Let’s begin this conversation by asking a very simple question: Is Edo State changing? If the answer is yes, then the next question should be: Changing from what to what, and how?
Edo is one of the two states the General Ibrahim Babangida military government created on August 27, 1991 from Bendel State. The other is Delta. The two were some of the new states the regime decreed into existence.
While there was jubilation over the birth of the state, there was also, at the same time, widespread apprehension as to whether the state would be economically viable. The major reason for the apprehension was the projected low revenue that would be accruing to the state because of the fact that it is, in comparative terms, a small oil-producing area. Small relative to the percentage of the country’s total oil production and export. So the question then was: How would the state survive without the cushion of the extra cash from derivation, as the bulk of that special payment would now be going to Delta?
Between 1991, when it was created, and 1999, the state became virtually impoverished, as there was no development of any kind taking place. A succession of military administrators, who felt no sense of any obligation to the people, ensured that.
So when on May 29, 1999, Lucky Nosa Igbinedion was sworn in as the second elected governor of the state, Edo people, just like millions of other Nigerians, were happy and full of optimism that things were about to change, at least based on the promises that the new governor and his People’s Democratic Party, PDP, made. (The first elected governor was Chief John Odigie Oyegun. But his administration lasted less than two years when General Sani Abacha, in the midst of the June 12 crisis, seized power in November 1993, and sacked the National Assembly and the state governments.)
But did things change? Yes, of course. They did, but only for the worse. The state, saddled with the burden of the Lucky Igbinedion administration for eight years, became the butt of very unflattering jokes – a reflection of the abject condition into which it had sunk. People from other states, concerned about the condition of the state and the sheer invisibility of the government, were always asking: Is there a government in Edo? Yes, there was a PDP government in Edo, except that the government was virtually absent for all of those eight years! By the time Igbinedion was leaving office, his government had become totally disengaged from the people. While the people, so cruelly short-changed, were completely disillusioned with him and his party.
In an opinion piece titled, ‘After Igbinedion, What Next?’, which was published in the TELL edition of June 13, 2005, I did observe: “The angst among Edo people is both palpable and pervasive. And the reason for this is evidently their perception that their governor and his government (not theirs) are very distant from them… One of the damning failures of his government is the appalling state of Benin City, which, apart from Ibadan, Enugu, Kaduna and Lagos, is the oldest state capital in the country, having been the capital of Midwest Region from 1964 to 1967 when states were first created by military fiat. Today, most of the city is just a sprawling urbanised ghetto with virtually nothing to indicate its status as a state capital and a strategic hub in the national road transportation system. Historically, the city has always had the best-planned and most comprehensive road network of all urban areas in the country. Now when the rains come, most of the roads, blighted by deep potholes and other scars of utter neglect, are not usable. Worst still is the fact that many areas in the city are buried in floods. The government does not need to build new roads. The utterly irreducible minimum expectation is for it to maintain at least the major roads. Even this, it has failed to do.”
Under Igbinedion, Edo was, arguably, a ‘failed state’, when measured with the standard parameters of economic and social development. His government was inept, rudderless and corrupt. There were early signs of Igbinedion’s incompetence during his first term as governor. His actions, non-actions and utterances showed a man completely out of his depths in that office. While he revelled in the pomp and circumstances of the office, he barely understood the responsibilities and obligations of it, and cared very little about them.
Yet, he had many apologists. The chief apologist then was Chief Tony Anenih, a PDP national leader and chief strategist. In response to the loud complaints even within his own party about the embarrassing failure of Igbinedion, he was reported to have declared in 2002 that “there was no vacancy in the Government House” in Benin City. His omnibus declaration was an un-negotiable endorsement of Igbinedion’s second-term bid, and a very stern rebuke of those who were planning to challenge the governor. It was a thinly veiled expression of contempt for the people. To the PDP overlords, their feeling didn’t matter then – and don’t matter even now.
