In Edo State, Governor Lucky Igbinedion faces a vote of no confidence from people of the state and even President Olusegun Obasanjo over his performance for the seven years that he has been in office
For Edo State Governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, and his supporters, 9 July was a day of celebration. Igbinedion, who was marking his return allegedly from a trip to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, was unrestrained in celebration. Called “the People’s Governor” by his aides, Igbinedion’s guest list read like a miniature Who Is Who of Nigerian politics. On hand to rejoice with Igbinedion over his conquest of Africa’s highest mountain range were Adams Oshiomhole, President, Nigerian Labour Congress; Dr. Godwin Oboh, former Managing Director of Union Bank plc; Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (retd), former Vice President; and Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, governor of Kaduna State, among others from within and outside the country. The guests were treated to stories of Igbinedion’s experience on his trip.
The governor also hired Hugh Masakela, world famous South African jazz trumpeter, to provide music.
Igbinedion was not the only proud man at the party. He was supported by his wife, Eki, and father, Chief (Sir) Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin, who was the chief host. Sir Igbinedion likened his son’s feat to a journey to the land of the Eskimos in the North Pole. The governor, he added for emphasis, was the first Edo State governor and Nigerian leader to ascend the highest mountain in Africa. Beaming with satisfaction, the Esama warned his guests to avoid the mountain range because it is fraught with dangers. All moustaches, the Edo governor lapped up his father’s words of praise.
Outside the circle of Igbinedion’s supporters, the party was considered a celebration of nothingness. The consensus in Edo State is that Igbinedion’s rule as governor since 1999 has brought nothing, but despair to the citizenry. For this, he has earned a string of derogatory names. The most popular is ‘Governor Do Nothing’. Patrick Oronsaye, Chairman, Democratic People’s Party, DPP, in Edo State, described the governor’s tenure in very unflattering words. “Igbinedion’s first four years were a mirage. His last three years have been a nightmare. And that is putting it mildly.”
The governor’s father once offered a tacit admission of his son’s failure during his first term. In the build-up to the 2003 elections, the Esama pleaded that the people should allow his son one more term to correct his mistakes. “You say my son failed. When a pupil fails his examinations, what he or she requires is a second chance. You should give him a second chance,” said the old man.
Curiously, the widespread criticism of the governor did not hurt his chances of re-election. For his support for the governor, the Esama has incurred the wrath of the citizens. A source said the senior Igbinedion’s car was, on one occasion, pelted with stones while navigating a bad spot along Textile Mill Road. The people were said to be protesting his son’s failure to mend the road. The governor’s father was said to have responded thus: “I am not Igbinedion, the governor.” The spot was repaired after the incident, but Governor Igbinedion’s reputation continued to flag.
In fact, many people in the state believe that the trip to Kilimanjaro was the governor’s sole achievement since 1999. Condemnation of his performance has come even from outside the state, notably from President Olusegun Obasanjo. On two occasions, an angry Obasanjo ordered the governor to provide evidence of what he did with all the allocations the state had received since he became governor. On the first occasion, a stakeholders’ meeting on Niger Delta held at Aso Villa, aired live on television, an angry Obasanjo interrupted a stammering Igbinedion to clearly tell his people what he has been doing with allocations to Edo State.
At another meeting called by the President on 18 July 2006, Igbinedion neither attended nor sent a representative. The next day, Igbinedion, accompanied by Mike Ogiadomhe, his deputy, on a mission to the Presidency to explain his absence, was told by Obasanjo to go back and prepare a comprehensive report of projects accomplished by his administration. The President actually refused to see the Edo governor. Rather, what he got was a letter reference SH/COS/F1/3/44 dated the same day and signed by Major-General Aliyu Muhammed (retd.), Chief of Staff to the President. The letter directed that “you should bring your progress report of projects accomplished by your state within the last three-month period under review, not later than next week.” Sources in Government House, Benin, were not sure the governor has submitted the report.
The President apparently spoke the minds of Edo State citizens. From inception till date, over N131 billion has been received from the federation account, excess crude oil revenues, value added tax and sundry dues. The amount, which covers the period between 1999 and 2005, is made up of N52.94 billion and N78.59 billion allocations meant for the state and local councils respectively. But the state, under Igbinedion, lacks the infrastructure and other developmental signposts to justify the huge revenue.
According to the breakdown, the state and local governments received N2.24 billion and N1.012 billion as total net emolument between June and December 1999. This was followed in 2000 by an increase in allocation as the two arms of government collected N7.66 billion and N4.14 billion respectively.
In 2001, the state coffers became richer with over N2 billion above the previous year, with a collection of N9.73 billion. The increase in allocation also ensured that the local councils’ fund went up. For the year in review, the councils received a total of N4.53 billion. Though 2002 was not as rosy as the year before it, the state government got N7.43 billion, just as the local government received N7.59 billion, N3billion in excess of the previous year’s allocation.
The following year, the state and councils received jumbo allocations, with each collecting N10.77 billion and N9.32 billion respectively. But all previous other allocations paled into insignificance, as allocations in 2004 dwarfed the election years. N17.77 billion and N11.87 billion went to the state and local governments respectively. These allocations went to an all-time high in 2005 with N22.97 billion and N14.45 billion received by the state and local governments respectively. In July 2006, a total of N10.54 billion, broken down into N4.12 billion and N6.42 billion went into the state government treasury as gross statutory allocations, 13 percent derivation, excess crude oil proceeds and sundry dues.
