‘Oshiomhole is a brand’
By Adekunle Adekoya, General Editor
For those who know Orobosa Omo-Ojo, and have followed the trajectory of his media activism especially as it relates to his home state of Edo, it was inevitable that, sooner or later, he would end up in government as a key functionary. Hitherto Lagos-based, Omo-Ojo kept Edo in view as he pursued his livelihood as a journalist and publisher of MidWest Herald, which he produced in Lagos and sold mainly in Edo and Delta States.
This enabled him make friends and acquaintances across various shades of political opinion in the state. In the interview below, Omo-Ojo, presently Commissioner for Transport in Edo State, tells how he came to work for Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, whom he called a brand, and speaks of his efforts and challenges at managing the transport sector of the Edo economy, saying the state itself is work in progress. Excerpts:
When and how did you join Oshiomhole’s government?
The journey started in 2006; fortunately I was invited by him. I may have been referred to him, but I didn’t ask questions, but met him. At the meeting, he asked me if I could x-ray the political coloration of Edo state as at that time and I outlined the different power blocs, so he solicited my support in terms of media coverage and support, to which I happily agreed because I believe in him as a brand. That was how we started and about two months later I got a letter from him appointing me Director of Media and Publicity of his campaign organization.
How did you manage while Professor Osunbor was governor?
The battle continued. By and large we had to pursue our dreams and we all threw everything that we had to encourage ourselves. I remember a situation in which I had to shut my newsroom (remember I was publishing a paper then) and used it to assist the campaign office. I used my computers and other ICT gadgets in-order to enable us meet the deadline for the filing of our case documents to the tribunal.
We actually won the first and the verdict of the tribunal was appealed by the PDP and on November 12, 2008, precisely eighteen months after theelections, Governor Adams Oshiomole was declared winner and assumed office as the Governor of Edo State’
With your background as a journalist and publisher of Mid-West Times, one would expect that you will head the government’s media machinery. How did you end up in tourism?
Many people have asked me this question but looking back it has to do with faith, because when we were pursuing our project none of us did what we did because of the promises of higher office. I didn’t expect to serve in a particular capacity as head of media and strategy.
As I said earlier I worked tirelessly because I believe in our project who was, and still is, Adams Oshiomhole. However, let me add that Edo State is on trial by those that helped rescue it in the first instance. The state is still largely work in progress and some of us have rededicated ourselves to keep the ship assail in the midst of an ever-present tempest. Otherwise, our struggle since 2006 would be in vain.
Talking about your current schedule as Transport Commissioner, Edo State has a robust transport industry with many firms running inter-state fleets of buses. Is the industry regulated?
Edo State is a unique state, not like Lagos State where you have many people who could understand the importance of regulation. Generally I would say the transporters are not willing to submit themselves to regulation. As a ministry we are putting all we can into place to achieve a minimal situation.
For instance, the urban planning law says that no motor park can be established without the owner getting permission from the Ministry of Urban Planning, certified by the Commissioner of Transport so that their operations do not obstruct free flow of traffic. But what do we have? Most transporters run to their various local governments to get their permits , so what we have are local governments issuing permits that are at variance with the urban planning policy of the state government.
When you meet them they brandish the permit from that tier of government at you. If you go further to act against why a motor park should be sited in a particular place, they quickly run to court. Nevertheless, we still have to put them under regulation. As I said earlier, in Edo state it is a matter of work in progress; all we need do is bring in the scientific approach to the issues, so people don’t see us as being hard or harsh or that we are merely trying to introduce ideas from other places. As you may know, the transport industry is one of the largest providers of jobs in Edo, as a result of which we will design a peculiar way to address our specific challenge in the state.
Are there major revenue trains that the transport industry generates for government?
Transporters pay a fee to the state government through an agent that goes from one motor park to another, street to street to collect this revenue.
How do you manage the antics of the transport unions, apart from other challenges?
