For the first time since the election of Edo State governor, Pastor Godwin Obaseki, I visited the state capital, Benin City, and got a feel of the city, which was then in the thick of preparations for the international 10-kilometre marathon dubbed the Okpeke race. My visit to Benin, enroute Iraokhor, in Etsako Central Local Government Area of the state, also coincided with the first six months of the Obaseki government. That occasion afforded me the opportunity to interact with a number of Edolites and feel their pulse on the new administration in the state.
But first, the journey to Benin. Fearing the worst of the Lagos-Shagamu-Ore Benin Expressway, a fear borne out of many past unsavoury experiences on the road, I had set out, as the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka would call it, “at dawn”. I left Lagos at 6.30 am and was quite surprised about the smoothness of the journey and the new-look Shagamu-Ore-Benin end of the road.
To cut a long story short, I was in Benin around 11 am, and had plenty of time on hand to traverse the city. The impression I had is that of a city slowly opening up to the burgeoning transformation plans of the new governor. The road leading to the Benin Airport, was in the vice grip of a gridlock, which the driver of my vehicle and a number of other residents of the city I spoke to, described as “a temporary phenomenon”, which resulted from the new government’s efforts to clear abandoned and running public transport buses from certain parts of the capital, especially the Ring Road, and the King Square, and relocate them to places where they would not constitute a hindrance to traffic.
One striking thing I noted in these explanations is the people’s understanding, quiet acceptance and support of the governor’s plans to tackle the challenge of enforcing orderliness on Benin roads, in spite of the initial temporary inconveniences.
That same air of satisfaction and great expectations of the ordinary people in the town, from the now, not-so- new governor, resonated throughout my visit to Benin, before I moved northwards towards Iraokhor, through Auchi.
I learnt in Benin City that the governor’s many initiatives are being pushed by a passionate team comprising the Deputy Governor, Phillip Shaibu; Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie; the Head of Service, Mrs. Gladys Idaho; the suave, self-assured and well-spoken lawyer-politician who is the chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Anselm Ojezua ; Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, ex-SSG; and Joseph Eboigbe, who was a deputy to Governor Obaseki in the policy think-tank of the erstwhile Adams Oshiomhole administration.
The governor, in this regard, is also aided by a team of well appointed commissioners and other technocrats, including Mr. Dennis Oloriegbe, who was brought from the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) to head the Edo State Traffic Control and Management Agency and improve orderliness on the state roads. There are also the personal representatives of the governor in every ward in the state, who ensure that the ordinary man-in-the-street in the state is well apprised of, and helped to understand and appreciate the governor’s transformation efforts, which appear a welcome continuation of the efforts and plans of the state’s immediate past governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to whom Obaseki was a right hand man.
What, exactly, are the activities of Obaseki, the technocrat governor, that appear to be enjoying the confidence of Edolites? A team of visiting editors and columnists was recently well apprised of these. According to the SSG, Mr. Ogie, the governor’s appointment of gubernatorial ward special assistants has gone a long way in communicating government’s plans and giving government a feedback from the people, and a possible input in government’s plans. The government has also been holding a number of workshops to carry the people along on its plans and obtain their input. The management of traffic on Edo roads is being transformed through engineering, opening up of roads through new road construction, bus stop identification and enforcement of compliance, and public enlightenment. There is already in place a Clean Up Edo Committee. The state has registered about 150,000 unemployed persons under the Edo Jobs initiative from which 500 are being trained to participate in traffic control. They are to be fully trained to be effective, civil and responsible. They are being trained on human relations, decongestion techniques, martial arts and driving. Technology will also be used in the management of traffic. Others under the Edo Jobs scheme will be engaged in agriculture and the two other arms of Edo Jobs. Some 35 roads such as GRA roads, Agbede-Awin Road, Evbevbe-Obagie etc are being transformed. The state also promulgated the CDA Law which outlawed all forms of community chairmen who, hitherto, were harassing and extorting money from the people. It also abolished the collection of government revenue by non-government personnel, known as agbero. The government has also cleared 500 kilometres of land for agriculture. The Benin Technical College is being revamped to develop the skills of the people for job creation and self employment. The school will also adjoin an industrial park to which investors are being invited.
The Head of Service spoke at length on the ongoing training of all cadres of civil servants for the great tasks ahead in government’s transformation programmes. The Centre for Management Development (CMD), AMCOM and retired civil servants, heads of service and permanent secretaries are being involved in the training. The state civil service started the Contributory Pension Scheme in January this year and has been paying the 10 per cent on behalf of the workers, while they pay 8 per cent. She said the Oshiomhole government started the payment of gratuities from 2000, and Governor Obaseki has continued and paid up to 2011. Approval has also just been given for payment for 2012 and 2013. The objective of the administration is to pay all the outstanding gratuities. Edo State is also said to have no ghost workers at all, contrary to what obtains at both the federal level and many other states in the country. This is because the state holds regular “I am alive screening.” The state also introduced a policy of non-acceptance of cash payment for anything in the state. Efforts are also on to streamline payments across the local governments, monitor their IGR, and introduce electronic payments, to ensure they pay salaries and carry out their statutory functions. These initiatives have seen a local government formerly declaring N4.5 million monthly IGR, going down to N250,000 monthly, and now declaring up to ten million naira IGR monthly. The state also helped the LGs to identify revenue generation sources. But, all the payments go the local governments.
The state APC chairman spoke on how the party helps to keep the government focused on its statutory responsibilities and ensure internal discipline and internal democracy. The party is also carried along on all government activities in what he described as an excellent example of participatory governance. Traditional rulers, civil society organisations, religious leaders, etc were all carried along in developing a roadmap for the state, which will be handed to the commissioners to be appointed, to implement. Even different segments of the state, including the ruling party, are party to the nomination process with clearly laid out guidelines for those who can be nominated as commissioners. Workshops have been held on health, education, the environment etc to arrive at a work plan agreed on with the people.
According to Engineer Ferguson Enabulele, the state has embarked on use of concrete technology and has a partnership agreement with AG Dangote which has led to the training of 50 people on concrete road building. The plan is to build 3000 kilometres of roads. The one on Nevis Street, which is a pilot demonstration project, was recently commissioned. The SSG, also spoke on the various initiatives of the government, especially in agriculture and job creation, and the fact that the government has charted a new path for the state. My take-away from the Benin trip is that with the appointment of commissioners, the people can get set for some exciting times in the planned transformation of Edo State.