Former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole

Kassim Afegbua

I read a piece on page 19 of THISDAY Monday, December 14, 2015 and Monday, 8th February, 2016 written by one Solomon Ibharuneafe; such a name that sounds like erupting volcano, trying effortlessly to advertise his preference for the PDP and its gang of sinuous clowns masquerading about as political aspirants. I wouldn’t have quarreled with the contents of the said piece that is wrought with so many contradictions and statistical blunders, but the fact that the writer called himself “a media/public relations consultant” drove my adrenalin to the pitch. What manner of a consultant could this possibly be? If he had simply referred to himself as a consultant of “stomach democracy”, one would have understood. As I was reeking in uncontrollable laughter as a result of this consultant’s exposition of crass ignorance and limited knowledge of governance related issues, I told myself that it will be a great disservice if he was left unattended to, hence this right of reply.

I will not dabble into the hidden intention of this so-called consultant, such appellation that finds patronizing expression for several unemployed minds; I will try as much as possible to focus on the real issues which the writer raised in his diatribe. I am pained that a “public relations consultant” could freely and grossly advertise falsehood in a manner that shows manifest partisanship rather than substance. The written word is a good instrument for research hence I am appalled that Mr. Solomon Ibharuneafe could go to town to exhibit such intellectual emptiness by conjuring and concocting images and symbols with no empirical foundation. How can a reasonable consultant declare; “to make the matter worse, no single employment was created in the almost 8 years of Comrade Oshiomhole…” Haba! Haba! Sheer intellectual blasphemy, with emphasis on the underlined words.

Just for the sake of educating the warped reasoning of this so-called public relations consultant, let me remind him that less than four months after the Comrade Governor took office in 2008, the first set of employment he made were 1,200 teachers that were sent packing from Bayelsa state. The teachers were regular guests at the Government House gate asking for the governor’s compassion to absorb them in Edo State Civil Service because according to them, they were sent packing from Bayelsa state due to the failed programme of the Federal Government with respect to Universal Basic Education Teachers’ programme. Aside from that, we have recruited and trained 1,000 Edo sons and daughters into our ICT Agency to drive our e-government initiative for the past six years. We have not only built the Information Technology infrastructure, we have simplified governance and made it friendlier in terms of cash handling. Added to this is the fact that we have recruited doctors and medical health workers following the lifting of embargo hitherto placed by PDP government before the Comrade Governor assumed office.

Not done, we also recruited about 7,000 persons under the Youths Employment Scheme [YES]. Government took a bold decision to disband the exercise when it observed that the rationale for setting up the programme was defeated following unwholesome practices and the fact that resources were no longer sufficient to cater for this number due to the reckless financial brigandage of the PDP, which led to a sharp drop in revenue. What the government now did, which is more plausible, was to direct that a larger chunk of that number who are qualified be recruited into the State Civil Service to fill up the vacant positions. We are also presently recruiting teachers to fill vacant positions in our secondary schools across the state. Given the above, it is not only a show of intellectual emptiness, but also failure of common sense for “A Public Relations Consultant” to state, input, suggest, declare, and conclude, that No Single employment has been created by the Comrade Governor. It is utterly shameful, reckless and nonsensical.

Flowing from the writer’s earlier declaration that the state is encumbered with huge debts, the statistics he presented are not only mis-leading and incorrect, they are at best “PDP statistics”. And because Edo PDP parades some of the best empty brains as chieftains, I find the writer’s position anachronistically ridiculous. While the PDP would parade all manners of figures to reflect daily weather, Solomon’s verdict that the state’s debts stand at N200bn, beggars the issue. First, Edo state’s total debt is less than N66bn. and that includes all the debts from Ogbemudia era through PDP era till date. While the Comrade Governor had defrayed part of the inherited debts, to boastfully state that Edo state’s current debt profile is N200bn is a reflection of statistical inaccuracy. We challenge the Debt Management Office [DMO] to publish Edo state debts, to contradict our emphatic claim.

While Solomon quarrels with the issue of debts, I beg to differ. Debt or borrowing is usually not a problem in any economy, what is at issue is whether such borrowed money is actually used for the purpose that it was meant to serve. The borrowings that we have done in Edo state are essentially tied to specific projects. The N30bn bond we got was specifically targeted at erosion and flooding control in Benin as well as reclaiming the Benin City Master Plan. As we speak, it is a matter of fact that we have repaid over 70 percent of the entire sum, whilst we have done appreciable jobs in addressing the perennial problem of flooding and erosion. We have reclaimed communities that were submerged by erosion and those always at the mercy of flooding. Work has also reached advanced stage at the Queen Ede erosion, Auchi erosion and Ekenhuan erosion projects, as a result of the deliberate intervention of the Comrade Governor. It may interest Solomon to know that work is still ongoing at Igbinadua underground erosion project that will span 8.3 kilometers through Siluko, Uwasota and Uwelu before it is channeled into Ogba River. The several other roads we have done in Benin City and across the state have underground drains, walkways and street lights embedded in them. Our types of roads are not just roads for the sake of fulfilling political promises; they are roads and projects that will stand the test of time.

Any scholar who still gnashes his teeth on the issue of responsible borrowing still has some reading to do. Contemporary studies have shown that borrowings are not inherently bad incentives as no state or nation can be self-sustaining, but that the purpose for which borrowed funds are sought has to be fully tailored to attain optimal benefits of such borrowed money. Comparatively speaking, as solid as the US is in terms of its economic policy and wellness, it is reputed to have the highest debt profile in the world.

