BY PETER DURU
THE die is cast and the race for the Benue State Government House has kick_started in full blast, same for other positions that are up for grasp by politicians who sailed through their various party primaries. But the major attraction remains the battle for the position of governor of the state come May 29th 2011.
This perhaps could be attributed to the enormous powers that a sitting Governor wields in the present day Nigeria and Benue State cannot be any different.
But what readily comes to mind is the tactics being adopted by the major gladiators in the awesome race.
While some have gone about the campaign with all civility and decorum in consonance with universally acceptable dictates others seemed to have found solace in adopting the ‘jungle approach’ to actualise their dreams of governing Benue State even if it means misleading the gullible public all in a bid to grab political power.
This readily brings to mind the alleged Secondary School certificate forgery being leveled against Benue State Governor, Mr. Gabriel Suswam and for which a case was instituted against the Governor and later withdrawn from a Federal High Court by Mr. Terver Kakih who lost out at the just concluded PDP governorship primaries.
The alleged Suswam certificate forgery case has generated so much heat in the state and close observers of the unfolding drama which has been given flesh by the publications of some media houses are confused about the truth behind the allegation.
But the question on the lips of political observers is whether the story is true or a mere political gimmick to embarrass the PDP led government and the state governor himself?
According to reports in some dailies, one Chigozie Ukpabi, a former staff of WAEC claimed that he aided Suswam to forge a West African School Certificate (WASC) while the governor was at the National Assembly representing Ukum/Logo/Katsina_Ala Federal Constituency. He alleged that the governor’s cousin approached him on behalf of the governor (then a legislator) to forge two certificates for what reason he claimed he did not know.
The reports also alleged that Suswam passed five subjects, but the subjects passed were without Mathematics and English, which were pre_requisite for admission into law programmes in Nigerian universities.
The alleged forged certificate was said to be one of the supporting documents the governor submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC in the run_up to his election as governor and was also purportedly admitted by UNILAG on the basis of a 1982 General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level certificate with candidate number: 07652151.
Ukpabi also alleged that he also forged another certificate for the governor’s wife saying he came out to disclose the entire saga because of a threat to his life.
However, he allegedly blamed a publication by a Kaduna based magazine for his present ordeal saying that the publication was done by some people in the state who have some axe to grind with the governor.
The revelation has succinctly revealed that the race for the Benue State Government House in particular has truly become what the legendary Afro Beat King Fela Anikulakpo, aptly described as a “rofo rofo fight” despite its devastating effects on key actors and the state in general.
Speaking on the issue recently, Former Attorney General of the Federal (AGF) and Minister of Justice Mike Kaase Aondoakaa described the allegation leveled against the Governor as a cheap blackmail, adding that it was politically motivated in a bid to pull the Governor down.
Aondoakaa added that it was impossible for anyone to forge a certificate and gain admission into the highly reputable University of Lagos, an institution known for its excellence and credibility.
The former AGF further disclosed that he had independently carried out detailed investigation into the matter at the Government College Makurdi, which shares a boundary with his alma mater, Mount Saint Gabriel Secondly School Makurdi, where he graduated and found out that every allegation against Governor Suswam concerning certificate forgery was a farce just as it is ridiculous.
He said that the Governor’s records are there for anyone to scrutinize even as he faulted the media reports.
Aondakaa added: “In filling INEC form to contest any election you are not required to state your grade so the allegation that Suswam forged results is baseless and politically motivated”.
The former AGF noted that WAEC office is in Lagos as well as the University of Lagos for anyone to verify adding “if Suswam won elections as a federal lawmaker in 1999 and 2003 and then Governor of Benue state in 2007, of what use will it be to forge 2005 WAEC result when it is clear he passed out from Government College in 1982.
He cautioned politicians at state and national levels to embrace issues_based campaign, rather than engage in character assassination in order to score cheap unmerited political points and by so doing heat up the polity.
Aondoakaa also questioned the timing of the publication saying ‘Why are the allegations of certificate forgery coming up now when it is clear that some prominent members of the PDP lost elections and are aggrieved and forming opposition against Governor Suswam”?
Also reacting to the issue, the National Auditor of the ruling PDP and member of the National Working Committee of the party, Dr. Samuel Ortom described the tale as laughable.
