The decision of the Edo State government to put Edo House, its choice property in Lagos Island, up for sale is raising dust with critics describing the move as prodigal
If majority of Edo people have their way, they will boldly inscribe on the walls of the Edo House in Lagos about to be sold by the Edo State Government “This House Is Not For Sale,” if for nothing else but to register their displeasure with the decision of the Adams Oshiomhole-led administration to sell their common heritage and send a warning signal to would-be buyers. The property was the state’s share of assets belonging to the defunct Bendel State after it was split on August 27, 1991 into Edo and Delta states. Located on Plot 1225, Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Edo House, an architectural showpiece, has survived eight administrations, both military and civilian. The present administration of Oshiomhole is the ninth.
Since the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the opposition party in the state, blew the whistle on the alleged clandestine plan by the All Progressives Congress, APC, government to sell the choice property, outrage and condemnation had trailed the move. Dan Orbih, chairman, PDP, Edo State, recently wondered why the government was intent on selling the property at a time it claimed that it had raised internally generated revenue from N300 million to over N2 billion. Orbih said, “this is why we have come out to alert the public because the government is fraudulent in their decision to sell this property; the process is also fraudulent. We have strong information that they have moved the money for the purchase to Lebanon, Dubai and back to Nigeria.”
PDP described the planned sale as “satanic,” and rejected the process adopted in disposing off the property valued at over N3.5 billion. He said the way the government started the process meant, “it was designed to shortchange the state.” Orbih continued, “We queried the process of selecting Segun Asaju, the estate agent handling the sale stating that there were more qualified estate valuers of Edo State origin who were shut out of the process. In a veiled reference to Oshiomhole, Orbih alleged that Asaju was once an agent to “a former labour leader in the country and was chosen so that a certain Edo government official could buy the property.” The party took exception to a portion of the advertisement by the realtor, which stated that it was not obligated to sell to the highest bidder, adding that it was pre-determined to favour a particular buyer. However, property experts say it was a normal clause in such advertisements and nothing to be anxious about.
Reacting in a similar fashion, the Labour Party, LP, in the state said it was piqued by the proposed sale. Patrick Eholor, deputy chairman of the party, said, “I consider this preposterous because as a Nigerian and an Edo indigene, we need to know why our heritage is being sold.”
Samuel Ogbemudia (junior) who served as director of the Edo State Liaison Office during the administration of Oserheimen Osunbor, professor of Constitutional Law, and actually lived there with his family and other workers, described the reason for selling the property as flimsy. Ogbemudia said contrary to the claim that the property was inhabitable, “if they maintain it, it is habitable. I tried my best to maintain it.” He said to sell such a property in the front of the beach is outrageous. “They should shop for investors, they can build a hotel, an amusement park or a shopping mall; they can build a lot of things in that place and people will be willing to invest.” Ogbemudia contended that while the government had the right to sell the property, it should follow due process otherwise subsequent administrations could revoke the transaction. He explained that an audit report would be required while the House of Assembly would have to debate it and give its approval.
Apparently not persuaded by the government’s logic in putting the property up for sale, Don Idada Ikponmwen, former provost-marshal in the Nigerian Army, said the Oshiomhole government has a responsibility to convince the people about what informed its decision. Ikponmwen reasoned that if the state was broke as was being touted by the opposition, “no matter how big that property is, it cannot solve the financial crisis confronting the state.” Ikponmwen was miffed that the same people who had opposed the sale of the house in the past are now agreeing to sell it.
Ede Asenoguan, a lawyer with Idahagbon Chambers, said if properly managed, the Edo House would be a revenue-yielding asset. He noted that, “there were moves in the past to sell this same property and we know the kind of opposition the people of the state made at that time which made the government to rescind its decision. So, I don’t know now what has changed.”
Wilson Imongan, a medical doctor and at various times commissioner for health under Osunbor, agreed that the state’s assets should not be sold because the government had economic challenges. “These are what we put in place for sustainable development for our children. The labour of our heroes past should not be in vain. I do not know what legacies we want to leave for our children. We have a government that has not brought any industry. So, let us tell government clearly that we have not seen any industry coming up and now we are being threatened by the sale of what we have. What do we then leave for our children?”
Abayomi Thomas, a legal practitioner and public analyst in the state, said the proposed sale was wrong and unconscionable. He accused Oshiomhole of trying to sell the property to himself and his friends and advised him to leave the property alone and face the completion of the projects he had started and for which he sourced for funds from the capital market. But Oshiomhole insisted that nothing could stop him from going ahead with the sale; not even the series of protests in front of the contentious property by concerned Edo indigenes in Lagos and politicians from the state.
Lucky Igbinedion who governed the state between 1999 and 2007, had attempted to sell the property when the state was reportedly cash strapped, but the furore that greeted the move forced him to beat a retreat. Interestingly, some of the key players in that government who stalled the sale of that property at the time are close associates of Oshiomhole. One of them is Patrick Obahiagbon, the present chief of staff to the governor, who as the Majority Leader of the Edo State House of Assembly, moved the motion stopping Igbinedion from selling the property, which was unanimously adopted by the legislators.
The initial reaction of the state government was to deny the sale of the choice property. But only recently, the government admitted that it was indeed selling the property and to demonstrate its resolve, it went ahead to advertise it in some national newspapers. By so doing, it was like stirring the hornets’ nest as the advertisement provoked indignation and inflamed passion and umbrage not only among the political class but also across the mass of the people of the state.
Kassim Afegbua, special assistant to Oshiomhole on media and public affairs, said government was selling off the property “because that is the best thing to do in the light of long years of decay in the hands of PDP government.” The former spokesman to Ibrahim Babangida, ex-military president, said the government’s thinking was that rather than abandon a property in Lagos, its economic value could be utilised for the overall good of the people of Edo State. “After all, what purpose is Edo House serving in Lagos as we speak when there are lots of developmental challenges back home in Edo State,” he explained. According to him, the government decided to sell the property because the money used for its maintenance surpassed the income it generated from rent. While positing that government’s decisions were taken based on public interest of Edo people “and not on personal interest of some PDP demagogues who plundered our collective patrimony in the past,” Afegbua said.
Breaking his silence on the controversy the issue had generated, the governor described the criticisms as “mischievous and petty.” He said with Lagos no longer the federal capital, the reason for acquiring the property was no longer valid and “the building in Lagos is therefore no longer relevant, so we decided to put it on sale.” According to him, proceeds of the sale would be used to build a five-star hotel with a conference centre and banquet facilities and seminar rooms in a strategic place in Benin City. “If the money is not enough, we will use it to start the construction and find other resources to complete it. Incidentally, during my last visit to Washington about 10 days ago, I had a deal with the American overseas Nexim Bank to fund the construction of a hotel. If that comes to pass, we expect to raise $250 million. If we get that, we can have a five-star Marriot Hotel that will forever change the face of Benin City and make a bold statement about our tourism potential as a state.”
In the past few days, the campaign against the disposal of the property had assumed a popular uprising with more and more interest groups and social commentators speaking up against it. But from all indications, the sale of Edo House is a done deal and the people of the state can as well prepare to sing the Nunc Dimittis of a property that was once a thing of pride for the state. The PDP has, however, threatened to halt the sale. How it hopes to achieve this remains to be seen.