Barr.Henry Idahagbon was former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under the administration of governor Adams Oshiomhole. In this interview he reacted to the recent moves by governor Godwin Obaseki to probe the Benin Central hospital project which was completed and equipped by the administration of Comrade Oshiomhole. Excerpts:
Reports have it that Governor Godwin Obaseki is probing the central hospital, a contract awarded under the administration of Governor Oshiomhole. You were part of that administration and some people have interpreted that this is targeted at Oshiomhole. What's your view about this?
There are facts that you can't deny. It's now in the public domain that first Oshiomhole built a five-star hospital. I emphasised five-star, because Oshiomhole told us the story of why he decided to build that hospital. He is somebody that each time he traveled abroad, he comes back with new experience that he will like to plant in Edo. The former governor told us how he went to a hospital in Switzerland, he was only a member of the board of ILO, not yet President of NLC. He visited the country to have a cataract operation.
He told us that when he entered the hospital, the room that was given to him was cleaner than the hotel apartment he stayed in. He said even entering the hospital he was already well, only that the environment couldn't clean up the eye. If it were malaria he would have been well automatically. Then, he started nursing the idea that if he ever ventured into politics, he will replicate that same thing in Edo. Then he never thought of being a governor.
Comrade told us how providence pushed his daughter into reading medicine at Stanford University USA and qualified as a paediatric neurologist. It during her graduation that he visited Stanford Teaching Hospital. He saw the environment even the part they were demolishing to rebuild cannot be compared to anything in Nigeria.
So, when his wife died of cancer, a death he attributed to negligence of a doctor, who did not do any test before arriving at a conclusion that there was no problem but the cancer spread. The first job he did after mourning his wife was to commit himself to building what we now call a five-star hospital, taking into account what he saw at Geneva and California. And the day the President came after inviting him for the inauguration of the hospital project, he saw the building and he said, 'Which bank is this?' and Comrade said, 'No sir, it's a hospital'.
President Buhari asked him again, 'It's the one we're going to commission?' Of course, the President saw things for himself, the equipment that had been delivered. He saw them - state-of-the-art. Comrade is a man that whatever he wants to do, he does it well. But unfortunately, after Oshiomhole equipped the hospital with modern hospital facilities the whole building was locked up, one year, two years and now going to three years by the Obaseki led administration. We're losing the warranty. We are supposed to send Edo people to Austria, because the company is Vamed. Sadly too, Obaseki was chairman of the state Economic Team so he was part and parcel of this project, that is why some of us said the man is wicked. Not only to himself but to Edo people people whom he has deprived the use of that beautiful hospital.
Vamed is an Austrian multinational company specialised in hospital equipment. Anytime the PDP wants to abuse Oshiomhole they would say there's nothing in the hospital. It's a fraud. Nothing had been delivered. The only way to stop this problem is for Obaseki to open the hospital so that people will see the equipment, they say seeing is believing! There's no need to tell your children there's food in the kitchen but the food is not able to travel to the dining table. And therefore they're starving because it was convenient for the PDP to use it to attack Oshiomhole left, right, and centre and unfortunately, the former governor has no defence, because he is no longer in power. But Obaseki enjoyed the bashing and this is the man that made you governor against all odds.
But thank God the company that supplied the equipment, Vamed, came up with a documentary, where they showcased the equipment and how each of them works. The documentary was aired in Channels and other TV stations. When the documentary was aired on various TV stations public opinion turned: why won't you open this hospital? There were a couple of protests but they weren't convenient for the media to publish. But when they protested why not open the hospital? People can kill the news. But you can't kill the truth. Rather, open the hospital.
The (Edo State) House of Assembly was instigated to set up an investigative panel. Who were members of this panel? Everybody who lost nominations in the primaries - all those who didn't win their primaries were on the panel. In addition, the individual, who believed that Oshiomhole didn't support him during the primary, was the chairman. But the truth is stubborn. It's like gold; you can do nothing to destroy it.
They carried out their investigations - the tenders' board, the minister of health, the contractor - everyone - they all appeared. The people went into the hospital. They saw the equipment. The report was accurately captured. In the end, they came to the conclusion that the governor should pay the balance to the hospital equipment suppliers. Oshiomhole's administration had paid 75 per cent. All that is left is 25 per cent. The equipment we have there we don't have at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital. That was the vision to have something that would attract people outside Edo.
The findings of the committee, which were meant to be hostile -because if they were to arrive at a contrary decision. It is not a secret, as we have said, it was documented. A hospital isn't a military zone. It should be opened to the public for those, who insist there is nothing there for them to see. So, when we read that the governor's media assistant said a panel of inquiry would be set up, because they wanted scandal, we were wondering. Though some us us are not surprised because this Obaseki of a governor wants to embarrass our leader but he is always failing in his evil plot.
Infact Vamed, the company that equipped the hospital wrote a letter inviting the Edo State government to bring people for training. One year after, the government has not responded. And they asked the commissioner, whom I believe by now has been removed, probably for telling the truth and he said the letter had been forwarded to the governor but the governor had not replied.
