By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
Governor Godwin Obaseki was the guest lecturer at the Annual Public Lecture series of the Correspondents Chapel of the Edo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) last week during which he spoke on the topic, “New Opportunities and New Initiatives for Development”. The governor shared his views on some issues confronting the nation including the agitations for Biafra and restructuring of the nation. Excerpts:
Agitation for restructuring
The dwindling oil revenue is now the order of the day. For us to continue our socio-economic development, the paradigm must change from what we inherited from the civil war. So the bulk of the agitations we are seeing today, whether threats of war, call for restructuring, secession, are results of the evolution of our socio-economic process. Nigeria was not always run this way. As children in the 60s, there were regions and the regions did not go to the center to sustain themselves. The regions were self-financing. In fact, some of the regions had their own offices in London then, and they were able to deal independently with the colonial administration. So Nigeria never started this way, it was the civil war and the role of oil after the civil war that forced the condition we now found ourselves on us. Like the case of the Midwest where there was a referendum to decide to be a region. These entities have always been sustained by revenues from oil, and now oil is not enough to sustain these entities. So, how do we proceed?
The challenge, however, is not insurmountable. It is not about dismantling Nigeria, because if you dismantle Nigeria into various parts, the same problem will follow them. The answer is to sit down and say ‘let us be realistic to ourselves’. We should understand that the way we are running the country, now, by making it dependent on one source of revenue, is not sustaining the republic; therefore, we must diversify the economy and its politics. We must stop wastage. How can government officials travel in a convoy of 20 cars? What for? One of the challenges we have in Nigeria today is not the lack of resources, we have enough for our development. What has happened over the years is that we have formed a very inefficient system where we waste so much of what we have. And if you organize governance properly, you can make enough savings to do those things that are important to you. Why do I need a convoy of ten to twelve cars? It is a waste. That money can be put to improving our schools and hospitals. How do we have more than 200 Hilux vans for political appointees, various political actors when the entire police squad that protects us does not have that number of vans? I promise a future of economic foresight which will be shaped by the willingness to do the necessary things that will lead us into a new and rapid age of development.
The new initiatives in the development of Edo State are woven around the cardinal programmes of my government which is the essence of this topic. It is broken into six core areas, infrastructural development, environmental sustainability, culture and tourism, economic revolution, social welfare enhancement and institutional reform. I decided to take the mantle of leadership from Comrade Oshiomhole in order to continue on the development trajectory which commenced in 2007. This trajectory was aimed at recalibrating the politics for a progressive paradigm, a shift in leadership and governance so as to create a significant impact on all major spheres of our collective and individual lives. Therefore, in our determined effort to develop a modern Edo State, where every citizen is empowered with the opportunity to live life to the fullest and to achieve sustainable and inclusive prosperity anchored on good governance, efficient service delivery and social justice for all. There are certain fundamental building blocks that we must first put in place. The keys to any development in any society are the institutions which are put in place to drive this development. The institutions were well spelt out in our Constitution. The bastion for the executive is clearly the civil service which is the bureaucracy of government because without having a strong public service institution, without having strong systems and processes based on which government is run, all the other attributes in terms of development cannot occur because people had to drive development.
Revamping the civil service
In Edo, what we found in the last eight years, was our trying to wrestle political power and the attempts we made in attempting to restructure the bureaucracy itself were not as fundamental as we would have loved. Infact, towards the end of the second term of my predecessor, we began to experience severe push backs in some of the reforms we commenced. We started revamping the physical environment in which civil servants work. We insisted on bringing automation, I can, therefore, say that Edo now runs on an enterprise system called “Oracle”. Every kobo that we spend in Edo today is all recorded in a software called oracle. From my office I can see all the transactions that has occurred in Edo State today. So it brings certain level of transparency on how government is run.
