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Suswam: The metaphor of Oliver Twist

This expression which has become a permanent metaphor, in Benue has come to represent a new consciousness derivable from what one may call a deep…

This expression which has become a permanent metaphor, in Benue has come to represent a new consciousness derivable from what one may call a deep appreciation of the reconstruction efforts by her governor, Gabriel Suswam, who after two years in office has restructured the state in a way most commentators say is in the footsteps of the first civilian governor of the state, the late Mr. Aper Aku.

This profound attachment to Oliver Twist by Benue communities is symbolic in relation to the total infrastructural collapse and the complete disconnect between the people and their leaders typified by the universality of denial or social injustice.

While it would be wrong to judge Suswam on the basis of what remains to be done, it may be correct to state that he has demonstrated that he is a politician whose words could be trusted. It has, therefore, become a conventional habit of many communities to at every given opportunity “ask for more” facilities.

According to Dan Agbese, the Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch, who delivered the 2009 Democracy Day lecture in Makurdi, Governor Suswam has raised the performance mark for those who will aspire to lead the state as well as revive some hope in the masses who have given up on our politicians believed to be incorrigible liars

Agbese scored Suswam with a distinction but said if he remains focused for the next two years and possibly a second term, much of the problems of Benue’s underdevelopment would be substantially solved.

The changes Suswam has so far brought on Benue are visible. They include rehabilitated township roads in Makurdi, Gboko, Katsina Ala and Otukpo. Many remote communities have also been opened up and connected one to the other by new road projects.

Early last year, the governor flagged off a road project in Okpokwu Local Government Area which is now nearing completion. This road has opened up Edumoga District which is very active in agricultural activities but cut off from mainstream commercial life, due to lack of road.

But Suswam has his critics. For now, they are few but the number keeps growing due to political dynamics of 2011. As few as they are, the critics are highly caustic with highly volatile grenades provided by very powerful politicians of Tiv origin. The first to give him the bitter unction was a former state legislator, Hon Clement Uhondo, who accused the governor of undermining due process in the award of contracts, lack of accountability, low quality service delivery and lack of transparency in the management of state and local government joint account.

While the management of the local government fund has been a major and critical aspect of the allegations against Suswam, the council chairmen under the aegis of ALGON have been the major defenders of the governor. They have consistently stated time and again that local governments have seen no better time than now due to the reforms carried out by the governor.

The typing that seems to stick to Suswam is that of an absentee governor. Even those who appreciate his development efforts sometimes jokingly tag him a ‘nomadic governor’. His critics accuse him of abandoning the state at every given opportunity on trips out of the state.

But anyone who knows the nuances of Benue politics especially given the precedent set by former Governor Akume, an immediate successor who is committed to meeting the minimum expectations of the people will certainly have to run or be extremely mobile in order to avoid sharing the resources of the state.

The chief of staff to the governor, Prof Saint Gbileka, made reference to this recently when he said that the habit of people taking their personal problems to public officers for monetary favours remains unabated.

The fear now, obviously, is that Governor Suswam may be forced to kowtow to this tradition which makes Akume a very formidable force in Benue politics. If that happens, many of the ongoing projects yet to be completed may become victims of the second term politics that has clearly put the governor under intense pressure forcing him to recant his decision that he will not start 2011 campaign until next year. He started second term campaign a couple of days before Democracy Day.

Iduh, until June 1, 2009 when he resigned his appointment, was the Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Governor of Benue State, Chief Steven Lawani