Recently, the lawmaker representing Benue North Senatorial District, Rt. Hon. Gabriel Torwua Suswam, was quoted as having protested against the siting of federal institutions in Zone C Senatorial zone of the state. He was also quoted as opposing the choice of an ambassador from the same zone, much to the chagrin of the Idoma-speaking of the state. However, when journalists who hail from the zone sought clarifications from the two-tenure governor of the state, he bared this and his stand on the 2023 governorship tussle.
Recently, you challenged the nomination of an Idoma man for ambassador? You also protested against the choice of Zone C for the siting of Federal University of Health Sciences at Otukpo; why all these protestations on the floor of the Senate even when you were once our governor?
You know my position is a very difficult one. People still look at me as if I am still the governor. Representation is a very difficult thing. Now, I was governor, I was representing the entire Benue. Now, I represent a zone and once you represent a zone, you must be seen to be speaking for and behalf of that zone. There are difficult things that come with that.
I start with the issue of the College of Education. When they gave six colleges of education across the country, the understanding was that they would be taken to where there were no federal institutions, but some things happened. The permanent secretary who is from Zone C somehow moved the college to his village.
And now, the Federal University of Health Sciences; all these federal institutions were given at the same time. That one, it was Oga who fought for it. President Goodluck did not approve it, and eventually Buhari did and they even allocated some funding to it. And so as a representative of a zone that has no federal institution, yes I wrote to the minister. Yes, when I wrote, I told Abba Morro, I said I was going to write, because my zone does not have anything. If I don’t write, tomorrow something will come and we will still not get it. And so I wrote to the minister saying this federal institution, some are in Zone B, the two that are given now, all of them have been taken to Zone C and Zone A, my zone, does not have a single federal institution. That was the content of the letter. And I did not hide it; I took it to the minster. The minister met with the permanent secretary and what they did was that the minister of education told me this. He said, when they allocated one to his state, his emirs came and requested that he should put it in his place, but he said no, ‘I already have a federal institution, so it is going to another Senatorial District.’ So, if it is true that Zone A does not have a federal institution and the other two senatorial zones have federal institutions, then it is only fair that one of them should go to Zone A.
It was not on the basis that I don’t like the Idoma, but that I am fighting for my zone so that I can also have something. That is the essence of representation in that place.
Now, the issue of ambassadors, when they brought the first ambassador, a career ambassador, your people and a lot of Tiv people who were high up there, so I protested, but they said no.
You would recall that when I was governor, there were three career ambassadors, some I bought them vehicles; they were all Idoma – it was only one career ambassador that was Tiv.
As governor, I had more powers then to kick against it, but I didn’t. Most of those people are very close to me. Those Idoma ambassadors were the closest to me. One was in Japan. When I went to Japan he was with me, Adole was there and then this other one that is now retired. There were all very close to me. As governor, there were three of them at the same time. It was only Ambassador Orchive then who was ambassador in Argentina. I did not kick against it then. That was when I had the power to say no.
This time, I am representing Zone A. If I don’t talk, they won’t re-elect me. I have to talk. I have to do the politics; I have to talk for my people. So, I said okay, the career ambassador came. If you listen to the tape, Abba Moro was the one who met me. He said this one I should sign that he is his person. Up till today I don’t know him. He said I should just sign that this one is from my zone. So, we signed. Up till today, I have not met the man. Ordinarily, he should have brought the man. He did not, but I just signed for him.
Meanwhile, Zone C had an ambassador; I think he is serving in Algeria or somewhere… I have forgotten.
So, when they brought the two names of career ambassadors, I said haaahh, this Zone A, is it that we are jinxed or something? That was the basis of the argument; it is not on the basis that you don’t like the people, no! I was talking and it didn’t happen, and at the end of the day, all of us were feeling bad. When they nominated this ambassador, since Tarzoor left for APC, he has not visited me or called me for once. He came straight here and said look o, they have nominated me; he also went to Abba Moro, he went to Oker Jev. This man that you people are talking about, has not called Abba Moro, so even Abba Moro was not happy.
How can you nominate an ambassador from my constituency and he will never come to see us. He did not see any one of us. Aside from that I said if Zone C has three ambassadors, they should step one down and bring that one to Zone A, my zone. My closest friends are Idoma. When they started writing I called John. I said John, I heard that you incited your people to be insulting me on social media, but he laughed. Harris Ogbole spent almost three to four hours with me here and they didn’t allow him to rest. I told Harris that I am no longer governor o. If I don’t talk for my people from Zone A they will vote me out.
So, your Tiv people were happy with you?
While you people were hitting me, the Tiv people were also hitting me saying that I didn’t want Tarzoor to be cleared. You see, it has got nothing to do with not liking a people. Anything that Abba brings to the Senate, I am there to support him. At times I will be the one encouraging him. I said well, your people too are difficult, if you don’t talk they will say that you are not doing anything. So, most times we encourage our each other. That day, I went to his seat, I said ‘Abba, I am going to oppose this o,’ and he asked why, and I told him the reason I was going to oppose it.
