By Dele Ailemen
BASED on my lifelong advocacy for labour rights, peoples’ power and the legitimacy of the media as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, I am historically obliged to be cautious of the hypnotic mantra of intemperate market-oriented economies. From my experienced co- facilitating role in peoples’ conventions for economic justice and independent media forums in Nigeria, Europe and America, I have come to the irrevocable conclusion on the genuine definition of development: that sustainable and equitable economic growth must be founded on paradigms that are people-centred — a strategy that synchronises economic statistics with careful consideration for mass social advancements. The welfare of people cannot be simply subjugated to the close-circuited reasoning and the sole abysmal calculations of ‘profit motives’- such notions and orthodoxy have proved disastrous even in the most-developed global economies in recent decades. Therefore, the issue of growth, the building of humane societies and inclusive economies, are far more exigent for me than the attachments and the tango of the two major political parties with the APC and PDP nomenclatures.
The foregoing formed the background of my discussion at a recent coincidental meeting with Taiwo Akerele, the Chief of Staff to Edo’s State Governor, Mr. Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki. Indeed what began as a mere chance interaction at the home of a mutual friend, quickly evolved into something akin to a rendezvous with history. In our discussion, we engaged in a spectrum of the philosophy and policies of Governor Obaseki’s administration. Akerele was clear from the outset that although he bears the designation of a Chief of Staff, he does not by any means function in the political arena of the administration. According to Akerele, Governor Obaseki “has initiated unprecedented reforms in the functioning of the Government House. The governor is keenly foresighted and takes seriously, the overwhelming mandate of the Edo electorate. He has therefore engineered a process that makes Osadebay’s House a dedicated hub for policy formation, the avenue for the advancement of new ideas and the actualisation of goals, once they are established.”
Very clearly, a new culture of societal management has been instituted in the running of the apex of the administration. Media correspondents attached to the Government House in Benin, confirm that on any given day, from Monday through the weekend, there is always some committee focusing on the enhancement of policies and examination of various development strategies for the state. It’s almost certain that the cultivation of the ideas for such uniquely-productive forums as: the recent Alaghodaro (Leap Forward) Investment Summit, the conference on green revolution and agro-industrialisation and the ‘Power (energy) Edo ‘convergence, were all products of the beehive of’ new activism in the ‘engine room’ on Third Avenue. In addition to focused governance objectives, it is remarkable that the governor has skillfully balanced the management science of technocracy with the artistry of delicate political leadership.
In watching the governor from an independent political and media periscope, there are incandescent prints of gentle but steady and confident strides on Obaseki’s one-year terrain in office; there is a perceivable trajectory of an economic vision that seeks to create new horizons of opportunity, of an enlarged middle–class, along with the empowerment for the historically and socially-disenfranchised. It is not by any means hallucinatory that Edo State based on Obaseki’s human capital index development blueprint – that the Edo grandmother who today fries plantain chips for the family’s sustenance could see her children manufacture computer chips for humanity, tomorrow. The oil economy is confronting an inescapable ultimate doom. This is Edo land, once globally-famed as the ‘’cradle of Black Civilisation.” Our contemporary vision should legitimise the summit of our glorious history in new arenas of human creativity.
Of particular significance is Obaseki’s fidelity to his bold electoral pledge of job creation. As someone who believes that developing economies must be imperatively engaged in policies of high employment, I propose that the governor continues to strategically concretise the agenda of job creation. There is no honest way to construct the road to a vibrantly-inclusive and just economy, without the provision of decent work. The school of thought that argues to the contrary, is deficit of the comprehension of human development in the broader definition of economic growth. The current engagement of about 4,000 youths across the state, under the public works programme combined with the development of a credible database for unemployed youths, are rudimentary but historically unprecedented steps, in this kind of endeavour. It will always be the fact that labour will create wealth and Edo State will be better for these high-employment initiatives under Obaseki.
Along the lineage of employment, it is essential to observe the high-premium being paid to the rehabilitation of Benin Technical College, by the administration. The institute represents a crucial cradle for birthing of mid-level technological skills for Edo youths in various critical areas of infrastructure development. However, the school should also be expanded to an international centre in the supply chain of decent-paying employment in the areas of infrastructure development and technological innovation which is in gross shortage in the West African sub-region. Let us see such friendly giants as Siemens, Toyota, GE and others, open training centres in the college, their investments will be of mutual benefit to Edo State and the global corporate profile of the firms. Obaseki has, from the campaign days, displayed admirable fortitude of vision and courage of conviction. The governor should therefore embrace the long view of the march of humanity. Why should Edo youths from Benin Technical College, in the next few years, not become internationally-certified labour force along with middle-skilled Chinese workers in major construction projects in different parts of West Africa?
It is unarguable that there is cohesion and scientific calibrations to the projects being envisaged and actualised by Obaseki. The Governor is racing upwards from micro-economic foundations to macro- development paradigms. The arenas where Edo State secures insurmountable natural advantages, are being thoughtfully- aligned and cultivated by the administration, as most successful leaders would do. All of the projects hold inestimable potentials for Edo State. The globally-attractive Industrial Park at Ossiomo, the Ologbo Thermal Power Station and the revitalisation of various uniquely Edo State factories such as the Fertilizer Company at Auchi, are aromatic of a South-South economic renaissance.
The transformation of Edo State’s economy is undoubtedly a challenge but a real possibility under a focused investment banker and technocrat of Obaseki’s calling, capability and capacity. The entire citizenry of the state must be mobilised for the tasks ahead.
Perhaps, in the steps of Governor Obaseki, we might be perceiving the roars and the cradling of a peculiarly pedigreed lion, a new economic powerhouse, in the middle of the rain forest and the Guinea Savannah vegetations of Africa.
Ogbemudia defined new heights of infrastructures in the old Bendel State, Lee Kuan Yew catalysed Singapore from desolation to a world power, Kemal Attaturk turned Turkey into a sprawling construction site, Mao Tse Tung built a new global China and Awolowo constructed an enviable Western Region, from marketing cocoa seeds.