BY OSARETIN EHIGIATOR
Quietly, the clock ticks for Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State. On the cusp of the governorship election in the state, scheduled for September 19, the necessity for delivering specifics of Obaseki’s almost four-year stewardship as governor of Edo State has come to the fore. This becomes even more compelling and urgent as more negative and damning revelations about his stewardship are coming to light. In an unprecedented development, the Edo governor has been accused of monumental fraud.
Little wonder that the emerging, logical consensus is that it will simply amount to shooting himself in the foot should Governor Obaseki dodge a response to the very detailed allegations of financial fraud dredged up against him by a very reputable Civil Society Organisation – George Uboh Whistleblowers Network (GUWN).
Twenty-four hours ago, the group asked Governor Obaseki to render the account of his stewardship and issued an ultimatum to him to reply to the allegations on how he ran the state in the last three and a half years. The body, which raised allegations on public spending by the governor, held that rendering account is in consonance with the spirit of electioneering period.
In a letter to the governor, dated September 14 and signed by its chairman, George Uboh, the GUWN said if it had requested the anti-graft body (EFCC) and number two citizen of the country (Vice President Osinbajo) to render their stewardship, Obaseki should then promptly respond to its call.
Flowing from the treasure trove of initially-hidden financial information at its disposal, provided by an anonymous whistleblower, GUWN demanded that Obaseki should shed light on the financial transactions by his government, including payments for contracts, salaries, Value Added Tax and transfers running to billions of Naira and provide clarifications for alleged transfers to banks, ministries, departments and agencies, as well as contractors.
More specifically, according to the group, “It should be noted that although we found suspicious transactions in multiple years, however, the suspicious transactions became rampant and egregious in 2019, hence our conclusion that His Excellency, Godwin Obaseki allegedly siphoned funds in preparation for the election.
“We found numerous transfers made into 8-digit account numbers running into billions of naira; We found numerous transfers in Billions of Naira from Edo State Government to General-Purpose accounts in different banks, including but not limited to Equatorial Trust Bank (which is not in operation), Access Bank, Sterling Bank etc. Posers: what does general-purpose stand for? Are these funds dissipating from these general-purpose accounts in these banks? The red flag is clear and convincing.
“We found billions of naira in transfers to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) without being specific on the particular MDAs. Transfers should not be in bulk figures in Billions of Naira without specifying the MDAs and their respective account numbers.
“We found that billions of naira passed through Edo State Government to companies like A&K Construction without specifying the accounts of the companies. In other words, Edo State Government released money to itself, mentioned companies like A&K Construction without mentioning the recipients’ accounts. Without those details, we can conclude that the monies have no destinations.
“We found that billions of naira were transferred in numerous tranches without account numbers and account names of the purported recipients. We found billions of naira debited as Value Added Tax (VAT). This contravenes common sense. VAT should be a credit not debit. Why would you move billions out and give the narration as VAT? VAT collections are credits not debits.
“Billions of naira released as salary from EDSG without specificity. August 2019 alone, N746,622,765:33 and N693,388,159:31 were moved under the narration salary from EDSG. This is very suspicious, particularly the proximity of the transactions and others above to the election.”
Having laid bare, the substance of its findings, the group then moved further to issue a 48-hour ultimatum for the governor to respond. “Based on the foregoing allegations, we hereby issue you a 48-hr ultimatum to react to the following. Attached please find the requisite bank records.” The ultimatum expires on Wednesday, September 16.
Perhaps, not unexpectedly, many observers are linking the allegations of damning financial fraud to the sidelining of 14 Edo State legislators against the dictates of logic and inclusive governance. Under the Constitution, the state and national parliaments oversight the executive. But it would appear that the Edo State governor had other ideas up his sleeve.
So, his first order of business was to attempt pocketing the legislators – but this misadventure backfired terribly and feared that this might eventually result in his impeachment when the majority 14 legislators declined to toy with Edo’s destiny. Obaseki, in a puzzling move, had proceeded to inaugurate and fly with the minority 10 parliamentarians.
It could be recalled that 14 Edo State were not inaugurated by Governor Obaseki. These same lawmakers also were those whose seats were controversially declared vacant by the minority 10 lawmakers led by the controversial Speaker, Frank Okiye. It could also be recalled that a rather brazen Governor Obaseki imperiously alleged that the 12 House of Assembly members-elect, who according to him, refused to show up for inauguration, and two others were deceived by the former national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole.
According to Obaseki, who is flying the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flag in the September 19 governorship poll, having defected from APC, the action denied the lawmakers’ constituents representation in the house. Obaseki made this curious allegation at a campaign rally in Adolor Ward 4, Ovia North-East Council.
He further alleged that the affected lawmakers, in their selfish pursuits and obedience to their godfather, betrayed the confidence reposed in them by their constituents after the house was proclaimed on June 17, 2019. But Obaseki’s brazen impunity was sure to trigger a backlash from very high quarters. Obaseki simply believed that without legislative oversight, he could get away with monstrous financial fraud dressed up as governance. But he badly got his calculations wrong because he saw 14 legitimately-elected legislators as prying eyes.
This bold impunity, especially the sidelining of the majority state legislators, may have forced the APC national leader Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to come out strongly against Governor Obaseki’s second term bid, urging voters in Edo State to reject him on the D-Day. The former governor of Lagos State, in a political broadcast on Tuesday (September 15, 2020), five days to the poll, identified himself as one of the major fighters for the democracy the country is now enjoying and proclaimed that Obaseki was not near the struggle.
He said that Obaseki, despite being a major beneficiary of the 20-year democracy, is ironically working to destroy it (democracy) through his actions in the Edo State House of Assembly. In Tinubu’s words: “He won an election; no one prevented him from being sworn in; thereafter, members of the state assembly got elected along with him (specifically 24 of them). Out of these 24 (members-elect), he prevented 14 of them from being sworn in. He demonstrated the act of dictatorship, lack of respect of the rule of law, lack of respect for the people who voted for those legislators he prevented from being sworn in. Today, he now comes to you as a democrat, wanting you to vote for him. Please I appeal to you. Reject him.
“Several institutions and leaders of our country appealed to him to respect constitutional democracy but he rejected all entreaties. He rejected the appeal from the National Assembly.”
A clearly miffed Tinubu further stated that Governor Obaseki did not deserve any democratic process as he has violated democratic institutions through some of his actions like removing the roof of the Edo State House of Assembly.
“Now he is asking for your votes. He is asking for our votes, our dear people. Is this a democrat? No. He is not. He does not deserve any democratic ballot paper. Don’t vote for him. I appeal to all of you. Like he rejected the 14 members-elect, you should (also) reject him.”
The big question on everybody’s lips is, will Obaseki play ball and make full disclosures about the murky first-term financial transactions he embarked on, possibly to sequester humungous funds with which to prosecute his doubly doubtful re-election bid. Edo folks watch carefully.
…Ehigiator, public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos.