On January 11th, 2017, while I was far away in Abia State, on our Party’s national assignment, as Secretary of the Committee on “APC Continuous Membership Registration Exercise”, Chief Oseni Elamah (who was then Chairman, Edo State Board of Internal Revenue), and a detachment of Operation Thunderstorm men of the Nigeria Police, invaded my business premises at No. 2, Mission Road, Benin City, on the orders of Governor Godwin Obaseki, who was just two months old in office, as Governor of Edo State.
They arrested my worker and thirteen other Youths who, by sheer accident of time, happened to be around there at that material time. My worker was put in handcuffs, molested and forced to sit on the ground. He was subjected to interrogation, and the whole drama was broadcast on television. Thereafter, they were all detained at the States CID, Nigeria Police Headquarters, for seven days, without food or water! After repeated pressure, from my Lawyers, for their release, they were maliciously charged to Court, on trumped-up allegations of Conspiracy, and Conduct likely to breach the peace. And, after one whole year, and through three Courts, they were discharged and acquitted, when the Court declared that we had no case to answer warranting their arraignment in the first place!
Yet, Governor Obaseki refused to allow us to carry on with our legitimate business. He sealed up the premises, regardless of the fact that I rented the property from Edo State Government, and paid the prescribed fees annually. I rented that property for business purposes. It was an investment from which I expected to generate revenue, and derive profit. And, till date, my rent on the property subsists, and Governor Obaseki refused to pay me my lost revenue!
While I was away, in Abia State, my Lawyer, Osagie Obayuwana, Esq (former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Edo State), made written representations to Governor Obaseki, and presented my approval documents to him, which were issued to me by Edo State Government, to acquaint him with the legitimacy of my business, and my status on the property, as a legal tenant of Edo State Government, but all to no avail.
Upon my return from my assignment, I also made repeated efforts to see the Governor, with a view to resolving the issue amicably, but also to no avail. I wrote a series of letters to him over the matter, but they all fell on deaf ears. I reported the matter to some Party leaders, namely: Hon. Charles Idahosa, Prince Austin Eweka, Chief John Odigie Oyegun (who was then National Chairman of APC), Chief Osaro Idah (Special Adviser to Governor Obaseki), Mr Lawrence Okah (APC Edo State Secretary), Mr Anslem Ojezua (who was then APC Edo State Chairman), amongst others. Except for Mr Anslem Ojezua, they all lamented that the Governor had completely shut out everybody, and they couldn’t gain access to him. As State Chairman of the Party, Mr Anslem Ojezua was more or less a “rubber stamp”, and he did absolutely nothing to address my complaints to him, even though he had asked me to forward same to his office. It was so bad that the leaders had to advise me to seek redress in Court since the Governor had made himself inaccessible. But, as a Party man, I didn’t want the opposition (PDP) to cash in on the situation, to make a mockery of our Party. So, I continued to apply diplomacy, with the hopes that it would yield an amicable resolution. I thought I was dealing with technocrats, who understood the concept of public service, and the philosophy behind public administration. But, I was wrong. I soon realized that they were actually opportunists in Government, camouflaging as technocrats. They had no ideas of their own, on how to add what values to the State administration, other than to rely on what prospective investors came up with, which they cunningly hijack, and surreptitiously claim the credit for!
Government is supposed to be a continuum, without a vacuum, one administration following from the previous. But, Governor Obaseki came with the mindset of “Mr know it all”, who was out to rubbish everything previous administrations did, which to him didn’t matter. As far as he was concerned, his predecessors in office didn’t know what they were doing, or how to govern a State. With his disposition, there was a clear and embarrassing disconnect with the previous administration, although it was supposed to be the same political party in Government.
Under Governor Adams Oshiomhole, I had proposed the “Vehicle On-Street / Off-Street Parking Permit System”, as a mechanism for vehicular traffic management, especially in densely commercial areas in the State. It was designed to eliminate traffic congestion, and allow for the free flow of vehicular movement in highly commercial areas, and generate badly needed revenue, to be used for the regular maintenance of Roads infrastructures, such as Street Lights, Traffic Lights, and clearing of drains. I was given the approval to test run the System, to ascertain its viability, which turned out successful, after very stiff resistance from the public to whom the System was new and unfamiliar at the time. I had submitted the report of the test run to Government, but before a proper contract could be perfected, the 2016 governorship election was upon us, and we all had to go to the field to win the State for our Party. And, we succeeded. Mr Godwin Obaseki became Governor of Edo State!
