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Evaluating Godwin Obaseki’s Stirring Governance – By: Sebastine Ebhuomhan

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By Monday, June12, 2017, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki would have marked seven months or approximately 213 days in office as Governor of Edo State. Still too little a time for proper evaluation of a four-year term, the moment presents an opportunity for stock taking.

Popularly backed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other party leaders as a worthy successor to former Governor Adams Oshiomhole and elected, thereafter, last September in a free, fair and credible election before swearing-in two months later, Governor Obaseki has conducted himself, so far, in a manner that makes him much more than a listening, hearing, seeing and feeling public servant as opposed to the more familiar political rulers or demi gods in Nigeria.

Cerebral, Shy and Quiet Man

Elected in a gale of uncertainty despite his qualification, experience, passion and recommendation at party level, not the least for his shy mien as chairman of Edo State Economic and Strategy Team under Comrade Oshiomhole, Obaseki has not only shown that he is able, capable and fit for the job but also that a Nigerian state executive governor can work quietly without intimidation, harassment or yoking of citizens: a repudiation of 26 years dreadful experience that has endeared him to residents as “noiseless action man.”

Despite having so much to talk about as ‘modest achievements in few months’, Governor Obaseki has characteristically turned down requests for interview from media organizations inside and outside Nigeria since last November, maintaining that he has achieved no extra-ordinary thing to warrant media promotion. Even the dismissal of the petition against his election by the tribunal could not draw words from his mouth in the face of invectives from petitioners.

On Friday, June 9, 2017 when the Court of Appeal in Benin City in a five-minute sitting with commendations for the lower tribunal’s painstaking judgment expectedly dismissed for lack of merit the appeal filed by the loser, Osagie Ize-Iyamu and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Obaseki demonstrated good mannerism again. Addressing his supporters in decorous language, the governor reiterated, “God gave me the victory; the people of Edo State voted for me; our ancestors blessed the victory; the courts in their wisdom have also reaffirmed my victory.”

“I won fair and square on the platform of APC with overwhelming majority. I have made it clear; APC won. APC will govern the state. Therefore, my cabinet will be purely APC. But in terms of getting people to work with me, we have held series of workshops across very many policy issues involving opposition parties.”

Although it has not been a smooth sail for the government in a national economy just recovering from a recession that was inflicted by looting, mismanagement, impunity and corruption in the past, the governor has undoubtedly upheld his electoral promise to reduce the cost of governance as he strives to form his cabinet in seven months now. Also, Obaseki has reduced the luxurious lifestyles of government officials, political parties, chieftains and hangers-on.

While no law prohibits a slow and steady formation of cabinet, the governor’s action has given critics a confrontational issue to accuse it of contributing to the generally dry, dull and dreary national socio-political and economic situation.

Thankfully, Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA) is presently screening Governor Obaseki’s nominated commissioners. Led by Speaker Justin Okonoboh, the lawmakers have already approved a list of twelve (12) special advisers from the governor followed with an appointment of one hundred and ninety-two (192) special assistants, who will live and work at each of the 192 wards of Edo State, and fifty-four (54) senior special assistants, who will work in government offices to increase access to governance, government and governor.

A few citizens have expectedly criticised the appointment as profligate while many commended the governor’s vision. In as much as the functions if government include the provision of basic amenities such as security, food, water, shelter, roads, health, school and gainful employment or engagement, political appointments remains a yardstick for participatory democracy.

Obaseki’s idea of asking citizens to apply for appointments, before a committee screening, followed by ward and local authorities’ approval, is a fascinating departure from the past reflecting “the people’s desires, aimed at service delivery.” This is the reason stakeholders want his deputy, Rt. Hon. Philip Shaibu, to administer issues of youth and sports in the cabinet.

Although he might have tacitly or tactically evaded media attempts to promote him and his government, he has, nonetheless, been laying foundations for critical infrastructure delivery in a biblical manner that dramatizes the double ration mantle the biblical Elisha received from Elijah.

Historic Consultations and Workshops

Harnessing his virtues of calmness, patience, tolerance, vision, hunger, drive and knack for development, Obaseki began with the organization of wider consultations with broad spectrum of Edo State people. Through the establishment of a strategic planning unit, he was able to bring critical stakeholders from government, public service, private sector, opposition, civil society, non-governmental organizations, labour, traditional institution, religious groups, youth council as well as active and retired citizens to roundtables for strategic meetings that culminated in a two-day dialogue aimed at producing realistic and implementable blueprints for Edo State development.

In his review, immediate past Secretary to Edo State Government and former presidential aide on research, Professor Julius Ihonvbere, explained the impact of the strategic dialogue on governance.

 “In the history of Edo State, it was the first time such dialogue session was held to look at all sectors in the state: whether in agribusiness, economy, infrastructure, development, education, culture, tourism etc.”