Another apologist was his father, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin. Remember his famous remark that Lucky should be given another chance with a second term to prove himself, because “if a child fails exams, he should be allowed to repeat the class.” But unlike Anenih’s, his was a plea and some recognition and, perhaps, grudging acceptance that the governor had performed very poorly.
In that same TELL opinion piece, I had said: “Those who defend the state government’s embarrassing inertia say it has the will but not enough funds to implement its development programme. But such a trite excuse has long ceased to be tenable. In terms of allocations from the federation accounts, Edo State is among the top 10, easily besting Cross River and many others that are doing the impossible with far less funds. But what really matters is how effectively any government deploys whatever funds it has. A profligate and unfocused government would fail even if it had the whole federation accounts at its disposal. Conversely, a prudent and focused government would do well no matter the level of resources it has.”
During the 10 years of PDP’s administration, federal allocations and other financial accruals, including internally generated revenues, IGR, to the state are estimated to be well over N120 billion (one hundred and twenty billion naira). Even if only a third of that money – that’s N40 billion – was fully invested in development projects, the PDP governments could have had something to talk about. But as we all know, Edo and her people were abandoned by leaders who didn’t have the slightest sense of responsibility to those they led.
After eight unlucky years of a wasteful and clueless government, Edo people had eagerly looked forward to the 2007 elections to make a clear statement of their determination to liberate the state from misrule. And against the formidable electoral machine of the PDP, they achieved it by electing Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as governor. But INEC decided otherwise, awarding victory to a party, which believed the people didn’t count. The people’s outrage at such a brazen theft of their mandate was expressed in spontaneous outbreak of protests especially in the state capital. They knew whom they wanted and voted for, and they knew whom they didn’t want and didn’t vote for. It took nearly two years before the court affirmed the people’s true verdict in those pivotal elections of 2007. Finally, the people got the leader they wanted. Oshiomhole became governor in November 2008. And the people’s despair was replaced with unvarnished optimism.
So back to the question: Has Edo changed? If the answer is yes, then changed from what to what? But before the second part of the question is answered, here once more are some of my thoughts on the danger of the state remaining in the hands of political barons beyond the dreadful tenure of Igbinedion.
In that same opinion piece in the June 13 edition of TELL, I had advised the PDP barons to do right for the people by choosing the best candidate for governor. By doing so they would redeem their party and restore the people’s faith in government. Some excerpts: “Oshiomhole as governor of Edo State is an eminently sensible and attractive proposition, and one that every Edo indigene should seriously consider. He has served and he continues to serve Nigeria well. Presently, he would be needed to serve his own people. As a social activist and the most outstanding labour leader since Pa Michael Imoudu, his antecedents are well known. And he commands a deep moral authority that would always impel him to stand with and fight for the people. Even more significantly, his status and reputation earned through hard work and unshakeable belief in the nobility of defending the interests of the people transcend ethnic, religious and social divide….
“There is another compelling reason why his governorship would be hugely beneficial – the need to arrest the state’s spiral into a state of relative backwardness in the past two decades. He can certainly provide the kind of leadership suffused with a vision and acute sense of purpose that have made (Governor Donald) Duke and a few other governors successful…. And, this is most important, he would not abuse his mandate and betray the trust of the people as many politicians do.
“To the powerbrokers, who believe they own the state, this proposition would seem an unforgivable heresy. But they are urged not to be dismissive of it. In any case, having short-changed the people by forcing on them a government that is unable and unwilling to meet their aspirations, they owe them a debt. And that debt is giving them the right leadership. They do not need to be afraid of Oshiomhole. Yes, he is a radical but only on the fundamental principles of fairness and justice, and the responsibility of government to the people. After eight years sleep-walking while other states are running, Edo State would be in dire need of change in 2007 with somebody in charge, who can bring the glory days back again.”
Now, to answer the question: Are the glory days back in Edo State again? Certainly, yes, they are back again. And who is responsible for this? Oshiomhole. Change is no longer a distant possibility; it’s happening in Edo. It’s not chimerical; it’s real, solid and visible everywhere in the state.
