On 28th April, 2015, Benue State Governor-elect, Chief Dr Samuel Ortom, alerted members of the public particularly indigenes about last minute actions by the outgoing Suswam administration which have far-reaching financial implications for the incoming government in the state.
He referred to discussions with the incumbent administration that the outgoing Governor would stay action on the conduct of local government elections, put aside the idea of further recruitment into the public service and discontinue the process of appointing more traditional rulers because of the huge financial implications in the face of non payment of salaries, pensions and other government commitments.
Chief Dr. Ortom addressed the press on the issues through his Deputy, Engr. Benson Abounu.
His language and tone was benign, courteous and civil.
Surprisingly on 30th April, 2015, the Benue State Information Commissioner, Mr. Justin Amase came out with all guns blazing in an abrasive and combative press statement against chieftains of the All Progressives Congress, APC, accusing them of “carrying on as if they have already assumed office and jumping the gun with inflammatory statements and threats.”
The commissioner stated that “the Governor specifically takes exception to recent assertions credited to the Deputy Governor-elect in which he was said to have issued threatening proclamations to our government.”
According to him Engr. Abounu’s public statements on the issue of alleged recruitment into the civil service, appointment of traditional rulers, and conduct of local government elections were “unnecessary and a negation of the consultations being held with the Governor-elect.”
In the manner of emperors talking down on conquered subjects the commissioner went a notch higher by asserting that “His Excellency, Rt. Hon Gabriel Torwua Suswam remains the Executive Governor and would not tolerate reckless pronouncements from any person or persons on matters of government and governance.”
Perhaps it might be necessary to remind the commissioner that when the Governor-elect paid a courtesy call on the incumbent Governor on Monday, 13th April, 2015, in the old Banquet Hall of Government House, Dr. Suswam, without any prompting, pledged to consult with Chief Dr Ortom on all major new policies that were bound to affect the incoming administration.
In any case whether he said it or not that is the right way to go.
The Governor-elect had expected that the pledge would be followed through and when it was not it became necessary for him to alert the public on account of the fact that the actions being undertaken were booby traps for the take off of his administration.
Chief Dr. Ortom had never carried on as if he was already in government. This one instance might suffice. When journalists asked him during a press conference at NUJ House after his election to comment on the constitution of caretaker committees in the state he declined saying he had not assumed office.
He stated specifically that he respected the incumbent as the subsisting Governor and acknowledged his position.
The statements and comments with regard to issues of public interest and fiscal responsibility which APC chieftains and Chief Dr. Ortom have raised are not inflammatory, reckless and unnecessary threats as alleged by the Information Commissioner.
Rather, they are genuine concerns raised by patriotic leaders who have the genuine interest, welfare, and mandate of the people at heart.
Such statements also stem from the stark realization that very soon, indeed in a matter of days, the burden of leadership in the state with its enormous responsibilities in the face of numerous challenges would be the thrust on their shoulders.
It is amazing that rather than address the concerns raised, the commissioner resorted to chasing shadows and barking orders.
One had expected that he would explain why new financial commitments were being made in the face of unpaid salaries, allowances, pensions, and the general grounding of all public institutions in the state.
May we also remind the Honorable Information Commissioner that the right of citizens to comment on public issues is sacrosanct especially in a democracy.
It is therefore our considered opinion that Mr. Amase and the government he represents have shown gross disregard for the sensibilities of Benue people by choosing to denigrate their rights to comment on issues that bother on their well being and survival and by proceeding to foist dubious financial commitments on the already fiscally overburdened state.
We therefore, call on all stakeholders and well meaning Benue indigenes to resist Governor Suswam’s Scorched Earth Policy as he faces the exit door.
Special Adviser to Benue State Governor-elect.