Since the restoration of full-blown democracy in Nigeria in 1999, Edo State has never had problem having good governors. The major challenge the state had faced was that it never had the right or people’s governor.
The good governors that came, about three of them, did only good things, which were largely not right, and therefore failed the people and the state. Most times, good things are not always right. The hallmark of leadership is the ability to know what is right for the people and doing it.
This is the yawning gap that the incumbent governor, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, has so far filled in his almost three years in office. A consummate Nigerian businessman, banker and investment guru-turned politician, Obaseki has navigated Edo State from the claws and pawns of scarce resources, mismanagement, and profligacy to become the state of efficient and prudent management of resources, high productivity, wealth creation and economic buoyancy.
Gone are the days in Edo when public servants, pensioners and local government employees wait for months without salaries and stipends. Gone are the days when schools at all levels were shut down because lecturers, teachers and non-academic staff were on strike for non-payment of salaries and poor funding.
Even the worst critics of the governor admit that protests and demonstrations by workers, senior citizens and students over neglect by the state government have fizzled out.
How Obaseki has achieved so much for the people and the state in so short a time is a lesson in leadership for past, serving and aspiring leaders.
After he was sworn in as governor on November 12, 2016, Obaseki who served as the chairman of the Edo State Economic and Strategy Team set up in 2009 by his predecessor, Adams Oshiomole, quickly settled down for the business of building, fixing, and rehabilitating infrastructure across the state. He improved the funding of the education and health sectors, embarked upon youth and women empowerment, economic reforms and re-engineering to reposition the state for greatness.
From total dependence on depleting federal allocation, Edo State under Obaseki now boasts of vibrant and sustainable internally-generated revenue (IGR) system without protests from the people who are enjoying value for their money.
During this period, the army of unemployed youths, who were heavily armed by the political class to serve as thugs, election riggers, and attackdogs, has been depleted by the governor with most of them engaged in productive ventures. An urbane leader and astute manager, the governor has also reduced the retinue of aides, chased away political jobbers, sycophants, bootlickers, who hanged around government for unearned income.
The last time Edo State enjoyed this order of leadership was during the Second Republic administration of the late Governor Ambrose Folorunsho Alli. The civility, finesse and decorum that Obaseki has brought to bear in the governance of Edo is a marked departure from what the state experienced during the days of the “cowboys and comrades” in the Government House.
His model of politics and public policy execution makes pundits to describe him as a governor who “prefers working and delivering infrastructural projects without prior fanfare or needless rhetoric.”
So far, Governor Obaseki has championed a series of policy reforms in public finance, secured more funding for infrastructure as well as improved the business environment to attract investment to power, agriculture and other sectors. His pet project – the Edo-Azura power initiative – which he marshalled out under Oshiomhole’s administration has been scaled up under his tenure with support from World Bank to become a case study in power plant development in Nigeria.
With a strong background in the private sector, Obaseki has introduced and sustained the culture of regular retreats and trainings for engaging the political class and public servants in project development, execution and evaluation to move the state forward.
Among the token projects he has championed to make Edo an investment hub are the Benin River Port Project (Gelegele Seaport), the Benin Industrial Park, modular refinery, technology hubs, and Edojobs.
To take the education sector to the next level, Obaseki launched the Edo Basic Education Transformation (Edo BEST) programme, designed to train and equip public school teachers with top-of-the-range skills and expertise for deploying Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in classrooms to improve learning. In line with his emphasis on technical education, the governor revived the Government Science and Technical College (formerly Benin Technical College) to train the state workforce.
To enable the youths channel their energies to productive engagements, Obaseki stepped up the development of the sports sector and began infrastructural work for 20 mini stadia across the state. He rehabilitated the once abandoned Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium for the hosting of various local and international sporting events.
Last year, Obaseki launched the Edo Jobs Internship and Apprenticeship Skills Scheme to give the youths more opportunities in construction, technology, and agriculture. The governor proceeded to provide N100 million grants for innovative youths under the Edo Startup Fund Initiative to fund their businesses this year.
To demonstrate his commitment to the programme, Obaseki gave N500,000 and N300,000 to graduates with registered business names. In collaboration with the federal government, his administration created 77,200 jobs for the people of the state.
His startling performances are, however, not going unnoticed both in Nigeria and on the international scene.
The June 2019 report of the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF’s) peer review mechanism placed Edo top of the All Progressives Congress (APC) states in development metrics. In the report:
“Progressives Strides – Tracking Development Initiatives in APC States”, the PGF directorgeneral, Salihu Lukman, said: “The entries for this edition witnessed more improvement as regards developmental strides collated from the Forum States in 20l9. There was an all-round increase in the pattern of initiatives introduced by the states with Edo State recording most of the initiatives for the month with eight strides, spreading across infrastructure, economy, agriculture, environment, sports and capacity building.”
Similarly, a BudgIT survey showed that Edo State no longer owes workers’ salaries. The survey which was conducted in the 36 states of the federation revealed the states which owed workers’ salaries in the education and health sectors, secretariats as well as backlog of pensions.
From the global scene, the World Bank committed itself to supporting Obaseki’s blueprint on developing a vibrant private sector to ensure sustainable development and job creation in Edo.
On the home front, the director-general of the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), Radda Dikko, commended the governor for the improvement on infrastructure and education.
Also, the Edo State chapter of the coalition of ethnic nationalities known as WAZOBIA commended the governor for his developmental strides and the delivering of the dividends of democracy to the people and residents of the state.
The group’s leader, Engr. Omoshola Clement, said: “We see all the projects the government has embarked upon which have touched the lives of Edo people positively. These projects are visible for all to see. Projects like the construction of roads, schools, blocks in the Secretariat Complex and the prompt payment of workers’ salaries are commendable.”
It is against this backdrop that the governor recently declared that no matter the opposition against him, he remains resolute to freeing the state from the grip of certain individuals who do not mean well for Edo.
He said: “Before I assumed office, most of our roads were impassable. The local government areas couldn’t pay their workers, but today that has been settled. Before, pensioners wore black to Labour Day parade; this year, they wore white!
“Our teachers are being retrained to give their best to the students. One year after, our educational system is now a model for outsiders. The minister of education of Rwanda was here, one year after to learn our model,” Obaseki stated.