• Emma Amaize

10 minutes With Obaseki, The Gov With a Lion's Heart

BENIN — I came face-to- face with the ebony-complexioned Mr. Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, the fifth executive governor of Edo State, Saturday, January 28, at Government House, Benin City, popularly known as Denis Osadebey Avenue, about 10 years after I last met a former occupant of the office, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, at Edo’s seat of power.

The look of Osadebey Avenue has not drastically changed from what it was in the time of the first civilian governor, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, a retired civil federal permanent secretary, now the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, easy-going Chief Igbinedion, Prof Oserhemien Osunbor and sagacious Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.

Good, grown-up Ojezua: But, it was obvious that there is a new gulp of air with the current man on the saddle. At the governor’s conference/waiting room, I ran into an old acquaintance, who is now the chairman of APC in the state, Barrister Anslem Ojezua. The governor was not yet aware of my occurrence and soon as he was through with a group of visiting Chinese investors, he personally walked to the waiting room to pull Ojezua to his office. The amity as he held him was conspicuous.

Governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Obaseki

Investment banker and financial guru

Ojezua, who discernibly did not forget to inform him that I was lying in wait for him, came out some minutes later from one of the governor’s exit doors to gesture that Obaseki would see us shortly. By the way, I was actually waiting with my colleague in Edo State, Simon Ebegbulem, who wanted to surprise him with my company.

Meeting Obaseki: The chance to converse with the governor came after lunch with the investors, his senior aides and other visitors, at a place called Goldmine, inside the Government House.

The first impression about Obaseki, an investment banker and financial guru, is that he is good-humoured and down-to-earth. Having been introduced by Simon as his Regional Editor, South-South, the governor said he was humbled by my presence, asking what “offence” he had committed to warrant such a visit. He spoke as if we have known each for years, saying that he respects journalists.

He said he knew the expectations of the people from his government, especially with the landmark performance of his boss and predecessor, Comrade Oshiomhole, and he was determined to work, work and write his name boldly in the history of the state.

Declaration: The governor’s first confession was that he is not a politician and would rather leave politics to the politicians in his party to play, while he does the work. He reeled out his plan to create 200,000 jobs before the end of his tenure and the desire to empower the citizens through agriculture, not giving handouts to the jobless.

As part of the plans to engage youths, the state government intends to acquire 250 hectares of land in the 18 local government areas, which will be cleared and prepared by government for youths. Agricultural equipment is already being imported while seeds will be provided for them to go into large scale farming to produce and process oil palm, rice, cassava, maize, rubber, sugar cane, citruses and vegetables. Obaseki has made it clear that the days of hooliganism are over in the state.

“I will like when I am talking to my colleague in Lagos State, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, that he should stop buying bags of rice from any other place because I have whatever quantity he wants in his state in Edo State, “ he said.

No press interview for now: Politely explaining that he would not want to grant press interview until his projects are on ground, he spoke about his groundwork to turn the state the economic hub of the nation by turning the Gelegele Sea Port into an Export Processing Zone and the stopover of the investors that would take over the management of the Fertilizer Plant, Auchi shortly. Decisive action so far.

Political considerations

As a financial expert, who Oshiomhole relied on to pull money from world institutions, he was uncomfortable with the fact that private individuals collecting revenue on behalf of the state government were richer than government, but because of political considerations, his former boss did not terminate the contract.

Today, one of the most significant decisions the governor has taken to improve the internal revenue generating capacity of the state is removal of collection of government revenue from the hands of motor park touts and others. December 31, last year, he banned private revenue collectors and decreed that levies of whatever form will be paid directly into government account.

Some of the private revenue collectors said to be richer than the state government and one even boasted that he installed Obaseki with his money. The state government intends to introduce a civil way of collecting revenue to avoid embarrassing members of the public and double taxation. The fear, however, is that most of the youths whose jobs were terminated may go into crime.

But Obaseki already has plans for them. It was learned that government had commenced the compilation of the names of youths, including those who have been jobless over the years with a view to engaging them. Their biometrics are also being collected, as government intends to have a pool of over ten thousand youths , who will be trained in traffic management and as sanitation officials under the new regime of Environmental Sanitation and Waste Management.

Another shocker: Even politicians were shocked to the bones when he announced, few days ago, that Government House is not a place to pick free money. A source, however, said the governor did not mean any harm, but just to let the people that it would not be business as usual in his government. Cutting edge: Before he left office, the immediate past governor, Comrade Oshiomhole, predicted that Edo people would remember him for taking some stringent decisions, but warned that Obaseki would take more stringent decisions capable of swallowing even those that made by him.

A top party official told this reporter: “Oshiomhole is aware that Obaseki has a lion heart, he knows he would take more stern decisions than he did and step on many toes, but he was convinced that he is the kind of person that the state needs. He watched him for a very long time and made up his mind that among his team, this is my successor.”

Tempo of his leadership

His words: “It was not that his former deputy, Dr Pius Odubu, was not loyal enough or that the current secretary to the state government, SSG, who is one of his most trusted aides, was not strong enough to succeed him, but Oshiomhole was looking for the man that will sustain the tempo of his leadership and surpass it; the man that knows what to do when the financial tap is dry, and that person he found in Obaseki, erstwhile chairman of his Economic and Strategy Team.”

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