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Governor Obaseki and the virtue of simplicity

By Tonnie Iredia

The basic difference between a Governor in a service organization like Rotary International and a Governor in a typical Nigerian State is that whereas a Rotary Governor seeks office with a commitment to serve humanity, a Nigerian Governor on the other hand gets into office to be served. This seems to explain why the election of a Rotary Governor engenders no acrimony while in the case of a governorship election; some people have to die for a particular contestant to win and for his opponent to lose. So, while the Rotary Governor has no one to compensate for his election, there is usually a large retinue of supporters who would make governance virtually impossible if they are not well compensated by the State Governor presumably installed by them. Interestingly, such supporters are not bothered about how far the Governor is able to develop the state and improve the living conditions of the people; what appears to matter is what supporters are able to gain even if by corrupt methods. If so, why should we not pity a Governor?

This was the question which first occurred to me last week Friday when aboard a flight to Benin from Abuja, Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki suddenly appeared on board. To start with, I was shocked that he was neither the last to board nor were other passengers kept on board for long to await His Excellency’s arrival as in the old order. Second, he didn’t occupy any of the first four front seats and there were no uniform men around him purporting to be in charge of his security which in essence was in the hands of the pilot. I was seeing him for the first time since he became Governor in 2016 almost making me doubt if it was him or a look alike. I became assured after he greeted me as well as compliments paid to him by the airhostess at the point of take off. I observed he did not as in the past; opt for a chartered aircraft which could drain state resources. He also left the airport on arrival in Benin without any grandstanding; I was impressed.

Being on a one-day visit to attend a family function, I had no opportunity to take  a look at the impact of his simplicity on governance but one of my cousins who is a strong APC stalwart answered a few of my questions which easily filled some gaps. Asked how Obaseki was fairing, my cousin said he was doing fairly well but that they who fought to install him were hungry because they were yet to be settled. To make matters worse, my cousin continued, the man has banned party men from Government House insisting that all party matters should be resolved at the party secretariat. I was thrilled to hear this because one of our greatest problems in Nigeria has been our inability to draw a line between electioneering and governance. In other civilized societies, as soon as the winner of an election is inaugurated, he becomes a statesman whose interest would centre on the progress of society rather than the narrow and partisan interests of members of his political party. In Nigeria, there is the inexplicable trend whereby a hitherto ‘ordinary’ party member sponsored by a party to contest an election suddenly takes over not only the running of the office to which he was elected but also the party he never led before his election.

Obaseki’s posture of allowing Caesar to hold-on to what belongs to him would no doubt make him look rather simplistic but that is a virtue with innumerable gains. First, it makes it easy for him to focus on his mandate rather than being dragged into the politicisation of governance. By so doing, the boundaries of his functions are clearly delineated making it easy for the implementation of projects to be itemized, organized and coordinated. Otherwise, he could be overwhelmed with managing such ungovernable elements as party thugs and gangsters. Besides, without party pressures, managing public policy would enable him to fully partake in policy formulation rather than being made to execute defective policies which he could have detected and ensured were redressed at inception.

More importantly, he would have time for personal assessments of issues. There was the story of a governor who handed over a letter from his son to his personal assistant (PA) to treat. A few days later, he wanted to know the details in his son’s letter and the PA told him the son had many grievances. The governor directed the PA to tell his son to put the grievances in writing which was promptly communicated as follows. “His Excellency has directed that you should kindly document your grievances! On receiving the letter, the Governor’s son collapsed thinking his father had gone mad not knowing that his own letter was a document and that it appropriately contained not grievances but requests!! A man who gives himself the opportunity to be himself cannot fall victim to that type of scenario. Consequently, Obaseki should put his tenure in proper perspective by occasionally reading newspapers or listening to radio and watching television by himself to learn at first hand, the pulse of the nation. Otherwise, he would never get to hear what a so- called critical article contained. He would only be told by his aides not to mind the writer who according to them is an unrepentant critic.

About two years ago, I wrote an article admonishing Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State not to inherit wasteful spending concerning uncommon Christmas carols when salaries of doctors in the state were in arrears. Rejoinders which were organized to condemn me merely argued that I had earlier praised the former governor. My response was that a man who is commended for doing well today should be ready to lose the commendation when he stops doing well. That is the beauty of being a columnist, the ability to change an opinion if what informed previous position changes. In other words, I commend Governor Obaseki for what I saw and heard last week about him but if any of them turns out not to be a true reflection of his average disposition, I reserve the right to reverse myself.  Meanwhile, I wish the Governor success while asking him to consummate the best virtue of simplicity which is listening more than talking.


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