By Tonnie Iredia
With last week’s decision of the Supreme Court which finally affirmed Godwin Obaseki as Edo State Governor, this is the appropriate time to contribute to the evolving agenda of the new administration. During the electioneering period, this writer fiercely criticized the idea of “continuity” which the out-going government harped on as an election slogan. Continuity in our view was clearly not what edo needed because of the numerous things that the people could not justifiably be required to bear for another four years. Hired analysts, some of them semi-literate, who were lined up to fire back rejoinders merely sang discordant tunes without reference to the substantive message. As events of the time showed, Obaseki became governor not because of continuity but because of destiny. Indeed, continuity was more or less his albatross. The new governor must accordingly not accommodate the distractions of continuity. It is thus gratifying that reports from Benin suggest that the distance between Obaseki and the continuity mantra is getting clearer. It is expedient for him to quickly set aside the contraption and chart a better path that is premised on intellect by seeing every comment such as this piece as an input and not a criticism.
First, it is time to undertake massive developments that can lift at least half of the state from rural status. Our people need real development which has in earnest not been consciously pursued in an empirical manner since after Governor Osaigbovo Ogbemudia. Benin City, the state capital could not roundly develop because the attention of government was usually on some 3 or 4 roads leading to Ring road. Beyond the city, Ikpoba Hill served as the outskirts of Benin from Auchi and Asaba. It has remained so in the last forty years, meaning no growth that way. At that time too, Oluku was described as near Benin on the way to Lagos. The situation is still so. On the way to Warri, a traveller starts to feel that he has left Benin as soon as he passes Ekai Amusement Park. It is still so till date. But the same cannot be said of places like Effurun and Warri in Delta State which were also apart in those days but have now fully merged as a result of purposive development. So, Benin has been static because it witnessed unending concentrated efforts to straighten or widen the same three roads in the city centre. Government must now lead the growth of the city by building infrastructures in other areas that can decongest the city and allow for expansion.
As for lack of funds, a robust internally generated revenue system is an imperative. That must however not be taken for public exploitation but a well thought out strategy that plugs all the leakages which subjected tax collection to theft. The revenue framework must consist of professionals in the industry and not ‘empty-loyalists’ who helped to beat-up opposition politicians during campaigns. This presupposes that there would be accountability which must flow from the open government and accountability of the governor and his cabinet. Without such leadership by example, the state may revert to the trend in the past where no one knew the process which led to the award and execution of public projects. No one for instance knew or now knows the exact cost of the expanded airport road, or its contractor(s) and the award process. The same is true of virtually every other project. The Central Hospital reputed, during campaigns to be of world standard, commissioned some 8 months back is reportedly still under lock and key. Those who had access to the building once said it had no medical facilities; yet the nation’s president was brought to commission it. Obaseki should neither engage in such 419 projects nor use continuity to construct another university in his own village when an earlier institution- the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma is virtually in coma.
The famous Ring road I hear, now looks like a madman suddenly cured of his madness. The nearby Lagos street which used to serve as a long-drawn-out market is now a road as originally designed; the hitherto government agents controlling the area have been sent packing. If Obaseki can have the foresight and courage to make such places work, it means others can be similarly transformed and reorganized. It is in fact inexplicable that Edo line which in the past generated ample revenue for the state was deliberately incapacitated. It is therefore hard to find fault with the decision of the new governor to privatize certain public organizations. The only caution is to canvass for public service delivery organs such as the Edo Broadcasting Service (EBS) to be given a free hand to manage its operations. Government can organize a partial commercialization which enables her to hold-on to some ownership/shares or have an arrangement with its partners which will position the station to undertake public enlightenment from the standpoint of development communication. If its imposed old toga of propaganda is removed, the station can empower our people to become active participants and contributors to community development.
At the swearing of his commissioners, the governor warned that their invitation to government is to serve. To consummate that, each of them must work out his or her schedule with the governor with an inbuilt targeting system that must be reported upon weekly or bi-weekly at the state executive council meeting. The latter would replace the old system in which the body was essentially a contract awarding entity. All government officials would now become productive as they have to contribute to their sectoral targets. Because of separation of powers the governor cannot control the legislature but he must disallow the old order that was conducive for fake constituency projects or huge public relations expenditures by which legislators were corruptly lobbied. Their perquisites of office should suffice.
As for personal qualities, no one can take away from the governor’s current posture of being a quiet achiever, no noise or propaganda, no acrobatics, and no over-heating the polity. What remains is for him to embrace development from all its sides and not just structures alone. To this end, the stage should be set for human capital development, as well as the security and welfare of the people