By Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu – Benin City
Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State few days ago called for a probe into the claim by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) that it spent N20 billion on intervention in roads projects in the state in the last six months which the government said is outrageous and that most alarmingly, the roads were gross of low quality and standard while some were awarded but were never done.
He also attributed the substandard job by the Commission in some parts of Benin City as responsible for the recent flooding in parts of the city and that the state government is exploring the option of suing contractors handling the Commission’s projects for delivering sub-standard projects and seek compensation for the victims.
The governor spoke when he received the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on Abandoned NDDC projects.
But while this call by Obaseki was getting commendation from some stakeholders in the state, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) called for a probe of the N150 billion Benin Water storm project which the first phase had already exhausted N30b sourced from the bond market in 2011.
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The water storm project was initiated by the administration of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole which is designed to give a permanent solution to flooding challenges in Benin City when completed.
Vanguard gathered that from the design, the state government was to source for another N30b to continue the second phase of the project once the first N30b was repaid. It was gathered that the N30b has since been paid back by the state government last year but the current government has decided not to go back to the bond market for new funding.
State Chairman of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih while on tour of the project sites accused Obaseki of playing the ostrich in the water storm project as he was part of the project from inception.
Orbih called on Obaseki to stop the blame game, saying that “We are aware that the bond taken by the government to embark on this project was facilitated by Godwin Obaseki as chairman of the then Economic Team of Adams Oshiomhole’s government in Edo
He said: “I call for a comprehensive probe of this project, from the time they acquired the N30 billion bond, those who facilitated the bond, those who were paid the commission of N1.5 billion and those who are now shifting blame for the disaster here.
“They have been part of this project and they must account for the public fund that has been wasted here. You can see this is just a mere erosion control project. They called it a very big title; the Benin stormwater project. There is no storm here, there is no stormwater project, there is no earthquake, nothing. It is all a deceit. They have constructed a gutter that has become a permanent habitat for mosquitoes.
“You will also agree with me that the Edo people have seen for themselves the blame-game of the APC government in the State.
Orbih said the State Government should not abandon the project which it was part and parcel of and that it should stop the blame-game and complete the project for respite to return to the affected area.
The lawmaker elect for Uhunwonde constituency, Hon Washington Osifo in a recent interview alluded to the alleged abandonment of the project. He told Vanguard; “Look at the way the state is? When it rains, there is flooding. I was in Benin, I could not move even around GRA, flooding everywhere.
The Water storm project that I was part of and Governor Obaseki was part as the Economic Adviser where is it today? He was part of the project from the beginning to the end, he followed through in all the borrowings, he introduced it, he was there in the allocation of the funds he masterminded.
He was in charge of the bond we took. In the allocation of the funds, he was part of it, in the design he was part of it. He knew what we were going to use it for. He knew we campaigned for continuity.
But Obaseki in his reaction through his Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie said the water storm has not been abandoned.
He said, “It is disheartening that the opposition political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is playing to the gallery concerning the project.
Osagie said the project is multi-phased and is being executed simultaneously in different parts of the city. “The party (PDP) cannot go to one spot (Uwelu East & West Catchment Portion) of the project and draw a conclusion on the fate of the entire project.”
According to him, “we advise the PDP to be more pragmatic and desist from a witch-hunt approach to opposition politics. Instead of trying to sensationalise issues, they should get the facts right and go to the press with the true state of things; not half-truths and falsehood.
“We want to use this opportunity to advise members of the public to disregard allegation that the state government is borrowing again to finance the work. Such allegations are baseless.”
On NDDC projects in the state, Obaseki said what was supposed to be a blessing is now a curse to the people of the state, he said the NDDC contractor that worked in a recently flooded area; Apostolic street covered the manhole that was built to receive water despite warnings from the residents in the area and that that was responsible for the recent flooding in the area.
A visibly angry Obaseki who led members of the committee round some of the project areas said “NDDC is like a curse to us in Edo state rather than being a blessing, I called them a couple of months ago when we received complaints about the quality of work being done by their contractors, they just ignored us. NDDC is not a state on its own and it cannot act as such, they design projects without reference to the state.
We will wake up in the morning and we will see contractors who claim that they are form NDDC and we just see them working without seeing the designs, we do not know how the designs tie into our own projects. Now we understand that this last interim management claimed that N256b was spent in emergency works. N20b for Edo state in the last six months, we need to see where they are. It is criminal.”
Obaseki said Igbesanmwan and St Saviour roads were re-awarded by the state government after they awarded by NDDC in 2012 but abandoned by the after receiving funds.
“This kind of action is embarrassing to our administration and causing us political problems as our citizens are confused about the roads we are constructing and the sub-standard roads executed by NDDC contractors,” he said.
He said the ongoing work at the Benin –Abraka road was supposed to be jointly funded by the NDDC and the state government but that the NDDC has reneged in paying its own part of the bargain despite agreements being signed.
“Benin-Abraka road, we went into a tripartite agreement that NDDC will bring 40 per cent and between Edo state and its agency will come up with 60 per cent, we have come up with our 60 per cent that is why you see the amount of work that is being done so far but NDDC, as usual, has reneged, even though they signed an agreement with us, they have refused to come up with any funding despite the fact that this road traverses the highest oil-producing local governments and oil-producing communities in Edo state”
Leader of the committee, Sergius Oguns said the committee was visiting Edo State to see the state of NDDC projects particularly those that have been abandoned. “It is obvious that they have not partnered with the state government. For example, they are talking about projects awarded in 2012 and seven years after, we can’t see any visible projects, a contractor came to site and now they are telling us that there is a variation to get to a discharge point seven years after and there are people living in these communities so these are some of the things we are going to take back to Abuja to make our recommendations.
Meanwhile, the state government has found an ally in the Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice, ANEEJ, whihc has thrown its weight behind the call for a probe of NDDC jobs in the state.
ANEEJ Executive Director, the Rev David Ugolor, in a statement to the media said that the reports concerning the ineffectual activities of the NDDC were disheartening especially as the huge sums of monies being appropriated to the NDDC and other Niger Delta Institutions, NDIs have not been put to good use to meet the collective hopes and aspirations of the peoples of the Niger Delta.
He said the position of the state government reiterates an earlier position by ANEEJ in a report; Citizen Report Card on Niger Delta Institutions which is published in 2015.
He lamented that President Buhari in 2018 made an extra 18 per cent budgetary allocation to the NDDC. “That expression of political will, however, has not matched the projects on the ground. What is the region really doing with the 13 per cent derivation fund?’, the Rev Ugolor asked.