By Donu Kogara
LAST week, I told you about a Benue Art exhibition reception I attended in Washington while I was visiting America a couple of weeks ago.
And I complained because Dr. Gabriel Suswam, the Benue State Governor, had been expected to grace the occasion but didn’t show up or send a representative.
I hasten to add that I DID also say, in the same column, that I would (albeit grudgingly) give Suswam the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had a good reason for not making it to the reception. But I went on to vilify Nigerian VIPs (in general) for frequently failing to honour accepted invitations to public functions. I accused the majority of being uncouth, unreliable, arrogant, etc.
I later discovered that I need to eat a large slice of humble pie.
A friend who also happens to be close to Dr. Suswam has called me to say that I was very unfair to His Excellency – who had, apparently, played a key role at high-profile exhibition-related events that predated the reception I attended.
This misunderstanding arose because there was (unbeknownst to me at the time of writing) more than one Benue Art function in Washington that week. The Governor attended some on September l2th, while I attended one on the l3th.
Dr. Suswam was also expected on the l3th by many distinguished guests. But I guess I shouldn’t nitpick, given that he had done so much the day before!
I have subsequently received an aggrieved email from Cletus Akwaya, Suswam’s Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs. In the interests of justice, I am reproducing some excerpts from Mr. Akwaya’s reaction to my article below:
‘The Missing Governor’ below average — SA Media to Gov. Suswam
IN the world of the print media where the men hold sway, Donu Kogbara is one of the few women who have carved a niche for herself in her chosen profession of journalism. Her column in the Vanguard ‘Sweet & Sour’ has become a must read for many on account of its style and peculiar slant in the treatment of the diverse issues that usually receive her attention.
However, her column on page 12 in the Vanguard issue of Friday, September 23, with the title “The Missing Governor” was well below average as it was a marked departure from the objective and factual orientation that has become the unmistakable feature of Donu Kogbara’s column….
Participation at the exhibition
…In the said article, the columnist dwelt on her participation at the recently concluded Benue Valley Art Exhibition which held at the famous Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, where the Benue State Governor, Dr. Gabriel Suswam, was invited as a Special Guest of Honour…In Donu’s view, Governor Suswam, who had earlier given his acceptance to attend the occasion, was conspicuously absent without any apologies….
…Contrary to Kogbara’s claim, the Governor personally honoured the invitation as a Special Guest on September l2th…gave a speech…[and] presented an address to the audience at the Exhibition, after which he undertook a tour of the Exhibition gallery.
The Governor discovered to his disbelief that some art pieces, especially Imbor Ivungu a kind of deity which existed in Tivland, were acquired in the 1910s and taken out by Europeans before they finally found their way in the Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC. He also saw cultural artefacts of other tribes in the Benue Valley, including the Idomas, Jukuns, Mumuyes, etc, on display.
In his speech, Governor Suswam described art as a critical factor for global unity and expressed his personal gratitude to the organisers for mounting such an exhilarating exhibition which in effect has gone a long way to sell Africa to the world. His speech was reported in Thisday newspaper [a co-sponsor of the exhibition] on September 14…
In addition to his speech, the Governor made a donation of $50,000 to the Smithsonian Museum Authorities following a request for assistance since the museum is maintained and sustained by donations. His request for a similar exhibition to be staged in Nigeria was, however, not immediately honoured as the curators said it would be very expensive because of insurance policies, transportation arrangements and other necessary permits required as well as the risks involved in moving such priceless artefacts and rare collections across international borders.
Later in the evening of the same day, Governor Suswam attended a dinner hosted by the organisers of the Exhibition…
…From all available evidence therefore, it is crystal clear that Donu was not at the same Exhibition in Washington that was attended by Governor Suswam…who is not such an “ill-mannered or irresponsible” leader that the columnist tried, unsuccessfully though, to present to the public.
His pedigree as a responsive and responsible leader is unmistakable just as his commitment to the wellbeing of the people of the state. And this largely explains the single-mindedness with which he has pursued his development agenda for the state in which he has recorded huge successes in his stewardship as Governor of Benue State. His achievements in the area of infrastructural development have earned him the sobriquet of “Mr Infrastructure”. In fact, his participation at the Arts Exhibition is consistent with his commitment to firmly place Benue on the international map as a preferred state for foreign investment in Nigeria.
I invite Donu Kogbara and the public to stay with the fact that in his conduct of government business. Governor Suswam is clearly distinctive in his style. His prompt attendance to state, official and social functions stands him out. Where it becomes impossible for him to personally honour appointments, he usually directs appropriate officers of government to represent him….
…Something to grouse about
OK, so even though Suswam did not send a representative on this occasion, I’d still like to offer him my apologies for not acknowledging the fact that he had already contributed significantly to Washington’s glowing tribute to his state.
By the way, since I always need something to grouse about, let me say that I find it very sad and annoying that when Dr. Suswam suggested that the exhibition be staged in Nigeria, his American hosts came up with a whole bunch of reasons why this excellent idea would not fly in the short-term.
Considering that the Benue artefacts belonged to Suswam’s ancestors, not theirs, I hope that they will eventually find a way to fulfil his wish.