By Dr. Augustine Osayande
I would like to, once again, engage critical stakeholders on the issues of good governance in Edo State. I derived motivation from a press statement issued by the State Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. Chris Nehikhare, wherein he said that the opposition party had set up a committee to investigate the state’s debt profile with a view to ascertaining how much the state had incurred from 1999 till date.
The state’s debt profile has been subject of public discourse in recent times. The state governor, Godwin Obaseki, had adverted public attention to it in a fit of gaffe that found sufficient footing in what perhaps could pass for Freudian slip. He was quoted to have said that the huge debt incurred by previous administrations was hampering the development initiatives and efforts of his administration.
Obaseki’s declaration was the most credible admission yet that previous administrations were reckless about external borrowings and/or loans. It gives credence to suppositions by the opposition party in the state that the immediate past administration of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was the most culpable in that regard. But, whether or not the loans were used for the purposes for which they were taken is moot.
Indeed, against the backdrop of the level of development that is not commensurate with the quantum of the loans obtained, it would be safe to describe whatever development strides made by the previous government or governments as poor. This is not only problematic but also troubling: that so much would be taken as loans for little in return is a sheer betrayal of the social contract between the government and the governed.
It is thus understandable why the PDP has been upbeat about the issue of the debt profile. The fact that Obaseki reinforced it was an obvious own goal by the governor. It would appear that he was indicting a government in which he was the head of the economic team for all of eight years. To be sure, he headed Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s economic team.
Although the State Government, through a statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy to Governor, Crusoe Osagie, had described the report credited to the Governor Obaseki as false and had urged Edo people and other stakeholders to disregard the fake report; I nevertheless hold the sincere view that Edo People are interested in the fine details of the debt profile from 1999 to 2018.
There is nothing like witch-hunt here. Since both the PDP and the APC had ruled the state in the period under reference, a disclosure of the details would show how much was taken as loans by each dispensation or administration. In fact, Edo people and the general public should be furnished with the purposes of each tranche of the loans. This will enable us to find out of the loans were utilized for the said purposes.
But without being perfunctory and preemptive, given the state of infrastructure decay in our dear Edo state, one is compelled to hold the view that that the loans obtained had been mismanaged and misappropriated. The onus therefore lies on the administrations that obtained the loans to prove otherwise, especially in the face of statistics that placed Edo state as one of the states saddled with the highest debt figures.
In its report released earlier this year, the Debt Management Office (DMO) placed Edo State as the third highest in the federation, behind Lagos and Kaduna States respectively. According to the report, Edo State debt is 5.63 per cent of the sub-national external loan commitments. The question in the minds of many Edo citizens remains this: is the current total debt profile of the state a true reflection of the level of infrastructure development on the ground?
Edo people would want to know how the state debt profile increased from N4billion in 2008 to $232.2m million. They would want to know who borrowed the N30billion for the construction of the Benin City Storm Water Drainage Project, which seems to have been abandoned. Who borrowed N14.7 billion from the World Bank for Edo State? Who borrowed N11 billion for the development of the agricultural sector? Who borrowed N2, 320 million from the Bank of Infrastructure to purchase 75 units of 40-seater buses for the government-owned Edo City Transport Service (ECTS)? Who borrowed N36.7 million loan for 150 farmers in Auchi in Etsako West Local Government Area?
Besides the above, who borrowed N2billion to pay for Edo State counterpart funding of the Universal Basic Education infrastructure development? Who borrowed N34billion from the African Development Bank for Water in Ojirami Dam, Ikpobha River Dam and the Ugboha Water Works projects? Who borrowed US$45million collected from the Paris Club to fund Benin Technical College rehabilitation? Who borrowed N3billion from the Chinese EXIM Bank to dualise the Benin-Ekehuan-Gelegele road? And, who borrowed the N3billion bond from the capital market for the construction of the Iyekogba Housing Estate in Benin City?
The present generations of Edo people are worried over the huge financial burden under which Edo state is caving in. Edo people would appreciate if they know those who were responsible for facilitating and negotiating most of the debts that have now plagued the state so that they can properly and specifically point a finger of guilt at the culprit.
Governor Obaseki has done a lot of service to himself for pointing out the fact that the huge debt profile has been a setback to development in the state. The people are certainly aware of the administration’s predicament; Crusoe Osagie’s defence that the governor did not say so or the purported declaration by the governor was false cannot mitigate the issue. It is a fact that there is a huge debt burden hanging on the neck of the state which must be paid.
The earlier the matter is clearly sorted out so that the people know who had brought them into this debt net, the better. The people will be in a position to understand efforts that Obaseki is putting into debt repayment vis-à-vis infrastructure development within the ambience of good governance. Indeed, the people would be able to moderate their expectations from the governor and his party.
As I round off, it is my belief that Edo State will be on the right path with this investigation of the debt profile which should lead to the naming and shaming of sorts of those who unconscionably plunged the state into the debt net and the concomitant cycles of poverty. The exercise would serve as a lesson to future leaders with intentions to commit the state to punitive debt burdens that generation unborn would bear without equivalent infrastructure development in the state.
I see the idea as good and all Edo People with good intention towards the development of our dear State should encourage and applaud the suggested process. Besides other partisan considerations, the outcome of such investigation will help to formulate repayment mechanism. More also, it will necessarily serve as one of the best gifts Edo people can get from a governor who is a finance expert of international repute; and, who is applying all the state’s resources frugally in critical areas that are raising the economic profile of the state.
• Dr. Osayande is from the Department of Geography and Environmental Management. University of Abuja, Nigeria.