The federal government has agreed to pay N8billion to the Benue State government as compensation for the destruction of life and property in Zaki-Biam in 2001 by the federal troops.
Benue State governor Gabriel Suswam, who disclosed this to LEADERSHIP yesterday, said that officials of the state and the federal government had to settle out-of-court to reach the agreement. He was optimistic the amount would soon be released to the state.
Suswam added that the state had obtained a favourable judgement from the Court of Appeal that awarded it N40 billion compensation for the destruction of Zaki-Biam, but had to resort to an out-of-court settlement following the federal government's inability to pay.
The development is coming on the heels of the judgment of a federal high court in Port-Harcourt that recently ordered the federal government to pay N36.7billion as compensation to the Odi community in Bayelsa State for a military action on the community in 1999 ordered also by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
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."
Asked why the state government did not insist on the execution of the judgement, Suswam explained that it was to foreclose the federal government from proceeding to the Supreme Court for further adjudication.
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."
The governor also disclosed that the state would, before the end of this year, be linked to the national grid. He said that this "feat" is being achieved 40 years after the state was created.
"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.
But the governor said that he was challenged by the state's low rating on the HIV prevalence. He said that 49 health centres were being funded by the state government to tackle this menace and urged the indigenes to go for tests to ascertain their status.
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."