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NIGERIA: Benue Cabinet Shake-up Stirs Speculation over 2015 Poll

Governor Gabriel SuswamThe recent sack of 11 out of the 17 commissioners in Benue State by Governor Gabriel Suswam may not be unconnected to calculations ahead of 2015, writes George Okoh

While no official reasons were given, the recent sack of 11 commissioners in Benue State by the Governor, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, has raised the hopes among some people that the move was a response to demands by some political interests in the state for a breath of fresh air in the governor’s team as well as change direction of the state. But there were others who had interpreted it as part of plans ahead of the 2015 elections to bring the governor’s core loyalists on board.

For instance, Suswam is said to be interested in the Benue North east senatorial seat in 2015, presently occupied by a former chairman of the PDP, Chief Barnabas Gemade, who has also shown an interest in re-election.

Such permutations, according to Victor Tor, were responsible for the dropping of all the commissioners from the zone except that of Commerce, Terfa Ihinda and Information, Comrad Wergba, who are avowed loyalists of the governor. Ihinda was appointed less than a year ago.

“The governor wants to appoint his core loyalists as he doubts some of those occupying the positions,” a source said.

Yet, another interpretation is that the move was motivated by the governor’s stand that some of the commissioners angling to succeed him in 2015 should do so outside the cabinet.

In recent times, many of the commissioners have been accused of undermining the governor and openly campaigning for the 2015 governorship election. The governor was said to have been angry with such moves and had complained on several occasions that it was too early to start agitating to succeed him since he was barely two years into his second term in office.

A third, but more credible reason for the cabinet shake-up is the argument that the governor might use it as an opportunity to replace incompetent commissioners and those that have overstayed.
Government House sources attributed the sack of 11 commissioners and the state Head of Service (HOS) by the governor to redundancy and political factors.

However, signs that the political class was getting fed up with some of the commissioners started to emerge last year when the Benue House of Assembly demanded the sack of Wergba within seven days over his comment on the assembly.

The House had also summoned the Finance Commissioner, Mr. Omadachi Oklobia, to appear before it and give account of the finances of the state following delay in the payment of salaries for several months, including allowances of some members of the assembly last year. But Wergba was said to have described the action of the lawmakers as arm-twisting the executive for pecuniary motives.

In setting the record straight, the governor told them that he was the only person with the power to hire and fire a commissioner, citing the law of the state. He stressed that the resolution by the assembly directing him to sack the information commissioner was not in any way binding on him. The governor stood by the commissioner just as he had stood by several other commissioners who had been summoned by the assembly in the last six years.

Some of the commissioners believed to have over-stayed in the system are Benjamin Ashaver, Works and Transport; Mr. John Ngbede, Water Resources and Environment and Dr Eugene Aliegba, Agriculture. The trio who was highly regarded for their experience had survived two previous dissolutions as some PDP stakeholders had also put severe pressure on the governor to remove them.

A source told THISDAY that they were removed due to redundancy, while justifying why Oklobia, who had spent six years as commissioner, was retained.

Other cabinet members such as Mrs. Comfort Ajene, Culture and Tourism; Mr. John Tondo, Lands and Survey; Mr. Simon Kwaghbula, Housing and Urban Development; Mr. Godwin Adah, Science and Technology; Dr. Orduen Abunku, Health and Human Services; Dr. Jacob Omenka, Rural Development and Cooperatives; Dr Elizabeth Ugoh, Education and Mrs. Elizabeth Allagh, Women Affairs were alleged to have been dropped on political grounds.

A statement by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. David Salifu, identified those retained as the Commissioner for  Commerce and Industry, Mr. Terfa Ihimdan; Mr. Omadachi Oklobia, Finance; Mr. Comrad Wergba, Information and Mr. Alex Adum, Justice and Mr. Aondowase Chia, Commissioner for Youth and Sports.

Despite argument from different quarters as to the parameter used in sacking the 11 and retaining the remaining five, analysts have concluded that it was not based on competence and performance but rather political considerations.

A lawyer, Mr. Ejimbi Oloja, explained that majority of those retained had no business being in the government if the sacking is based on performance. “Without mentioning names, some of those retained have been the worst performers in the government and their retention had made rubbish of the dissolution.

This notwithstanding, lobbying is now in top gear from several quarters to replace the sacked commissioners. Indications showed that two of the commissioners might be recalled out of the eleven, following findings by the governor that they had performed above board and needed more time to conclude ongoing jobs in their various ministries.

Ngbede, Tondu and Omenka have had several groups making a case for their reinstatement. A source told THISDAY that the three commissioners were outstanding both in performance and contribution to party development in the state.

Reacting to the development, rights activist and National President of Concerned Benue Citizens Coalition, Philip Agbese, said some politicians in the state must be made to undergo psychiatric test before occupying public offices in the future.

He hailed Suswam for his timely decision to save the state from the hands of wicked elements in his cabinet that were playing politics with virtually everything connected to the development of the state.

"The governor has shown that his government remains truly committed to delivering the dividends of democracy to the good and largest population of our people, Governor Suswam should go further to handover those with questionable character and fraudulent mindset to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for appropriate actions,” he said.

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