It would be pointless listing all the things his government has accomplished in just three and a half years. To mention just a few areas of decisive intervention: numerous road projects – urban, rural and intra-state; renovation of dilapidated primary and secondary schools; renovation of hospitals and the construction of new ones. Bulldozers and work gangs are everywhere. Edo State has been transformed into a huge, sprawling construction site. We no longer hear the song of ‘there’s no money’, which the Igbinedion government played to the public for eight years.
Yes, Edo is working again. But in my opinion, Oshiomhole’s greatest accomplishment so far is not in the bulldozers you see everywhere. It’s his creation of a new paradigm of governance, with a core value of service to the people. The reason any government exists is to cater for the well-being of the people by creating an environment, with policies and programmes, which would be conducive to the unleashing of their innate energies for development. As the Scottish philosopher, Francis Hutcheson, said, “The action is best, which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest number” of the people.
Oshiomhole has democratised politics in Edo by empowering the people with his one-man-one-vote agenda to freely choose their leaders. By doing so, he has brought the people into the political process and made them to even own the process. Now, we have here a government that’s truly of the people, by the people and for the people; and not for a select few, as we witnessed under the PDP.
He has, by his actions, affirmed the maxim that where there’s vision and the will, there would surely be a way to do the seemingly impossible. He has married his vision with a steely will to create a way to lift Edo out of the rut PDP’s 10-year misrule dumped it. The scale of some of the projects his administration has initiated is truly outstanding. One example will suffice – the N30 billion first-phase drainage project in Benin City. For the first time ever, the perennial problem of massive floods that ravages the state capital every rainy season is being decisively addressed.
People wonder where his government gets the funds to embark on so many different projects across the length and breadth of the state at the same time. The answer is obvious – financial prudence. Through efficient management of meagre resources and re-engineering of the state finances, he has succeeded in freeing up enough funds for development.
Consider this: up till when he became governor, the state’s expenditure was lopsidedly in favour of recurrent and other unproductive overheads. In fact, the 2008 budget he inherited from the Osunbor administration had an 80/20 expenditure ratio; that is, 80 per cent of the budget was for recurrent/overheads expenses while only 20 per cent was for capital vote. Compare that to the state’s 2012 budget, which has a 65/35 expenditure ratio, with 65 per cent of the votes earmarked for capital expenditure.
Yet, ignoring the overwhelming evidence of a government that’s truly working for the people, the PDP still rubbishes the governor. Nigerian Compass newspaper of Wednesday, February 22, reported Dan Orbih, PDP state chairman, to have said: “There’s no place to hide for Oshiomhole in the next governorship election. He’s bound to lose the election because of the amount of fraud that’s going on in Edo State… Awarding contracts without following due process; awarding contracts for beautification (when) people don’t have water to drink, no good road. It will take him 15 years to do one kilometre of road and the roads are not completed. As a drowning governor, he has suddenly discovered that propaganda and lack of respect for elders will not win him any election. We are going to show him the way out of that Government House, come July 14.”
Do I really need to point out the sheer recklessness, even silliness, of Orbih’s rant? One thing is clear, it’s indicative of the increasing desperation of his political party.
The imperatives of partisan politics, especially with an election looming in the horizon, can make politicians ignore reality. Employing a boxing metaphor, one former governor once observed: “Even when he’s completely down and out, when you have knocked him down, a politician will continue to insist that he will defeat you. That’s the nature of the game.”
The newspaper, in the same story, featured a response by the governor to Orbih’s flight-of-fancy projections. Here’s part of what the governor said: “The issue of who is in control of Edo politics has been settled. The contest will not be based on rhetoric. The only path of honour for Chief Anenih is to retire now. If he is still to manipulate, to cheat and to continue to live on cheating, we will continue to engage him. No pastor, no mallam, no witchdoctor can help him out. If there’s a free and fair election in Chief Anenih’s village between me and him, the chief will lose his village. He’s dead politically and finished. He lives on Abuja oxygen. Abuja can keep him on that oxygen but they cannot bring him back to his feet because we are ready to vote; we are ready to defend the votes.”
