ADEYINKA ADEDIPE examines the ongoing debate over dilapidated federal roads in Edo State after Governor Godwin Obaseki and his convoy got trapped in one of the roads
The rainy season has once again exposed the country’s soft underbelly as the flood has taken over sections of some states and left destruction in its wake. The roads have become the major casualty of the raging storm water, making people lose valuables and time in heavy traffic.
Benin, the Edo State capital, was not spared of this horror as the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, was recently trapped on Sapele Road, which was submerged after it rained for several days. The governor’s convoy got stuck at the RCC junction on the busy road. A passerby, who noticed that it was the governor’s convoy, brought out his phone to record the spectacle, and the footage went viral. It took a while for the convoy to get out of the flood. However, the message was clear; administrators will also suffer for their actions and inactions.
Every year, there have been palliative efforts to make the road motorable by the state government and concerned groups, but all to no avail as the Federal Government continues to ignore calls to fix it, while the Edo State Government said it would not use the state’s funds to fix federal roads.
The Civil Liberty Organisations and citizens have held protests over the parlous state of the road, but no result has been achieved. Despite being a federal road, some citizens think that the state government can repair it just like a former governor of the state, Adams Oshiomhole, did during his tenure with the state getting back the N16bn it spent under the current administration, while others feel it is high time the Federal Government woke up to its duty.
Speaking to Sunday PUNCH, a resident of the state, Osaro Idah, said that it would not be out of place for the state government to have an arrangement with the Federal Government to fix the road and get paid later, noting that it had become a death trap for people plying it every day, especially during the rainy season when the road becomes impassable.
Idah said, “There is nothing wrong if the state government repairs the road. We all know it is a federal road, but the majority of the people who use the road are Edo State indigenes. I guess the government can have an arrangement with the Federal Government, fix the road and get a refund later. As it is now, it’s not looking good for motorists and residents, who live along the bad stretch of the road.”
Another resident, who simply gave his name as Pius, urged the Federal Government to live up to its responsibility and fix the road that had become an albatross. He noted that the state also had a commitment to the people and needed money to provide amenities for the citizens.
“My take is that the Federal Government should come and fix this road and many other federal roads across the country. It is their duty. The state government has an obligation to the citizens in the state and if they start fixing federal roads, how will they accomplish this task?” he queried.
As expected, some heavyweights have intervened in the matter, which has taken a political colouration. Governor Obaseki fired the first salvo when he urged the Federal Government to live up to its responsibility as the state could not repair the road. He noted that federal roads in the state were in bad shape, adding that the Federal Government did not care about the state.
He said, “The state government cannot intervene in fixing the Benin-Auchi and Benin-Sapele roads because the Federal Government has already awarded contracts for the repair of the roads.
“My administration has done everything in its power to appeal to the Federal Government to look into the repair of the wide span of damaged roads in the state and we have drawn their attention to the failed portions of the Benin-Auchi Road, Benin-Sapele Road and the Benin-Lagos Road, particularly the Ovia River Bridge, but nothing has been done yet.
“Look at the incident that happened in Ovia River Bridge three weeks ago where we lost several lives following multiple accidents. Nothing has been done till now. This shows they don’t care about us in the state.”
On the Sapele Road, he said, “I was on the Sapele Road recently. After the heavy downpour, the road was impassable. What is going on along the Benin-Sapele Road is scandalous. I don’t think that any region where the oil resources that sustain the country come from should be neglected in such a manner. We have done everything possible. We don’t know what to do again to draw the attention of the Federal Government to these roads.
“The Auchi-Ibillo Road was so bad that some of our contractors couldn’t go to their quarry sites. We appealed to the Federal Government to do palliative work on that road, but they refused, saying the road is under contract. If I want to do the same for the Benin-Sapele Road, I am not allowed to do so. They claim that the road has been given out to a contractor.”
The governor noted that the Federal Government’s policy relating to the roads was confusing, maintaining that in the past, states could rehabilitate federal roads and give the Federal Government the bills, “but that is no longer obtainable.”
The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, came to his principal’s defence. He stated that it was proper to put into perspective the N16bn refund from Oshiomhole’s “prodigious” spending on federal roads in the state.
He said, “While it is controvertible and seemingly unreasonable to defend the allocation of N16bn for the fixing and maintenance of federal roads in Edo State by the Adams Oshiomhole administration, it could however be stated that the era of oil boom when state governors had easy access to funds to spread around at their whims and caprices is gone.
“The new reality where states have to generate their funds with little or no federal allocation will hardly permit governors in the country to embark on federal projects with the hope of getting a refund; at least, not amidst the plethora of needs in states where the governors have to draw a scale of preference to prioritise how those needs should be met.
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“Besides, the Federal Government had stated in clear terms that those days of political philanthropy were over. Any state that undertakes the rehabilitation of federal roads does so at its financial burden, as no refund will be made. The issue of federal roads in Edo State is even so peculiar, as the Federal Government had warned the state not to embark on any palliative measure as contracts for the rehabilitation have already been awarded on such roads, even though nothing has yet to be done.
