My contract is with Edo people, not godfathers, Governor Obaseki insists

As the political ferment in Edo State careens towards 2020 gubernatorial election, Governor Godwin Obaseki, who had before now played it cool, has begun to take decisive steps to consolidate on his achievements and assert his position as leader of the party in the state.

As the only All Progressives Congress (APC) party in the South-South before the election in Bayelsa State where David Lyon won on the platform of APC, Obaseki is worried that the ill fortunes that trailed Zamfara and Rivers States could well become the fate of the party in Edo State if steps are not taken to address issues plaguing it.

Obaseki blames the national chairman of the party and former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, for the electoral misfortunes of APC in Zamfara and Rivers State in the 2019 general polls. He addressed journalists on the sidelines of Edo Economic Summit tagged Alaghodaro 2019 in Benin City.

“Given what we have suffered as a party on our own, how many states did we lose? He (Oshiomhole) is the one who is supposed to superintend the party, but he is the one creating destruction within the party. So, something needs to get worse to get better. It gets to a point you either fix it or it breaks. The house/party has been divided against itself since he became chairman. Divided in Zamfara the party fell; divided between Rivers it fell. If the owners of the house don’t come together to say ‘no, no, this virus that is making this house to fall has got to stop; if we don’t do something about the chairman’s behaviour we will have Zamfara on our hands. There has to be disciplined. People just can’t behave the way they like, disregard rules and expect that the house will stand.”

Obaseki has continued to affirm his contract with the generality of Edo people who gave him his mandate and not a few party bigwigs who he said were causing trouble for him. For him, it is to the people also that he would stake his electoral fortunes and not to about two dozens party chieftains who have fed fat on the meagre resources of Edo State.

“My concern is that I have a contract with Edo people; I don’t care what others think of it. I don’t care. What is my business with them? This is me and my Edo people. God has brought me to take care of my people and that is what I’m doing. The interests of Edo elite should not be predominant over and above Edo people as a whole. The typical politician is somebody who is committed to his people because people call him daddy. So there are people who are committed and connected to their people. What I found is that when people find a government that relates to them and helps them they hug that government. Governance is not about creating hype in the cities; it’s about connecting with the people. Most of these politicians don’t go to their communities.”

On fears that the Akinwunmi Ambode treatment could also be meted out to him whereby he would be denied a second term ticket of APC in the state, Obaseki was quite emphatic on where he stands.

According to him, “Maybe we should fight and die. Ambode is dead; they ruined him politically and they are still hounding him, isn’t it? So, I’m going to die eventually; so let me fight.”

He also spoke on the person of Oshiomhole, who he described as being a changed person since he left office as governor of the state.

“The person who is chairman today is not the person we know,” he said ruefully. “How can somebody live 36- degree life? All the issues he fought Tony Anineh for: let the people live; that no man is God – these were the things he fought him about. And we all joined and fought it together. Even my deputy (Philip Shaibu) says this is not the man we knew; something has happened to him. So you never know a man until you give him power. Why would being a party chairman make you play God? You should be dealing with ministers and the president.

“And I keep asking him: what is the issue? I keep asking, what is the issue? He also fails to say what the issues are. Look at the specialist hospital: is it not working to the best capacity we have put it? So, those are not issues. The issue, as far as we can deduce, is that he wants to be the godfather and determine everything in the state. That is it. They are looking towards 2023; everybody’s calculation is towards 2023.”

Obaseki who has made strides in education, health, civil service reforms and also charting an economic blueprint for the state said the economic summit tagged Alaghodaro (meaning ‘moving forward’) was designed to bring government and private sector players together to deepen economic interests.

“Edo people now have something of quality to look forward to every year,” the governor said. “The quality of thinking is immense on the issues about economic prosperity; to look at the future and the things that matter to us. So it’s a platform that helps us focus; a platform we are trying to utilize to galvanise governance towards the people. The government needs to partner with people. The government needs private sector participation; we need to have collaboration and communication with the rest of society. We need a paradigm shift from ‘government said this or that.’ It doesn’t work any more. In any case, how much does the government have?

“Next to crude oil, remittances account for a large chunk of our revenues or inflows. About $25 billion comes to Nigeria as a result of remittances. Given the size of our diaspora we can easily say it accounts for 25 per cent of that amount. That means about $2.5 billion comes to Edo. How much is my total budget? Remittances account for about $500 billion a year; so ordinary Edo people bring about five times our budget sum.

“We are going to put so much money on education and health. The biggest challenge we have today in government is the bureaucracy. If you say you want to build a road you can’t because of so much interest. People in society know when they see the sincerity of purpose in government; it’s really a pleasant surprise.”

The Edo Economic Summit attracted business leaders from across Nigeria and beyond who brainstormed on the economic potential of the state. It afforded the state governor and its officials to sell the state to Nigerians and the outside world as the next hub for investment in the country.

“We are mapping out our economy and we are looking at the future through our 30 years’ development plan and we won’t allow selfish politicians distract us,” Obaseki said. “Independent power supply will soon be available to power our streetlights and production centres.”

The governor is making reforms in certain critical sectors of the state. These include education where he has introduced the Teachers Computer (TC) to assist teaching and learning, renovation and revamping of the old Edo Science and Technical College originally donated by the Canadian Government Edo, and reforms in the judiciary and civil service. Obaseki also addressed the menace of land grabbers with the establishment of Edo Geographic and Information Service (GIS). The aim, according to him, is to attract invest investors and gain their confidence, as a certificate of occupancy can be obtained within a 30-90-day period.

On the minimum wage, Obaseki said, “We pay 25 per cent. I’d like to pay my teachers higher because they are working hard now. It’s not what you pay but the productivity you get out of it? So, I would rather pay people who are giving me more value.”

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