Opinion: Issues to Ponder as Suswam Honours EFCC Invitation

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Opinion: Issues to Ponder as Suswam Honours EFCC Invitation
Comrade Philip Agbese

Comrade Philip Agbese

Agbese is an international public affairs commentator, writes from theBoroughs, Hendon, (NW4 4BT), London, United Kingdom.
Comrade Philip Agbese

Immediate past Benue state governor, Gabriel Suswam is on Monday October 12, 2015 honouring an invitation at the headquarters of the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission). Of course, considering the nuances of contemporary politics in Nigeria, Suswam’s detractors now have handed to them on a platter of gold the opportunity they craved for the entirety of the period he held sway as the governor of the “Food Basket of the Nation”.

Consequently, hounds will bay for blood in our modern equivalent of bear-baiting. Accounts of the EFCC invitation would be distorted beyond comprehensible measure while the true accounts of the service the former governor rendered to Benue state would be the subject of a smear campaign. The public would be fed lies as those who are intent on exacting their pound of flesh for whatever reason would resort to the extreme to distort facts and make fiction sound like reality. They will attempt to take attention away from the real economic condition under which the Suswam administration operated. Delayed payment of salaries, which was a problem the administration struggled with would be highlighted to dwarf the other remarkable achievements of this perfect gentleman.

However, without prejudice to the way the anti-corruption executes it mandate, it is important that issues are put in the proper perspective. Like the annual budget presentations by federal, states and local governments, EFCC invitations to former public office holders have now become a statutory ritual that has become almost automatic to the extent that it could now be included as a legal requirement or policy that whoever held a public office must at the end of his tenure report to the commission for an interview or debriefing. This suggestion could at the very least help take the wind out the sail of mischievous elements that constantly create the erroneous impression that an invitation by the anti-graft agency necessarily means guilt. It bears repeating that an invitation by the EFCC does not amount to an indictment, an indictment does not always means being charged or arraigned before a court, and being charged to court does not mean guilt or conviction.

It is the shenanigans of these mischievous elements that had served to tarnish the image of the EFCC by portraying it as political tool in the hands of an incumbent government for hounding opponents. They further deepen this wrong notion once they begin to peddle a guilty verdict the moment a former public office holder is invited to assist the EFCC in its investigation. The consequent outcomes, the most common being the former public official returning to mind personal business once they are done rendering the necessary assistance to the commission’s investigation, further creates the impression that the anti—graft agency is not on top of its game. These elements care nothing about how this affect the national psyche or the image it paints for the nation outside our shores provided they have succeeded in tarnishing the image of their intended victims.

Perhaps, this wrong trajectory originated sometimes in 2006 when the erstwhile EFCC Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu verbally indicted as many as 33 of the 36 then state governor while appearing before the senate. By 2007 when these governors had left office and no longer enjoy immunity, which he had claimed was hampering arrest and prosecution, the list of those that could be arrested had dropped to just 15 governors and curiously his successor, Mrs Farida Waziri, could not find case files on the said indicted governors. Thus till date, only former Edo governor, Lucky Igbinedion entered a plea bargain and paid the necessary fine that confirmed his guilt. His neighbour and former governor of Delta state was jailed in the United Kingdom for corruption too. This leaves one asking what happened to the other 31 one governors among the 33 verbally indicted.

What happened was that they served at a time when the public consciousness had not matured to distinguish what differences exist when we talk about an invitation to assist EFCC investigation, indictment, arrest and conviction. As our democracy matures and institutions and their operatives grow competence, we now see fewer unnecessary arrests and hounding of people using public institutions. What has not happened is the enlightenment needed among the populace to put these issues in perspective.

Former Benue state governor, Garbriel Suswam thus has a unique opportunity to again blaze the trail, as has always been the case with him, by using this invitation to appear before the EFCC as an avenue to educate the public – particularly the people of the state on what he achieved in the eight years he was in service of his people. He was quiet about his trail blazing achievements while in office as he will always stress that there was no need for one to blow one’s trumpet as this is an activity that is best left to the end beneficiary of his many lofty programmes to do.

The closing years and months of his administration were characterised by what could be described as failure when it come to the payment of salaries. Some of those insisting that he has a case to answer before the EFCC are basing their call for his investigation on that assumption that payment of salaries was delayed because there was embezzlement. However, nothing can be farther from the truth. Osun, Kogi, Imo and Oyo states are among the states that were having difficulties paying staff salaries just like Benue state under Suswam. In fact, a federal government bailout package to these states has not been enough to take them out of the financial strait in which they found themselves. For reasons that are best understood by those who should know, the governors of these states are not being dragged before the EFCC.

When Suswam keeps the appointment with the EFCC on Monday, he must therefore remind operatives of the anti-graft agency about his achievement, he must not omit to mention how the fallout of global events affects even the smallest village in Benue state. Few people recall today that the global economic crises of 2008 struck when Suswam was barely into his first term and fewer people comprehend that his second term operated in the shadows of threat of a another global economic slowdown, which largely left governments at all levels struggling to deliver on critical services. This of course explains the reality of having to prioritize spending with the resulting outcry that political opponents latched onto without recourse to logic. The sequence of events since his successor resumed office has exposed the true nature of things as even the incumbent government now realise that the funds accruing to the state are simply not enough.

He is no longer in office and is not running for any office at this point and should harbour no inhibition in recounting the numerous things he has done for the state even in the face of the economic crunch that spanned the entire duration of his government. It somehow came down to paying salaries regularly without developing public infrastructure in the state and without executing projects aimed at growing the state’s economy.

For instance, agriculture received massive boosts from his administration such that the state continued to secure its acclaimed place as the food basket of the nation. A lot of value was added to the agricultural sector, which enabled the state to tackle the problem of youth unemployment as various opportunities were created for youths not just to gain employment but further making some of them to become entrepreneur and employers. Healthcare received a boost under Suswam’s government in a unique approach that ensured that the revitalising of health facilities was not limited to urban areas but instead was spread across the state. Rehabilitation of educational infrastructure equally enjoyed state-wide distribution so that pursuit of quality education was no longer a factor for urban rural migration.

Another great achievement of the Gabriel Suswam led administration is the way he set out the foundation for industrializing the state. He actively sought out foreign investors, an activity that saw him embark on several foreign trips to woo those who have the financial resources to inject into the state’s economy. The other leg of this particular activity was hosting these potential investors in the state at events he used to unveil the incentives the state has packaged for those who commit resources to its economic growth. Of course this is matched by the world class economic infrastructure like roads that are meant to be the driver for the industries to be established in the state.

The threat to all these people oriented engagements would have been insecurity – ranging from communal clashes to farmer/herders clashes that not only cause loss of lives and property but also threatened the image of Benue state as an investment destination. Suswam moved to counter these problems and ensured that they were brought under control. Certainly, critics would point out that he got security vote as governor and one must answer that these crises were precisely what made the state’s spending on security astronomical.

When Suswam does the nation and Benue state the favour of using this EFCC invitation to recount his stewardship, the inquisitiveness of the interested parties to our national life would have been satisfied. With this, Nigerians would perchance begin to have a true appreciation of these issues on account of their new understanding.

This post was written by Comrade Philip Agbese.

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of African News Today. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s). African News Today will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.

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Nkeiru Nzenwa George
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Yes, it must stop, how do you governor people you call lawless and unruly? How?

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