they are not human beings. We must do everything that is humanly possible to protect lives and properties of people and if it means taking extreme measures, we will take them to address the incessant attacks by the Fulani mercenaries.
Recently, there were insinuations in some quarters that the contractor handling the renovation of the Aper Aku stadium has abandoned the job. Would you give us an insight as to what led to that?
The Aper Aku stadium contract which we awarded, the money out standing was N25m and this is even after the review. The initial contract sum they said was not enough and we reviewed the contract upwards. And even in the review, we paid the money. What is out standing is 25 million and they said until we pay the entire money. There is no contract involving civil works that you pay complete money.
But the contractor said we must pay him the balance of 25 million naira before he will come and do the job. Though from what he had told me, everything that he needs to do, the top is in the stadium but that 25 million naira must be paid. So if you pay the complete sum and he leaves, how can you even explain it? And we insisted that come and be working. If you start work, we will give you 10 million naira and the remaining 15 million naira when you finish we will give you the balance.