For fear of being misunderstood or getting accused of looking down on the drivers and their unions, it is common in Edo to see a 14-year old boy behind the steering of a passenger bus, without a driver’s license, and not understanding a jot of the rules that govern driving as well as the highway codes. You also notice that the youngster had used illicit drugs before mounting the driver’s seat. In this regard, the transport unions have not been co-operative in the effort to check excesses. Getting them to even attend a meeting to discuss issues has also been an uphill task.
Despite the appreciable road network development in Edo State in the last few years, traffic gridlocks still occur. What are you doing about it?
First, in the management of issues that are involved is indiscipline on the part of various commuters and pedestrians; we are always in a hurry. For instance, we have installed about 400 bus terminals around the city and it will amaze you that commuters will still decide to wait for buses outside those terminals and the buses themselves have no option than to pick them, so what has happened now is that they are not enjoying the benefit of these beautiful roads.
Equally, the drivers are fond of indiscriminate change of lanes on the move, another is the attitude of illegal parking or wrong parking, for instance the traffic laws says don’t park under the traffic light but they still do; also the siting of motor parks around the metropolis and these maks them park anywhere causing lock-ups on the roads.
In that case, how helpful has the uniformed services men been in the control and management of traffic?
The problem I have with that is lack of co-operation among them, you will barely find one agency in the same vehicle with the other or notice them work hand in hand, but I will not fail to say for the FRSC that we have highly managed the level of accidents on our roads.
Recently, we were informed that Edo State was ranked fifth for the worst road accidents throughout the thirty-six states and we believe that was one infamous position for the state to occupy, so I decided that our roads under my tenure will no longer be slaughter grounds. That led us to the compulsory vehicle check, where we have our men who stop and inspect the transporters and their vehicles.
They worked with a device which they place on the battery of the bus for check and after which the vehicle, if certified will be allowedt to embark on the journey and if the reverse, all passengers will be alerted to alight for safety reasons. But petitions started flying around, so we had to withdraw our men from the roads and streets to let everyone be. For me, I think we have to pay for it now with a little discomfort to ourselves than to have our loved ones missing as a result of accidents.
I see vehicles that ply our roads and I wonder if these are vehicles used and abandoned elsewhere, then later brought to Edo State — vehicles without head lamps, side mirrors, etc. We put all the checks in place to actually counter check the transporters in addition to their check mechanism, but this only lasted for a short while as our people petitioned against the checks.
How about the Okada component of the public transport system?
They are lucky that the executive governor before now has proscribed the use of motor-cycles as a means of commercial transportation in the state. Not too long ago, the governor fulfilled his promises to the former bike riders, where he entered into an agreement with a leasing firm to supply us with 300 brand new Suzuki cars. Now, the former bike owners had to let their bikes off the roads and are now proud owners of brand new Suzuki cars.
Edo, like Ogun and Ondo, is a transit state for people moving to and from other parts of the country. Is there a possibility of leveraging on that peculiar nature to earn more money for the state government? One of the things we are working on now is the development of trailer parks. That we are called the Heartbeat of the Nation is because of the centrality of the state. At the moment I have three designs for trailer parks on my desk, because we noticed that trucks lifting various commodities from the West to Abuja and the North, go through Edo State and most times park.
Secondly considering the Federal Government policy on the production of vehicle, we are also bidding to attract vehicle manufacturing companies to the state because of the vast land available and the ready market. Many times I get requests from transport unions to meet private sector operators to enter into partnership with them to supply them cars and buses for them to pay over time and so we believe that we must benefit from the centrality of the state.
You were once on the tourism & culture beat. What is happening to Igue Festival?
The Igue Festival is a brand. What I think is the problem is that we as a people have failed to recognize the inherent value of the festival; so many of our rich men believe it’s a festival you just come and dance away, but except we see it as a wealth creator and form of tourism development we may never get it right.
Besides, it is a sad commentary that the Nigerian tourism master plan does not recognize the tourism of Edo State. When I was on that beat I complained through the Ministry of Agriculture and Tourism that It was wrong that Edo State was not considered as one of the hubs of cultural tourism in Nigeria, because we don’t have waterfront or flowing rivers.