According to Mr. Ihonvbere, the strategic document from the dialogue session informed the N152.3bn 2017 budget of consolidation and prosperity speech of Mr Governor; and so far, has been directing the government’s policy implementation. 

Ihonvbere, who is saddled with the responsibility of conducting strategic meetings, seminars and workshops for policy direction of Obaseki’s administration explained, “Essentially, this administration is moving in a direction that is carrying everybody along. There is a buy-in from the communities; from the grassroots; nothing is being done in secrecy. Everybody is aware of every step government is going to take.”

“What this has done is to buy not just support for the government but has generated new discussions and discourses at the grassroots level.” 

With carefully and strategically selected resource persons aimed at drawing experiences from other governments’ successes such as Lagos and Cross River, the workshop brought former Cross River boss, Mr. Donald Duke as chairman of the session on environment, focussing on the cleanness of Calabar as well as Professor Afolabi, former Head of Service of the Federation, in a session.

A session on housing brought Alhaji Alli Magashi of Aso Savings and Loans Limited even as another brought Alhassan Usman. The session on health brought the Minister of Health; while human trafficking brought presidential aide on Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa and activist and lawyer, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin. 

In all, over 50 local and international NGOs represented by officials, activists, lawyers, politicians and other professionals attended some of the sessions including Speaker of Italy’s Lower House, Italian ambassador to Nigeria as well as representatives of British High Commission. There were officials of Nigeria Immigration Service, Customs and Excise, Nigeria Police Force and Nigeria Bar Association also as well as school students and victims of trafficking. 

“It was a holistic arrangement to get everyone on board to discuss particular issues, so that policy implementation that will follow will not come to anyone as strange or out of context,” Ihonvbere continued. 

“Now, in the next six months or one year, what you will see in Edo is strategic development pointers that would move this state from where it used to be. We are striving to be number one. We don’t have all the resources of Lagos or resources of the major oil producing states but we know it is not necessarily money that promotes development,” Ihonvbere explained. Indeed.

Making Edo State Investors’ Haven

Under the eight-year administration of Adams Oshiomhole, Edo State assumed the status of a global reference point for transparency and accountability in government businesses, which had been lacking for years before then. 

Two decisions ex-Governor Oshiomhole made to successfully turnaround the story of Edo’s corrupt and shameful past was the creation of an economic team and a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) office in addition to a Ministry of Investment. 

Now, Governor Obaseki, who worked on pro bono basis as chairman of the economic and strategy team then, is extending that success. In a bold move to accelerate a capital driven economy, he has combined those three agencies into an Investment Promotion Bureau for a one-stop shop for investors attracted to Edo State for entrepreneurship.

Instead of dealing with cabinet commissioners or civil service bureaucrats at different stages of discussions, an investor simply goes straight to the bureau for talks at desks manned by government professionals, including officials of Ministry of Land, Ministry of Environment, and Edo Internal Revenue Service etc., before face-to-face with Governor Godwin Obaseki—within 24 hours.

The implication of this change is that business implementation processes that normally took weeks and months to actualize can now be achieved within days or less than a week.

Of course, the impact is no less enhanced by the on-going clean up of the capital city being implemented by a committee led by the Secretary to the State Government, Barrister Osarodion Ogie, which has resulted to visible cleaner streets, parks, markets and freer roads for unimpeded movement of persons, goods and services.

Healthier Economy in Healthier Edo

The 2016 edition of Annual States Viability Index (ASVI), a painstaking and credible report by the award-winning Economic Intelligence Magazine, has reaffirmed the healthy status of Nigeria’s Heartbeat even in a national recession.

The report showed that fourteen (14) states are insolvent as their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in 2016 was far below 10 per cent of their Federation Account Allocations (FAA) of the same year. It proved that without the supportive monthly disbursement of federally collected revenues from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), many states will die.

But the index particularly showed that six states: Lagos, Ogun, Rivers, Edo, Kwara and Delta are the only economically viable states today with IGRs at more than 30 per cent of each state’s allocations. Edo State got N59, 278,008,837.96bn and generated N23, 041,425,599.71bn for an impressive 38 per cent generated revenues for allocated revenues to emerge as 4th best managed state economy in Nigeria.

Debatably, Edo State is the smallest of Nigeria’s six solvent states and one of the smallest of the 36 states with least population, natural resources, industrialization and wealth. What it lacks in riches, however, it has in educated, cultured and passionate citizens. Through sound administration and transparent management since 2008, Edo State is now in the league of big, rich and endowed Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and Delta. It neither owes workers’ salaries nor owes retirees.

According to the public document since May 29, 2017, all the 36 states generated N801.95bn in 2016 as against N2.6trn allocations from Federation Account. It revealed that only Lagos and Ogun generated more revenues than allocations by 169 per cent and 127 per cent respectively while the N302, 425,091,964.78bn Lagos IGR is higher than the remaining 30 states’ totality. Lagos received N178, 606,493,854.14.

