Local Contractors Defend Obaseki, Say We Are Not Foreigners

Against the backdrop of criticisms that theadministration of incumbent Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki dispensespatronage to contractors from outside the state, particularly Lagos and Abuja,the government has attempted to put a lie to the claim. In what seemed ahurriedly arranged “world” press conference ostensibly at theinstance of the state government at the Vichi Gates Hotel in Benin City, theassociation of indigenous contractors in Edo State laboured to exonerate thegovernor from what it called “misconceptions about the presentadministration giving out all jobs (ongoing construction jobs) to contractorsoutside of Edo State.” They posited that “there are no foreigners in ourmidst. We are all from Edo State, resident in Edo State and our political willand our financial dealings revolve around Edo State.”  

Curiously, most of the criticisms had comefrom leaders and members of the governor’s party, the All ProgressivesCongress, APC, who accused him of dispensing political patronage to his friendsfrom Lagos and Abuja who did not contribute to his election at the expense ofparty men who worked their hearts out to get him elected. The governor’sperceived style of alienating party leaders and faithful from his government hadbeen at the root of the polarisation of the party ahead of the 2020governorship election in the state such that the aggrieved party leaders havevowed to frustrate his re-election. Interestingly, pitched against each otherare loyalists of the governor, and the immediate past governor of the state,Adams Oshiomhole, who was the arrowhead of the 2016 GodwinObaseki-for-governor-project.  

But if the objective of the indigenouscontractors was to set the record straight and convince critics of the governorthat their criticism was misplaced, the press conference indeed fell short ofachieving that as it raised more questions than answers. For example, none ofthe contractors present is handling a mega project for the state governor. Theyadmitted handling mainly SEEFOR road projects which are not more than onekilometer each.  The decision of the association to also seize theopportunity of the event to launch its campaign stickers for the re-election ofthe governor also betrayed the fact that they were recruited to do a hatchetjob to market the governor for a second term in office as resentments againsthis come-back bid amongst party leaders and members continue to grow.

Spokesman of the association, Ahmed Ehi, praised the governor for opening a gateway for indigenous contractors “similar to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s procedure of empowering indigenous contractors.” While positing that “the misconception that jobs allocated are usually given to outsourced contractors is absolutely false and probably a way of bringing down the image of this administration,” Ehi insisted that ongoing jobs in all the senatorial districts were being handled by indigenous contractors which is evident from the names of the directors of the firms/companies. “All the major SEEFOR projects so far are being handled by indigenous contractors. This is because of the fact that the SEEFOR contracts have helped as a springboard for indigenous contractors to grow and in the nearest future, also become multinationals that would be able to compete with other foreign construction organizations in a global scale,” Ehi told journalists. According to him, the indigenous contractors were presently handling over 200 SEEFOR road projects well spread across the three senatorial districts, as well as about 230 schools under the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, with more in the offing. According to him, “our wives are here, our children are here, our finances revolve around the economic base of this state; we have the patronage of course of the local markets and we pay our taxes here as well.”  

Reacting to complaints that SEEFOR projects were often poorly executed as most of them failed no sooner than they were built, and the drainages were narrow, the association denied that it was due to the practice of kickbacks given to some government officials, positing that the jobs which are mainly feeder roads, were done according to specifications they are given. The association further explained that “if for any reason there is a quality job or low-quality job, it would have to do, maybe with weather condition within the period the job was going on, or the contractor who is handling it”.

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