Obaseki: Six months On
At a reception organized by reporters in his honour in November 2016, the then Edo’s fresh-mint governor, Godwin Obaseki was quoted as telling politicians and family members not to come to the Government House without proper appointment as he needed time to settle down to work. He also reportedly told his aides to avoid having what he called “unnecessary visitors”. If that presented a window into the mind of the new helmsman on the subject of the pervasive abuse of executive time among public officers – elected and appointed, the hardly endearing statement comes close to a ‘Satanic Verse’ in a clime where most government houses operate more or less like exchanges for trading influences.
Satanic verses or not, it is safe to say that a new spirit rules in the state. On a visit two weeks ago, the mood, though somewhat subdued, spoke of great expectation from the Obaseki administration. After the fiery reign of Adams Oshiomhole, the archetypal activist not known to take prisoners, Obaseki, seems to be finally be coming to his own as reflective, deliberative yet no less decisive leader. (Witness his last week’s closure of Edo Line, the state transport company ran aground by its management). Whereas the momentum may appear slow and different from those of his immediate predecessor, the shared template of strong progressive governance is certainly hard to miss; the same with the determination to leapfrog a state only recently laid waste by the rampaging PDP buccaneers.
The team of visiting editors from Lagos took on some hierarchs of the administration on a number of issues facing the new administration. Is the administration “slow”? Without a cabinet six months after, many would of course be tempted to think so. However, to many a hierarch in the administration, that charge would be contestable. Indeed, many actually insisted that the charge of lull or inertia would amount to an unpardonable denial not just of all that is going on in the backrooms of government but in the vast public spaces across the state.
Osarodion Ogie, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), obviously number among those as reels out the accomplishments already in the kitty. Ditto, Dennis Oloriegbe, Edo’s traffic czar, head-hunted from Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) to head the new Edo State Traffic Management Authority (EDSTMA) – a man whose readiness to rewrite the Edo traffic story bordered on the infectious.
Ogie in particular will insist that the administration has done quite a lot. Listed among the achievements in the last six months are the promulgation of the Community Development Association (CDA) law which outlawed the activities of community development chairmen (land speculators) known to harass people over their property; the abolition of the collection of government revenue by non-government officials; the take-off of the state’s agripreneur programme under which the state government undertakes to clear the farmland for interested members of the public has taken off. According to the SSG, the state government has cleared over 500 hectares of land in Sobe, Akoko-Edo for those interested in farming. Aside providing seedlings for the farmers, he told the visiting team that the state government has substantially de-risked the venture to the extent that off-takers to buy off the produce are standing by. The state government, he said, is already set to move to the second phase of clearing additional hectares of land for farmers.
Not all, he also informed his visitors that the state has developed a data base of unemployed youths – an initiative under which 150 thousand youths have been registered with their vital details and bank verification number for possible placement in government programmes. Some 150 of the lot were said to have been pencilled for absorption at the traffic agency at the time of the visit.
Joseph Eboigbe, the Executive Director and coordinator of the state and strategic team (who incidentally was Obaseki’s deputy at the Economic and Strategic Team in the last administration) spoke on what the administration has done preparatory to the take- off of the cabinet. He spoke of a strategic dialogue held in December 2016, which set the tone for Governor Obaseki first term, the outcome of which was distributed into quick wins, immediate and medium terms initiatives. The quick wins, he said, were incorporated into the 2017 budget and are being implemented. Part of the next steps included convening sectorial workshops to further drive down the high level strategic outlook held in December. The outcomes of this sectorial workshop, according to him, will feed into key performance indicators that will be handed over to heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that will form the cabinet. As soon as they come in, relevant orientation programmes will be delivered and it will be very clear what they are expected to deliver on quarterly basis, all this will feed into the objective of the governor as articulated in his medium term plan for this his first term in office.
He also spoke of the administration’s industrialisation plans; its plans to make the state very conducive for large scale industrialists to locate especially those that are interested in agriculture and entities using gas as raw materials particularly as the state has one of the highest reserves in gas. He spoke of the first private sector led NIPP – the Azura power plant currently being developed, other expressions of interest in gas power plants and one or two expressions of interest to set up fertilizer plant using gas as raw material, the industrial parks and the development of Gelegele Port, the historic port in the southern part of the state.
It is however Anselm Ojezua, Edo APC chairman and Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, the state’s former SSG that supplies the emerging template of the synergy between the ruling party in the state and Obaseki government – something that the ruling party at the centre can borrow from. For appointments, the party at the grass root level is availed the opportunity to nominate people at all levels to a screening committee at the state level. Thorough screening at the local level, party level, is to be followed up by another committee chaired by Prof Dennis Agbonlahor for further screening. The idea is to ensure that those coming on board are, according to him, “persons who are morally up right, intellectually solid, ICT-compliant to a large extent, who have experience and who have some legitimate bearing, so that when they are put in position, they will hit the ground running and not trying to learn how government works”.
Related to this is the plan to restructure the entire civil and public service. Here, the plan is to reduce the number of ministries, abolition of moribund committees that have been overtaken by time, and whose continuous existence constitute impediment to the flow of policy initiation and implementation; restructuring some of the ministry to make them more efficient, stronger to deliver services to the people, training for the public, civil servants in particular to increase efficiency, capacity building to enable them work effectively in the 21 century and to key into the developmental objective of the government.
While it seems early in the day to pass definitive judgment, the overall impression is one of an administration roaring to go.