BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN-CITY
Tuesday, February 21 marked 100 days since Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State was sworn-in. Anyone who has been following the activities of the governor, a technocrat, since that time, will appreciate that so much has happened in the state. Though the governor, immediately after he assumed office on November 12, 2016, declared that he will not be celebrating 100 days in office as he will allow Edo people to celebrate it on his behalf, he expressed optimism that the people who voted him in will testify to his achievements not only in 100 days but also after six months and one year. Luckily for him, his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, had built a solid foundation for him to excel.
Politically, Oshiomhole, who had planned his exit since 2015, worked doggedly to ensure that his party, the APC, secured the majority in the state House of Assembly and, today, Obaseki is enjoying that advantage. Again, Oshiomhole inflicted serious political wound on those PDP leaders who could have been problematic to Obaseki, some of whom are retired today from politics.
As a result Obaseki has little political war to fight. Rather, he concentrates and works for the people. Meanwhile, Oshiomhole was able to put together a solid team that took over from him. Obaseki may not be a politician but he has his deputy, Comrade Philip Shaibu, and the Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie, to fill that vacuum.
Shaibu and Ogie, known as Oshiomhole’s boys, are no strangers to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) because there is this saying in Edo politics that what Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, candidate of the PDP in the election that produced Obaseki, fixes Ogie will unfix. And Shaibu is ready to dance naked like Oshiomhole his political father to ensure that the Edo PDP is kept in the cooler permanently.
And so far, that is how Obaseki has been running a quiet but result-oriented government. He travels out to source for investors, some of whom, are already very visible in the state while Philip, Ogie and his Chief of Staff, Taiwo Akerele, hold the home front solid. The first major pronouncement Obaseki made that elicited the applause of every one, including the opposition PDP in the state, was the banning of private individuals from collecting taxes and levies on behalf of the state government.
It takes somebody with political will to take such a decision due to the political implication but the governor did it and today there is sanity in the state. Before then, Edo had been in the news about people being harassed by youths under the guise of collecting revenue which painted the state in the bad light. However, after banning them, Obaseki is taking the biometrics of the youths with a view to integrating them into the state civil service where they will be trained on how best to collect taxes without harassing the public and also ensure that the taxes so collected go into the coffers of the state.
Obaseki has taken the bull by the horns on the much talked about Gelegele seaport and he is enjoying tremendous support from the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare 11, who has hailed the move. He has secured investors who will build the area to an export processing zone and that is expected to not only boost the economy of the state but also create employment for thousands of youths.
On assumption of office, the governor promised to create 200,000 jobs and, as it seems, he is not relenting in achieving this feat. He had identified agriculture, the Gelegele export free processing zone and the urban renewal plan of the state government as areas to explore to create employment. Consequently, lands are being cleared in the 18 local government areas of the state where youths will be empowered to go into farming and investors are already on ground to purchase their farm produce.
The Auchi fertilizer plant is being resuscitated, while the state government has commenced work at the popular Benin Technical College which has gone moribund over the years. His plans is to use the college to train the manpower that will be required by investors in the state rather than flooding the state with expatriate workers. And talking about agriculture, the state government recently held a three-day workshop where youths were trained on how to man the sector in the different local government areas.
The governor has also engaged the services of female mechanics in the state on the repairs of government vehicles. That move was used to open up the Government House mechanic workshop which also has been abandoned over the years. As of the time of filling this report, over 50 abandoned vehicles have been resuscitated by these female mechanics to the admiration of the state government.
The governor has also embarked on reforms in the state civil service by engaging the Permanent Secretaries on the need to keep their environment clean and do their jobs the way it is expected. His intention is to set a template for Commissioners when he eventually appoints then and Special Advisers. Obaseki has stressed the need to cut the cost of governance and engage qualified hands to man the ministries and his political party, the APC.
It was not surprising therefore that the governor last Monday released the guidelines for those who intend to hold political positions in his administration. The governor had moved the powers of appointment of persons to the hands of ward political leaders in as much as you get him the products he wants. In the guidelines signed by the state Chairman of the APC, Aslem Ojezua, and Secretary Chief Osaro Idah, illiterates have no room in the Obaseki cabinet.
For instance, those who want to be Commissioners in the state must pay annual dues of N1,200 each for 2014,2015,2016 & 2017 to the party. They must also have a minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree or HND from recognized institutions of learning. The aspirants must also have in their voting units and wards in the 2016 governorship election. “In local governments where no victory was recorded by the party in any ward, the best performing ward leader shall take priority” the guidelines stated.
The guidelines added that the persons must be sponsored “by a resolution of the LGA caucus of the party which shall be inaugurated in accordance with the constitution of the APC and must be between the ages of 25 and 55 years. “The LGA caucus shall nominate 5 persons, 2 of whom shall be women, minutes and attendance of the relevant meeting shall be attached to the letter of nomination”.
A chieftain of the APC in the state, Mr Lawrence Orka, who explained the reasons for these conditions, said: “This governor wants to entrench the party at all levels and the implication is that if you say you are a leader, you must prove it. Days are gone when people come to Benin from rural areas and answer leaders while those who are actually working are kept in the background.
He believes that if you are a party loyalist your people will appoint you, not any god father, but if you are not then, you work harder. Obaseki may not be a politician but he has the ideas that will perpetually keep the PDP out of circulation because you will now see APC members working harder to ensure victory in every election and those people at the grassroots will propagate the ideas and achievements of the administration at the local level”.
Addressing members of the Alumni Association of the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), who visited him, last Wednesday, Obaseki disclosed plans by the state government to invest in the power sector which, according to him, will facilitate its economic plans. “We are going to start with our first five megawatt and gradually increase to 50 megawatts within the next 18 months.
The completion of the AZURA Power plant will generate 450mw and add to the existing 450mw plant. Going by this, we will have at least 1000mw in 2019 to drive industries in the state, the governor stated. He noted further that the availability of power in the state would create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
“We set out to build on the existing foundation laid by the Oshiomhole administration. We identified clearly where the jobs would be coming from such as agriculture and industry, and we are set to revamp the various sectors in the state. and let me also tell you that in the first 100 days, 200 ‘agriprenuers’ had been identified to utilize 5,000 hectares of land for the cultivation of maize and other arable crops.
We are planning to produce 25,000 metric tonnes of maize this cropping season. We have begun to screen young entrepreneurs and are getting them ready to key into the CBN anchor-borrower’s scheme. We are hopeful that in two cropping seasons we should be able to produce 100 millionaires”.
Obaseki may not have been making noise about his achievements, but anyone in Edo today will observe that roads in the GRA are being constructed while so many activities are on- going in the different sectors of the economy of the state in the past 100 days.