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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Let’s Talk About Obaseki’s Corruption Stench



By Omobusola Afuwape

For the sake of the electorate ahead of the September 19 governorship election,
the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related matters Commission should promptly commence investigations into certain allegations of abuse of office raised against the incumbent governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki.

When news broke that the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related matters Commission (ICPC) had been petitioned to investigate some allegations of financial malfeasances raised against Governor Obaseki, two quotable shares from two globally renowned personalities quickly came to mind.

First was the American whistleblower, who copied and leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency in 2013, when he was a Central Intelligence Agency employee, Edward Joseph Snowden and claimed that, “There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny – they should be setting the example of transparency.”

The former United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan is of the view that “If corruption is a disease, transparency is a central part of its treatment.”

Bringing these views home to Edo State, where the state holds governorship election next month, the onus of ensuring transparency and that the people retain their faith in government absolutely lies with the ICPC, a body constitutionally charged with the responsibility of exposing corruption among public officials.

The agency should dig down into the details provided by the petitioner and let the electorate and other Nigerians know the veracity of the allegations. The implication is that where the governor is found culpable of these allegations, voters can make up their minds on what to do with him at the ballot and on the other hand, if exonerated, he would not be deprived of the much-needed support.

Interestingly, the allegations contained details that are easily verifiable.

A member of the governor’s new political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ward 3, Orhionmwon LGA of Edo, Andrew Egboigbe, in a petition titled, “Petition against the unfairly advantageous awarding of Edo State Contracts to Afrinvest Limited by Governor Godwin Obaseki”, alleged that the governor abused his office by awarding inflated contracts to his company, AfriInvest Limited, an action that is contrary to the provisions of the constitution.

The petition already marked as received by the commission on Monday, August 3, 2020, also alleged that Governor Obaseki has been converting state funds for the purpose of setting up a regional bank awaiting approval by the Nigerian apex bank, the CBN.

Hence, Egboigbe charged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stand true to its core mandate of promoting sound financial system in Nigeria by declining the approval of the proposed regional bank purportedly linked to the governor and to investigate alleged payment of state funds into private accounts.

The petitioner alleged that Governor Obaseki, who founded his company, Afrinvest Limited in 1994 and stepped down as Chairman, Board of Directors in 2016, when he could no longer retain the position after he became governor, has been giving undue advantages to his firm, contrary to the provisions of Section 19 of the ICPC Act 2000.

Noting that despite the fact that the company remained “associate” as stipulated by Section 2 of the ICPC Act 2000, the governor’s emergence as governor has resulted in unprecedented financial boom for the company, whereas the governor and the company were unable to support his first term campaign with N10m.

“Mr. Godwin Obaseki’s emergence as governor suspiciously coincided with financial boom for Afrinvest Limited, leading to the firm winning contracts, notably from Edo State Government and making astounding profits it never posted since establishment.

“On one specific occasion, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, abusing his office as governor, single-handedly, without the approval of his cabinet and the legislative arm of government, awarded a I.8 billion naira consultation contract on the Water Storm Project to Afrinvest Limited without justification of the inflated sum and the nature of the contract,” the petition reads in part.

If investigation proves this allegation right, Governor Obaseki would have acted in contravention of Section 19 of ICPC Act 2000.

Egboigbe further alleged that, “The security votes of Edo State, increased to an annual sum of 7.5 billion naira by Mr. Godwin Obaseki, since 2018 has been deposited in Afrinvest Limited bank account, and serves, alongside other illegally obtained profits, as the starting capital used to resuscitate Primus Bank, which Mr. Godwin Obaseki, acting through his proxies, is now seeking approval for, to operate as a regional bank.”

The governor’s main challenger, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, has had the feeling that something was fishy about the security votes, not just because it was arbitrarily increased from N6 billion to N7.5 billion but because the police wasn’t getting enough to genuinely police the state.

In a maiden edition of his live broadcast on his Facebook page, Ize-Iyamu stated that: “The present government has not been able to show any serious commitment to the security funding of the state. Every month, the governor collects millions as security vote and gives the police little. That does not show commitment to security. The amount is not even enough to fuel vehicles.”
He expressed concern that Edo State was perhaps the only state in the South-south region without adequate investments in technology, which could be deployed to tackle crime.
“In this age, what is our investment in technology? Edo State might be the only state in the South-south that does not have trackers that can be used to trace kidnappers. The government must show sincerity in combating crime,” he said.
On the abandoned Water Storm Project, which Egboigbe alleged was awarded to Obaseki’s Afrinvest, Ize-Iyamu restated his commitment to ensuring its completion, even as he expressed surprise that Obaseki chose to not complete it when he became governor.
“The water storm project cannot be abandoned. I didn’t initiate it, but we must commend those who planned it. Even four years ago, when I was contesting, I commended the foresight because flooding is a major challenge in Benin.
“To abandon the project the way it has been abandoned is imprudent and wicked, especially coming from a governor that was part of its conception. Afrinvest was involved in the financing of the water storm project.  How do you rationalise a governor, who was part of that process to now decide that he is not interested in the project?” Ize-Iyamu lamented.
Meanwhile, the Edo State Media Campaign Council of the All Progressives Congress (APC), through its Chairman, Prince John Mayaki, who was until recently the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, has sustained its accusation that the Obaseki administration was emptying the state’s treasury by sponsoring nefarious political activities, fake protests and campaigns of calumny.

Talking from an insider’s perspective, Mayaki opined that Governor Obaseki has been chasing shadows, while neglecting important governance issues, especially the management of flood and protection of lives and property.

The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) listed Edo as one of the highly probable flood-risk states in the country.

The campaign council said: “The warnings by NEMA, based on the predictions of NIMET and NIHSA, that Edo is among the highly probable flood-risk states in the coming months, should send alarm bells ringing on Osadebey Avenue (Government House, Benin), as a matter of priority for the government.”

Etsako East, Esan Southeast, Ikpoba-Okha, Oredo, Etsako Central, Esan Northeast and Ovia Northeast local governments were identified as flood-risk areas in the predictions of NIMET and NIHSA.

Definitely, this governor isn’t finishing well let alone securing another term. But, in all, Edo’s money must be properly accounted for.

*Afuwape wrote from Ota, Ogun State

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