“The recent diatribe against Obaseki on the issue of federal roads in the state was merely borne out of either crass ignorance on the true state of things or sheer disinformation campaign by the opposition to pit the people against a government, which truly promotes their interest. Edo people know better and will not fall prey to such obsolete tactics.
“Moreover, one thing the traducers of the state government have failed to clarify is to inform their gullible followers that the refunded N16bn was the state’s money and not for any individual. It just happened that at the time of refund, Governor Godwin Obaseki happened to have been on the seat of governance.”
A former Commissioner for Information under Oshiomhole, Kassim Afegbua, said the flooding of the Sapele Road painted a sorry state of roads in the state under the current administration.
He said, “After the dismal flooding situation that caught Governor Obaseki pants down concerning the sorry state of affairs in Edo State, the governor tried to put the problem on the doorstep of the Federal Government. What he intended to serve as a fresh menu for Edo citizens to bail him out of such a calamitous embarrassment ended up worsening his already bad situation.
“When a government has failed in its constitutional responsibilities, it searches for excuses from the potholes and flooded plains created by its inaction. Vigilant Edo people were on hand to expose the montage of Governor Obaseki’s failure and the general morass that governance has been reduced to.
“Edo State has been in a very sorry state simply because Governor Obaseki failed woefully to embark on the continuity of the projects that his predecessor started; these projects span the entire gamut of the areas of life in the state. For Obaseki, rather than be seen to be walking in Oshiomole’s shadows, he chose to cut his nose to spite his face by not doing any work. When I think of how the journey to Eldorado has been aborted by Obaseki, the governor and his ego can be said to be the bane of Edo State.
“Comrade Oshiomhole as governor started a laudable project of reclamation and flood control in Benin City and other parts of the state. The present government has refused to de-silt the drains to give way for the free flow of water from primary drains into secondary drains across the metropolis.
“Last week, the hand of God showed. Governor Obaseki was caught in the flood on Sapele Road and his convoy got stuck in the mud. As Obaseki refused to frontally attack the flooding situation, it trapped him. His deliberate inaction or actions and underperformance trapped him. What about state government roads? What has he done about them? They are as parlous as the ones he is pointing fingers at the Federal Government about. Instead of facing the expected goals of providing a better life for the Edo people through sustainable means, he’s busy pursuing artefacts and abusing power by illegally withholding the statutory allocation due to the Benin Traditional Council.
“Deceit has its expiry date. Soon, the eclipse of the workings of Governor Obaseki will be removed, allowing a great light to shine on the real state of affairs of Edo State. Then, all will be clear for us all to see. We know that the Federal Government refunded N16bn to the state being payment for federal projects undertaken by his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
“If one asks Obaseki and his cronies what they are spending Edo’s resources on, one will get insulted. When asked to showcase their achievements, they spat out unprintable names. If they are asked to display their tendering process for transparency and openness, they will say you are looking for an appointment. But we know Edo State very well; we know how it has been left to rot.”
However, the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress in the state, Col David Imuse (retd.), lambasted Obaseki for discontinuing the storm water project meant to address the issue of flooding in the state capital, which commenced under Oshiomhole.
He said, “It is important to note that the Benin storm water project, which was intended to address the issue of flooding and erosion in Benin City, was not completed by Governor Obaseki. This lack of progress has contributed to the worsening flood and erosion problems in our state. You are aware that over N16bn was refunded to the state under the watch of Obaseki for the federal roads fixed by his predecessor, Oshiomhole. What happened to the money?
“Also, another N21bn was given to the state from the Oil Derivation Funds intended for oil-producing states like ours for infrastructural development, roads inclusive. What we know is that Governor Obaseki presided over the misappropriation of the money without recourse to the critical sectors.
“In addition to these financial improprieties, Governor Obaseki has shown a disturbing pattern of demolishing public and private property, including but not restricted to the Central Hospital, which land he allocated to his friends to build a museum that will not see the light of day. Instead of prioritising crucial infrastructural developments, Obaseki has chosen to build supermarkets all over the state.
“The statement made by the Edo State Government accusing the Federal Government of neglecting its responsibilities is a clear attempt to divert attention from these failures and mismanagement. It is disheartening to see such petty politics being played when the lives and safety of innocent Edo citizens albeit Nigerians are at stake.
“I assure the good people of Edo State that the APC-led Federal Government is committed to addressing the road infrastructure challenges in our state. We understand the frustration that our citizens face daily and we are dedicated to finding a lasting solution since the governor has abandoned his responsibility.”
Imuse said the Federal Government was prioritising and expediting the necessary repairs on major federal roads in the state, adding that the well-being of the people of the state was too vital to be politicised by the governor. He urged residents of the state not to be deceived by the propaganda and political games of the Obaseki administration. According to him, the APC-led Federal Government is committed to working for the betterment of the state and its citizens.
However, as the debate over the dilapidated federal roads continues, many are of the idea that the federal and state governments should discuss how the facilities can be rehabilitated in the interest of the citizens who ply the roads daily. ,
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