The PDP has every right to challenge the incumbent government, and try to present itself as a better alternative to the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. But they must do so, not based on mere rhetoric and empty threat, but on an agenda that would offer real choices. Chief Samuel Ogbemudia, PDP chieftain and a revered son of Edo, could not have put it better when he wrote in his foreword in the publication, Edo: Thirty-Six Months of Visionary Leadership, to mark Oshiomhole’s third anniversary: “(The governor) has started well. He will need to complete many of the projects in order for us to have a total picture of his grand intention. Meanwhile, I call on my party to offer him stiff opposition on the basis of superior programmes.”
So one is obliged to ask, even in a rhetorical manner, what record the PDP is running on. And what “superior programmes” they would offer the electorate to convince them to bring their former traducers back to power.
In his introduction to the publication, Oshiomhole wrote, “On my assumption of office three years ago, I noted that to transform Edo State would not be government as usual. As you can recall, the state had been ravaged by misrule under a succession of military governments, which was followed by ten agonising years of devastation by the PDP, to an extent that many had almost lost hope that government could ever deliver on development.
Edo people were practically disempowered by a political order founded on imposition, which always produced the worst eleven at all tiers of government. We were compelled to endure all manner of reasons and excuse why our state must remain backward… With a clear resolve, strong political will, diligent and committed stewardship, we have not only halted the drift, but rekindled the glow of Edo.
The people in full freedom now determine the priorities, pace and character of governance and politics as the drivers of development. Together, we have been liberated from the shackles of political godfathers, who hitherto colonised the politics of the state and privatised its resources between themselves and their cronies in office.”
So the choices are clear and even better defined than in 2007 – positive change for sustainable progress of the state, or a negative change, which would lead to a return to the old regime of drift and retrogression. I have no doubt that the people know exactly what they want, and who they want as their leader. And they will make that overwhelmingly clear on July 14.
That Oshiomhole will be re-elected is, in my opinion, a foregone conclusion or, if you prefer, a done deal by the people. His performance so far has earned him the right to expect a resounding victory. His record of solid achievements within a relatively short time and with meagre resources is unassailable. So if he has passed his first-term examinations in flying colours, he deserves automatic promotion to a second term.
Oshiomhole is not perfect, and nobody expects perfection from him. After all, he is just human like the rest of us. Some have criticised him for his fiery rhetoric, for want of what to tar him with. He sure has the gift of eloquence. But that’s not why he is popular. The people want leadership with drive and firm purpose. And he has delivered on that expectation. That’s why he’s so popular, and the people have wholeheartedly embraced him and adopted him as one of them. And, really, he’s one of them.
So his greatest challenge is not the next election. It’s who and what come after him. This is because if he and his party do not get the succession right in 2016, all the gains of his eight-year stewardship would be frittered away, and we will be back to where we were in 2007. For change to be permanent and have the desired impact, there must be continuity in the policies and programmes that drive it. That’s the only way sustainable development can be guaranteed.
Hence I want to commend this pithy dictum to him. “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him, in other men, the conviction and will to carry on” from where he left. This is, without any contest, Governor Oshiomhole’s “final test” and greatest challenge – to effectively manage the process that would produce, with the support and approval of the people, a successor, who would take the baton from him and advance rapidly and surefootedly to the finishing line. The people will trust him to do just that, and he cannot afford to let them down.
(Excerpted from a paper Nosa Igiebor, editor-in-chief, TELL magazine, delivered on “LET THE RECORD SPEAK: A CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF GOVERNOR ADAMS OSHIOMHOLE’S PERFORMANCE” at the Edo Vanguard forum, which held in Benin City recently.)