By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
IN a remarkable session with journalists just before his inauguration for a second term as governor of Edo State in 2012, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole gave an unusual philosophical perspective to his political odyssey.
“I have not built any road in what is generally called the GRA where the big people reside and that is a conscious decision. I have chosen to put public resources in those depressed neighbourhoods where the forgotten majority reside,” Oshiomhole had said.
Hinting at his own inclination to self denial, Oshiomhole added: “I had the choice to build an ultra modern government house, “befitting” for the first family but I would rather prefer to build an ultra modern hospital which is currently under construction where majority of the people can have access to, rather than a government house where they will be locked out. Again, it is the cost of choice.”
While his assertion may well be challenged by his political critics, the comrade governor’s mission to direct the resources of the state towards the benefit of the greater majority may well have won him a place of significance in the hearts of the majority of the people.
Reconstructing 5 confusion to 5 junction
Not surprisingly, some, especially the bourgeoisies see him as a disruptive leader determined to impede their claim to the commonwealth. It is a cross Oshiomhole, however, bears with great aplomb.
Oshiomhole’s path to folk hero, however, was not surprising for two major reasons. First, as the immediate past president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC just before he contested the 2007 governorship election, he had won fame for his pro masses chants and claims. Second, the yawning crave for good governance in the first eight years after the return of democratic rule had reached a peak by the time Oshiomhole contested the governorship election in 2007.
Indeed, given the situation he met on ground at the time he belatedly got his mandate in November 2008, it was generally assumed that he could not have gone below the benchmark he inherited from the substantive PDP administration that preceded him. The rebuilding programmes commenced by the short-lived Oserheinmen Osunbor administration took another life of its own a year or so after his inauguration in 2008 with a frenzy that literally transformed the state especially in the area of road infrastructure.
Perhaps the most conspicuous testimonial of Oshiomhole’s stewardship in the area of road infrastructure is 5 Junction, an intersection where five roads meet in the heart of Benin-City, the state capital. 5 Junction had over time won the sobriquet “5 Confusion”, on account of the horrendous time faced by motorists whenever it rained, no matter how briefly. While city dwellers could avoid it by bypassing the junction, out of state travellers with limited knowledge of the city were often trapped at the junction for hours.
However, two years after Oshiomhole came in, the confusion in 5 Junction began to clear as it was integrated into the massive N30 billion Benin storm water Master Plan, a scheme conceived to eliminate the flooding that tended to paralyse motor traffic in the ancient town. Besides Five Junction, the streets in the adjoining neighbourhood where Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia lives were almost wholly transformed with street lights.
Besides Benin-City, roads in far flung places of the state from Igbanke, the Ika speaking area in the eastern flank of the state to once forsaken sections of the state in the north benefited from new roads or rehabilitation of dilapidated roads. According to records the Oshiomhole administration has awarded contracts of N121.6 billion for the construction of roads across urban and rural areas of the state. Remarkably, both newly built roads and those reconstructed are designed to have surface and underground drainage systems to prolong the lifespan of the roads.
Shinning out to enhance the beauty of the Oshiomhole’s road infrastructure projects is the beautification programmes that have basically enhanced the urban renewal programme of the administration. As part of this, trees and flowers have been planted in strategic sections of some urban towns, especially Benin.
Red roof revolution
Another imprint of Oshiomhole’s stewardship in Edo State is what has been termed as the Red Roof Revolution in the state’s public schools. As part of an elaborate rehabilitation scheme, about half of the state’s public schools have been rebuilt with their characteristic red roofs to differentiate them from the structures the government inherited in 2008.
Administration officials claim that its intervention through the renovation and equipping of public schools has reversed the flow of students from public institutions to private schools. Besides the rebuilding of structures, the education sector has under Oshiomhole been subjected to stringent restructuring with initiatives to boost capacity of teachers. Just as it has done in the education sector, the administration is also positively impacting the health sector through building and rebuilding health facilities in all 18 local government areas of the state, and also, injecting modern equipment to boost the capacity of the state’s health care system.
Unarguably, the star attraction is the modernisation of the Central Hospital, Benin City, a hospital that was first built in 1903. The hospital is now being upgraded to a tertiary referral facility while new hospitals are also being built in Ewohimi in the Central Senatorial District and Otuo in the Northern Senatorial District.
Governor Oshiomhole has also since 2102 administered free medical care for the elderly above 60 years and school pupils. Given his antecedents in labour, it is also not surprising that Oshiomhole in his more than seven years as governor has also impacted on the political psyche of the citizenry. Though hotly disputed by his political critics, one of Oshiomhole’s earlier political chants, one man one vote, has become a political refrain that has distilled into the consciousness of nearly all in the state.
Governor Oshiomhole may have grieved some with his repeated vocal bombardments, but those utterances have neither created potholes on the many rebuilt roads in the state nor collapsed the rebuilt school buildings dotted around the state. For daring to make a bold difference in infrastructure when he had the choice of doing little or nothing, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole wins Vanguard’s Award of Governor of the Year, 2015.