The Federal Government has agreed to compensate for the destruction of lives and property in Zaki-Biam, Benue State in a November 2001 raid by the Nigerian Army by paying the sum of N8 billion to the Benue State Government.
This was disclosed by the Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam yesterday who said that an out-of-court settlement had been reached by officials of the state and the federal government. He also expressed optimism that the sum would soon be released.
Suswam added that though the state had a Court of Appeal judgement in its favour ordering compensation to the tune of N40 billion to be paid to it; it had resorted to an out-of-court settlement due to the FG’s inability to pay.
This comes just as a Federal High Court sitting in Port-Harcourt recently awarded N36.7billion as compensation to the Odi community in Bayelsa State for a military action ordered by the Federal Government during the Obasanjo administration in 1999.
Suswam said, “We are almost being paid. We took the federal government to court and we got judgement of N40billion. About three years ago, judgement was delivered in our favour. The federal government said it cannot pay that amount. So, we agreed to settle out of court and we agreed that the state should be paid N8billion.
“Life cannot be replaced, but justice would have been done and it will go a long way in changing things. At least, with the money, certain monuments can be built in honour of the victims who were killed. People who lost properties can also benefit.”
When asked why the state government did not insist on the execution of the judgement, Suswam explained that it was to prevent the federal government from proceeding to the Supreme Court for further adjudication, which would have dragged the case longer.
The governor said, “We have had meetings with President Goodluck Jonathan and the minister of finance on this matter. When they said N8billion, I said at least the people will have something.”
Speaking further, the governor disclosed that by the close of the year, the state would be linked to the national grid, 40 years after the creation of the state.
“One of the things that I can beat my chest and say that I also achieved in my political career is the fact that we will be linked to the national grid probably by the end of this year. Now, we have the 330 KVA line almost linked to Benue State with a sub-station in Makurdi. Given the level of work I have seen, we will be linked at the end of this year. I assure you that most of the power problems of Benue State will be sorted out,” Suswam added.
However, the governor said he was experiencing the challenge of the state’s low HIV prevalence rating and added that 49 health centres were being funded by the government to tackle this menace as he encouraged the indigenes to for tests and verify their statuses.
He said, “I am not happy; the figure now shows that we are second from behind to Anambra State. We were first with 12 per cent but from the report in the last meeting we had, we are now 8.3 per cent or 8.4 per cent.
“When I came, a lot of people were afraid to know their status, but I offered myself to be tested in public and a lot of the people said OK if the governor can present himself to be tested, I have nothing to fear. I encouraged them that if they know their status, they have solved 50 per cent of the problem.”