John Mayaki is the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State. In this interview with Michael Egbejule, he spoke on the achievement of the governor in his first 100 days in office. He also countered the claim by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that the governor has refused to constitute his cabinet because of selfish reasons. Excerpts:
It is over 100 days since the Governor Godwin Obaseki’s administration took over in Edo state. How has the journey been?
It has been a whirlwind of sorts. When you work for a governor, who is serious and intends to industrialise the state and even create nothing less 200,000 jobs, not to talk of providing 24-hour power supply, then, frankly speaking, you’ve got your work really cut out for you.
Governor Obaseki, because of the huge mandate he has to fulfil to the people of Edo State, barely rests. He is always working. One minute, he is in one meeting, another minute, he is in another meeting. All these meetings are always with stakeholders in the different sectors he has identified for development in the state.
After each of these meetings, the people of Edo state also need to be carried along because the governor called me specially one day and told me that he wants his government to be all about transparency. He wants the people of Edo to know exactly what is going on because information is key. He even promised to support the media in every way he can.As I said before, you’ve got your work cut out for you. You cannot rest if he has not rested; that would be irresponsible of you.
Yet, I will gladly do it over and over again, because I have a sense of fulfilment being a part of the team poised to move Edo State to the next level. I have a sense of fulfilment in knowing I am serving the land of my fathers in any way possible.
What is your experience like working with a technocrat man in the person of Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki?
Governor Obaseki is not a difficult man to work with if you know what he wants from you. In hundred days, he has done so much for the state, if I start to outline and explain for you here, you’d marvel and agree with me when I say it is a privilege to be a part of the team that will move Edo State to the next level. More than hundred days of toiling to increase the people’s living standards, I feel more connected to the people of Edo State as I do my bit to improve the state.
The governor is yet to constitute his cabinet and the PDP said that the inability of the governor to appoint commissioners and board members during the period in question was to facilitate his mismanagement of state resources. How true is that?
You see, I don’t want to dismiss anybody’s opinions as irrelevant. But when the opposition party has refused to do its job constructively, then I have to tell you that they are getting more exuberant and carried away in their duties than they should be. It really is not good for the state when the opposition cooks up falsehoods and begin to propagate it. Now, thank God you have a credible command of the English Language. What is the meaning of ‘inability’? The word means you do not have the capacity to do a particular thing. To allege that Governor Obaseki did not have the capacity to appoint commissioners and board members during that period is wrong. So, inability is not really the word they should have used. I think they mean delay. In this case, there is delay but is it a crime? Although we all eager to have commissioners appointed but we also have to grapple with the dynamics of the process otherwise the outcome will not be palatable for both thte government and the people.
It is necessary for human beings to calm down when there is heat and pressure. You’ve heard of the aphorism ‘more haste less speed’ haven’t you? You will also have seen that when you are under pressure and in a hurry, you tend to get many things wrong and also forget many salient things. The governor could have done it, but he decided to involve the party members in the selection of commissioners and board members, which is another reason why the process took quite some time. He already said that anyone who wants appointment as a commissioner should apply through the party at the Local Government and the ward level. This way, he has eliminated any charge of nepotism that may come up, and he has involved the party members too in the appointment process.
The various workshops this administration has embarked upon is to articulate, among other things, a blueprint for each of the ministries such that whenever the commissioners come on board, they already have a clear grasp of what their jobs will be and this will enable them key into Governor Obaseki’s administration policy thrust. In a couple of days, or within the week, he will forward some names to the House of Assembly, and before long PDP will again have to start looking for another reason to criticise the governor as usual.
Meanwhile, all this talk of mismanagement is ridiculous. To argue that not appointing commissioners is to facilitate mismanagement is illogical. Today, the PDP is being probed here and there for corruption and mismanagement but they had commissioners and ministers in place then. And so, a government that will be corrupt will be corrupt, commissioners or no commissioners. But our government is focused and judicious in the use of scarce resources.
We have asked those people holding press conferences and brandishing documents to respect people’s intelligence by even making effort to back their claim with some legitimacy.
So if I go and use Photoshop or PageMaker to create document and I hold press conference, I have become a fighter for democracy,and Mismanagement.The opposition party in the state also expressed worry that the Immediate past governor incessant visit to Government House frequently in recent times, is targeted at monitoring the governor’s activities. How true is that?
