Home COMMENTARY The Storm In Benin City, By Sylvanus Ainofenokhai

The Storm In Benin City, By Sylvanus Ainofenokhai

In the atmospherics and nuances of ideation and argumentation, facts remain sacred. The flip-side – opinions are free and continue to experience free falls. Successful defence of cases, whether in or out of the law courts, is always grounded on adducing facts with probative value that help to establish cases beyond reasonable doubts. Facts about the N30 billion  Benin City storm water master plan that the administration of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole conceptualized and implemented to address the menace of flooding in the city for decades are centrally addressed in this piece.

Recently, some fictional narratives on the social media had tended to befuddle the issues and blame the seeming distortions and dysfunction of the master plan at the wrong doorsteps. Manipulating the sensibilities of Edo people and goading them into believing the administration of Oshiomhole failed to deliver on the storm water master plan are the heights of political mischief.

Indeed, that has been the essential plot of forces trying to rubbish the commitment to policy decisions, programmes and delivery of projects that formed the basis on which Oshiomhole launched Edo on the path of development, growth and prosperity during his eight-year administration. The other camp seeks to diminish and disparage Oshiomhole’s luminous epoch in Edo, through salacious media spins.

This piece seeks to juxtapose the facts and the fictions in order to draw comparison between the propaganda of bogus claims on the one hand and the magnitude of the mitigating facts of the matter on the other hand. The facts would upend the lies and disrupt maneuvers by conspiracy theorists to fool circumspect observers.

By trying to insinuate Oshiomhole, who is national chair of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), and his former Commissioner of Environment and Public Utilities, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba, who is minister of state for budget and national planning, into a needless controversy, the other camp, enjoying the covert support of Governor Godwin Obaseki, had inadvertently hoisted itself with its own petard. The underbelly of the Obaseki administration in its blinkered agenda to abandon the legacy projects of Oshiomhole’s administration has long been exposed.

Whereas, the original plan was to demonise Oshiomhole and Agba; the stratagem had backfired on the very logic that the storm water master plan existed under Oshiomhole and was functional in dealing with the perennial problem of flooding in the state capital. The argument is then not that Oshiomhole’s government did not execute the project but that Obaseki’s administration had decided to abandon Oshiomhole’s legacy projects as a directive principle of his administration’s policy. How so unfortunate!

To the enlightened Edo State folks living in Benin, Obaseki should take responsibility for the seeming failure to sustain the functionality of the storm water master plan, the same having proved to be salutary under Oshiomhole. A factual narrative of the existential considerations and administrative decisions that birthed the storm water master plan within which there were a series of linkage projects that had to be completed over time is imperative.

Fact is, successive governments, within a period of about thirty years or more, were to sustain the project to completion.  Another fact: the Storm Water Master Plan took about 12 months of study to be inaugurated and was done by supposedly one of the best companies in the world renowned for handling such projects. The company was said to have handled the Lagos Bar Beach problem of Atlantic sea surges.  Aurekon, the South African company, reportedly had over 400 surveyors on ground in Edo, doing topography mapping just to profile water-flow, establish watersheds and determine the final flood water destination during the rains in Benin.

Ikpoba River and Ogba River were, as learnt, identified, but the study showed that three quarters of flood waters end up in Ogba River, because of the topography, as water does not flow up but downwards. If it must be made to flow up, then mechanical devices – a pump and constant power – would be needed. What Oshiomhole’s government did, as gathered, was to identify the lowest point in Benin, where water could flow and where eventually it would end.

Consequently, a two-pronged approach was said to have been adopted. First, the administration looked at the low-hanging fruits: there were areas where a former two-time governor, the late Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia, had put some underground drains. Focusing on those areas, Oshiomhole put drains that would connect to those undergrounds, constituting the primary drains that de-flood the city. The secondary drains on the sides of the roads,  which are visible to the eyes, are only ancillary in the process to protect the roads. If there were no primary drains to which they were connected, the flood problem would be transferred from one area to another. That was the underlining argument.

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Significantly, the Oshiomhole administration confronted the expensive nature of the primary drains; and, for instance, constructed underground drains on the Airport Road that were as deep as 22 feet. Some top officials of the Obaseki administration were part of the project: Obaseki as Chairman of the Economic and Strategy Team; the Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie, as Commissioner of Works and his counterpart in the Ministry of Environment and Public Utilities, Prince Agba.  There were others such Anselm Ojezua and Frak Evbuomwan who also served as either commissioners for works or environment at the time. They were part and parcel of the certification and payment process for the project.

The entire process was documented and archived. The relevant documents would show 23 catchment areas in Benin, which take flow of water in 23 different directions straight into Ikpoba and Ogba Rivers. The Upper Lawani catchment, which was a storm water project, had been completed together with the one around Ugbowo Road to Eghosa Grammar School receptacle where flood waters are discharged into Ikpoba River. There was a storm water project at the Five Junction connecting eleven streets. The administration dealt with a basin flood that had twenty routes. The entire area was subjected to a complete urban renewal through infrastructure development.

Yet another fact: the N30-billion storm water master plan encapsulated more than the drains. It is one project, not all of the storm water projects, which takes care of the Uwelu East and Uwelu West catchments.  There were about eleven roads within that catchment, which includes Igbinadowa whose road is a drain; it is a massive drain and the road sits on top. The idea was to create a tributary for the other drains to flow into at that primary level en-route the river.

It is a fact that the master plan was 70 percent completed under the Oshiomhole administration.  The drains from the river had been taken  up to Siloko Road and what was left as of 2016 was for the Obaseki administration to continue the drain from Adolor College Road, which is the upstream area and that would have also helped to collect the flood waters from the Uwelu spare parts market area. Curiously, the Obaseki administration stopped the project.

Whereas, the components that had been completed needed to be constantly maintained and the drains de-silted, the Obaseki administration failed to act in accordance.  Significantly, so many roads in Benin are not paved and consequently the rate of siltation on drains is very high. What Obaseki needed to do but which he did not do was to spend little money to clean the drains and the flood waters would flow.

It is needless exertion to try to divert attention from the blunder of personal indiscretion and failure of leadership to cause Oshiomhole or Agba to be invited through a probe to explain the N30 billion that had already been spent on the drains and allied projects. The Oshiomhole administration had worked on and completed six of the 23 catchments areas.

The administration’s uproar over the storm water master plan is mischievous and misplaced. The problem is with Obaseki’s failure to continue with the project in which he and some of his leading administration officials were involved in its conceptualization and execution.

Consider the declining beauty of Benin under Obaseki’s watch: the street lights are no more functioning; the Akenzua Water Fountain on Ring Road has stopped working. To be sure, these have nothing to do with the N30-billion storm water master plan. Obaseki should stop crying wolf where none exists and do the needful concerning the plan. The recent appeal by Minister Agba to Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, to request the State Government to continue the master plan was in apple-pie order.

  •  Ainofenokhai, public affairs commetator, contributed this piece from Lagos.