In an age of politics, reason, commonsense and logic, the temptation to just play the partisan card on behalf of Party A against Party B is instructive, understandable, predictable, and apparently instinctive, but it should not goad any serious-minded thinker to stand logic and truth on its head for the sake of absorbing stomach pressure. As Mark Twain warns us, “the work {lies} of many scholars has already thrown much darkness on this subject and it is likely if they keep working, we shall soon know nothing at all” [parenthesis mine]. In the light of this scholarly persuasion, Solomon needs to understand that positive governance and leadership emanation are not products of heresies and scrofulous intellectuality. No! Productive leadership of Oshiomhole’s brand is designed to pursue noble objectives and alter the ugly narratives that hitherto constitute the inelegant habits of PDP chieftains, which castrated the moral conscience of the Edo mind. But for the divine intervention that thrust forth Oshiomhole into the leadership rostrum of Edo state, the state would have buckled under the pervasive influence of business buccaneers who gallivant about in magisterial candour to loot the state blind.

Not being satisfied that the state was still hemorrhaging despite their deliberate inaction, they simply went for the kill. They built phantom mushroom industries, populate them with reptiles and snakes as staff, commission them in the afternoon, sold same at night, and left them to rot away in careless abandon. Having hibernated for a long time because of the moral burden that preoccupied them, they are suddenly deriving grouchy courage to raise questions with dubious mythology. They quarrel with Oshiomhole’s Red Roof Revolution, they quarrel with our brand new 200-bed Central Hospital with all the facades of architectural ingenuity, they are irritated that we have built many six-lane roads across the state, they vomit hate because we are paying salaries as and when due even when neighbouring PDP states cannot pay; they pour venom because we have turned around Ambrose Alli University, they lament over Oshiomhole’s ingenuity at building capital-intensive projects at a time when states are complaining of dwindling revenue and cannot pay salaries. They simply cannot understand the nexus that is driving Oshiomhole’s auto-cart with such gusto and unquenchable energy. They are wailing and wailing every day over Oshiomhole’s unstoppable zeal and enthusiasm at ensuring that all ongoing projects are completed whether or not oil prices drop or increase. This Oshiomhole must represent a different mythology, yet unfathomed. Yes, let us get hired writers to raise hubris against him if that will distract him. Alas, the man trudges on.

As a function of PDP’s misrule and wicked financial proclivity, it denied Edo state its share of ecological funds which would have been channeled to arresting its ecological problem. Rather than accede to Edo state request for ecological funds having met all the conditionality and assessment, for want of playing politics, the PDP-led Federal Government under Dr. Goodluck Jonathan refused to grant our legitimate request. Worried by the disturbing nature of the gully erosion, coupled with their peculiar ferocity and threat to the environment; and following the deliberate refusal of the PDP-led government to grant our request, the Edo state Governor had to seek help elsewhere. Seeing that work has since commenced at these sites, and the people are now happy, the PDP has remained unhappy and angry over the Comrade Governor’s ingenuity.

Besides, we have not only reclaimed these communities, but also building quality roads, schools and hospitals to showcase our uncommon capacity to take bold steps to transform the state. Our economic infrastructure is second to none in the history of the state. Talking about the brand new Central Hospital which Mr. Solomon complained about as reflecting in our successive budgets, that submission alone confirms the fact that the writer is hollow and full of unforgiveable ignorance. Budgets all over the world are essentially proposals and estimates which provide the road map for what one intends to expend in the event that the monies stated are received. While previous PDP-led government ran a budget regime that was skewed in favour of recurrent instead of capital expenditure, Mr. Solomon quarrels with our ability to sustain a budget regime that favours capital expenditure against recurrent. What a consultant? The fact that the Central Hospital featured in our last year budget, means that we were unable to source the entire revenue that was earlier budgeted for same, hence in preparing a fresh budget, one needs to revalidate and capture what was left for proper accounting and documentation. This is what a consultant quarrels with. Hmm.

Finally for this episode before I come Solomon’s way again, let it be noted with perfunctory candour, that it is Oshiomhole’s government that paid all gratuities of retired civil servants from 1998 till date. Edo people must be reminded where they are coming from. In year 2000, it will be recalled, the PDP-led government in the state compulsorily retired civil servants in their hundreds in the name of reforms. They were thrown into penury by government’s refusal to pay them their pensions and gratuities. These were part of the challenges that confronted the Oshiomhole administration aside from the fact that there was no hand-over note.

The PDP-led government also placed embargo on employment across board until it was lifted by the Comrade Governor who started recruiting capable hands to fill up the existing vacancies. Through the intervention of the Comrade Governor, a brand new cement plant has been built to replace the former one sold by the PDP for “chicken change”. That cement plant by BUA Group, today has created employment that runs into thousands, yet, hired writers and so-called PR Consultants would have none of that. Let me end this right of reply because of space constraint, suffice it to say that I will come Solomon’s way again in no distant future. Rather than saying Oshiomhole is mortgaging the future of Edo, he is opening up the ancient state to a welter of opportunities and economic infrastructure that would propel the state into the super highway of modernity and enterprise.

–– Prince Afegbua is Edo State Commissioner for Information, Orientation And Public Affairs