Expectations are very high among Edo people both at home and in the diaspora as the Governor-elect, Mr. Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki formally takes charge of governance in Edo state from the outgoing Comrade Governor Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole whose constitutionally allowed mandate of two terms end on Saturday November 12th.
THOMAS IMONIKHE in this report highlights major expectations of Edo people and possible strategies of the incoming Governor Godwin Obaseki administration in fulfilling his electioneering promises.
Oshiomhole, also a former national president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, it would be recalled was sworn in November 2008 after the Court of Appeal nullified the election of former Governor Oserheimen Osunbor then of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP after about 18 months in office having been sworn in on May 29th,2007. The latter had succeeded Chief Lucky Igbinedion, also of the PDP whose eight-year administration is generally adjudged as underperformed.
But unlike the scenario that played out when Oshiomhole assumed office, Obaseki is receiving the mantle of leadership from his former boss and mentor with whom they have been serving the state meritoriously for almost eight years after a bitter and fierce political battle. No matter the line of divide, the outgoing administration had been rated by most people from within and outside the state as having performed creditably given its remarkable strides and many legacy projects that he is leaving behind.
Going by the precarious economic situation in the country, they argued that it would be difficult if not impossible for the new governor to surpass his predecessor’s achievements.
As chairman of the Economic and Strategy Team of Edo State, the new governor has been privileged to be part of the think-thank that formulated and implemented government’s policies and programmes since inception which is why he is expected to hit the ground running immediately, consolidating on initiated development projects and embarking on new ones.
In other words as a government of continuity with a lot of promise and considering the strategic role he played, Obaseki may not embark on white elephant projects or dissipate energy and scarce resources probing his predecessor in office as is often the case when an opposition party triumph in an election as part of perhaps attempts to blackmail the out gone administration.
So the new governor, apart from the initial teething challenge of assembling his cabinet, which should be done with, in a matter t of months, will have to think outside the box and ensure unimpeded day-to-day running of government machinery entrusted in his care as chief executive of the Heartbeat of the nation.
It is also expected that unlike the All Progressives Congress, APC-led federal government that spent over a year blaming the past administrations since May 1999, for the nation’s socio-economic woes; Obaseki in the opinion of political analysts cannot afford to indulge in blame game as his party has to take full responsibility for the achievements and shortcomings of the outgoing administration.
Indeed they insists that it is time for action and the governor no matter the financial challenge should strive to excel and fulfill his electioneering promises to the electorate, the basis on which he was elected on September 28, 2016 defeating his PDP opponent, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu .
At this juncture, therefore, it is instructive to highlight some of the manifestoe of the APC that might have endeared the party and its candidates to the voters. Apart from promising to create 200,000 jobs for the unemployed in four years, the Obaseki, Hon. Phillip Shuaibu ticket pledged to turn Edo to a industrial hub like Dubai, establish the biggest auto spare parts market in the South South geo-political zone as well as consolidate on the socio-economic policies and programmes of the Oshiomhole administration like qualitative and affordable health care and quality education.
But the question on the lips of the people is: Where will the government get the resources to fulfill these promises in view of the state’s limited financial resources coupled with the fact that Edo is ranked among the topmost indebted states in the country?
According to recent statistics from the Debt Management Office, DMO, the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory owe $3.65billion in foreign debts as against the $7.61bn owed by the Federal Government as of June 30, 2016; bringing the country’s total foreign debt to $11.26bn.
Of this amount, Lagos, which is the nation’s commercial nerve centre, retained its topmost position as the most indebted state of the federation with a total of $1.43bn in foreign debts. Thus, the state holds 39.17 per cent of the country’s total sub national foreign debts.
It is followed by Kaduna State, with total foreign debt of $225.28m which holds 6.16 per cent of the sub national foreign debts while Edo State, with a total of $179.52m as of June 30, holds 4.91 per cent of the country’s sub national foreign debts. This is in addition to local debts the amount which not be immediately ascertained.
It is cheering news however recent assurances by Obaseki not to increase the existing tax burden on tax payers in Edo but rather bring in more taxable adults into the tax net. Answering questions from newsmen, he said, “We should distinguish between taxation and extortion because what people are complaining about is extortion and the way people trying to get levies and fines from them. That must stop and that would stop. There are only a 160,000 people in Edo state today who pay taxes, that is the people that pay tax and the government receives.
“What we need to do is to expand the base so that more people pay something and make the process fairer because right now it is not fair because only 160, 000 carry the burden of the entire state. You will find out that you don’t need to increase the amount of tax people pay but just make sure that more people who are eligible pay so that more people carry the burden of our development”.
On how he intended tackling youth unemployment and going about creating the promised 200,000 jobs, he explained: “Yes, I am very optimistic because we didn’t get that number from the air. There are specific activities of social transaction that we are looking at which we will begin to unveil when we get into the office. Like I said, we are fortunate that even at the federal level there is also concern and resources are being put into ensure that government creates enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
“The bulk of this job, like I said, are going to come from agriculture, mining and government is going to be very active identifying the opportunities. It is hoped that nothing will change too drastically from where we are today but that things can only improve.
Elaborating on dealing with the current economic recession and dwindling revenue from the Federation Account resulting from poor crude oil sales in the international market, the technocrat and investment banker said, “The recession throws up opportunities, because what is happening is that as a country we are not earning enough foreign exchange to buy and import the almost $30 billion goods that we consume in this country yearly which means that there is now a huge opportunity to produce most of those goods and services within Nigeria.