You recall that one of the first actions I took when I assumed office was to visit the civil service complex and we have commenced work in the abandoned secretariat complex which was started during the late Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia. Before year-end, we intend to complete it so that civil servants can take pride in their work. We have laid the foundation for a new High Court complex; we have gotten a befitting apartment for our Chief Judge. We emphasize capacity building and trade. Last week we decided for the first time, to take all our level 16 and 17 officers who are due for promotion because we have vacancies for the position of Permanent Secretaries. And we called the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria to help us undertake a test of promotion examinations for these people. And based on the outcome of the test, we will promote people, to enable us improve the quality of people who will help us drive this development. The point is that you cannot talk about development when you don’t have people who understand what is at stake.
Another key institutional reform we are entertaining is in politics because in a democracy, it is the people who determines how they are led. That is why I subjected myself to the people and campaigned vigorously to our people. So in terms of our political reforms, what we have done is selecting those who will work with the governor as political officers to ensure the transmission of our political promise to our people. We ensured that the offices were first agreed on, unlike in the past, where appointments were on a continuous basis not on a set of defined criteria. Now, we looked at the budget and said how much can we use to support political appointee? We agreed on the number we can support, if we have to pay them properly. We agreed on the categories and we went to the wards and asked leaders to nominate people who they believe had the leadership capacity to work for them at Government House. So for the positions of Special Assistant, we got three nominations from each ward, of which one must be a woman. The same criteria was used for Special Advisers and Commissioners. The people must get the results of the decision they made by nominating you. We also ensured that each of the 192 wards in Edo State has a sense of representation in government. So I have a Special Assistant in every ward who now operates from the ward and they all now have responsibilities of giving government reports every month on what is happening in their domain. So these are not appointees who are going to work in Benin City. These people must be accountable to their people.
Job creation and agriculture
I promised to create a minimum of 200,000 jobs over the four years of my tenure. I am pleased to say we are doing well. Within six-eight months we have been able to create 29,000 new jobs, we will hit our 50,000 target in the first year. Where are these jobs coming from? They are not coming from the civil service. What we have done in terms of the people we have recruited is still little, infact we don’t intend to sack anybody from the civil service. What we intend to do is to get people employed, train and retrain them, to make them more productive.
We are investing heavily in agriculture. We are going to make our first maize harvest at the end of July, because we have a big farm in Sobe. We have now approached the CBN to give us more financing under one of its programmes to do 20,000 hectares across the state. With that you can imagine how many people we will employ in that sector. We are doing the same thing is piggery, the same thing in fishery, the same in poultry. As we speak, we have consultants who are coming in that at the end of this year, we would have the first industrial park planned for Edo State. We are at the junction of everything, that we can say, we are at the center of the world. And that in itself creates huge economic opportunities.
Ruthless on law and order
We have been ruthless about law and order. We cannot have a state where there is so much lawlessness because they will drive away investors. That is why we came up with the bill prohibiting the CDAs in communities because they were causing great damage in the communities. We are also going to have a housing complex in Edo State and it is unique to build houses with materials manufactured in this state. We have the Chinese people who build tiles, aluminium frames are being manufactured, we have cement in Okpilla, we will create a housing revolution here.
We promised to create about 3,000 kilometers of roads in our first four years, and we are working on it. At at today, we have built about 250 kilometers and awarded contracts on another 250 kilometers. One reason we have not built many roads in this country is the high cost of road construction. This can be reduced, that is the reason as a government we are trying various options.
We intend to alleviate the problem of water transport. If we have access to water transportation, we will be able to attract more businesses and reduce the cost of doing business. Imagine how many trailers come from Apapa wharf to the East and South South? But if we can move those goods by barges and dump them in Gelegele, we would have saved 300 kilometers of road traffic. So, Gelegele Port is very important and if the Ijaw youths are giving us trouble we will have no choice than to relocate the project. So I am using this opportunity to appeal to those youths to be calm. The transaction we must do because that will give us economic advantage and fast track our development.