Over the same period, Edo State budget statistics indicated that the state received huge allocations. Though the magazine could not access budgetary allocations from 1999 to 2003, those of 2004, 2005 and 2006 showed that the state had enough to prosecute the various projects lined up since the Igbinedion administration assumed office in 1999. For instance, in 2004, the state budgeted a total of N26.86 billion, comprising N19.46 billion disbursed as recurrent expenditure and N7.39 billion as capital expenditure. The following year, the state made a budget of N45.12 billion while the figure rose in 2006 to N50.20 billion.
But as the annual budgetary and other allocations moved up, infrastructure and other signposts of development remained invisible. Where there are signs, it is either that they are not functional (as is the case of Auchi Fertiliser and Chemical Company and Ehor Fruit Juice Processing Plant) or vandalized almost immediately after they were set up. In most cases, they are abandoned midway. Similarly, the state also parades a litany of non-viable projects through which funds were believed to have been siphoned into private accounts. For example, the state went into the dredging of the Ikpoba River, two years after Igbinedion assumed office as governor of the state. Although there was no initial allocation for the project in the year’s budget, he went ahead anyway. Opposition mounted against it, supported by experts’ opinion that the project was not feasible, at least, in terms of the projected benefits. The governor remained unperturbed. Planned to be completed with N600million, the project was, however, abandoned to the consternation of the entire people of the state. That was after N350 million had gone down the drain on the project.
“The Ikpoba river dredging was not provided for [budget wise] when the government went ahead with it. The state government embarked on the project just to satisfy some personal interest. But it became clear later that not even the usual basic study was carried out before they started the dredging. And, of course, the dredging turned out to be an exercise in futility because, according to geographers, Ikpoba is a brook and not a river. Moreso, the Ikpoba River does not lead to anywhere and the dredging was not for the purpose of navigation. The project was aimless. Also, at the beginning, they said the project was to cost N600 million, though the governor never, at anytime, declared the exact amount of money spent. He, however, in one of his reckless outings, hinted that N300million was spent and that it meant nothing to a state government,” Godwin Erhahon told TheNEWS.
Within the same period, the state government went into the construction of the Iyekogba Housing Estate. To erect each unit, the government decided to import fabricated wood from Canada. A princely N1 billion, raised from the capital market, was set aside for the estate, planned to consist of 200 units. Although only 50 units have been completed, buyers have avoided the estate like a plague. Investigations conducted by this magazine revealed that the less-than-10 people who have shown interest did so only after coming to terms with the government that they will buy the houses only if allowed to reconstruct them to individual tastes.
Faced with less appealing options, the government, according to sources, gave in to this demand. That was only after reducing the asking price from its original N10 million- N15 million to between N5 million and N6 million. Only three of the structures were under reconstruction when TheNEWS visited the estate, while the rest, in various degrees of dilapidation, have been swallowed up and rendered inaccessible by a growing forest.
But Osadolor insisted that progress was being made. According to him, demand for the houses remains high. “I am sure you read the papers. We have advertised for the sale of the houses and those people who are paying for them are responsible and respectable people of the society,” Osadolor stated.
While agreeing that the houses may have been overvalued, Osadolor explained that another reason why a lot of people have not shown interest in the estate before now was because there was no police presence. But this magazine was reliably informed that most prospective buyers would prefer to acquire some of the undeveloped plots rather than those already developed. The problem, however, is that the undeveloped plots have been allocated to government officials and cronies of the governor. Erhahon believed this is the question the public should find answers to.
‘‘What should really interest the public is what the government has done with the second phase of the housing project. The large expanse of land that was meant for this phase has been shared among those in power,” Erhahon said.
Even as the Iyekogba Housing Estate remains a contentious project, many others in and around the state capital are no less so. As part of the state government’s development effort in the manufacturing sub-sector, it decided to construct the Ehor Pineapple and Fruit Juice Processing plant in Uhommode Local Government area of the state. By the time it was completed, over a billion naira had been spent, if the words of Frank Naboya, Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, are anything to go by. But when this magazine visited the factory, only two local guards, and no sign of production whatsoever, were observed. The magazine was told that vandals invaded the plant a few months ago and removed two huge processing machines, a reason for which the government had to deploy policemen to the plant. Osadolor told TheNEWS that in spite of the unfortunate development, the state government would soon complete the plant and sell it to private investors. “The Ehor juice factory is being brought back to life by the state government to ensure that it begins production very soon. Thereafter, it will be sold to willing buyers. The Chemical and Fertilizer plant (in Auchi) has also been worked on. These are the things we are talking about,” Osadolor explained.
But observers are concerned that the fate of the juice factory may be the same that visited the marble factory at Ikpesin, near Auchi. The factory was constructed by the state government at the sum of N560 million, but for reasons not explained, it went into skeletal production only to be sold soon afterwards at a ridiculous price of N50 million. The factory was bought by one Godwin Omene who later renamed it Goopex Mining and Processing Company. Erhahon told TheNEWS that on the day the cheque was handed over to the state government, it was celebrated as one of the major indications of Igbinedion’s administrative dexterity. “We made a huge profit from that sale. That is what they said. They also want to make the same profit on the sale of Ehor Fruit Juice processing plant. Is this government not wonderful?” he asked cynically.