Since his approach to governance was not following from the previous administration, I, therefore, resolved to re-present my proposal on the subject to him, all over again, sometime in that same year 2017. And, after repeated reminders, around early 2018, I was invited by the Managing Director of Edo State Traffic Control and Management Agency (EDSTMA), who informed me that the Governor had approved my proposal, and directed them to interface with interested Consultants, who would be working under the supervision of the Agency when the System became operational. They then advertised our proposed System, for public bidding.
I felt this practice was wrong, unfair, as well as unethical. This was a privately sponsored business proposal, by my Company (Umodu Investment Company Limited). If the idea was acceptable to Government, it was my view that the Government ought to work things through with us, as the authors of the proposed system, with a view to implementing it. It was also my view that only Government-sponsored proposals/projects were subject to public bidding processes. And the reason for this isn’t far fetched. Subjecting a privately sponsored business proposal to public bidding processes could potentially deny the author and vision bearer, not only the opportunity to benefit from his efforts, but also, it could undermine the successful implementation of the idea, scheme, or project, at the expense of the benefitting public! Going by what happened eventually, I believe I was right!
Nevertheless, I joined in the bid and emerged tops amongst other bidders. A contractual agreement was prepared by Edo State Ministry of Justice, into which both Parties entered, around June 2018. EDSTMA MD, and EDSTMA Secretary and Legal Adviser both signed on behalf of Edo State Government, while my Secretary and I signed on behalf of my Company. For this purpose, I was actually repeatedly pressured by EDSTMA leadership, to hurriedly return from Makurdi, in Benue State, where I was also on another national assignment of our Party at that time, the “APC Membership Reregistration and Revalidation Exercise”, which took place in May 2018. Thereafter, instead of handing over to me, our copy of the Contract Agreement, I was told by the Secretary and Legal Adviser of the Agency, that they needed to take the signed document back to the Governor, “for final approval”. Again, I thought this was rather weird, crude, and unethical of Government. But, there was nothing I could do, under the circumstances, other than to wait. Which I did, for another over ten (10) months, before I got another surprise.
Around October of that year 2018, I had the opportunity to speak with Governor Obaseki on the telephone and expressed my concerns about the rigmarole, and incomprehensible endless delays in the matter. He explained to me that the delay was caused by his desire to ensure due process was followed, where everybody had a chance to participate in the bid process. He encouraged me to exercise a little more patience, that I would be invited to commence operation before the end of that year, 2018. I thanked him profusely and assured him of my commitment, and satisfactory performance on the job, once given the opportunity.
However, contrary to his assurances, my proposal was advertised again in April 2019, for the second time, ten months after we had earlier signed a contract for the commencement of operations. The bid process then started anew. And, for the second time too, I also emerged tops amongst other contenders. But, having met all the conditions and requirements put forward by his Government, to my greatest amazement, around October 2019, I was told that our services were no longer needed and that the Government would run the System by itself. A business I conceived, developed and proposed to the Government of my home State? A Government of the political Party I belong?? How would the Government hijack my business? That was preposterous!!
I discovered that all the while I was being invited to meetings with the various Government functionaries, in respect of the Vehicle Parking Permit System, surreptitious efforts were being made to extract useful information from me regarding the operation of the business, with a view to dispossessing me of it. And, when they thought they had gathered enough information from me to do without me, they appointed their cronies to run the business, using my models, which I discussed with them in the course of our meetings. That is called, DECEIT, and STEALING BY TRICK. It’s about integrity, which is apparently lacking in the manner the affairs of Government is being conducted in Edo State. The dishonesty, insincerity, manipulation, and fraud, are irresponsible, and very unbecoming of Government! Which is why I said earlier that Governor Obaseki and his team lacks a good understanding of the concept of public service and the philosophy behind what is public administration.
Government is not a monster for a witch-hunt. Government is a unique arrangement for the purpose of organising society for peace, security, fair and equitable distribution of our commonwealth, through the creation of equal opportunity for growth and development of its populace.
FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF DOUBTS:
1. Local Governments do not have statutory powers to engage in Vehicle On-Street Parking Permit, and the collection of revenue therefrom. Under Schedule 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Local Governments are restricted to Motor Park operations for revenue collection. Streets are not Motor Parks where Local Governments could collect revenue. The involvement of Oredo Local Government in the collection of revenue from Vehicle On-Street Parking operations right now is illegal, and ultra vires! Yet, Governor Obaseki, who claims to be against corruption and an advocate of due process, has continued to indulge and encourage the Local Government in this illegality and fraudulent activities. We are in the process of redressing this impropriety, in a Court of competent jurisdiction, where the Chairman of Oredo Local Government shall be required to defend his actions in this matter. Elected persons should not continue to destroy the institution of State, with acts of impunity, as if they are a law unto themselves, simply because they hold office, temporarily, and in trust for the public!
2. On the newly constructed Oba Ovonramen Car Parks 1 and 2, at Ring Road, it was another of my Company’s efforts cornered by Governor Obaseki, who is now claiming the credit for it.
To complement the operation of the Vehicle On-Street Parking Permit System, we applied for, and rented the space directly behind ECTS (Comrade Bus) Loading Bay, at No. 2, Mission Road, by Ring Road, and used it for Vehicle Off-Street Parking. We paid for space annually, to Edo State Government. We then recommended to Government, that the location of the Ministry of Transport on Forestry Road was not conducive, and that the Ministry should be relocated to the Secretariat Building Complex, on Sapele Road, where Block D had a lot of spaces wasting away, unutilised. We further recommended that some of the structures inside the premises of the Ministry should be collapsed, to provide additional space, and the grounds should be asphalted, or interlocked with concrete tiles, and advised that Comrade Bus Loading Bay should be relocated there, from its location at Ring Road, where its passengers were perpetually grappling with floodwater, as a result of the potholes there, whenever they wanted to access the Buses. We then proposed that we should be allowed to rent the space they occupied at Ring Road, in addition to our existing space behind it, and offered to transform the entire space into a modern Vehicle Parking Lot, for Off Street parking, the way the Government has now done it. They were all my ideas!
These discussions went on at various times, between me and Honourable Commissioners Joseph Ughoeke (of the then Ministry of Lands and Surveys), Saturday Uwuilekhue Idehen (of the then Ministry of Transport), the MD of EDSTMA, Chief Osaro Idah (Special Adviser to Governor Obaseki), and Osarodion Ogie, Esq. (current Secretary to Government of Edo State), amongst others. It would be recalled that the original purpose for which Edo State Government, under Governor Adams Oshiomhole, acquired those properties at Ring Road, was not for vehicles parking. It was my efforts, mentioned above, which brought about Government now making provision for such deserving need today known as Oba Ovonramen Car Parks 1 and 2, although the current provision is still grossly inadequate. Surprisingly, Comrade Bus is now also using the Oba Ovonramen Car Park 2, in addition to the Forestry Road premises. This is ill-advised, for very obvious reasons, as the implications of doing so are self-revealing!
As a professional Business Development Consultant and Occupational Investor, striving to make a useful impact in my home State, my experience with Governor Obaseki’s administration leaves me disappointed, in pain and regret. The big question is: if I, an indigene of Edo State, a true son of the soil, and a member of the ruling political party, could be so mistreated, and so viciously dispossessed of my legitimate business, by the Government of the political Party I belong, what then is the fate of other potential investors, especially those who aren’t members of APC, as well as non-indigenes of Edo State? It is no wonder that Edo State economy has remained stagnant for the past twelve years, from the time Governor Obaseki was Chief Economic Adviser to Governor Adams Oshiomhole, to date!
Whereas it is the duty of Government, not only to create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive, but also to support the business efforts of its citizens, in order for them to succeed and be able to pay taxes and provide employment opportunities for the needy public, Governor Obaseki, who promised to create 400 thousand jobs, during his political campaigns for his Governorship election, has inadvertently been frustrating the business efforts of Edo State indigenes, and discouraging both local and foreign investment in the State! As another election year has come, these are the issues we must put in the front burner, to dominate our discourse, and guide our decision on who becomes the next Governor of Edo State!
We shall next talk about the ongoing House Numbering and Street Signage project, which also is another of my project, hijacked from me, by the current Government.
As citizens, there’s a deserving need to hold our elected officers accountable for their actions and inactions and put an end to this madness of impunity in public office. It is ignorance, and abject poverty of the mind that makes people assume that elected and appointed public officials are infallible and unquestionable. And, this is why they continue to take us all for a ride, on a wild goose chase! Enough is enough!!