By Tonnie Iredia
Anyone who has had cause to travel recently to Benin City from Okene would agree that such a trip is akin to severe punishment due to the poor state of the road. Thus, last Wednesday, members of the Edo State House of Assembly angrily called for the revocation of the contract awarded for the reconstruction of the road by the federal government.
The Speaker of the House, Alhaji Adjoto Kabiru, made the call at Ekpoma, while leading members of the house on a ‘protest inspection’ of the road. Kabiru who decried the slow pace of work by the contracting firms argued that the deplorable state of the road had hampered socio-economic development of the people of the state as well as other Nigerians plying the road. The protest inspection of the road according to the legislators was “to show solidarity and share in the pains experienced by travellers and motorists.”
The posture of the legislators appears hard to fault because as the supposed representatives of the people, they ought not to have done differently. Painfully however, to commend the ‘honorables’ would grossly be against the run of play when it is realized that that the pro-people garments they put on to make their point were borrowed. Ordinarily, Edo legislators do not have a pro-people character or record. They were merely playing to the gallery. First, they were being temperamental in arriving at their conclusive apportioning of blames. Public commentators are aware and politicians know better that road contracts in Nigeria are generally awarded without requisite funding. Seye Ogunlewe, Works Minister during the Obasanjo years told a public hearing some years back, that funding provided for road construction is usually dissipated to give an impression that many roads were simultaneously in progress. This often led to abandonment of the contracts. In many cases, the contractors find it difficult to get paid for work certified done and as such cannot be queried for any wrong.
The contractors that edo legislators are indicting may not be as incompetent as the law makers think because they are busy working on other roads to which government apparently places greater premium. Interestingly, the legislators chose not to blame Babatunde Fashola our current works minister who heads the framework that has allowed the poor state of the Benin-Auchi portion of the road. According to the law makers, “Honourable Raji Fashola is a man that we respect very much. He is doing wonderfully so well as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but on this Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi-Okpella road there is need to revisit the performance of the contractors. They are not competent.” Put differently, edo legislators are convinced that Fashola is doing so well and coordinating works in other places, yet he does not extend the astute coordination to the works in edo state.
This sounds like speaking from both sides of the mouth because except the goal is to intimidate the contracting firms to “see” the legislators, how they arrived at their defence of Fashola is not easy to fathom. Do they have legislative aides who having investigated the subject suggested such line of thinking or are they like many legislators nationwide who receive allowances for aides they do not appoint? More importantly, we are not aware of defects in governance at the state level that the legislators have ever so fiercely criticized. We are therefore free to believe the allegation that because legislators often get patronized by governors, they hardly raise eyebrows over developments in their states. As a result, so much goes wrong in many states in Nigeria with the law makers who are supposed to serve as a check on the executive compromised and unable to even ask questions. Indeed, oversight functions in such states are merely used to ask for favours from Ministries, Departments and Agencies
Perhaps this explains why legislators in Edo State are yet to speak on the building of “a 5-star” hospital in Benin that has remained under lock and key since it was politically commissioned almost a year ago. If Governor Godwin Obaseki, truly stated that the state government cannot afford to equip and run the hospital, what happened to the over N10 billion reportedly budgeted for it between 2014 and 2017? What is the explanation for the earlier assurance given by former governor Oshiomhole that he had paid 75 percent up front for the supply of equipment for the hospital? We fear that edo legislators will never demand answers to these questions in view of a recent revelation that for personal interests and material considerations some of them swap positions in the house or condone official infraction
Edo State legislators need not pretend to be pro-people if the only criticism they are able to articulate is about federal roads while closing their eyes to the sufferings meted to the people at state level. It is an open secret for instance that no one is bothered about the plight of many citizens especially retirees and local government staff who are owed several months of salaries and allowances. The argument that local council staff are not state government workers is puerile particularly in the immediate past when the House of Assembly was used to replace elected councilors with appointed fronts. In addition, the legislature said nothing about the allegations that local government allocations were always confiscated. Instead, the House was well known for passing anti-people laws such as exorbitant taxes. Whereas the poor man is ignored by the Assembly, elitist laws are greatly embraced
Last year, the legislators passed an amendment to the State Pension Rights law of 2007 to include the provision of a building valued at not more than N200 million for a former governor and another worth N100 million for his deputy. Both favoured former political office holders were also given the privilege of choosing their preferred locations for the houses. Also, a governor is to enjoy pension for life at a rate equivalent to 100 percent of his last annual salary, three vehicles every five years and free medical treatment for him and his immediate family.
Why should the state do all these for a governor and his deputy who can only be in office for no more than 8 years while despising public officers who work for 35years without guaranteed pension?