In a desperate bid to cling to power by hook or by crook, Gabriel Suswam is carelessly causing instability in the land. But this man must be told in no uncertain terms that he is an option that is inadmissible for the simple reason that his actions go against the wishes of the majority. The task of reclaiming what most people rightly believe is the mandate of the Benue electorate to solemnly give the ACN and its candidate in the gubernatorial polls of last April is thus more than a democratic and constitutional responsibility.
It is first and foremost a human rights issue, one that has far-reaching implications. This presupposes a societal obligation to defend that right irrespective of one’s ideological or partisan leanings. The duty to recover the ultimate authority – the people’s choice – which was brazenly stolen by the divisive regime of Gabriel Suswam must be seen as the consecration of a moral imperative to do what is both right and necessary. That is to say to re-assert the principle of the sovereign will of the masses to choose their leaders or representatives unhindered.
The truncating of the right of the Benue people to freely elect their government has invariably led to further assaults by “Governor” Suswam against his supposed foes. By opting for violence and repression to maintain his usurpation, Suswam is irresponsibly endangering our national security at a time when the country is grappling with instability occasioned in large part by the myopia and recklessness of selfish politicians and their allies.
It bears reiterating here that faced with the increasing desperation and violent posture of Gabriel Suswam and his illegitimate government toward the opposition and its leadership, Professor Steve Ugbah, the presumed winner of the 2011 governorship election, and his party, the ACN, have remained resolute regarding the need to respect the sanctity of the people’s decision. Let it be made clear that under no circumstance should that decision be subjected to underhand deals or negotiations that are intended to perpetuate the untenable status quo.
The only form of negotiation that would be deemed acceptable to Nigerian democrats is that which has as singular item; the immediate resignation of Suswam, followed by the swearing-in of Professor Ugbah. And it goes without saying that no amount of threats or scurrilous propagandizing by those who do not wish Benue well will be tolerated.
For now, the focus should be on ensuring the independence and objectivity of the electoral tribunal hearing and the appeal against the declaration of Suswam as “winner” of the governorship election. This would entail, amongst other things, keeping a close watch on the activities of all those associated with the tribunal, seeing that the INEC cooperates fully with the latter and promptly and transparently make available, all records and data pertaining to the organization of the last elections, The behaviour of the police and other security forces should also be monitored as well as that of the army to ensure that these outfits are not used again as agents of terror against the opposition. This last point requires elaborating, partly on account of its implications for stability in Benue State and the country as a whole.
As president, Jonathan is ultimately responsible for the security and stability of the nation. In Benue State, as consistently reported in the media, the state of siege, which Suswam and his regime have imposed on the opposition and civil society escalated during the last election campaigns and does not seem to be abating.
The regime instigated a security nightmare there that is actually getting worse by using blood-thirsty thugs locally known as ‘Suswam boys’ in a depraved but futile quest to create an atmosphere of fear that would offer him and his accomplices a convenient cover to coercively thwart the vigilance of the Benue people, who are more determined than ever before to retrieve the mandate they gave Professor Ugbah. The impostor of Makurdi Government House is remorselessly unleashing mayhem on the society.
As I write, the scorched earth of intimidation of members in the main opposition party, namely, the ACN is going on with the police and other security forces, who are either taking sides or doing nothing to arrest the ugly situation. Amongst other atrocities, include the torching and destruction of property belonging to ACN supporters or members, harassing them along with their families and this has resulted in maiming and targeted murders as in the case of the reported assassination of Charles Ayede ,who was the media adviser to Professor Ugbah, the acknowledged winner of the governorship election in Benue.
Jonathan and his government cannot pretend that they are not aware of the reign of terror that Suswam and his errand boys have imposed on the state and its people. The same Suswam and his hounds have, as part of their trademark anti-democratic antics, been using the police in particular to intimidate key opposition figures and any person urging the path of reason. And carrying their pro-regime partisanship to ridiculous heights, the police appear to have been reduced to repeating deliberately misleading statements emanating from the Suswam camp. The assassination of Mr. Ayede which many believe was part of the plot to physically eliminate Professor Ugbah did provoke an understandable uproar in Benue and the rest of the country.
