Local Contractors Defend Obaseki, Say We Are Not Foreigners

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

Curiously, most of the criticisms had come from leaders and members of the governor’s party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, who accused him of dispensing political patronage to his friends from Lagos and Abuja who did not contribute to his election at the expense of party men who worked their hearts out to get him elected. The governor’s perceived style of alienating party leaders and faithful from his government had been at the root of the polarisation of the party ahead of the 2020 governorship election in the state such that the aggrieved party leaders have vowed to frustrate his re-election. Interestingly, pitched against each other are loyalists of the governor, and the immediate past governor of the state, Adams Oshiomhole, who was the arrowhead of the 2016 Godwin Obaseki-for-governor-project.  

But if the objective of the indigenous contractors was to set the record straight and convince critics of the governor that their criticism was misplaced, the press conference indeed fell short of achieving that as it raised more questions than answers. For example, none of the contractors present is handling a mega project for the state governor. They admitted handling mainly SEEFOR road projects which are not more than one kilometer each.  The decision of the association to also seize the opportunity of the event to launch its campaign stickers for the re-election of the governor also betrayed the fact that they were recruited to do a hatchet job to market the governor for a second term in office as resentments against his 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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