Ortom said that it is all a gimmick that is aimed at distracting the Governor from his set goal of recording monumental success in the task of governing the state.
According to him, “It is laughable because I have been reading these allegations on the pages of newspapers. But I know I have been a friend to Suswam before he became governor and I know when he graduated as a lawyer. It baffles me; I don’t know why they are talking about alleged forged certificate. Why do you need to forge a certificate when you have already graduated as a lawyer?
“What do you need a school certificate for when you are already a lawyer, it is nonsensical? So these are just cheap blackmail issues aimed at distracting someone from the challenge before him. I don’t advise Suswam to even look at that”.
“I advise Suswam not to be distracted by this kind of allegation because it is only meant to pull him back and drag him away from the main issues and challenges before him and his campaign. We are not going to join issues with them, we are going on with our campaigns and there is no cause for alarm whatsoever”, Dr. Ortom retorted.
Meanwhile Governor Suswam has also vehemently denied the allegation describing it as ‘baseless’ maintaining that it is the handiwork of his political opponents and enemies’. He explained that his academic records are open to all to find out adding that there is nothing to hide. He maintained that the certificate being circulated by the selected media organisations was fake as it does not bear any semblance of the one originally issued to him when he completed his secondary school.
He stated that the publication was malicious, mischievous and aimed at smearing his hard_earned reputation. The Governor, in a press statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Dr. Cletus Akwaya, explained that though he lost the originals of his GCE O/Level Certificate while serving as a member of the House of Representatives in 2005, he quickly notified the police and also applied to WAEC for issuance of a certified true copy.
The statement reads: “Governor Suswam’s academic records are straight and verifiable, his credentials as a lawyer, scholar, politician and public servant are quite outstanding”.
“Rt. Hon. Suswam is a bona fide lawyer having been called to bar in 1991. He has since then discharged several professional duties and therefore, his professional standing as a lawyer is not in doubt. We want the public to totally disregard the report being published as it is a work of blackmail and mischief aimed at smearing the Governor’s hard_earned reputation”.
In her reaction to the allegation, the Benue State Commissioner for Information and Culture, Dr. Mrs. Diana Ochoga explained that initially she did not want to react to what she described as wicked falsehood so much so that a former gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the PDP, Mr. Terver Khaki “had filed separate suits in court over the false forgery incident” but said that the way the mendacity was being used to win sympathy by the opposition calls for an open defense by the state government”.
She added, “The Governor’s certificates are on the website site for all to see and make judgment therefrom”.
Meanwhile Vanguard investigations revealed that Suswam had attended Government College Makurdi were he passed out in 1982. It was also gathered that the governor made five credit with Commerce being withheld but was released later in the year.
As confirmed to newsmen late last year by the Governor himself, he also wrote the external GCE while in form four in the same Government College and obtained a credit in English language.
A confirmation of the Governor’s credentials was also made on the Benue state government official website which is opened to the public for perusal.
Sources at the State Ministry of Information disclosed that the state government went the length to place the credentials on the web to put straight the issues and checkmate that vicious campaign of calumny against the person of the Governor.
The detailed script on the www.benue.org website indicated thus: “Governor Suswam’s Confirmed WAEC/GCE and IJMB ‘A’ Level Results Rt. Hon. Gabriel Suswam NOVEMBER/DECEMBER EXTERNAL GCE 1981 GCE MAY/JUNE 1982 RESULT (COMMERCE WITH HELD) GCE MAY/JUNE 1982 RESULT (COMMERCE RELEASED) IJMB ‘A’ LEVEL RESULT”, included were a comprehensive features of the Governor’s grades for public consumption.
The government’s efforts nonetheless, the spate of reported attacks against those waging the war against the governor calls for concern. Some observers have taken supporters of the governor to task on why the newspaper that circulated the report has been the subject of attack in the state. There were reports in the last week of the confiscation and sometimes forced purchase of copies of the national newspaper which carried the story.
While the government has gone the extent of clarifying details of the governor’s credentials the seemingly violent response of his “supporters” has raised concern among some observers that the opposition could be up to some mischief which is yet to be unveiled.