Some civil society groups under the aegis of the Joint Forces for the Defence of Democracy (JOFDES) in Edo State have appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Assembly, relevant authorities in Federal ministries, departments and agencies, as well as all well-meaning Edo sons and daughters who have the future of Edo children at heart, to do everything within their powers to stop the state governor, Godwin Obaseki from securing a N20 billion loan being allegedly sought. The group, on the other hand, suggested that if however there was any genuine reason whatsoever to approve such a loan for Edo State, it could be considered after the forth-coming state governorship election to forestall the mismanagement of the funds under the tension that accompanies elections.
Addressing journalists on Tuesday during a protest march to the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Press Centre, Felix Osemwengie Isere and Kola Edokpayi, convener and co-convener of the group respectively, expressed disappointment at, and rejection of what they described as “the inglorious attempt by the Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki to obtain another loan of N20,000,000.000 (Twenty billion naira) from the Nigeria stock exchange few weeks to the Edo State Governorship election”.
However, the state government in its reaction denied any plan to obtain such a loan. In a swift response by the special adviser to the governor on media and communication strategy, Crusoe Osagie, the government accused the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Osagie Ize-Iyamu of sponsoring the protest “In a bid to distract Edo people from his ongoing trial in court for a N700 million fraud allegation”.
In its address titled “We Reject the Attempt by Governor Godwin Obaseki to Mortgage the Future of Edo Youths by his Recent Moves to Obtain another N20 Billion Loan” the JOFDES also raised the alarm that the Obaseki-led government was planning to obtain another $100 million loan from the World Bank. “As if these are not enough, we have received reliable information that Godwin Obaseki also intends to obtain another $100 Million loan from the World Bank. This loan, known as the performance for results loan which is awaiting board approval, is aimed at funding the overblown Edo Best and Edo jobs projects. We the citizens are aware that Edo Best and Edo jobs projects are a mere facade and failed projects serving as conduit for siphoning funds for the coffers of the good people of Edo State”, the group posited.
It expressed shock that Obaseki was considering these loans when Edo State currently services the $150 Million credit obtained from the World Bank in 2016 and 2017. According to the conveners of the group, “This is the highest level of political and economic betrayal of the good people of Edo State who had entrusted her collective patrimony into the hands of the governor. It is most unfair and is a demonstration of the mortgage of the future of Edo people”.
Describing the development as not only “worrisome, wicked, reckless, irresponsible and ignominious”, the civil society groups held that it was a calculated attempt to completely mortgage the future of the youths and people of Edo State. “This is totally obvious because Mr. Obaseki is fully aware that Edo State is already heavily overburdened by excess debts. At no time in the history of our dear state have we come under the volume of indebtedness that we face today.
“What are the facts about our indebtedness, you may ask. First, Edo State’s domestic debt profile stands at N84.76 billion. Second, we have the highest domestic debt in Nigeria, second only to Lagos State. Third, we have the highest external debt in the entire South-south with an external debt of $257.92 million as at March 2020. We must get answers to these and other glaring cases of financial mismanagement that have become the hallmark of the Godwin Obaseki’s government”. If the debt claims of the group are true, it is not certain that the debts were incurred during the administration of Governor Obaseki. But the group is of the opinion that not much has been achieved under the governor.
Hear JOFDES: “Apart from the few renovation of already existing infrastructure and window-dressing of already completed projects, we have not seen any landmark or gigantic legacy projects the Obaseki Government has done with funds accruing to the state. We therefore find no justification for the Government’s desire to acquire another N20 billion naira loan few weeks to the governorship elections. We insist that Edo State’s funds are not meant for financing elections not to talk of money borrowed from sources that will become a lasting yoke on the good people of the state”.
Dismissing the claims by the group, including that of the N20 billion loan, Osagie declared that “Edo people cannot be distracted by such wild claim.” He added, “it is ridiculous that on a day the APC candidate is billed to appear in court after several efforts on his part to stall his prosecution, he comes up with a bogus claim of a non-existent debt proposal, and pay people to put up a protest around the court premises.”
According to him, “Edo people are too intelligent to be swayed by such tantrums and staged drama of the absurd, being displayed by Pastor Ize-Iyamu and his sponsored protesters. We subscribe to the principle that every accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but we are however worried by his apparent phobia to face the judge and the court, and his resort to diversionary tactics.”