Wednesday, April 23, 2014 4:45 pm
Musiliu Obanikoro, the newly appointed Minister of State for Defence, may just have started with more controversies than his job demands. The former Lagos State governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2007 general elections never stops smiling and talking gently. He further exudes an aura of humility, a trait that helped him succeed as the Nigerian Ambassador to Ghana.
This impression among many Nigerians started changing few days after he was appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan to jointly oversee the Ministry of Defence with Aliyu Gusau, who was appointed as the senior Minister. On Tuesday, 8 April, Governor Babtunde Fashola of Lagos told a gathering commemorating his 2,500 days in office, that his efforts to better the state were being thwarted by the Federal Government through none other than Obanikoro.
According to reports quoting the state government, Obanikoro, using heavily armed soldiers believed to be acting under the instruction of the Federal Government as members of a Presidential task force, stormed the site of a Lagos Housing project on Lagos Island, and sealed off the place after sending the construction workers on the site away on the claim that the parcel of land belongs to the Federal Government. Located in Ilubirin, close to the Adeniji-Adele end of the Third Mainland Bridge, the land was reclaimed by the state government some years ago after it said it effected all requirements.
Apart from this alleged subtle attack by Obanikoro, Fashola also accused the Federal Government of using soldiers to stop its projects at Oyingbo Market, on the pretext that the land belonged to the Federal Government.
Fashola, who could no longer hold back, lamented: “We see them joining the Federal Government to wage war against their state. It is unfortunate to see this happen because legislators never do that. They do not join the Federal Government to wage war against their states, but ministers do.” Fashola also echoed the general belief that Obanikoro was appointed a minister to assist the Federal Government capture Lagos in 2015.
In another incident of using soldiers against the progress of the state, Babajimi Benson, Secretary of the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation, LSDPC, narrated how Lagos was stopped from developing a large parcel of land opposite the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, building in Ikoyi. According to him, the land was to accommodate, three structures including a multi-storey car park that is expected to accommodate 850 cars. The project, about 40 per cent completed, also has facility to accommodate the physically challenged, offices for the Lagos State Waterways Authority, LASWA, and a jetty, which he described as world-class.
At about 10am on the morning the place was stormed, Benson said, “we got a distressing call from our partner; unfortunately our partner is funding the project and has expended about N7 billion on the project. The tax payers’ money of Lagos State is not involved at all. When we received the call, we rushed to the site and saw soldiers in their uniform asking us to show proof of ownership and title to that land.”
He argued that the land belonged to the state and that the LSDPC had the Certificate of Occupancy to the land. The corporation, he said, had been working on the land since 2010 without any molestation. While the tussle rages on, Mr. Yinka Marinho, the Managing Director of LASWA, said a temporary jetty had been created at the Falomo end of the state pending the building of a new one. While the political heat generated by this confrontation is yet to abate, Obanikoro is again dancing in a more serious indictment which has to do with a controversial by-election that held recently in Ilaje/Ese-Odo, Ondo State, and declared inconclusive. This time, he was indicted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, of obstructing the smooth conduct of the by-election.
Akin Orebiyi, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, in the state, told the attendees of a stakeholders’ meeting that Obanikoro soiled his hands during the by-election by obstructing the electoral process. “We are aware of how Obanikoro soiled his hands obstructing the electoral process. You can quote me anywhere. One of our officers was almost lynched by the people because they mistook him for Obanikoro. We know what happened and you can quote me anywhere,” Orebiyi was quoted as saying.
The REC accused the minister of bringing soldiers to the area to intimidate opponents of the PDP and compromise the electoral officials to the advantage of his party. As at the time of this report, the election had remained inconclusive and Orebiyi attributed this to Obanikoro’s conduct. Efforts by Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, governor of Ondo State, including an appeal days ago to INEC to announce the result in the interest of the 2015 election and the commission’s integrity, had also failed. Mimiko is insisting that the Labour Party candidate, Kolade Akinjo, won the election.
While defending himself against one of the accusations by the Lagos State government, Obanikoro denied ever trying to stop construction at Ilubirin, saying that while passing by, he made a decision to visit the construction site to assess things for himself, but that this was misconstrued to mean that he had forcefully stopped the workers at the site. “I made an unscheduled visit to the land on the fateful day in question to take a physical assessment of the land. Perhaps, the presence of the military men attached to my convoy is what was termed ‘commando-like’ by the Lagos State Government, but one would expect that the Governor should know better if his intentions are genuine.”
He said the state government was scared because the Nigerian Inland Waterway Act of 1997, Sections 10, 11, 12 and 13 made its activity illegal without the approved consent of the Nigerian Inland Waterway Authority. “I doubt if such approval exists for the dredging of the lagoon floor to fill a part of the same lagoon by the state government,” he said while he queried the concentration on such areas of the state when there are vast lands in other areas.