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Benue State Government: Of Probes and witch hunting


Photo shows Governor of Benue State Samuel Ortom and his predecessor

Explaining the concept of witch-hunting, a friend once told me that without a witch there will be no witch hunter being that the duty of the witch hunter is to hunt witches. The Samuel Ortom led Benue State government had on the 11th of August, 2015 inaugurated two committees to investigate the transactions of the preceding administration which has been accused of gross financial maladministration and graft.

The two committees were tasked with the duty of assessing government financial transactions from the period of 2007-2015. The mandate stipulated verification of funds accruing/ received and the utilization; to identify all revenue resources and total amount of revenue which accrued to the state, including Federal Allocation from Federation Account, local government funds, internally generated revenue, IGR, bonds and loans, excess crude account, small and medium Enterprises, SME funds, ecological funds, VAT, SURE-P funds, SUBEB, MDGs any other funds.

The commission is also to ascertain in quantum of shares/stock owned by the Benue State Government in Dangote Cement Company PLC, Benue Brewery Limited, and other companies and enterprises, ascertain the circumstances that led to the sale of such shares/stock and their worth or value, identify the investors who bought these shares/stock as well as determine whether the transitions followed due process of law, ascertain the where about of the proceeds of the sale.

Similarly, the commission is to determine if the government has any equity left in the said companies and the value of such equity while ascertaining if the funds realized in all the above stated were appropriated, ascertain too, the application and utilization of such funds, establish misappropriation if any and identify the person or persons involved and recommend appropriate actions to, the government.

Inaugurating the committees the governor informed that the objective of the commissions are not meant to witch hunt anyone but to set records straight, urging them to uphold the rule of law and due process in the discharge of their assignment.

Upon the constitution and announcement of the commissions the former governor, Gabriel Suswam expressed his willingness to cooperate with the commission, even as he described it as a witch hunt. Suswam in a statement through his media aide, Chief Anawah Joseph, said he was not afraid of the multiple panels set up by the All Progressives Congress (APC) government to probe his administration, but expressed surprise at the level with which the ruling party considered him as a project for persecution.

“Dr. Suswam has no problem with probes. The multiple probe panels limited to his administration is however beyond politics, it is vendetta and witch-hunting”, the statement read in part.

The commission which is led by Justice Margaret Kpojime has since began executing its mandate, probing all state government financial transactions within the period, as well as the position of government owned stakes and bonds.

In the several sittings which take place at the premises of the High Court 4, Makurdi, summoned so far are the heads of several parastatals and Departments which include, the General Manager of the Benue Investment and Property Company (BIPC), Mrs. Brigid Sheidu, Chairman Benue State Independent Electoral Commission (BSIEC), Prof. Philip Ahire.  

The appearance of the duo has however begun throwing up questionable revelations bordering on sleaze and financial maladministration regarding the sale of government shares and negligence on government parts.

The BIPC probe which is ongoing revealed that the company had raised nearly 9 billion Naira from the sale of state owned stock at the Benue Cement Company (BCC). The General Manager further revealed that only one billion out of the total sum was paid into BIPC account while the then Finance Commissioner,  Omadachi Oklobia had directed that the money be domiciled into two other accounts : 1013852648 and 1013677218 all operated at Zenith Bank.

As this probe was ongoing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC ), quizzed the former Benue State Commissioner for Finance, Omadachi Oklobia who according to sources made revelations which caused the commission to invite his boss, Gabriel Suswam. 

Suswam who was a visitor of the EFCC for over nine hours, until he was granted bail came out again with a challenge to the state government to extend its probe to the administration preceding his own (one he saw no wrong in its management and thus refused to probe), he once again blamed his ordeal in the hands of the commission on a witch hunt.

In a similar vein, the former governor through his lawyer, Bar. Dave Iorhemba, a former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, who had filed for a stay of proceedings to stop the proceedings of the probe panels, had his application granted in Makurdi by the state Chief Judge, Justice Iorhemen Hwande.

It is now rife to query thus why has Suswam all of a sudden decided to look for ways to circumvent the probes when he knows the only way to clear the weighty allegations levelled against him and his government is to allow the probe continue and end with him having a clean slate since it is only a witch hunt and he is no witch as such there will be no witch for the hunter to hunt.

It will also be an impossible task to overlook the obvious irony in his outbursts calling for the investigation of the George Akume administration which in his eight years of governance, gave a clean slate only to turn back after sixteen long years to call for a probe of it because he is also being probed.

Why did he not probe Akume when he took over the mantle of leadership and had the power to do so? Why has he all of a sudden remembered that Akume also looted as much as 2 billion Naira in one day?

Is this not the case of an adulterer who when caught refuses to apologise but chooses to divert attention by calling others who have been sleeping with the same woman?

Ati Terkula is a journalist and Blogger; he writes from Makurdi; afrochyld247@gmail.com, 08067238999

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