<<< By Tahav Agerzua >>>
Governor Samuel Ortom today explained why he set up probe panels on the past administration while reacting to the judgment of the Makurdi High Court that lifted the stay of proceedings on the commissions of inquiry.
We just left the High Court of Makurdi where the court dismissed the two suits filed by former Governor Gabriel Suswam challenging the probe of his administration and ordered the commissions of inquiry to resume sitting, what’s your reaction sir?
I want to thank God. Like I keep saying, those two panels were not meant to witch hunt anyone. Of course everybody in the state k nows that I’m a Christian, I’m not a witch, so I cannot be seen as witch hunting anyone. All that I had wanted is that I’m a democratically elected Governor and my allegiance is to the people. The people of Benue State want to know what happened to their funds. The money that accrued to the state through the sale of Benue State government shares in BCC amounting to N8.3 billion; what went wrong with it? We could not find where it was expended, whether it was in compliance with the laws of the land as stipulated in the budget. The money that came to Benue State through Sure-P, the money that came to Benue State through the excess crude account, the money that came to Benue State through the sale of shares from Julius Berger, the money that came to Benue State through several other means within the eight years because the amount of debt that we inherited is alarming. For the first time, we have witnessed this. So all that we’re saying is for people to go out there and verify and rather exonerate themselves. So we’ve provided a platform for people to go there and exonerate themselves if they are not culpable, but if you are, what we’re saying is that you must repent. You must make restitution by returning such monies. So that is all. The second panel is set up to verify government’s assets. How can you have a government and you don’t know what is government’s assets in Lagos, in Kaduna, in Benue State itself. How will people be just buying off government property including part of Government House? It is unthinkable that a government under my watch will just fold its hands and watch. So I’m happy and I appreciate God. I’ve always said that I have confidence in the judiciary because they will do the right thing. And for us as a government, I want to say that I’ve covenanted with the people and God that I’ll rule with the fear of God and issues of transparency, equity, fairness, justice, accountability, discipline, integrity are things that I value so much and I’ll ensure that they’re part of what we’re doing. And of course where there’s need to forgive, we’re ready but in forgiving, somebody must be there to ask for forgiveness not to try and over stretch and paint the government black. Intrigues and insinuations from the past government to try to paint us black and so on, it’s not founded anywhere and trying to use the issue of bailout to blackmail me, all those things are not right. We’ve set up committees made up of our own officials and those of various unions that are connected with this bailout. So we’re transparent about this and no single kobo is going to be used for any other means. All that we’ve been trying to do is to ensure that money gets into the hands of those people that are genuinely entitled to get this money and that is what we’re doing.
There are widespread insinuations that you are a personal friend to former governor Suswam and that left you alone, you wouldn’t have probed him but because of the pressure by the leader of the party in the state, Senator George Akume to probe him… just yesterday we gathered that there was a thanksgiving mass where Suswam said that during his time, he didn’t probe his predecessor but because you are being pressured, who and what’s behind the probe?
When you talk to me like that, I’m close to 55 years. For God’s sake, I’ve been local government chairman, I’ve held leadership positions at the state level and at various levels, became national auditor of the party, became Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Today I’m democratically elected Governor, I’m educated. Please for God’s sake when you talk about that, it’s like you’re insulting my integrity and who I am. I sold my manifesto to the people of Benue State, they elected me and I’m telling you that it is the people of Benue State that told me to know what went on with their resources. If you were here during the stakeholders’ meeting which I held, what did the people say? The people came out unanimously, including those in PDP and said that I should go ahead and verify where their money is and they are concerned and anyone who has taken this money should bring it back. So to go back and begin to say Akume, Akume has not told me to probe anyone; it is the people of Benue State including PDP members and you all heard it, you are aware of this, they are still alive, you can go and verify this. So I’m not out to witch hunt, like I said I’m not a witch, I’m a child of God.
If forgiveness is asked for and restitutions are made, would the state government make peace with the former Governor to address this issue of fear of being probed by the court or by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission?
You know, the major thing for me is to recover the looted funds that are missing, once I have that then there are agencies that can handle issues of prosecution and all that, EFCC is there, ICPC is there and so on. But for me, my primary objective of setting these panels to recover these looted funds so that we can take that and use it for the development purposes for the state which is why I was elected.
We will like to know whether you will be averse to plea bargain. If some funds are recovered or returned, will the probes be stopped?
I’ve always said that Samuel Ortom believes in the rule of law and due process and so I’ll ensure that the law take its course, I’m not interested in that, I believe in the rule of law and due process and of course about the court judgment, I’ve answered it before, I’ve said that I appreciate the judiciary and I know that they will always do the right thing.
The judgment does not give powers to the commissions to arrest and try, will at the end of the day not this process come to a knot? If it comes to a knot, what is going to be done?
We did not set the commission to arrest people and try them; we set the commission to verify what happened to our resources, we said income and expenditure; what came in and what went out; how it went, whether it was right or wrong. I’ve said it, we’ve provided a platform especially for those who operated the past government to come in and exonerate themselves. We believe in the rule of law and we cannot just come out and accuse people that look, you took this much, you took that much; we are saying that come and exonerate yourself. The allegations are there, after that if you we want to prosecute, the process can be done.