Posted by News Express | 26 August 2018 | 2,633 times
I liked Adams Oshiomhole based on distant personal observation and what I saw during his time at the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). His name evoked the fight for the poor and underpaid Nigerian working class. Outwardly, he looked unostentatious in his unmistakable and unassuming khaki clothes. Oh, lest I forget! Who wouldn’t like his penchant for circumlocution, garrulity and verbosity?
In Benin City, when it rains, it pours. Yes, it pours ferociously; sometimes almost to the point of piercing through roof shingles. Not surprisingly, history books described Benin City as a rainforest. It is no surprise that rainfall in Benin City results in uncontainable erosion that typically looks like the moment when God destroyed the world with water.
In several neighbourhoods around Benin metropolis, residents have abandoned their homes due to overwhelming uncontrollable flooding. The streets almost always get shut down after less than five minutes of rainfall. Decades after decades (for generations), the flooding situation has worsened, with billions of naira purportedly spent by successive governments, without anything to show for it. No city-wide robust effective erosion control system has ever been constructed.
The plight of Benin City dwellers during the rainy season is like a page out of a science fiction – cars completely submerged in water, as driving around becomes impossible; residents abandon their homes to live with relatives in other parts of the city; kids literally “swim” in flood water to and from school. It is a complete mess during the rainy season.
Edo people wanted a change! They have been exploited and neglected for too long by successive kleptomaniacs in government. When the former governor, Adams Oshiomhole, came onboard as a gubernatorial candidate, promising to use Edo State commonwealth to construct roads, control erosion, build new infrastructures, end the menace of pillaging public funds with impunity, Edo people latched onto him with their support like flies to faeces.
On March 20, 2008, Edolites were excited to hear that Edo State election tribunal nullified the election of Oserheimen Osunbor and declared Oshiomhole the winner. It was even more euphoric when on November 11, 2008, a Federal Appeal Court sitting in Benin City upheld the ruling of the state's election petitions tribunal, declaring Oshiomhole the governor of Edo State, after months of electoral legal challenges.
Edo people, home and in the Diaspora, had so many expectations when the former NLC president became their new governor. They have supported him all through the 2007/2008 pre-and-post election imbroglio and had affectionately nicknamed him Oshio Baba. Culturally, when Edo people call you by an affectionate nickname, you know that they got your back.
Before Oshiohmole’s administration (there is no need to reference Lucky Igbinedion’s because it was a disaster to Edo people), Benin City, the capital of Edo State, was almost as ancient as it was when we were teenagers. In addition to the bane of erosion, the few major roads were very bad and the side streets were unpaved and not motorable. Driving on the unpaved undulating potholed streets would cause any vehicle’s struts and suspension to go bad in a blink of an eye.
It was August 2013. I arrived in Benin City with so much expectation to see the ongoing development projects heralded by Oshiomhole. On entering the city, I noticed earth-moving pieces of equipment of Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) all over every nook and cranny of the city. The air was dusty and murky with burning sensation in the eyes, as what appeared to be massive road construction was taking place.
Uselu-Lagos Road, a pivotal road for East-West commuters, was closed down for dualisation with side-walk. I observed a few portable solar-powered traffic lights in some major intersections. No one could have argued that “something” was happening. I was elated and began to pour encomium on Oshiomhole for his initiative to re-build the demoralised, exploited and forsaken Great Benin Empire! I took photographs of RCC’s construction equipment and published articles on the ongoing work for Edolites in the Diaspora to keep them abreast of what was happening in their state capital. The question then that kept coming to my mind was: Where did Oshiomhole get all the funds to embark on such projects that the previous governments couldn’t? Speaking with folks on the ground, I was made to understand that Oshiomhole had raised local taxes, initiated new sources of internal revenue generation and, above all, was borrowing ungodly sums of money from the World Bank.
As I debated with some of those that had concerns about Oshiomhole’s “genuineness” and excessive World Bank borrowing on the backs of Edo people, I defended him. My position then was that if he took World Bank loans and honestly spent it on visible infrastructural developmental projects, I had no problem with that. Obviously, there were machines on the ground working, or so it seemed. I had no reason to doubt the judicious use of the World Bank loans.
To fulfil his promise to stop the perennial flooding situation in Benin City during the rainy season, a couple of friends told me that Oshiomhole had taken N30 billion (yes billion with a “B”) World Bank loan to start what he called “Benin Storm Water Project”. Videos of the imaginary project and loan are well-published online: just Google “Benin Storm Water Project”.
The Benin Storm Water Project was supposed to control/stop erosion in every part of Benin City. What a great idea, I thought! However, some of the locals on the ground had told me that it was a conduit for the governor to syphon funds. But I argued that it couldn’t be, based on what I saw. “We know them, my guy. Don’t be deceived by all these activities. Na make-believe show be this, so make World Bank inspectors believe to say the loan is being used properly”, a friend lamented.
Public information shows that in 2014, Adams Oshiomhole awarded the N30 billion Benin Storm Water Project to Hitech Nigeria Limited. More than four years later, the contractor is nowhere to be found; the hasty and lack of proper engineering design open deep voids drainage channel dug by the purported contractor have worsened the erosion peril for the people
Since the 2018 rainy season began, about seven people have been reportedly killed by flooding so far, including a six-year-old child who was swept away by erosion. Edo people blame the worsening of the erosion on the abandoned open drainage channels dug during the theatrical public show of the shady project. With the mind-blowing and heart-wrenching images and videos of erosion in Benin City (in the year of our Lord 2018!), hopefully, the number of death caused by erosion would not increase dramatically before the end of the current rainy season.
While Edo people are currently suffering from the 2018 rainy season erosion, the question is: Who should be held responsible for the non-execution of the N30 billion Benin Storm Water Project? Was the contractor paid for the project? How much was paid and how much work was done?
Why can’t ex-governor Oshiomhole and the contractor be asked to give an account of the loan? Somebody should be giving an account of what happened to the Benin Storm Water Project. As in most Nigerian city/states, Edo State has become a state where no one can question the government. The state governments are god to themselves; not accountable to the people. The public fund is their personal ATM.
When I visited Benin City in 2017, I can attest that the re/construction of some major roads has eased driving around the metropolis. But the erosion has not changed a bit. One thing is sure: making a left or right turn from a major road into a side street is like a journey from the 21st century to medieval times. More or less like a whited sepulchre!
It does not matter how long it takes, one day a new generation of Edo/Nigeria leaders will rise, ask questions and hold someone accountable for the N30 billion Benin Storm Water Project that was never executed. It is the responsibility of those currently running the affairs of the state across the political spectrum to determine what part of history they want to belong.
God bless Nigeria and may God bless the people of Edo State.
•Paul Omoruyi can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: paul_omoruyi
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