States generate IGR through Pay-As-You-Earn Tax (PAYE), Direct Assessment, Road Taxes and revenues from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Despite the data not showing personal income, rent on land and development, as well as taxes paid by corporate bodies, taxes on economic infrastructure and taxes on economic activities, it is still an important analysis more than mere figures.

It is not arguable that internally generated revenues at state and local government council levels have witnessed steady increase since Obaseki assumed power, in continuation of his predecessor, Comrade Oshiomhole’s legacy, who raised the revenue profile of Edo State.

What has change is that Obaseki engaged the revenue collection system and done away with ‘strong persons’ hitherto tasked with revenue collection. In the process, he is further reducing stealing and diversion of revenues in the past that was fraught with manipulation, intimidation and violence. The Igbinidu Inneh-led EIRS’s 50 per cent waiver for defaulters is encouraging payment, humanizing tax and correcting profiling. With its combination of transparency, education, advocacy, technology and enforcement, revenues can only increase in Edo State.

Security, Infrastructure and Job Creation

Data by different security agencies including Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Department of State Security (DSS), National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigeria Military Force indicate that under the leadership of Obaseki Edo State remains one of the states with lowest crime rates.

The government has continued to assist security agencies with materials and logistics for maintaining security, reducing crimes, punishing criminals and creating new architecture with searchlight from grassroots to city-centre beyond vigilante, neighbourhood watch and surveillance. With a growing urban population, Edo state is fashioning a system for rewarding responsibility, dignity and excellence by redesigning its traffic system, parks, markets and recreations for more safety.

Through the human-faced pronouncements of His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Ewuare II, who has brought rebirth, restitution and renewal through the ban on community development associations coupled with the work of ex-IGP Solomon Arase-led committee, sanity is not far-fetched, especially as other traditional rulers from Auchi Kingdom down to Ebelle Town have since taken up the gauntlet.

Obaseki is doing many things in novel ways. He has erased any doubt about his own history by building on the legacy of Oshiomhole. Apart from seeking to maintain Edo positions of 2nd and 3rd in NECO and WAEC excellence by adopting laptops and tabs in classrooms, he is constructing and rebuilding major roads and streets; new, old and abandoned buildings and offices in Benin City in all senatorial districts with focus on Judiciary and Secretariat.

He is embracing better and cheaper technology for roads through concrete rather than bitumen as piloted at Nevis Street.

Governor Obaseki explained in his words: “We are not owing salaries. We paid salaries last on the 26th of May. Yes, there are local governments that are having a few challenges and I am working with them to get out of those challenges. Edo State Government is not owing one Kobo of salaries to any of its workers.”

Continuing, he stated, “We have been in office for seven months now and what we have done should be analyzed on its own merit and you can now determine how many jobs we truly would have created in that process.”

“First we have resurfaced over 60 km of roads across the city and the state, we have started working on our technical school, we have strengthened our traffic agency, we are cleaning up the environment and more importantly, we have initiated a lot of activities in the agricultural sector.”

“Specifically, the state has prepared over 3,000 hectares of land in collaboration with some private investors and that process in itself to grow grains this rainy season will create an excess of 30,000 jobs.”

“It’s not about the number of jobs which we promised to create, which is 200,000 in four years. That will be done. It’s a no brainer. What the issue is: is creating the environment for this to happen. Making sure that young people are given the skills, the training and the capacity to be able to work and also to create an environment where entrepreneurs and business people can make the investments so that the jobs can be created.”

On his 200,000 jobs pre-election promise, Edo State announced the registration of over 170,000 applicants last week.

According to Edo State Information and Communication Technology Unit’s managing director, Lambert Ugorji,“So far, we have hired 64 people for private companies from that database and for SEEFOR which is an MDA in government. We have taken over 5,103 persons to be specific. In the pipeline right now, we have Benin Technical College renovation and about 800 people are expected to come out from there.”

Mr. Ugorji urged applicants to be patient as the government works to fulfil its promise.

“If for any reason their area was not called on, their profiles indicate some of the skills they have. They will be looked at even in other areas to the extent that there are vacancies to fill those positions.”

So, online registration of applicants continues.

Edo State can only be better if every citizen supports the administration of Godwin Obaseki. Support him to succeed.

Oba ghator kpere, Ise! God bless Edo State!! God bless Nigeria!!!

Sebastine Ebhuomhan is an award-winning journalist; a freelancer for Premium Times and former correspondent for The Anchor Newspapers, Independent Newspapers, Punch Newspapers, 234NEXT Newspapers and National Mirror Newspapers. He lives in Benin City. He can be reached at: usie007@yahoo.com or 234-803 7204 620.

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