By Judith Ufford
In the last six months , Godwin Obaseki has been in the saddle as governor of Edo State without setting up a cabinet for governance. Many have adduced the present economic situation as a major reason for this. According to them, the governor does not want to have the headache of paying salaries and allowances to cabinet holders and their assistants so soon.
When one sought to speak with him recently, he declined an interview because according to him, he hasn’t done anything to warrant an interview but was quick to direct one to key principals of his administration. So this reporter spoke to some top officers of the State government.
First in line is Professor Julius Ihonvbere, who needs no introduction. He was a major plank in the past administration of Adams Oshiomhole and so is he with Obaseki. Here, he speaks on what the administration has done in the last six months.
Building on Oshiomhole’s legacy
“The Godwin Obaseki’s administration is building on the legacy of his predecessor, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole. Since he came in, he has addressed different issues in different ways. Oshiomhole’s administration achieved a great stride in reducing examination malpractice in the state, which made the state to move to the second and third position in NECO and WEAC respectively. This is one major legacy this present administration is building on.
“Secondly, Oshiomhole administration did a lot on road construction and rehabilitation, we are building on that and improving on the technology by using Concrete instead of relying on Bitumen all the time. The technology has proven effective and we have done one major road already and we are going to continue with it.
“Another new thing is that we have engaged the system of revenue collection. Before now, we relied on persons we thought could do a good work in revenue collection, but along the line, we discovered that there was no order and the returns were being diverted. The method used involved a lot of violence, manipulation and intimidation and we wanted to get out of that. So we stopped ‘strong’ men from collecting revenue for the state. We are putting new technology and more of public education and advocacy for people to live up to their responsibility. And I think the revenue is steadily growing up from where it used to be.
“One thing the Obaseki government has done is to set up the strategic planning unit to bring together critical stake holders including opposition members, youths, NGOs, traditional rulers, public servants; serving and those who have retired into what we call a strategic dialogue for over two-three days, to look at all sectors in the state and come up with clear implementable recommendations on how to do things differently at all sectors.
In the history of Edo state, it was the first time such dialogue session was held. Whether Agribusiness, economy infrastructure or development, education, culture and tourism, etc. . I think the strategic document that came out from the dialogue session informed the budget speech of the governor and so far it’s informing the implementation of government’ policy.
“So essentially, this administration is moving in a direction that is carrying everybody along; there is a buy in from communities, from the grassroots, nothing is being done in secret. 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 discussion and discourses at the grassroots level.
Different parties contested for the governorship and the APC candidate Godwin Obaseki won. Having won he becomes a governor to everyone. We believe that whatever policies government is taking will impact on opposition and those in office alike. So it was important to reach out to them to say these are the policies the government will like to implement come to this workshop and express your own views, articulate an alternative vision.
The government did not go to say this is what we want to do, they gave them strategic pillars now you fill in the pillars with policies and programmes. That is what the strategic policies unit is trying to put together for the administration as a guiding path to achieving his promises and programmes. The traditional rulers, religious leaders, students, and the national youth council were well represented. Labour was also represented.
“I think the enthusiasm, commitment and robustness of the conversations and the diverse suggestions and the willingness to draw examples from where we can talk of success stories are Lagos, Cross River and we even had a session on environment and we brought Donald Duke as chairman of that session to tell us what he did in Cross river that is keeping Calabar clean.
It was a 2 day meeting here. We did one where we brought in Prof. Afolabi, former head of service of the federation and he was here for two days with us to work on strategies and tactics of how to get things going. We had one on housing, brought in Alli Magashi of Aso Servings and Loans, brought in Alhasan Usman and a critical range of people. We did one on health, the minister for health was here. We did one on human trafficking and Abike Dabiri was here, Joe Oke-Odumakin was here.
“We had over 50 NGOs including some that came from Russia. The Speaker of the Lower House of Italy was here including Italian ambassador and representatives of the British High Commission and we had victims of Human trafficking present and we brought in students from about five or six of the schools around the city to also come and listen to the ills and dangers and the implications of human trafficking and their teachers were here too. We brought in Immigration, Customs, Police and some Lawyers. It’s a holistic arrangement to get everyone on board to discuss a particular issue, so that policy implementation that we will follow will not come to any one as strange or out of context.
“We have never been short of blue prints, but if you look closely, the blue prints we’ve been using seem to have been turned down. What we are doing in Edo now is that before you change any policy in a sector, involve the practitioners, the professionals, the end users of that sector so that you can know what has gone wrong and those who made it go wrong will be there themselves and what should be done differently, what have succeeded elsewhere.
Now, in the next six months or one year, what you will see in Edo would be strategic development pointers that would move this state away from where it used to be. We strive to be number one. We don’t have all the resources of Lagos or some of the major Oil producing states but we know it’s not necessary money that promotes development.
We used to have a PPP office, an economic team and the ministry of investment we have combined the three into an Investment Promotions Bureau. So when an investor comes to Edo, you don’t have to deal with the commissioners or the bureaucrats, you go to the Investment Bureau with your proposal. There you have professionals and it’s a one stop shop.
The ministry of lands has a desk there, the ministry of environment has a desk there, the Edo internal revenue service has a desk there and so on. So when you get there, you discuss your business with the professionals, you meet with the relevant desk you need and in 24 hours you are before the governor to discuss how to implement whatever you came to Edo to do. Things that normally will take you six months will be done in less than a week, that’s the new Edo you will see.
We want to make it an investment destination. Edo in several ways is the heart of Nigeria. In this state, in whatever direction in two to two and half hours you are in another state. We have about nine universities here, those are shoppers, those are people who patronise the market, we have a growing urban population and an enlightened community .
Eighty percent of Edo people can speak English, so communication is not a problem. We are redesigning the traffic infrastructure, so it’s not just rehabilitating roads, expand them and create walk ways but the traffic infrastructure in such a way that when you come in from the airport to the city centre, from the city centre to any part of the state would be a straight direct journey and we are redesigning the security structure.
We used to have neighbourhood watch, vigilante, surveillance, all of that we are putting together into an Edo state security architecture at the grass root level to the city centre, people who like will work in collaboration with the SSS and other security agencies to ensure that any person who comes into the state will be secure.