Former Benue State governor, Senator Gabriel Suswan who now represents Benue North-East in the National Assembly in this interview says a legislator has the primary responsibility of effectively representing his people and ensuring that dividends of democracy trickles down to them, just as he offers advice on how the Idoma should approach their quest for the state’s governorship in 2023.
You recently expressed opposing views on the appointment of an ambassador from the Idoma area and the location of education institutions in Idomaland, are you against the Idoma?
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You know my position is a very difficult one. People still look at me as if I am still the state governor. Representation is a very difficult thing. I was governor, I was representing the entire Benue. Now, I represent a zone and once you represent a zone, you must be seen to be speaking for and behalf of that zone.
There are difficult things that come with that. I start with the issue of college of education. When they gave six colleges of Education across the country, the understanding was that they would be taken to where there are no federal institutions, and some things happened.
The permanent secretary who is from Zone C somehow moved the college of education to his village. The Federal University of Health Sciences, these are all federal institutions given at the same time. That one it was oga who fought for it. Former president Goodluck Jonathan did not approve it, eventually Buhari did and they even allocated some funding to it. And so as a representative of a zone that had no federal institution, yes I wrote to the minister.
Yes, when I wrote, I told Abba Morro, I said I was going to write because my zone does not have anything. If I don’t write tomorrow something will come and we will not get it. And so I wrote to the minister saying this federal institution, some are in Zone B, the two that are given now, all of them are taken to Zone C and Zone A does not have one single federal institution.
That was the content of the letter. And I did not hide it, I took it to the minster. It was not on the basis that I don’t like Idoma but that I am fighting for my zone, that let me also have something. That is the essence of representation in that place.
Now, the issue of ambassadors, when they brought first ambassador, a career ambassador, you know there are a lot of Tiv people who are high up. I protested, they said no. You recall that when I was governor, there were three career ambassadors, some I bought them vehicles.
They were all Idoma, only one non career ambassador was Tiv. As governor, I had more powers then to kick against it but I didn’t. Most of those people are very close to me. Those Idoma ambassadors were the closest. I did not kick against it then.
That was when I had the power to say no. This time, I am representing Zone A. If I don’t talk, they won’t re-elect me again. I have to talk. I have to do the politics, I have to talk for my people. So when they brought the two names of career ambassadors, I said hahaha.
This Zone A thing is it that we are jinxed or something. That was the basis of the argument, it is not on the basis that you don’t like the people no! I was talking so that even if this didn’t happen, at the end of the day, all of us were feeling bad. Aside that I said if Zone C has three ambassadors , they should step one down and bring that one to Zone A, my zone. My closest friends are Idomas. If I don’t talk for my people from Zone A they will vote me out.
While you people were hitting me, the Tiv people were also hitting, that I didn’t want Tarzoor to be cleared. You see, it has got nothing to do with not liking a people. Anything that Abba brings to the House, I am there to support him. At times I am the one encouraging him. I said well, your people to are difficult, if you don’t talk they will be saying that you are not doing anything. So most times we encourage our each other. A lot of senators expressed discontent with what happened in their states.
The same thing with the senator from Taraba, he said everything was given to one place that he would never agree. So it was not only me. So when you say that next time when it comes, Zone A will get. Otherwise if I don’t talk, next time it will go to Zone C again. So what will I tell people that I am doing at the National Assembly? People have become too sensitive to issues. Any little thing is misinterpreted.
I will give you an example. David Mark even as senate president was representing a zone. But when it came to Benue issues, all of us joined hands together, especially when it was a security issue. Now when Abba brings a motion, all us are together. Anything Benue we are together. When it comes to the issue of sharing projects, he will carry his own, I will carry my own and Oker Jev will carry his own.
How do you feel about people’s understanding of your comment, especially the Idoma?
My comment was on the basis that I represent a zone and that zone is not having a fair deal in the scheme of things. And that is what I am talking about. It is unfortunate that it appears as if I am saying that they should remove something from Zone C and give me but in politics in the National Assembly you know how it goes. If you don’t talk for your people they would say when he was there what was he doing.
Now, what is your message to the Idoma concerning this?
The politics in the National Assembly is politics of representation. At all times you must be seen to be talking for the people you represent. That is not to say you hate the other people. When issues are before the floor and the Igbos are saying that they have been marginalized, we are not given this, it is not that they hate the other sections of the country. It is just that they are talking for the people that they represent. That is the politics of the National Assembly. And so, my comment on this issue that mentioned here is no way to be interpreted as Suswan not liking Idoma because as governor, I showed clearly that these are part of my people in terms of appointment, in terms infrastructure and so on. I cannot come to the National Assembly and hold a different view or different disposition. I represent Zone A. Quite frankly, if you look at the way appointments at the federal level were given there is no single person from Zone A. So I must be seen to be talking as the voice of those people. So Idoma man should take it as if I am talking against the Idoma.
For me there is no way to say I, Suswan, who has many close friends among the Idoma that I don’t like them. It is unfortunate that it is Idoma, if these appointments were tilted in favour of a section I would have said the same thing. I said you people already have an ambassador, and more was to be given to them. The Idoma are my people, we are always together. Some people even said I am a tribalist, I was just laughing.
How will you show the love you say you have for the Idoma people in 2023 and how do you advise them to approach their quest for the governorship?
You know governorship is a consensus thing and I believe that the Idoma elders are reaching out. It is not a decision that I as a person can sit down and take. And so what I expect the Idoma elders to do is to begin to reach out. Reach out to people like us, reach out to the governor, reach out to leaders like Akume, leaders like Gemade. Because once there is a consensus there won’t be problem. When I was contesting for governor, in spite of the fact that our leader, Senator Mark said he wanted an Idoma, I would go and sit down with him and say, oga, this thing you must give me o. We would joke about it, he would say it is okay, if you get nomination I will support you. But for nomination I support an Idoma person. Why was he saying that? Because that is the zone he was representing even though he was senate president. Do you understand? Because if you are saying something otherwise, you people will stone me. If you represent a zone, you must speak for that zone. And for me we have a lot of time that you people can do the politics. Because I have seen a lot of social media posts that will not augur well for the cause. You people must use a lot of diplomacy. When I was contesting, at that time the Idoma people said they won’t support me that they wanted their own, sometimes I would go and stay one week in Idoma land. So this is not something to be hostile. It is pure diplomacy. See what you people have done. There is something you felt that I said that does not represent your interest, you decided to come and meet me here. That is diplomacy. Next time even if you carry anything the way I will approach you will be different because of this interaction.