Built during the colonial rule in 1903, the reconstructed Benin Specialists Hospital in Edo state has generated more controversies than its intended purpose. The new controversy is the recent move by Governor Godwin Obaseki to probe the contract which was awarded and executed during the administration of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole; Patrick Ahanor reports.
Attempts to revamp the hospital
Located in the heart of the metropolis on the Benin-Sapele Road, and on an expanse of land approximately 15 acres, the Benin Specialist Hospital is the oldest health institution in Edo state.
However, government after government has done little or nothing to improve on the hospital’s facilities which have been lacking for quality health delivery to patients.
And moved by the plight of health care-seekers in the near obsolete facilities when he visited it in 2011, ex-Governor Adams Oshiomhole began the rebuilding of a section of the health facility.
This time, it was the reconstruction and upgrading of a 200-bed space at the accident and emergency complex which effectively began in 2012.
Not long after take-off of the project dubbed “five star hospital,” its west wing under construction collapsed and killed the site engineer- an Italian.
The contract, which was awarded to Sincies Chimentin Limited, an Italian firm at the cost of N2.5 billion, drew criticism from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that faulted the project as a wild goose chase.
The then Governor Adams Oshiomhole had set up a panel to amongst others to investigate the cause of the incident and make recommendation accordingly.
The initial controversy
Two years after the mishap, the committee report was never made public, the development that prompted the PDP to present a purported report of the panel and accused the government of insensitivity.
Though the Adams Oshiomhole-led administration denounced the report without presenting an alternative, the hospital project has since then repeatedly swum from one controversy to the other. The timeline is endless!
The state’s PDP chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, had asked the government to bring down its entire structure “in the interest of the lives of those who would patronise the hospital.”
Orbih, who displayed the purported panel report, insisted that the government “erred by re-awarding a contract worth over N3 billion to a company that has no qualified structural engineer and architect.”
Nonetheless, the joy of residents knew no bound when President Muhammad Buhari commissioned the hospital and declared it open for health care seekers on November 7, 2016.
With the ceremony coming at a time Oshiomhole was exiting government after a two-tenure, President Buhari noted that the hospital is the best legacy the former governor would be bequeathing to the people of the state.
President Buhari said he was impressed with the hospital project adding that it takes a lot of courage for Oshiomhole to do what he did.
Buhari had said, “Many elite would prefer to build a more comfortable environment for themselves. But Oshiomhole opted to build a hospital that would benefit the people. I am impressed with the work. This is the best thing Oshiomhole can do for the people. When I was coming, I asked the governor whose edifice is this?”
The closure of the hospital
The joy of residents was, however, cut short as the hospital remained closed more than two years after its inauguration.
Worried by the contentious closure of the hospital built with tax payers’ money without cogent explanation, the talakawa parliament, a non- political organization on May 23 handed out a seven-day ultimatum to Governor Obaseki to open the hospital.
President of the group, Marxist Kola Edokpayi, said, “It was strange for the hospital to remain under lock and key after the state government had expended over #4bn on the project.
“So, we are still confused that the hospital is yet to be opened despite the fact that Oshiomhole handed over to another APC-led administration in the state.
“Besides, when Oshiomhole was governor, Obaseki was head of the State Economic Team. Therefore, he was part of the decision to build the hospital. So, why have they decided to lock it up while we continue to suffer in terms of health care?”
The fresh controversy
And while the waiting appeared to be over for intending patients and residents following the official opening of the hospital in June, 2019, the project triggered another round of controversy penultimate week after governor Obaseki announced plan to probe its contract award.
The governor in a statement by his Special Adviser on Communication & Strategy, Crusoe Osagie said he is burdened by a heavy bill for repairs and irregularities in supply of equipment for use at the medical facility.
“Edo state government is under pressure to set up a Commission of Enquiry to probe the billions sunk into the numerous contracts awarded for the building of the hospital.
“The Commission of Enquiry would have a mandate to ascertain if details of contracts were strictly followed, especially the quality of materials as heavy bills is being incurred for patch up work at the hospital and determine the extent of irregularities regarding the purchase of equipment, among others.
“Actors within the government are calling on the governor to probe the contracts in which billions of taxpayers’ money was expended on a project that was poorly executed. The state government will investigate allegations of fraud and irregularities with the contracting for procurement of the hospital equipment.”
“Individuals contracted to procure the hospital equipment will be called to hear their side of the story, and we will investigate their claims to unravel the reason the equipment are yet to be supplied denying taxpayers’ value for their money.
“The contractors who handled the building have questions to answer including those regarding shoddy jobs done, among others,” he said.
This development was welcomed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but cautioned that the governor should not use the probe to settle scores with his predecessor with whom he is having a running battle.
The state’s chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih, said while the issues could not be ignored, “government must resist pressure to resolve current political disagreements with this issue.”
Orbih, however, commended what he termed “belated admission and disclosures of fraud” in the project having denied same in the past when the party raised the alarm.
“By 2016, the government had wasted over N10, 267,413,000 and every year, the Obaseki government has been allocating and spending millions of Naira to complete the already commissioned project,” he stated.
As the many controversies rage, residents and medicare seekers in the state are, however, relieved that for once the hospital has been opened for use nearly three years after its inauguration by President Muhammadu Buhari.