By Isaac Aimurie
In just over a year, Godwin Obaseki, governor, Edo State, has redefined governance in a manner never thought of before now. His ideas on public policy are radically different from the norm and so are his policy drives, putting his state far ahead of its peers in development parameters.
There is a common story making the rounds in political circles in Benin, the Edo State capital, these days. It is about how conversations at party gatherings of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have taken on a new texture. It is neither about who gets into what position, nor what amount will be shared at such political gatherings. “More and more, it is either about how one massive road construction would link community A to Community B; or how Governor Godwin Obaseki has attracted another new business corporation into Edo State or one new law or policy meant to address critical deficit in governance,” explained a leader of one of the fringe opposition political parties in Edo state, recently.
There is no reason to doubt this observation, at least going by the spate of defection from opposition parties to APC between October and November this year, after Governor Obaseki undertook a statewide tour, tagged Thank-you- tour to APC voters who put him in power. The visits ended up to be a new political reorientation strategy meant to wean the teaming Edo populace off the non-progressive politics of old.
Rather than making the tour a money-sharing jamboree and an occasion for the outpouring of unctuous stream of unrealisable promises, Obaseki preached a new politics of purpose. For instance, at Ubiaja, Esan South East local government area, Obaseki promised an agricultural processing zone at Ilushin in addition to a vocational centre that will provide the necessary skills for the youths of the area. The skill acquisition center is meant to prepare them for the jobs his administration will provide. This is in addition to the cash rewards to the wards that performed well at the last election.
The governor assured them, too, that roads in the council area will not be forgotten, adding, “I have stationed a contractor in Edo Central Senatorial District to ensure that a number of roads are constructed, we are only waiting for the dry season to commence work.” Putting a perspective to the governor’s approach in politics and governance, APC chairman in Igueben, Sunday Iredia, said Obaseki’s administration in the last one year has been more of reforming the way things are done in Edo State. “These are the things that have stimulated the public about Obaseki,” said Iredia.
But this reform is not peculiar to politics alone in Edo State. Indeed, Obaseki’s style of administration has witnessed sweeping reforms in governance architecture. Like he has done in politics, Obaseki’s style of introducing institutional reforms is through the engagement of critical stakeholders; laws and policy enactment; reworking of weakened governance architecture; creation of enforcement agencies; improvement in living standards especially in health and education. In the last one year of his administration, Obaseki has introduced an entirely different approach to governance.
On laws, policy enactment and enforcement agency creation, for instance, not a few policy wonks would be amazed at the ease with which a new property protection law has been driving investments into Edo State. Before his coming as governor, landed property transactions were mostly mired in skirmishes on account of traditional land holding and tenure system. Even more, land grabbers took advantage of the system to reap off prospective investors under the guise of community development associations (CDAs). But upon assumption of office, Obaseki constituted an anti-CDA task force headed by a wizened crime fighter, Solomon Arase, for Inspector General of Police (IGP).
Apart from creating the Task Force, the governor sponsored a bill into law regulating land acquisition in the state. “The overall result of this has been a marked decrease in land related crimes, land tussles and more investor confidence in setting up in Edo State,” explained Arase.
Another enforcement agency revamped by Obaseki is the Edo State Traffic Management Agency (ESTMA). Before his coming traffic snarl in the city capital of Edo was nightmarish. But with the creation of the traffic management corps made up of highly trained officers, traffic jam has rapidly begun to ebb. To ensure the continuity and acceptance of the corps, its operation in the state is backed by law, and constant reorientation is still ongoing for drivers on Edo roads. Still on traffic management, the Edo state government has begun a gradual phase out of mini buses and vans as means of commercial transport in the state.
Rather, the state is introducing full air conditioned luxury buses to be given to private sector players on loan scheme basis.
No better place has institutional reforms in Edo taken root than in the areas of Education and health. In Education for instance, Obaseki believes that building an enduring education system must start from the basis. This view aptly summarizes the new thinking in Edo, where investment in any segment of education whether, primary, secondary or tertiary will be geared towards putting the state in sustainable development pathway.
The State Government commenced schools census exercise, recently, geared towards providing credible and reliable data for planning while the inspectorate department is being revamped. Special Adviser to the Governor on Basic Education and Sole Administrator, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Dr. Joan Oviawe, said Governor Obaseki is keen on teacher professional development and data-driven decision-making.
“We don’t just do things randomly. We have started taking a census of schools. We want to know the number of schools, pupils, and teachers in the state. After this, we will then know which subject area to focus our recruitment efforts,” explained the aide on the exercise.
She also noted that Governor Obaseki has brought accountability to the system, stressing, “We have a 48-hour deadline to respond to files here. And this happens across different ministries in the state. So, we are being held accountable when things don’t go well,” added Oviawe. Furthermore, the plan, for Obaseki, is to make education in Edo more hands on. “Success is what the individuals can do with their hands,” said the governor, adding that the future would be defined by knowledge and technical expertise. “Edo State cannot be left behind,” he said.
The governor’s insight is in sync with recent trends in education, curriculum and man power development strategy. For far too long, stakeholders in the educational system in the country readily put the root of crises in the education sector at the foot of poor funding, inadequate remuneration and learning environment, broken infrastructures in schools and so on.
While all these might be part of the problem findings by Profound Learning Institute (PLI), an American think tank on education and manpower development sees the matter differently. “Rather than throw money at any perceived problem in the education system or fix what is perceived broken in the learning sector, stakeholders must first determine what it wants education to accomplish for them,” explained Tom Rudmik, CEO and co-founder, PLI.
On health, the Edo state governor has doubled down on primary health delivery. Going by plans, policies and investments in this critical human development sector, Edo and Obaseki stand apart.
For instance, immunisation exercise in Edo has been largely successful because Obaseki leads the campaign. Stories are still rife in Benin, the state capital, of how the governor promised and delivered on financial rewards to communities with the largest turnout for immunisation.
Until recently when Obaseki unveiled his plans for Edo, development experts at first wondered why the state governor made a decision to pay more than the usual attention to primary health care delivery in the state. Admittedly, state chief executives often make meaningful investments in hospital constructions, purchase of state-of-the-art clinical equipment or wholesale employment of medical personnel. But Obaseki’s approach is profoundly different.
The state governor plans future intervention in his state’s health sector as part of what he calls, Social Welfare Investment (SWI) package; and it is just one out of the interdependent thematic pillars of Edo’s development, namely Institutional Reforms; Economic Development; Environment; Social Welfare; Arts Culture and Tourism apart from SWI. Taken his interest in primary health further, recently, the governor approved health centers in markets. This reaffirmed Obaseki’s commitment to not only curb Neonatal deaths, but also work on revamping primary health sector.
Under the new policy, the governor approved the establishment of primary health care centers in major markets in the state. “We are prioritising reforms in primary healthcare to address the burden of neonatal mortality. Part of our plans is to rehabilitate and reconstruct at least one Primary Healthcare Centre in each ward across the state by next year. I have also instructed that at least a Primary Health Care centre be sited in every major market, particularly those in the urban centers,” the governor said.