Governor Oshiomhole’s visits to the government house have been few and far between. I am not sure if he has come up to 2 or 3 times to Government House. Is it not therefore a malapropism to say he has been paying frequent visits to the same Government House?
Comrade Oshiomhole has right to visit the Government House and so is any Nigerian, even you can visit and nothing would be wrong with it. However, I want to advise people not to wait on the CPS to come out with statements debunking claims by the opposition party before they know that PDP in Edo state gets sometimes carried away in doing their job as the opposition.
Comrade Oshiomhole has right and I think he qualifies to advise this government correctly. Governor Obaseki knows his onions. He is an intellectual governor, he is a ready and agile governor. Go and try him. Comrade Oshiomhole is a member of the APC and he comes to the Government House for only important issues like the last APC Caucus meeting. He is not monitoring the governor’s activities any more than you are.
Anyone telling you that he comes to Government House to do vigilante over Governor Obaseki’s governance is just being troublesome and economical with the truth.
You said, “After 100 days, surely it is clear to every critic that while Obaseki respects former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, he is not going to replicate his administration”. Can you shed more light on this statement?
Oh, there should be no controversy there. I did not meant it in a negative way. I was hitting out at critics. I was clarifying that Governor Obaseki, even though he respects Comrade Oshiomhole, is still his own man. He has his own style of leadership.
Therefore, his government is based on continuity. He promised to continue the good works of Late Dr Ogbemudia and former Governor Oshiomhole, but he never said he would base his administration on replicative governance.
Security of lives and properties is one of the cardinal responsibilities of any administration. A former council boss, Sulaimon Afegbua was assassinated in broad daylight few days ago. What is the governor doing in this area to attract investors to the state?
I don’t know if you read the governor’s statement reacting to the news. He was absolutely furious. In the first place, that area along Benin-Auchi highway is a hot spot and the governor recently met with security chiefs in the state on how to deal with this menace. Very soon, we shall overcome that as we need not discuss security issues and strategies in the media however, within the city, there is safety and security and above all, Edo state is still the safest state in the geo-political zone.
In the area of attracting investors, we all will soon begin to see the result of the few trips the governor embarked upon recently. We visited Okpella and Auchi a couple of weeks ago in the company of investors over fertilizer. We visited Illushin over massive rice production with investors. We visited Amahor. We’ve signed power agreement with Siemens. We’ve set up a committee on gelegele among others.
By the time all these programmes, initiatives and policies translate into reality – such as employment, youth development, tourism and agriculture, Edo people will become so busy that they will be the ones calling for a rest.
The governor during his electioneering campaign promised to create 200,000 jobs within four years. How much of this has been achieved in the last 100 days?
In the last 100 days, I can assure you that the template has been set and the rest will come into place like a chain reaction. Already, people are registering on an online portal for the Edo jobs programme. Those that will become agripreneurs cannot do it alone, so they will have to employ more people.
In fact, as far as agriculture is concerned, such as rice and maize farming, piggery, among others, you will begin to see the manifestation of the groundwork the governor has laid.
His trips overseas was to meet with investors with splendid records of accomplishment – I don’t mean the portfolio investors – coming to invest in the state. We have Azura already in the state employing people, and we have signed another MoU with Siemens already.
There is also the waste to wealth initiative and environment cleanliness programme that will engage our youths. There really should not be avenue for people to remain idle in the state. No less than 14,000 people have been engaged already in the federal government N-Power scheme and another 2000 will be engaged in traffic management and control by the time the modalities are perfected.
Meanwhile, other avenues, like the concrete technology for constructing roads and the electronic method of tax collection may provide as many as 20,000 or more jobs in the state. For the concrete technology, we collaborated with AG Dangote and they have already trained about 50 in the state. Our governor has already promised to empower them to be able to stand on their own and they are the future local content contractors that will be engaged in the construction and repairs of our roads and drainages.
Even Benin Technical College – by the time the school is remodelled and curriculum-tailored in such a way that will make graduates self-reliant and productive, they will start employing and engaging the youths.
I am sure it will interest you to know that we are tracking all these through the ongoing registration of the Edo Jobs initiatives in the 18 local government areas.
So people need to understand that this is just the formative stage of the 200,000 jobs. After one year, people will understand that the governor really meant business with this 200,000 jobs issue.
