Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole has said the repudiation of an agreement between the state government and authorities of the University of Benin by the latter was responsible for the recent dispute over landed property.
Oshiomole said the disputed property are owned by the state and not the federal government. He said the university management abandoned a peace deal reached brokered between the government and the institution’s management by the former Governor Sam Ogbemudia, who incidentally gave the property to the school.
Excerpt of Oshiomhole’s comment on the issue:
“Edo State government has taken step to recover some landed properties around the old GRA that over years have been occupied by some officers of UNIBEN. When the University of Benin was set up, the then military governor, Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, in his wisdom, decided to assist some of the officers with that accommodation.
However, they had occupied these properties without paying any rent to the Edo government. But about seven years ago, just before I assumed office as governor, the Federal Government, in line with the policy of monetization of which salaries of employees including transport allowance, provision of cars, provision of official quarters and all of that, announced they had put on sale all apartments or quarters occupied by public officers having monetized the allowances of such officers. Even in Abuja, ministers quarters were sold, National Assembly quarters were sold.
I remember that even the official residence of the Inspector General of Police was sold. I remember also that the official residence of judges were sold. In Edo, the Federal Government published their intention to sell off the houses that were previously occupied by public officers. As a result of this decision, my predecessor in office, Prof. Osunbor, disputed the claim of the Federal Government and University of Benin, that these assets are assets of the Edo government.
They were provided and, in good faith, to assist federal agencies. And the talk was made that if I give you a property to occupy, you can live there for one thousand years in so far as you are staying there at my pleasure, however the day you decide you do no longer need the property, and you decide to sell it, it is clear that you don’t need it anymore and the only thing you need to do is to return it to the owner. You cannot sell it.
So Edo government, under Osunbor, published a caveat emptor warning members of the public not to buy any of these assets. Sometime in 2009, I was approached by Chief Inneh (SAN), requesting that I should sign certain documents to transfer these landed properties to the University of Benin. I asked him why he wanted me to do that because I didn’t know him as a staff of the university. He told me he was the legal adviser to the university.
So I told him if UNIBEN needed any favour from Edo State government, I expected the management of the university to approach the government in pursuance of that favour not to approach us through their legal adviser. He went on to argue that the properties were already the property of the University that they were given to the university by Dr Samuel Ogbemudia when he was governor, so all he needed me to do was to sign some documents formally handing over the properties to the university.
I told him I am a lawyer, but that if it is true that the properties belongs to UNIBEN, the SAN did not need to approach me to give to the university what already belonged to the university. But as far as our records go, these assets are property of the Edo State government, I cannot give them out. And the attempt to sell them shows clearly that the university no longer needs this assistance.
Therefore the only honourable thing for them to do is to vacate. I also reminded him that I was aware that salaries of lecturers had been monetized and the Vice Chancellor’s salary was close to N1.5million because the provision for official quarters, official car, official driver, all of these had been calculated and added to his basic salary.
In any event, the official lodge of the VC is within the premises of the university at Ugbowo, so he is not entitled to occupy any other place except he pays rent for it. Anyway, this is between the university and the Federal Government. But as far as the Edo government is concerned, we are satisfied that the university no longer needs the assistance that one of my predecessors, Dr Ogbemudia, offered; so the best thing is to recover them. I told Chief Inneh that if they thought they still needed the assets, let him advise the authorities to ask for it directly, that we were ready to discuss with them.
Thereafter, I was informed by the Attorney General that the university had decided to go to court. Meanwhile, I did not take any further step, all I did was to direct that a letter be written informing the university to advise their officials to vacate the quarters because the university authority was not collecting rent on properties belonging to the Edo government and that was unacceptable.
Once we dropped the letter, we did not take further step. On their own they chose to go to court to challenge our claim that these properties belong to Edo State. Of course we are obliged to enter appearance and we contracted a SAN to represent the government in the suit.
I was invited by Dr Ogbemudia who told me that he felt that the issue should be settled out of court and I told him I had no problem with that. I also told him I did not have any choice as it was the university management that chose to go to court. He asked me if I was willing to have out of court settlement, he said for example the properties are about 18 in number and out of these 18 we can work out an arrangement where we can decide to leave some to the university while the state government takes the rest.
I am aware that he approached the authorities of UNIBEN and they opted to take the court option. In the end the court found to our favour that these properties belong to the Edo government. That the fact that you offered a tenant to stay in your house does not give you ownership. And the attempt to sell means that this person no longer needs this assistance. The court also proceeded based on our prayers that having served them the notice over three years ago to vacate and they failed to vacate, that they should vacate the quarters forthwith.
So they cannot claim that they had not been advised to leave but they stubbornly refused to leave. This judgment was delivered on the 16th of December. I would have thought that if the management of the university have any problem with this they would have approached us to either give them time or make proposals on how we can accommodate them. But from all we watched on TV they were not ready to listens rather they were still threatening.
As the governor of this state I have the responsibility to protect the assets of Edo State and these properties are not in the name of any individual but in the name of the Edo government. Again there are many of the lecturers who have retired and no longer working in the university who are still occupying some of those properties. The issue is whether I will be behaving responsibly if I turn the other eye because these properties are not my personal properties. I have a duty to hold the trust on assets belonging to the people of Edo. So there is no question that what we have done is in line with judicial finding and the court is very very clear and unambiguous. It is not true that they were not given notice, they had more than three years notice.
And even after the court judgment that was delivered on the 16th of December, by yesterday, it was two weeks and they had not indicated any intention to vacate and they did not request for any time to enable them relocate, rather they were boasting they were never going to vacate. So the steps we have taken is in the interest of Edo people whose taxes were used to procure those assets and I have a duty to secure these assets. “And I want to use this opportunity to make the point that I am not like others.