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Mixed feelings as Obaseki demands probe of N30b Benin Storm water Project

By Michael Egbejule, Benin City
22 March 2021   |   3:45 am
The declaration by Governor, Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, to probe the N30b Benin stormwater project embarked upon under the administration of his immediate past predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole ....

The declaration by Governor, Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, to probe the N30b Benin stormwater project embarked upon under the administration of his immediate past predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole is currently generating mixed reactions among critical stakeholders in the state.

Obaseki, while inspecting the Textile Mill Road catchment of the project in Benin City few weeks ago had said the project was a ploy to defraud Edo people.

To the governor, the stormwater project was designed not to work for the benefit of Edo people, but that his administration will probe the project and recover all the money stolen through it. He noted that the project was a fraud, designed to defraud Edo people.

But the questions observers were asking is whether the incumbent, who was the Chief of Staff to Oshiomhole was not aware of the project when it was conceived under his former boss and why did he not probe the same contract when he (Obasaeki) succeeded Oshiomhole in 2016 under the platform of the erstwhile ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), before they fell apart few months to the last governorship election.

The development has however attracted reaction from the Edo State chapter of Coalition of Registered Political Parties (CRPP), which urged Obaseki, to shelve his plans to probe the N30bn Benin Stormwater Project. CRPP described the governor’s move as diversionary.

Governor Obaseki had during an inspection of the Textile Mill Road catchment of the storm water project recently, vowed to set up a panel to investigate how money meant for the project was spent, lamenting that the project was conceived by the previous administration to defraud Edo people.

Obaseki, who lambasted the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clem Agba, for his role in supervising the N30bn Benin City stormwater project, said it was conceived to defraud Edo people.

Agba was the Commissioner for Environment and Public Utilities and supervised the project under Oshiomhole, when the phase 1 was conceived and executed.

According to the governor: “The person who supervised this project, today, calls himself a Minister and is supervising bigger projects for the Federal Government. This is just unacceptable. What we are doing now is different from what was done in the last administration. There is almost a two-meter difference. So, there is no way that you can drain water from a low ground to a high plane.”

He added that the state government under Adams Oshiomhole spent N30 billion on the project, claiming to want to take away the people’s sufferings, but the project was not designed to meet that purpose.

“The stormwater project was a fraud. It was a contract to defraud Edo people. From what I see in this catchment area, the project was never designed to take water away from the area. The area was never drained.

Obaseki assured Edo people that his administration will do everything necessary to drain the area and restore life to the people, noting: “With what we have done now with less amount of money, we are going to finally drain this area and bring back life to the people in this catchment area. I don’t like probing but this time we have to set up a panel to get the facts of what happened. We can’t throw away such a large amount of money. People must be made to account for their time in service in government.”

Disagreeing with the planned probe, Edo state Chairman of CRPP, Mr. Samson Isibor, faulted the probe. He stressed that the motive behind the probe was to drag the name of Agba to the mud and eventually seek his removal from office.

Isibor while appealing for caution in the proposed probe said the planned probe may likely boomerang against Obaseki, whom he said was “part and parcel of the whole process of the Adams Oshiomhole’s administration that awarded the contract 12 years ago.

“The probe is diversionary and uncalled for. The Governor had just been re-elected for second term; we are yet to see his work. Now, he wants to set up a probe panel. was he not part of the government as at then? He was part of the system. In fact, he played a major role through Afrinvest Company. This probe panel will boomerang because he is part and parcel of the whole process. Was he not the Chairman of Edo State Economic Team that used to advice Oshiomhole?”

Isibor added that the Benin stormwater plan is a good project. “Government is a continuum and I think it is imperative to continue with the project initiated by his predecessor instead of destroying it in on the altar of politics. Dragging Agba into the matter is crystal clear that Governor Obaseki wants to remove the minister from Office.”

But in a contrary opinion, Edo Dynasty United Worldwide (EDUW), said the government should set up an independent investigative panel to unravel those who allegedly perpetrated the N30 billion Benin City Stormwater Project, which the governor said was conceived to defraud Edo people and labeled as a fraud.

President of the group, Comrade Brown Osewingie, made the call while reacting to Obaseki’s determination to probe the project.
He said, “Obaseki should nominate an independent body to carry out the investigation. The independent body must not appoint persons within the political party but should look for companies, call a town hall meeting, make it a public investigation, invite all the people that they need to investigate and whoever that is culpable should be sanctioned. We applaud the state government for standing up to investigate the N30 billion stormwater project. Some names have been mentioned. This is my concern, that stormwater project was awarded while governor Godwin Obaseki was the head the state’s economic team.

“While he was the governor of Edo State in the first one year in APC under the same party with his predecessor, Oshiomhole, how come he did not mention the stormwater project, he did not mention the corruption? Why now is he trying to call him out? He needs to answer to the people of Edo State. Yes, if the governor knew that it was wrong at a time and he did not say anything about it, he should tell us why he didn’t say anything about it and why he has to wait till now.

“We also applaud him for speaking up. Yes, we like that but he needs to also answer to us why he has to wait till now.”
Agba, who supervised the project as the then Commissioner for Environment and Sustainability, in a swift reaction accused Obaseki of spreading falsehood about the project with the aim to mislead the people.

Agba, said, “I dare say without any fear of contradiction, that this is not only false, but also outlandishly erroneous, misleading and patently mischievous. As the then chairman of the Edo State Economic Team, you were privy to the conception, planning, execution and expenditure on the project.”

He said the governor could not claim not to know that only the sum of N22 billion had been paid to the contractor for 70 per cent of the project delivered before he took over as governor in November 2016.

“By virtue of a resolution by the State Executive Council, the Commissioner for Finance was mandated to make payments directly to contractors for all projects of the government. I was, therefore, surprised at your decision to call me out on the expenditure of N30 billion on the project, knowing full well that I neither expended such money, nor did I have any mandate to authorise payments as the funds were not domiciled in the Ministry of Environment.

“This project was conceived as a legacy of our state government, a memorable one to the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa and drew the admiration of our sustainable development-oriented President,” Agba said.