Governor Obaseki signed N153 billion budget into law recently. How does he hope to finance this in view of economic recession in the country?
Well, the governor himself in his budget speech has addressed this budget issue. In that speech, he said that he had already taken the country’s current economic recession into consideration as the expected receipts from oil, which funds the federation account from which the state will draw part of her revenue, has been benchmarked at the least value in the history of budgeting in recent times.
The revenue estimates are based on a $42.0 benchmark for crude oil and average daily production of 1.9 million barrels per day and expectations of improved performance of Internally Generated Revenue.
If the price of crude oil goes higher than expected, then the excess, added to the accruing 13% derivation, will be a boon to the state.
This Budget would have a deficit of N25 Billion for 2017, which is within the acceptable threshold. Mainly external borrowing from the third tranche of the World Bank budget support facility will fund the deficit.
Hence we will maintain a balance of capital to recurrent expenditure (50%: 50%) in line with our plan to spend our way out of recession.
What is the government doing in the area of youth engagement to make them productive to the society?
What the government is doing is very clear. The economy is in a delicate situation and the only way to thrive in it is to be productive. Now, we already have a glut in the labour market for those who want to sit at a desk and work. Meanwhile, food production is suffering. Technology is suffering too.
And that is why Governor Obaseki brought up the ‘Edo Jobs’ scheme. The ideas is to let the government first know who those that need jobs are and in what areas that they need jobs.
Recently, we even issued a statement. You know how expensive food is in the market now. So the governor saw the need to boost agriculture and in the statement that I said we released – it was a call for agricpreneurs – the government asked people to come and farm.
Of course, youths can farm. They don’t need to buy land. The government has already prepared 5,000 hectares of land. They don’t need to buy seeds. Government will produce a high breed of maize seedlings that they can plant.
So let them come and farm. This is a one in a lifetime opportunity. You get land, you get seedlings, and then you have a ready market to buy the maize when they are ripe for harvest. Already, a company has been identified that is ready to buy the maize at a good price.
The first lady did something similar for widows, but that one was with poultry products. The governor has killed two birds with one stone. He has given this people free employment and he has set a template for food production in the state.
I have not even talked about how the governor is also revamping the schools in Edo, especially the technical schools, the University of Education at Ekiadolor, and even the school of nursing. The ball is now in the youths’ courts. They also have to take up initiative and key into whichever one they like – Edo Jobs, Agripreneurship, or education.
The state government recently announced the prohibition of the activities of private tax collectors in the state. Some have viewed this as taking away jobs from the youths. What is your take on this?
My take on this issue is that people have a right to form opinions, but if they think that the governor’s policy to ban the activities of non-state actors from collecting tax in the state is a way of taking away jobs from young boys, then I need to explain some things.
The first time I noticed this philosophy was creeping into the society, I was amazed. But thank God for this opportunity.
To start with, people need to open their minds and be ready to broaden their scope on the nature of tax collection. In what part of the developed world have they seen taxes being collected by private parties? It was not a question of the governor trying to take away jobs from anyone. Why would the governor promise to create 200,000 jobs and then start his administration on a campaign of deprivation? What would he stand to gain by collecting jobs from young boys?
But when you ask yourself what the state stands to gain, then you will have some smart answers. Now, the governor has complained severally about waste in the system. Not waste in the dustbin, but waste of resources.
People had complained that these boys had become a menace to them. So, people need to pay their tax with dignity.
Besides, this is the 21st Century. Everything is now being done electronically. Is it not Edo State’s time to embrace technology also?
And why is no one talking about the tax holiday that these people have been enjoying for months now?
With the ongoing case at tribunal, are you confident the governor will complete his four years?
Concerning the case at the ongoing election tribunal, I cannot comment. You know one has to be careful with legal matters. But as CPS to the governor whose election victory is being contested and as a political analyst, I would be lying if I told you I have not formed any opinions. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions really.
What I can tell you is that the judges are there to do justice to the case because they have sound mind and very intelligent to give sound judgement. I believe they will do what is right and if they say PDP’s petition cannot be validated according to the dictates of the law, then surely, Governor Obaseki will complete his four years by the grace of God. Not only that, I am absolutely convinced that he is a proper governor and he will not disappoint the people.