“This production will be located in states and it is only those states that are well managed that investors will feel that their investment is safe and secure. Those states are the ones that would attract those investment opportunities, production activities and companies. I want to position Edo State as one of those, one of the top three so that when people come in, they are interested in producing goods and services in Nigeria, Edo must be one of the top three they consider”.
The educational sector is also expected to task the adrenalin of the new governor and his cabinet considering that the state owns two universities namely the Ambrose Alli University and Edo University of Science and Technology Iyamho, in addition to other tertiary institutions. Adequate funding through recurrent expenditure and regular budgetary allocation for capital projects for these institutions is similarly a sine qua non for the continued educational development of the state. Citizens of the state don’t expect a further hike in school fees as part of government’s revenue drive.
Obaseki’s promise to focus more on economic empowerment especially providing the enabling environment for would-be investors in agro business according to political watchers is commendable and one that should be tackled seriously given that food security is the best form of security and the fact that Edo is largely agrarian state with abundant arable land.
Speaking specifically on his blueprint to turnaround the fortune of rural dwellers in the three senatorial districts in the state, the governor hinted that, “The first thing is that we would conclude all existing projects. We will not have any abandoned project; I mean that is the hallmark of continuity but the focus is now more on economic empowerment. So, for each locality we have identified the key economic drivers and our programme as a government will be to create an enabling environment in terms of security, infrastructure, and manpower to support those economic activities in each of the senatorial districts.
“For instance, in Edo North thanks to the lime stone that is already on ground in the Okpella axis, we will leverage on that to increase access to mining and agricultural opportunities. We have identified a few which we believe can be started up by the first quarter of next year, ditto in Central. There are people who are waiting to see the shape of the new government before they bring their investment in specific transaction we have identified so those ones will be supported.
“In the South, the story will not be different. The buzz word today is agro business and as you will see even from my inauguration we are making sure that will be the starting point by inviting a lot of would-be potential investors in Edo to now begin to feel comfortable coming in and taking a position economically”.
But according to political watchers, it will not be enough for the governor to provide only the enabling environment for investors but move a step further to reach out to traditional community leaders in order to safeguard such investment while such persons must see the investments as truly theirs which must not be vandalized or plundered.
Inhabitants of the host communities they further maintained should be given top priority during recruitment of staff by the companies for them to have a sense of belonging and develop the right attitude adding that security of the investments and the personnel working there should be a topmost priority to both the government and host communities for the businesses to thrive.
There is also the challenge of what would-be the governor’s relationship with opposition PDP chieftains like Chiefs Tony Anenih, Gabriel Igbinedion and Tom Ikimi whom Oshiomhole had fought politically and defeated going by the result of the 2012 and recent governorship contests. The trio had pitched their tent with Pastor Ize Iyamu of the APC during the September 28 poll.
Wise counsel further requires that the incoming governor should mobilize citizens of the state irrespective of their political and religious inclination to contribute their best quota to socio-economic development of the state since they are all stakeholders in the Edo Project. However, it should be noted that these political godfathers who should not be written off on account of poll losses because they still have considerable resources and followership across the state in spite of the defeat of their party. Oshiomhole had running battles with these god fathers though the former had the last laugh.
The governor is also expected to follow his predecessor’s footsteps in drawing from the fountain of wisdom of the new Benin monarch, Omo n’Oba n’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Ewuare 11 who ascended the throne on October 20th 2016.
“It was a great moment for me when I presented the staff of office to the new Oba of Benin. I was full of excitement that was only next to the one I experienced when I was signing my oath of office”, the outgoing governor had stated recently. No doubt, the immediate past Oba Eradiauwa who has joined his ancestors, was a pillar of support to the Comrade Governor who had eloquently testified to this.
Like the Scriptures say : “There is time for everything” and Oshiomhole is bowing out of office with his head held high and handing over to a man dear to his heart, who had hitherto been described as “invisible but prime player” in the outgoing administration.
Though Obaseki is not a typical politician, but he has in his deputy, Hon. Phillip Shuaibu, young, hard working who until conduct of the governorship election represented Etsako Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. A former students union activist; minority leader of the Edo State House under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN and later All Progressives Congress, APC majority leader of the Assembly, the lawmaker, during the campaigns had promised to join forces with his boss if elected to deliver democracy dividends to the people.
Speaking ahead of the election, he described the new governor as one man who will turn Edo State to Dubai, adding that, “Obaseki is a man that when you talk about the story of transformation in our banks, you must mention his name. If you talk about those industries making waves today in Nigeria, the story will not be complete without calling the name of Obaseki. If you want to talk about Nigeria as far as economic issues are concerned, you must mention Obaseki.
“Everybody wants to tap from his experience; it is a gift from God that at this time APC decided that it is time to look for a technocrat to head the government here. It became possible to pay salaries in Edo State because we have a team working tirelessly to make things work in Edo state”.
Also, Hon. Shuaibu, given his experience in the legislature, should not be made a ‘spare tyre’ of the governor as most number two citizens in the states were forced into but rather must be allowed to bring his vast contacts to bear on governance and become a strong link between the executive and the legislature in the interest of the state.
Political observers are however, quick to point out that the greatest challenge facing the new administration is boosting the state’s revenue profile especially internally generated revenue, how well funds are allocated and applied efficiently to the numerous competing demands of government and getting the right personnel to drive policies and programmes of government for the comfort and benefit of the greatest number of citizens.