BY PETER DURU
For the first time since the controversy over an alleged multimillion naira contract allegedly abandoned by Presidential Aide, Dr. Doyin Okupe in Benue State broke out, Governor Gabriel Suswam commented on the issue last weekend. In an exchange with newsmen in Otukpo, Benue State, Suswam absolves himself from blame even as he used the opportunity to debunk insinuations that the state is insolvent. Excerpts:
What is the exact state of the finances of Benue State?
The finances of the states depend on the federation account, once there is problem in the federation account, it affects all the states, not just Benue. Of course, there are delays. The problem which I think is just minimal, lies simply with the biometric exercise that we are carrying out to sort the issue of over bloated pay roll and strength of the civil service.
You will agree with me that when you start the process of computing and data capturing you could sometimes experience some hiccups and in the process, it affects one or two persons. For instance, the deputy governor and I had in some cases missed our salaries and it is not because there is no money. This is exactly what has affected few people but the state government is not owing anybody.
What exactly is the problem between the State House of Assembly and the Executive that has compelled the legislators to demand for the sack of the Commissioner for Information?
I think the Commissioner for Information said something, but I thought that it is something that is resolvable.
There is no conflict between the two arms of government. I do not think there is any problem. But you see, the House of Assembly became very sensitive to some of the things the Commissioner said. I was also to some extent sensitive to their remarks because I expected that they would have gotten the fact when they said that government was owing salaries for nine months.
And you know that in Benue if you owe salary for one month, it won’t just be something in the realm of speculation because the news will be everywhere. It is a common knowledge that the country is going through some financial challenges and no state is excepted. But, one thing I do is to prioritize salary, once money comes, salaries are paid before any other thing is done and I don’t joke with that.
You have been mute over reports that Dr. Doyin Okupe defrauded the State in the execution of a contract. Why?
That is because we are not the ones who gave the contract. However, the person who did, Senator George Akume, as I read in the Newspaper has made a press statement to that effect through his media aide. I wasn’t involved in that deal.
The media aide asserted that they gave a contract and there were issues. So, I’m waiting for them and I think it will get to us to know. Like I said, I read in the papers, the statement made on behalf of Akume by his aide and I believe Senator Akume is in a better position to address that problem.
But, government is continuum, the present administration ought to have taken the matter to the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) because the amount involved is over N700million and it is big money for a state like Benue?
I agree with you but if you read what the media assistant to Senator Akume did say, she said the problem arose with them and that they are handling it. You know, that I didn’t have the privilege of being given a hand over note by my predecessor. I didn’t, I have told you this several times before, no hand over note was given to me.