ON assumption of office in 2008, Edo State governor, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, left no one in doubt that the Airport Road, a major gateway to Benin City, the state capital, was one of his prime projects sitting atop others in terms of priority.
Among other things, he was emphatic that its old dilapidated ambience did not speak well of a state in need of investments that will help overhaul its economy.
In truth, the road leading to the airport, beginning from the historic Ring Road, now Kings Square, was in such a bad state that as the first real image of a state in quest of real economic development, merely beholding it could induce would-be investors into doubting the seriousness of the state government’s avowed commitment to its investment drive.
In other words, if one was to seriously consider the importance of first impression, there was no doubt that on seeing the state of the road, would-be investors would pass an on-the-spot vote of no confidence on the state government’s investment drive.
The road was important for another reason. Benin City was, before the coming of the Oshiomhole administration, a sight to behold whenever it rained.
The situation was so bad that an average rainfall would, for hours on end, bring the metropolis to a standstill due largely to the fact that it had insufficient drainage system to evacuate the deluge into the Ogba and Ikpoba rivers, its major exit routes. For these obvious reasons, the administration decided to leave nothing to chance in its determination to reconstruct the road by making it functionally relevant both as an erosion evacuation route and a welcoming sight.
Hence, there was no need for the services of a rocket scientist to conceive it as a dual carriage way, complete with huge drainage channels, walkways and other niceties that would make it serve those relevant purposes. But opponents of the Oshiomhole administration, mostly members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, went to town with loads of rumour concocted to undermine not just the relevance of the project, but also to create the impression that the Governor had nothing but contempt for the culture, tradition and indeed, the entire Bini people.
First, they went to town with the grossly debilitating and unfounded tale that in reconstructing the road in the manner the state government envisaged, a large chunk of the wall bordering the palace of Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolor, Oba Erediauwa, the revered Benin monarch, would needlessly, be hacked down.
Bent on whipping up ethnic sentiment against the government and in particular, the Governor, they concluded that the action, deliberately designed by him, amounted to a taboo no sane true born of the land should condone as it is contemptuous of the Benin culture, tradition and race.
In other words, they were desperate to also create the impression Oshiomhole had no regard for the same people that made it possible for him to become governor in the first instance. But for the intervention of the monarch who gave his go-ahead, having received assurances that no such demolition plan was in the offing, the reconstruction would probably have become a still birth.
Not fazed by their failure to whip up ethnic sentiments, they cooked up more caustic tales. Though each was dismissed with a measure of ignominy reserved for outcasts, they managed to hold on to their claim that state government officials deliberately over inflated the contract by designing it as a conduit for sucking life out of state funds.
To give credence to their claims, they attempted to force the people into accepting their position by harping the delay in its completion, caused primarily by the unwarranted demand by the first contractor for an upward review of agreed contract cost as a proof that the project was a white elephant project. So pervasive was the claim that it became a campaign issue during the 2011 governorship election.
Their governorship candidate, General Charles Airhiavbere(rtd), declared unequivocally that his first task in office as governor, assuming he won the contest, would be to probe the Oshiomhole administration in respect of the contract. Though the election has been won and lost, they have not given up on their desire to continue spreading pervasive and deliberate rumours meant to misinform the general public about the road contract.
Thus far, the position of the state government is to live with an inherent democratic norm in which every voice, no matter how discordant it is, must be allowed to be heard. In doing so, it equally but inadvertently accommodated the reality in which the voice of a largely misinformed group can sometimes get so loud it gives the impression that every other voice has acquiesced to whatever position it is canvassing.
The result is that like a lie told too many times, the opposition false tales took the semblance of truth. Obviously, the only option for setting the records straight is to put its details in public space.
The road in question is an open secret: 7.1 kilometres six-lane asphaltic dual carriage way running from the historic Kings Square to Ogba river. For reasons of its strategic importance both as an impressive gateway to the state capital and intrinsic part of the Storm Water project built to successfully evacuate erosion from many some parts of the metropolis, it was designed to incorporate many necessary features, including extensive primary, secondary underground drains and other niceties.
For instance, besides the 18-kilometre1, 1.8- diametre underground primary drain, some of its other features include a 20-kilometre walkways, 15-kilometre of service ducts, 252 units of dual arm street light poles to cover the entire length of the road and an 83-metre long 1.2 x 1.2 rectangular secondary underground drainage. Also included are six kilometres of drains on associated roads, 14.2 kilometres of secondary drains, trees, hedges, grasses and five boreholes.
Beyond the major road itself, the state government also included the reality that without correcting the state of adjoining link roads and streets, the aim of using it to evacuate water out of the city centre would never be achieved. For that important reason, it designed the contract to cover 27 connecting link roads and or streets, covering 3197.32 metres.
The affected roads/streets, also there for all to see, include Adesogba Road, Ezote, Reservation Road, Akenzua Road, Boundary Road, Airport entrance, Ihama, Oni Street (Off Ihama), Giwa Amu Road, Airport exit, Adesuwa Street, Ijebuor Street and Benoni Hospital Roads junction. Others are Ighiwiyisi/Eweka Way, Owamarovia Street, Esogban Avenue, Oko Central Road, Oko Prison Road, Omoregbie Way, Irhirihi/ADP Junction, Princess Ukponwan Street, Ogiesoba Street, Aimuomwosa, Vegetable Market, Golf Course Road, Airport Road Alignment and Oba Market Road.
Mr. ERNEST OMOARELOJIE, a public affairs anlyst, wrote from Benin City, Edo State.