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Obaseki’s Tortuous Quest to Reinvent Edo

By Crusoe Osagie

The Edo State Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki’s political journey has been arduous.

Since he took office for the first time in November 2016, his path has always seemed to be thorny. Surprisingly, he always appears to pick the hard way when he could simply choose the easy option.

One scenario that proves this assertion was in the early days of Obaseki’s first tenure. He had two options. The first was to simply feather the nest of his predecessor in office and his infantry. This path would have had him play the lapdog and ensure good access to the treasury. They sing his praises to high heavens, then somehow hoodwink the people, win their support and ultimately rally round him and get him re-elected for his second term.

Obaseki turned down that option. His reason was simple. He did not think it served the best interest of the majority of Edo people. Instead, he embarked on a fierce battle of wits and brawn which culminated in the epic political victory that returned him to power in the September 19, 2020 election. 

Upon return to office for the second tenure, instead of just window dressing, constructing a few roads and doing the commissioning and ribbon cutting common among Nigerian politicians in their decades of manipulating their people, Obaseki picked the difficult option again. He embarked on the reinvention of the State.

The word ‘reinvent’ was chosen intentionally. Founding fathers of the defunct Midwestern Nigeria, which has now been reduced to Edo State, had very ambitious dreams and visions that were amputated partly by the military juntas and the inexperienced and sometimes outrightly corrupt political leaders that followed them.

Between the late 1980s and the 2000s, after receiving what was left of the very high-quality education in the former Midwestern Nigeria, youths including myself who couldn’t or didn’t want to work in the civil service moved out quickly either to Lagos, Port Harcourt or overseas in search of private sector experience. 

In the wake of this mass exodus, poverty pervaded Edo State which was mostly run with Diaspora remittances. The private sector was almost non-existent. There were no major manufacturing concerns, neither were there petroleum refining companies and even the service industry was comatose with no presence of branches of what was then called the new generation banks.

From a region where we earlier had thriving companies, such as the African Timber and Plywood company, Bendel Feed and Flour mill, Bendel Breweries, Okpella Cement Company, among others, youths could barely find a decent industrial concern to work after acquiring education.

Back to Governor Obaseki’s knack for difficult tasks. The governor took on the daunting mission to rebuild the dreams of Edo’s founding fathers which his predecessors appeared to either shy away from or didn’t have the expertise to sustain.

Brimming with experience garnered from the boardroom, the governor began the tedious task of reinventing the civil and public service in Edo State quite early. His theory on the importance of this sector is that it is the hub around which a thriving private sector must revolve and so it must be functional and efficient. 

The reform of the State’s public service is perhaps one of the most impactful interventions of Governor Obaseki’s transformational projects. The ultimate goal was to transit service delivery from an archaic, analogue and strenuous mode to a digitized, seamless and efficient mode.

Through the Edo State Public Service Transformation and Enhancement Project (Edo-STEP), the governor has digitized work processes in the civil and public service, ensuring that workers are exposed to top-of-the-range training at the John Odigie-Oyegun Public Service Academy. Files are processed through the service-wide e-government platform, ensuring quick turn-around time.

The nimbler reforms include the introduction of the Contributory Pension Scheme and the Edo State Health Insurance Commission, which ensure adequate welfare for workers.

Across various sectors of the state, the result of the hard work of Governor Obaseki has taken firm footing, which has set the State on the path of prosperity.

It is to the Governor’s credit that Edo State now has an active electricity market, set up through legislation to make provision for the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in the State. The State is also empowered to regulate the sector.

The existing 95MW Ossiomo Power Plant, which runs its own grid network and powers the State’s establishments and public utilities such as streetlights, is captured in the new law. It is expected to expand its network to serve industrial clusters and private customers.

The State has also become an industrial haven with the establishment of at least two modular refineries, which as at June 2023, placed an order for 300,000 barrels of crude for refining in their facilities. The two refineries are the 6000bpd facility operated by the Edo Refinery and Petrochemical Company (ERPC) in Ologbo, Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area and the 2500bpd Duport Refinery run by Duport Refinery Company Limited in Egbokor, Orhionmwon Local Government Area of the State. 

Another industrial concern in the State is the Greenhill Ethanol Plant, which is expected to produce food grade ethanol for use in the confectionery and beverage industry. It will be fed with 800 trucks of cassava daily at its site in Ologbo, Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area of the state.

The State now has a fast-expanding retail sector, with the latest entrant being the Benin City mall, which will host a cinema, library, entertainment centre and other hospitality businesses. The Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub and Sound Stage is now brimming with verve, with youths engaged in various artistic productions, including films, theatrical works, music and photography.

The Benin Port project is a legacy project of Governor Obaseki. The facility is designed for a carrying capacity of 300,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). The State Government is developing the port in partnership with the Federal Government through the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA). It will be run in collaboration with the Port of Antwerp in Belgium. It is also to be designated a sister port to the Lekki Deep Sea Port in Lagos.

With all of these, graduates from Edo don’t only stay in the State after completing their education, those from other states want to come to begin their lives and gain private sector experience in Edo. It is a new dawn because the governor has set the right foundation to engender progress.

It is clear that Obaseki’s choice to take the less travelled path has paid off, setting the State on a journey of continental competitiveness and global recognition. This much is obvious with the World Bank’s rating of the State as a global model for reforming education.

Obaseki would rightly be regarded as the man who took the hard decisions that repositioned Edo State as a competitive sub-national. The reverberating impact of these hard choices are already beginning to show and will become clearer and indelible for many years to come.

Osagie is the Special Adviser, Media Projects to the Edo State Governor

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