One of the enduring stories of the Second World War is that of an American called Desmond Doss.
Born to Thomas and Bertha in Virginia, Desmond was a lanky carpenter who went everywhere with a smile on his face, and a Bible in his pocket.
His mien and humble background brought him ridicule when he decided, in the heat of the war, to join the US Army; worse still, as the first conscientious objector.
What kind of a man goes to war with just a bible and no guns? Yet, Desmond taught his doubters and critics a huge lesson that outward appearance does a poor job in mirroring the fight in a man as, through unequalled bravery and resilience, he went on to save countless lives and won a medal of honor.
Like the doubters of Desmond, some workers in Edo state’s ministry of Education is about to learn that lesson.
In his first speech as the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki warned that he was on a mission to pursue the development of the state and the collective good of the people with a “relentless vigor and uncompromising diligence” that has zero tolerance for vices like corruption.
And perhaps, because of his tenderness and gentleman conduct, some persons, to their own detriment, have chosen to ignore this warning and his ongoing systemic changes.
The state’s education ministry has been thrown under the spotlight when word filtered out on Wednesday, 9th of August that the governor, during the weekly Executive Council Meeting, had demanded to know why the budget presented for the conduct of First School Leaving Certificate Examination in the state was inflated by over 500 per cent..
The body in charge of the examination, in a perceived bid to short change the system and make some quick bucks, presented a budget of N283 million to the state government for approval. But in Governor Godwin Obaseki’s usual attentiveness and eye for detail, the budget was eventually pruned to a distant N30 million and the examination took place without any hitch recorded.
In fact, for good measure, the Governor took the role of an informal supervisor as he went round schools on the day of the examination to see things for himself.
With the examination over, it is time to answer questions; difficult questions. Why was N238 million budgeted for an exercise that N30 million successfully executed?
In the event that the state government passed the budget with little or no change, what would have happened to the balance of over N200 million?
What thinking went into the presentation of an inflated budget and why was there no intra-ministry check/vetting before it was sent to the Executive for approval?
At the end of the investigation the Governor has set in motion, answers to all of these questions would be provided and all defaulting parties would be brought to book in accordance with the laws. Governor Obaseki, daily, makes it clear that under his watch, the words ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ would not be reduced to clichés sounded to curry favor.
Using those behind the inflated budget as an example, he would be sending a clear message to other agencies and departments that should they choose to ignore warnings and seek to resist positive change, they would be caught and made to answer to the people whom they seek to cheat.
Clearing the Augean table requires courage, a sense of duty as those who seek to outwit the system would go to any length. But the people of Edo, and other onlookers, should not be deceived by Governor Obaseki’s mien as, beneath the smile and soft voice, is the might to swim against great tides and the audacity to step on toes placed carelessly across the path to development and growth.
Those who knew Desmond Doss said, before joining the army at the front, he was, at separate times, goaded into making public outbursts but he kept his cool. Eventually, he said all that needed to be said at the battlefield and silenced critics.
In similar vein, Governor Obaseki has warned and is now fearlessly matching his words with action. Concerned parties have been presented with a binary choice: heed his warning and join him in the journey to prosperity, or face the music – there is no middle ground.
For a better society.