oshiomhole (600 x 366)BENIN CITY – Governor Adams Oshiomhole said the state Government served authorities of the University of Benin a notice, three years ago, to vacate 18 properties belonging to the Edo State Government, but rather than vacate, they took the government to court.
The Governor said to fulfill all righteousness, the government waited for the court to deliver judgment, which it did on December 16, last year, ordering the university authorities to vacate the said properties “forthwith”, ruling that the 18 properties belonged to the state government.
According to him, having waited from December 16, 2014 for the illegal tenants to vacate the properties and they refused, the government took steps granted by the court to recover the properties in the interest of the people of the state.
Fielding questions from journalists on the issue, Oshiomhole said that as the Governor, he has a duty and responsibility to hold in trust and protect all assets belonging to the People of Edo State that are entrusted to the government of the State.
He said, “As the Governor of this state, I have responsibility and duty to protect the interest and asset of Edo State and those properties are not in the names of any individual. They are in the names of Edo State Government and we cannot fold our hands and allow individuals to continue to occupy properties belonging to Edo State Government and paying rents to the wrong authority. I remain firm that if the interest of Edo State is involved, I must stand firm and execute it without fear or favor and that is exactly what we have done.”
Giving a background on how the properties got to the university authorities, he said: “As I am sure you will recall, when UNIBEN was set up, the then Military Governor, Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia, in his wisdom, decided as a young institution to assist some of the officers and staff with accommodation and so, some houses were made available to accommodate some of the staff of UNIBEN.
“However, they have occupied these properties without paying any rent to Edo State Government but a couple of years ago, just before I assumed office as governor, the Federal Government in line with the policy of monetization under which salaries of employees including other allowances were abolished so that rather than provide these for certain categories of public officers, they were to be paid in lieu of either official quarters or cars.
“Subsequently, the Federal Government announced the policy under which they had put on sale all apartments and quarters occupied by public officers having monetized the allowances of such officers and so, in Edo State, Federal Government and some of its agencies had published their intention to sell off the houses that were previously occupied by Public officers.
“As a result of the decision, my predecessor in office, Prof Oserheimen Osunbor, as the governor then, disputed the claim of the Federal Government and the University of Benin that these assets from our records were assets of Edo State Government.”
The Governor said shortly after assuming office, he was approached by counsel of the University of Benin asking him to sign some documents to transfer the landed properties to the university which he declined, saying, “I told him if UNIBEN needs any favor from Edo State Government, I expect the leadership or the VC to approach the government of Edo State for such a favor, not to approach us through their legal adviser.
“I also reminded him that I am aware and it is the truth that salaries of lecturers, academic and non- academic staff have been monetized and even the salary of the VC is now over N1.5 million monthly because the provision for official quarters, cars, drivers have been monetized and added to their pay.
“In any event, the official lodge of the Vice Chancellor of Benin is within the premises of the University of Benin at Ugbowo and so he is not entitled to hold several other government properties.  He is not even entitled under the Federal Government policy now to occupy even the official lodge of the VC except he pays rent for it”, he said.
Oshiomhole said, “Thereafter I was informed by the Attorney-General that UNIBEN had decided to go to court.
“Meanwhile, I did not take any further steps. I had directed that a letter be written to the management of the University of Benin advising their officials to vacate those quarters because the University authority was now collecting rent on properties belonging to Edo State Government and this, in my view, was unacceptable and they were advised to vacate. Once we dropped the letter, we didn’t take any further steps.
“On their own, they chose to go to court to challenge our claims that these properties belonged to Edo State Government. Of course we were obliged to enter appearance and we contracted a SAN to represent us in the suit.
“In the end,  the court ruled in our favor that these properties belonged to Edo State Government and the fact that you asked a tenant to stay in your quarters doesn’t confer ownership on him and the attempt to sell means that these persons no longer need the assistance. So the court ruled in our favor but the court also proceeded and ruled, based on our own prayers, that having served them notice over 3 years ago, that they should vacate and they failed to vacate, the court ordered that they should vacate the properties forthwith”, he noted.
Oshiomhole stressed, “To vacate forthwith means without any further notice because the court took judicial notice of the fact that they have been asked to vacate these properties for over a period of 3 years so they can’t claim that they have not been advised to leave but they stubbornly refused to vacate the properties. This judgment was delivered on the 16th of December, 2014.
“Now I would have thought that if the management of the university had any problem with this to approach us to either give them time or make proposals on how we can manage to accommodate them. However from all we have watched on TV, they were not ready, rather they were still threatening here and there.
“We have also found out that even the former VC, Professor Oshodin is not directly occupying even the property that he is occupying. One of the properties, he allocated to himself, from what we now know, he actually allocated that property to his senior wife while Professor Oshodin lives outside in another property with his younger wife. You cannot give Edo State Government properties to individuals like that.
“There are many of the lecturers, who have retired, who are no longer in the employment of the University of Benin who are still occupying some of these properties. They have lived there for the past 30years, have retired from UNIBEN several years ago and yet they occupy these properties. Is this in line with public service rule? Are these properties meant to be retirement benefits? He asked.
“So the steps we have taken are purely in the interest of the Edo Public whose taxes were used to procure those assets. I have a duty to secure those assets. I also want to use this opportunity to make the point that I am not like others. I am not selling any of these assets to myself, nor am I allocating any of them to myself or to any of my friends. It is a matter of principle. Everybody is under the law and nobody can resort to blackmail.
“I am aware that they have tried to mobilize all manners of people, people who have no interest whatsoever in the matter. These properties are not student hostels. If the properties are not student hostels, how is the interest of the student community affected? If the wife of Professor Oshodin lives in one of the properties, how does that affect the interest of the student community?
“Clearly, people are being mobilized believing that they can twist the facts and create all kinds of distractions but as far as I am concerned, I am clear, my duties here sometimes can be very pleasant, some other times, it requires a level of courage. The courage to protect the public interest and governance requires that sometimes, you step on toes of people you respect”, he added.
On the issue of the case being in court of appeal, the governor said, “Now if they claim they have a court order to stay, it is not with their mouth, they have to show it to you exactly the same way we have shown you in black and white, the judgment of the court, let them show you the court order that granted them stay. If the court granted stay, we cannot proceed but also it is an elementary principle in law that the fact that you verbalize your intentions to appeal doesn’t mean you have filed an appeal.”