I knew that the Senate President would not agree. At the end of the day the Senate President disagreed because at the end of the day, a lot of senators expressed discontent with what happened in their states. The same thing with the senator from Taraba state; he said everything was given to one place and that he would never agree. So, it was not only me. So, when you say that next time when it comes, Zone A will get something. Otherwise if I don’t talk, next time it will go to Zone C again. So, what will I tell the people that I am doing at the national assembly? People have become too sensitive to issues. Any little thing is misinterpreted.
On Mark, Abba Moro
I will give you an example. David Mark even as Senate President was representing a zone. But when it comes to Benue issue, all of us will join hands, especially when it is a security issue. Now, when Abba brings a motion, all of us will be together on it. We are together on anything that concerns Benue. When it comes to the issue of sharing projects, he will carry his own, I will carry my own and Oker Jev will carry his own. For instance, I chair the committee on power, when we were allocating monies, I called them and gave them theirs. I said this one is from me, but let me allocate small to you people since it is within my powers as the chairman.
So, when I was going to oppose this, I went to his seat and said ‘Abba, you have taken more than your fair share. I have to take mine.’ When there were too many complaints across the states, the Senate president said we should just leave it and we passed it. That man, till today, does not know who Abba is talk less of some of us who are not from his zone.
My comment was on a basis that I represent a zone and that zone is not having a fair deal in the scheme of things. And that is what I am talking about. It is unfortunate that it appears as if I am saying that they should remove something from Zone C and give me, but politics in the national assembly you know how it goes. If you don’t talk for your people they will say when he was there what was he doing?
Now, what is your particular message to the Idoma concerning this?
The politics in the national assembly is politics of representation. At all time you must be seen to be talking for the people you represent. That is not to say you hate the other people. When issues are before the floor and the Igbo are saying that they have been marginalised, we are not given this, it is not that they hate the other section of the country. It is just that they talking for the people that they represent. That is the politics of national assembly. And so my comment on this issue is that are mentioned here is no way to be interpreted as Suswam not liking Idoma. Because as governor, I showed clearly that this are part of my people in terms of appointment, in terms infrastructure and so on. I cannot come to the national assembly and hold a different view or different disposition. It that I represent Zone A. Quite frankly, if you look at the way appointments at the federal level were given, you will observe that there is no single person from Zone A. So, I must be seen to be talking as the voice of those people. So, the Idoma man should not take it as if I am talking against the Idoma.
For me, there is no way to say Suswam who has many close friends among the Idoma doesn’t like them. It is unfortunate that it is Idoma; if these appointments were tilted in someone else’s favour I would have said the same thing. I said you people already have an ambassador, and more was to be given to you. The Idoma are my people; we are always together. Some people even said I am a tribalist, but I just laughed over it.
Abba Moro and I are close. Most times I will be in his office and he also usually comes to my office…we discuss issues. Once there is an issue concerning Zone C he will tell me and when he moves it, I will always support it.
Is that why he has not said anything yet?
No, if he has not said anything it is because I went to him, I didn’t hide it from him. He was protesting, but I told him no, but he was still raising his hands, but they did not permit him. He even came to me to ask whether or not I was the one that told the Senate President not to recognise him. He felt bad that the man did go to see any of us; Tarzoor went to our houses, he came here, he went Oker Jev’s House, he went to Abba’s house.
Okay now, Your Excellency, will you show the love that you have for the Idoma people in 2023?
You know governorship is a consensus thing and I believe that the Idoma elders are reaching out. It is not a decision that I as a person can sit down and make. And so what I expect the Idoma elders to do is to begin to reach out. Reach out to people like us, reach out to the governor, reach out to leaders like Akume, leaders like Gemade. This is because once there is a consensus there won’t be any problem.
When I was contesting for governor, in spite of the fact that our leader, Senator Mark, said he wanted an Idoma, I would go and sit down with him and say ‘oga this thing you must give me o.’ We would even joke about it; he would say ‘it is okay if you get nomination I will support you, but for nomination I support an Idoma person.’ Why was he saying that” It’s because that is the zone he was representing even though he was the Senate president. Do you understand? If you represent a zone, you must speak for that zone. And for me we have a lot of time that you people can do the politics. This is because I have seen a lot of social media posts that will not augur well for the cause. You people must use a lot of diplomacy.
When I was contesting, at that time the Idoma people said they would not support me as they wanted their own. Sometimes, I would go and stay one week in Idoma land. So, this is not something to be hostile about. It is pure diplomacy. See what you people have done. There is something you felt that I said that does not represent your interest and you decided to come and meet me here. That is diplomacy. Next, even if you carry anything the way I will approach you will be different because of this interaction.