When I read in the newspapers a couple of days ago that they wanted to set up a panel of inquiry, my feeling is that they should set up a judicial inquiry instead. I can bet you that Oshiomhole will like to appear before such panel because he has nothing to hide. Obaseki too will appear because he was part of the project. Oshiomhole's interest in the hospital is to give Edo people the opportunity to get the benefit of modern equipment but Obaseki delayed it until recently.
You can read them in that report that show that even the contractors haven't been paid in full. The hospital collapsed at one time, killed the foreigner, who supervised it. Oshiomhole commissioned the best structural engineer(s) in the country to examine the hospital and tell us what went wrong. They came up with a report and on the basis of that report we demolished part of the area that was defective and reinforced the structure of the hospital to ensure it was stronger than before and took the opportunity to make it more modernised. We are proud of what Oshiomhole achieved as a governor and there's nothing anybody can do to turn the truth upside down.
There's something else flying around, the 'Storm Water Project' executed by Oshiomhole, People said there is nothing on the ground to show for it. Is that correct?
I'm sorry if I might say I have a problem with the media. You know there are things that wouldn't be in the mouth of the accused to say. It's something that can benefit from non-complicated investigative journalism. One of the most remarkable projects Oshiomhole did in Edo, which cannot be captured by camera is the Benin City Water Storm Plan. He wanted the best for Edo and he wanted the best contractor to do it. So, I am aware he initially invited Julius Berger. They said to him, 'Comrade, any money you spent constructing roads will be money wasted if you did not address the issue of flooding, because the most potent weapon, force or enemy of a road is water.
Once water can't flow off the surface it will go under and then, the road is gone. The first thing to do is to build the drainage. So, how do we build the drainage? They said we needed to carry out a study. We went to the archives and found out that studies had been done 20 years ago. Many things had changed thereafter. We needed fresh studies. Therefore, the former governor commissioned a company to carry out a detailed study, which took about nine months. The report they gave showed the exact basins - water basins - in Edo State and how they can be dealt with. Then, we began construction.
One example is the airport road. You don't see any drainage there. It had underground tunnels; you can walk inside that tunnel. When rain falls on that airport road, you can't see flood. As the rain falls, it's going under and flowing to the river. If you don't do that, you'd have stagnant water that breeds mosquitoes and more rainfall would lead to flooding.
Now the second: you can ask your reporter in Benin or if he's new, he should ask residents of the area what the place was like before and what it is now. That area in Benin they used to call 'Mammy Water Road' because of the flooding. The government then said there was no solution because of 'mammy water' - that it's something supernatural. But courtesy of the Benin City Water Storm, Oshiomhole built a primary drain, which spans about 14 kilometers. You can drive under the tunnel, but it's not a tunnel.
It's just made to create sufficient space for the flood to flow to the Ogba River or the other river (Ova River, either of the two) - the water gets to flow. So, all the water going to the area that they called 'channel five-five' coursing through a secondary drain from the two sides of the road entering through a primary drain that evacuates it. That's how we were able to construct from a place that was not accessible, we constructed six-lane - three lanes on two sides. I don't know any governor, who has constructed a six-lane road after Oshiomhole left office.
And today, that area is the safest. Ask them, what used to be 'Five Junction'. Someone has written on it. The last one I read said, 'All those who have governed Benin, those who have tried to play the ethnic card like Obaseki, all their work put together was not more than Oshiomhole covered'. So, the unfortunate thing is that those projects have stopped since Oshiomhole left office and have you seen the flood people are circulating? That is part of the consequences of not completing that programme. We have started suffering flood problem again due to the failure by this same governor to continue that laudable project.
So, the flood is now returning and even one area with flood problem, which we solved, is now grappling with flooding again. The problem about drainage is that it's not as an American consular-general said, he came from Lagos to see some of the things that Oshiomhole was doing in Edo. At the end, he had an interview with the media and told them that of all the things we showed him, the most important project was the underground drainage. He said it was a project necessary for other projects to succeed. With flooding constructing roads, building other infrastructure will prove difficult.
If you do not de-flood the city, you can't build houses, roads. There's nothing you can do. People can't move in. And given the virtually renewed consciousness about the environment, drainage and drainage control are fundamental. Any city that's going to grow needs this. Truth is stubborn. But very sadly, Obaseki decided to stop all these projects but he has not even commenced one project since he came into power three years ago. He claimed he wanted to build an industrial park at Ikpoba Okhai, they took lands of over 50 communities. As we speak, bush has takne over that area and nothing has been done. The community members they took their lands are even crying now asking government to return their lands.
The same thing at Gelegele. Obaseki said he wants to build a sea port. As we speak, they have written over ten MOU on that one singular project and not even a block is in that place. He has only achieved in signing over 10,000 MOUs and nothing on ground. I think our leader Oshiomhole over rated the man when he decided to give him governorship but from what we have seen today, the man is empty and seems to have no idea of what to do. His only achievement so far is singing that politicians are fighting him because he is not sharing money. But we have seen tax payers money being spent every day now in organizing solidarity visits and protests. Some politicians with him now are making money trying to pay people to be loyal. You don't buy loyalty but you earn it and that is what the governor does not know. He deceived Oshiomhole for eight years as the chairman of the Economic Team and it is so sad but all his attempts to rubbish Oshiomhole will hit the rocks. God will disgrace this man for his ingratitude.