By Ernest Omoarelojie
Many cynics were sceptical of the chances of Edo State Governor, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, before he even emerged as a major contender in the state’s gubernatorial elections. The feeling was not altogether misinformed given the undercurrent that left many to think less of him as having any real chance of upstaging the more savvy political generals fielded against him both in his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In the beginning, even the unflinching support he got from his predecessor, one of the state’s most daring political figures, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, didn’t help matters too. But times have changed and he has since taken over as the new sheriff in town, and has been left to carve a niche for himself – a feat he appears to be achieving in style.
The interesting and, perhaps, intriguing thing about Obaseki is that despite showcasing one of the most impressive credentials for a political office seeker, he still had to prove his mettle. Even as he did much more than his fellow contenders by traversing the length and breadth of all the wards of the state, the only credit many gave him was that he was an avenue for Oshiomhole to accomplish his third term agenda. Unmoved by claims that he lacked the ability and experience to ignite the needed political will to muscle his way through inherent blockades, he trudged on and made very impressive and practicable promises that succeeded in further distancing him from the pack as a contender that understood not just what he wanted but also the people’s real sustainable development desires.
Clearly, he came on at a time when, among other headaches, the state required a governor with the ability to rein in the hydra-headed unemployment challenge running loose in frightening double digit figures. He came with his depth to put an end to alleged double taxation, release all local government finances, curtail the nuisance values of certain characters employed as muscles for revenue mop, and, in particular, shore up the state’s finances by harnessing all of its investable natural potentials. Thus far, he seems to be living up to his pedigree and like the surefooted, straight thinking investment mobilizer that he is, he has taken steps that seem to give the heartwarming assurance that he has the ability to deliver on his promises with a view to bringing back better days to the nation’s heartbeat.
Obaseki served notice, quite early too, that he was ready to roll in a direction that will leave no one in any doubt about his desire to execute his electoral mandate. As a first move, he secured agreements with vital investors, home and abroad, who are already reported to be mobilizing necessary resources into the state.
Expectedly, the move seems to be producing an Uhuru effect on everyone, including some of his opponents who are reported to be claiming that he is operating their manifesto. In more ways than one, his moves thus far, bear great semblance to an unfolding El Dorado for the army of unemployed people in the state. The bottomline is that by simply working on campaign promises with such earnest urgency, he puts to the sword any scepticism concerning whether he knows what he is talking about with his promise to create at least 200,000 jobs within the first four years.
Ab initio, Obaseki made it clear that his administration will not depend on monthly federal stipends to give the state a new lease of economic life. He was point blank in positing that he wants to make millionaires of the citizenry with a view to raising the tax and economic profiles of the state. The mathematics is simple – the more legitimate moneybags he makes of the people via positive empowerment, the more taxable income there is that will be available for the state to evolve economically.
His dream only succeeded in producing sarcastic nods of agreement from cynics, being more assured that the complexity of meeting certain political expediencies will consume him. But against their nodding sarcasm, it appears that the Governor’s focus on the state’s economic renaissance, at the expense of heeding political affairs, is finally taking concrete shape. That is, if one takes a critical look at his decision to give professional politicians a wide berth. The truth about it is that the common man in the state appears to be warming up to him.
Repeatedly, Obaseki said his mission is to turn the state into an economic hub. Quietly, he went about this, even as cynics went to town, howling with aplomb, that he will succeed only in mouthing empty ballots and gathering political catch phrases designed to give wings to his acclaimed investment versatility. Yet, his assured moves thus far suggest that he is not only a man who walks his talk, he is also very independent-minded. Even more so, he seems to be confounding his cynics as he takes well calculated steps towards turning the state into the nation’s main economic reference point. Worthy of note are his decisions on the Gelegele seaport, his transparency in policy governance and his people-centric disposition.