Echoing the propaganda by the Suswam regime, an inept and complacent police force headed by Hafiz Ringim issued a brazenly mischievous and vacuous press release saying that Ayede was the victim of armed robbery! Suswam and his police “allies” reached that hasty and curious conclusion before any investigation into this very serious crime was conducted. Adding insult to injury, Suswam and the police seemed more concerned with fabricating fictional culprits than helping find the true identity of the killer. They either deliberately and conveniently passed off the killing as the handiwork of faceless thieves who were in turn rudely and violently arrested by the police, supposedly in reaction to a ‘petition’ by Suswam.
Just to name a few, among those arrested, were Senator Akume, Ugbah, Adaa Maagbe, another ACN chieftain and security adviser to the latter, and Wantaregh Paul Unongo whose only crime is that he is related to Professor Ugbah and has, like most of Benue State inhabitants, openly supported his ambition to be governor. The police have since charged these eminent sons of Benue and Nigeria to court!
What we have here is yet another example of the abuse of court processes by a tin god whose illegitimacy and intoxication with ill-acquired power are fuelling the irrationality and recklessness that have characterized his questionable ascendancy since 2007. If Mr. President’s gospel of transformation is to be taken seriously, his administration must act decisively in tackling the ruinous impunity of Gabriel Suswam and his henchmen so as to prevent Benue from falling into the trap of the kind of sustained instability and violence plaguing places like Borno , Bauchi, Plateau, Akwa Ibom and other parts of Nigeria today.
Jonathan cannot afford to ignore the security risk that Suswam has become on account of his mindless excesses. Defusing the tense and potentially explosive situation in Benue State would require statesmanship, the kind of responsive leadership that is at once proactive and mindful of what ultimately is in the national interest.
Importantly, justice and a sense of fairness should be the primary concern of all with a stake in Benue and Nigeria. Depriving the Benue people of the electoral choice they made would amount to inviting anarchy to those whose harsh and unforgiving ramifications cannot be glossed over by any serious government. Let us remind ourselves of this sobering certainty: Impunity begets impunity.
The opposition in Benue State has consistently behaved honourably, preferring the path of democracy and the rule of law. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Suswam and his wayward regime. But there is a limit to how much abuse one can tolerate. Jonathan has the responsibility to call to order Suswam and all those aiding and abetting his impunity. To refuse to live up to that expectation would be tantamount to courting more disaster – a proposition that is a direct negation of the president’s transformation mantra, partly due to the fact that it is also a recipe for the kind of violence and instability that have historically stunted the nation’s development.
It requires mentioning that the spectre of regime-sponsored impunity and instability in Benue is by no means an accidental happening. It is the logical outcome of a tainted electoral process that is the antithesis of a genuinely democratic configuration.
Now, to the extent that representative democracy implies the notion of a social contract between the government and the people, the disruption of the cardinal perception of the sovereignty of the latter in deciding who rules them, especially when that disruption is reportedly criminal or blatantly disdainful of the common good as in the case of Suswam and his confederates, does portend grave consequences. It goes without saying that for Benue State, the consequences on the society of the continued presence at Makurdi Government House of an illegitimate and lawless governor have been many and varied.
The immediate consequence of having an illegal regime that is the product, not of a transparent electoral process, but of massive rigging and intimidation, is that on account of their unrepresentative and undemocratic nature, those laying claim to such ill-acquired power have been behaving like a conquering army of barbarian invaders and mercenaries with little or no emotional attachment to the average Benue citizen and his legitimate concerns. The contemptible announcement of a Suswam/PDP victory by a crooked INEC, who grappling with a serious image problem, was not surprisingly, met with the silence of a graveyard.
Since then, all over the state, an eerie sense of foreboding has taken over the mood of anticipation and hope the people felt in the run-up to Election Day. As a desperate and drowning Suswam and his regime inflict more hardship on the populace by way of unjustly sacking of civil servants who are considered not to have ‘helped enough ‘ in the rigging spree of last April, not to mention Suswam’s refusal to pay the salaries of those suspected of harbouring conflicting loyalties (meaning that they did not go out to campaign for Suswam and his party), amongst other deprivations visited on Suswam’s perceived enemies, Benue State is increasingly looking like a colony, an occupied territory where a small band of unelected ‘segregationists’ maintains a surreal but repressive relationship with the majority – the ruled ( or more appropriately, the misruled )– who harbours a total distrust of its tormentors precisely because of the unrepresentative nature of the power that unelected minority exercises.
