Members of civil society groups under the aegis of Joint Forces for the Defence of Democracy (JOFDES) have protested in Benin and its environs against Edo Governor Godwin Obaseki’s move to obtain N20 billion loan.
They alleged the loan was for the Governor’s re-election bid.
JOFDES, through its leaders, Osewmengie Isere, a lawyer and Kola Edokpayi, declared that Obaseki’s administration had no justification to obtain another N20 billion loan that would become a burden to Edo people and the unborn generations.
The protesters, armed with placards bearing various inscriptions, chanted anti-government songs.
Some of the inscriptions on the placards were: “We reject the N20b loan by Edo State Government”; “Do not sell the future of Edo State, because of political interest”; “Edo is one of the states in Nigeria with highest debt profile” and “N20b loan will be diverted for Obaseki’s re-election campaigns.”
JOFDES said: “Just some weeks to the September 19 Edo State governorship election, Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is making a desperate attempt to secure another loan from the stock market.
“The most shocking part of it is that Obaseki is about taking the loan when Edo State currently services the $150 million facility his administration obtained from the World Bank.
“Edo State’s domestic debt profile currently stands at N84.76 billion. Edo State has the highest domestic debt in Nigeria second only to Lagos State. Edo State has the highest external debt in the entire South-South zone, with an external debt of $257.92 million, as at March 2020.
“We find these developments not only worrisome, wicked, reckless, irresponsible and ignominious,but calculated attempts to completely mortgage the future of the youths and other people of Edo State. At no time in the history of our dear state that we have come under the volume of indebtedness that we face today in Edo.”
Members of JOFDES also called on President Muhammadu Buhari, other top officials of the Federal Government and its agencies to do everything within their powers to prevent approval for Obaseki’s loan.
Obaseki, reacting through his Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie, accused the Governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, of sponsoring the protests.
He however stated that such actions would not distract voters.
Obaseki said: “Edo people are too intelligent to be swayed by such tantrums and staged drama of the absurd, being displayed by Pastor Ize-Iyamu and his sponsored protesters.
“We subscribe to the principle that every accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but we are worried by his (Ize-Iyamu’s) apparent phobia to face the judge and the court, and his resort to diversionary tactics.”
But Ize-Iyamu, responding through the Chairman, Edo State APC Media Campaign Council, Prince John Mayaki, declared it was ludicrous and insulting to the people of Edo state, known for their independence of thought, for the Governor to suggest the anger the protesters expressed on the streets of Benin over the N20 billion loan was done at his behest.
He maintained that Edo youths and other people of the state were able to read the news, interpret them and understand the implications of a failed government seeking loans, towards the end of its tenure.
Ize-Iyamu said: “Edo State government has refused to directly speak to the reports on the N20 billion loan acquisition. Are you obtaining a loan or not? What is the loan for? Why are you seeking a N20 billion loan during the heat of an election you are already guaranteed of losing? These are some of the questions that need answers.
“We do not sponsor protests and we do not claim to control the minds of the people. If Obaseki and his aides have such an arrangement, through which they channel funds to people to protest on the streets, they should come out and tell the world, as that is not part of the APC’s modus operandi.”