By Abiola Gbemisola
It is easy to quickly dismiss the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, as one who doesn’t get his priorities right when you consider the news that he has appointed 192 Special Assistants from all the 192 wards in the 18 local government areas of the state to “serve as representatives of the government at the grassroots”. But such conclusion can be reached when one is only thinking on the surface or doesn’t understand the sense in the governor’s action. If Governor Obaseki’s decision appears as madness, to borrow the Shakespearean axiom, I bet there is unclouded method in it.
In that connection, I don’t think the Edo governor should be flailed for walking his talk on making the government he heads closer to the people. While we can’t roll out drums and celebrate this move, it’s also untoward that we dismiss the man as confused. That he has chosen to appoint men and women from each ward in the state in order to distil valuable information on the pressing needs and challenges of the people all supports the view that his promise to run a government that listens to the people – the real employers – and champions in practical terms the principle of citizens’ participation in the affairs of government is not a mere campaign slogan.
What is a government if the people it claims to serve are far removed from it? What is a government if it can’t respond urgently to the travails and distresses of its people? If a government is really serious about involving the people, however far removed from the urban areas they may be, in governance processes, it must do everything necessary to accomplish that objective. And this, I would like to think, is what the reflective Governor Obaseki has done. This is a governor who upon being sworn in, post-haste, hit the field of work and results are coming forth already.
There is nothing in the conduct of the governor that indicates his latest big appointments are jobs for the boys, or a reflection of lack of what to do with money, or both. If there is one state government which can use every kobo it can get to improve the human condition in its territory, it is the Edo State Government, what with its many already outlined infrastructural projects and social programmes. The Governor understands that these are lean times financially for Nigeria. He can’t be reckless in the way he spends what the state earns. The man we voted for can’t be unreasonable as to enrich some few pockets with money under the guise of giving them work. If there is no strong need for them, they couldn’t have been appointed.
Those appointed are called to serve and not to come and take their share of government’s money. If the governor and his team have thus far demonstrated that they understand their mission to be service – complete service to the state –, I don’t expect these Special Assistants would understand the opportunity they have to be to enrich themselves. They are to enrich the people by listening to them and despatching their grave concerns to the state government. The people in each of those wards must not only be listened to and their cases taken seriously, the policies and programmes of government must bring meaningful improvement to their socioeconomic situations.
Thus, rather than condemn Governor Obaseki as afflicted by the ailment called misplacement of priorities or insensitivity as regards the appointment of those ward aides, energies must be deployed into tasking the governor to ensure that his decision produces the expected results. We must call on the government to make sure that those appointed are truly serving and performing and not cheating the system or profiting at its expense.
I recall a part of the governor’s submission in his November inauguration speech. According to him, “We do not have, do not claim to have, and, for that matter, do not wish to have, a monopoly on what is good for Edo State and its people”. That utterance does show that the present administration is willing to tap from the deeper thinking and ideas of critics, intellectuals, and people of the state so as to accomplish its goals. That opportunity is available more now with those appointments. Let’s all ensure the right fruits are harvested from them.
Gbemisola, a public analyst, writes from Ilorin