In the manner of colonial inquisitors, members of the clique pretending to be governing in Makurdi divide their time between hedonistic preoccupations and inflicting excruciating ‘punishment’ on the people. The latest form of cruelty reportedly being contemplated by the Suswam regime is to ban the use of commercial motor cycles - the poor man’s taxi. Apparently, the main reason behind this sadistic ploy is that bike operators in the state’s major towns are said to be overwhelmingly pro-ACN, Suswam’s bête noire!
Remarkably, the people have refused to be cowed. They are showing their angst. The anti-Suswam backlash is so entrenched across Benue today that it cannot be wished away. It bears testimony to the fact that only those living in a fool’s paradise continue to entertain the lie that Suswam and his party ‘won’ this year’s governorship election. That backlash has largely manifested itself in peaceful expressions of solidarity on the part of the masses with the mandate reclaim agenda. Amongst other gestures people have been making is the appearance of people in large and impressive numbers at the election tribunal proceedings in Makurdi which made a powerful statement. The message is clear enough: The inhabitants of Benue are anxiously waiting for justice to be done and that those hell bent on being obstacles to their progress must be prepared to live with any dire consequences of their anti-people conduct.
Prior to the last elections, a consensus did develop in Benue amongst all segments of the society as to the need to vote out Suswam and his alienating government. That broad consensus is very much there in the aftermath of the last gubernatorial polls. The progressive agenda of Professor Ugbah as well as the man’s integrity were some of the critical elements that sealed the fate of Suswam and his under-achieving administration. It is in the interest of all stake holders, the Jonathan regime included, to ensure that nothing is done to prevent the realization of the noble desire of Benue citizens to have a government that is the true reflection of their legitimate aspirations.
Moral pressure, both locally and internationally, should be brought to bear on all those concerned with a view to helping ameliorate the grim and unacceptable situation in Benue State. The embassies of the world’s democracies and especially those of major ones like the United States of America, a jurisdiction in which Professor Ugbah has served diligently in various capacities, Britain, Canada, France, South Africa and Germany, just to mention a few, should impose consular and other sanctions on Suswam, members of his family and his associates. There is a critical mass of documentation out there attesting to the atrocities by Suswam and his regime.
For instance, in its edition of July 2010, a Kaduna-based magazine, Power Steering, did warn the nation by detailing how, in the bid to rig himself back to power; Suswam and his government were recruiting a “private army” of de facto thugs ahead of the 2011 elections. The editors of that publication went on to review Suswam’s deplorable human rights record as governor. Power Steering alluded to some opposition figures and members of the civil society who were murdered in suspicious circumstances, allegedly due to their vehement criticism of the Suswam regime. And, of course, Suswam’s muzzling of journalists through brutal tactics was also mentioned.
The role of the organized civil society like Human Rights Watch, pro-democracy organizations, and the media will be crucial in checking Suswam’s excesses. Popular Nigeria-related websites like Sahara Reporters (SR) and the Nigerian Village Square (NVS) are, through their coverage, helping draw the world’s attention to the terrible situation in Benue. The international media (both in the USA and elsewhere) has lately been providing greater scrutiny of the events unfolding in Benue State and especially those pertaining to the violent clampdown against the opposition following the governorship election there. Suswam and his entourage cannot intimidate and deny others their human rights and yet hope to enjoy the freedoms and comfort available in foreign lands like the USA and the West in general.
Amongst other measures should include a conscious policy of visa denial should be put in place (that is if it has not already been established) that would seek to prevent human rights abusers from enjoying the fruits of their transgressions. This should go a long way in helping advance Nigerian democracy. Beyond that, it should be made abundantly clear to Suswam and his acolytes that if any harm comes to Ugbah, for instance, he’ll be held personally responsible.
What Jonathan must do now is to help avert a situation whereby insecurity becomes a permanent feature of yet another Nigerian state, in this case, Benue, on account of the excesses of Suswam and his ‘friends’ in the police and other government bodies. Last April, the good people of Benue spoke eloquently and decisively, for change.
All men and women of good will should follow the path of decency and godliness in seeing to it that their mandate is reclaimed, promptly and democratically. We salute the vigilance and determination of Benue citizens, both at home and in the Diaspora. To all well wishers and supporters of this noble cause, rest assured that your efforts will not be in vain.
Aonduna Tondu ([email protected]).