The dormant Gelegele seaport has, for years, lain in waste alongside its huge economic potentials for the state. If brought back to life, it has the capacity to service the import and export requirements of businesses in and around both the country’s south-south and south-east zones. In the main, its operation has the undeniable capacity to reduce import and export financing for these businesses having removed their overdependence on far away Lagos ports with their attendant high costs. Obaseki has not only recognized the port’s inherent strategic and economic importance, he has gone ahead to activate its revitalization by setting up a 7-member committee with marching orders to quicken its start-up process. The committee, headed by Engr. Gregory Ero, Chief Executive Officer, ARCO, is to work out the modalities for transforming Gelegele into one of the country’s foremost economic and industrial hubs.
Obaseki gave transparency in governance as one of his cardinal campaign promises. So far, he seems to be delivering on it too. That is, if the manner he is directly disbursing local government funds to the state’s 18 councils is anything to go by. Already, he has demonstrated his administration’s willingness to be very transparent in all deals by the transparent and public manner he disbursed their federal allocations in November and December.
Omoarelejie writes from Benin City
Chief Press Secretary (Interim)
Government House Benin City, Edo State
Effectively, he has opened a new vista in the erstwhile contentious relationship between the state and local government areas without recourse to any political or other underhand subterfuge. He rubbed it in by giving the assurance that even the councils that received zero allocation will receive financial aid from the state that they may meet statutory monthly obligations, including payment of salary. However, the only expectation now is that while the councils are singing “Hosannah in the Highest” and the state government is receiving rave reviews, the latter must, as part of its oversight functions, ensure that the former adheres strictly to the rules of disbursement.
Unambiguously, Obaseki promised to be people-centric in policy implementation. As part of the processes leading up to fulfilling the promise, he assured the people that his administration will abolish all forms of double taxation, where it exists. Just as well, he added that he will give a humane face to the collection of all taxes and other levies. He made good on these promises in his New Year broadcast to the people by proclaiming mouth-watering incentives for habitual tax evaders. He followed it up by giving the marching order to all itinerary tax collectors hitherto engaged to carry out the responsibility to withdraw their services with immediate effect.
Though the order was not altogether unexpected as they had become lawless, harassing and extorting innocent citizens under the guise of taxes and levies collection, it came as a new year gift to the people because it remained one major sore point in the relationship between them and the immediate past administration. It turned out to be one policy that earned the new Governor plaudits from a rather conservative populace.
Obaseki has since given the responsibility of collecting taxes and other levies to government employees. Remarkably, the State Government is already working on modalities that will eliminate loopholes through which tax collectors fleece the state. As part of these measures, it has set up a committee to finetune a proposed bill that will harmonise revenue collection by local councils. The committee is equally mandated to seek out effective ways of eliminating cash as a means of revenue collection. In effect, tax and other revenue collection will be conducted with the innovative use of POS and revenue scratch cards.
There is hardly any doubt that the former collectors are rueing their fate right now just as the new enforcers, legitimate government employees, are likely to be smacking their lips in anticipation of whatever. This is where the administration will have to be proactive by putting other appropriate modalities in place to ensure that the new collectors will not translate “extorting innocent people” into “fleecing the state government”.
For instance, the government must work out effective plans against the possibility of the new enforcers entering into dubious alliance with inherent tax evaders to pay an unrecorded fraction of requisite tax in cash, which will go into the collectors’ pocket, and receive an all-clear exception certification. Indeed, guarding against the unforeseen is, no doubt, very important, given the habitual ability of some individuals and groups to device and operate ingenious law manipulating methods.
Give or take, the coming of the Obaseki administration seems to be bringing better days for the people of the state. From being perceived as Oshiomhole’s third term through the back door, it is fast proving to be an administration with a mind of its own. Even as professional sceptics still exercise reservation from their well-stocked armoury, the people are beginning to warm up to him as they experience systematic reforms from his policy decisions. They are, thus far, grinning from ear to ear, convinced that better days may have come for both them and the state.