Enter the action governor A chronicle of Obaseki’s first week in office
Since the newly elected governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, assumed office on Monday, the Edo State Government House has not remained the same. The body language of the new occupant of Osadebey Avenue was clear to party supporters and staffers of the Government House: he is here to work.
Many visitors, including close associates, family members and political appointees of former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who stormed the Government House on Monday morning with the aim of congratulating Obaseki and celebrate his assumption of office, all left disappointed. The financial expert simply shunned their presence to focus on the task of governance.
After one week in the saddle, during which he inspected some public buildings, Obaseki declared to lawmakers in the House of Assembly: “We have a lot of work to do.” Thus, to the amazement of many Edo workers, the new governor resumed office at about 7:30 am. And as soon as he finished inspecting a guard of honour, he proceeded to his office, where he had a brief meeting with permanent secretaries before announcing his first set of appointments.
The appointees include a former Chief of Staff to Governor Adams Oshiomhole and immediate past Commissioner for Works, Barrister Osarodion Ogie, who was named Secretary to the State Government; Mr. Taiwo Akerele, who was named the Chief of Staff to the Governor, and Mr. John Mayaki who was named the interim Chief Press Secretary.
Mr. Osarodion Ogie, the new SSG was also the Vice Chairman, Economic and Strategy Team during the first tenure of the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole administration.
Mr. Taiwo Francis Akerele, until now, was the Project Coordinator for the World Bank Public Financial Management and Youth employment Program for Edo state.
Mr Akerele was trained at the Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts USA. Carlton University, Ottawa, Canada, Stellenbosch University Cape Town, World Bank Institute Washington DC, University of ibadan and University of Benin.
Mayaki, before his appointment as CPS, was Executive Director, Media and Public Affairs during the Adams Oshiomhole administration. He was former Senior Special Assistant on Media and was twice appointed CPS, Akoko-Edo Local Government Council in 2003.
As a proof of the new governor’s declaration that there would be no more free lunch in Government House, a circular barring loitering and “unnecessary visitors” was issued. A close observation showed that all the security details in the Government House had been changed, making it difficult for former political appointees to gain access without clearance.
On Monday evening, Obaseki paid an unscheduled visit to the Benin Technical College, which was built about 40 years ago with support from the Canadian government. There, the governor inspected the technical section, the Junior Secondary School and its extension, the welding and technical workshop which accommodates various machines and other equipment, the Radio and Television section, the Information and Communication workshops, the staff quarters and the swimming pool with its pavilion and dressing room, which were already over-grown with weeds.
His visit to the school was in fulfillment of his campaign promise to focus on technical education. He confessed his shock at the level of decayed infrastructure and technical facilities at the Benin Technical College. But he assured that the college, when renovated, would train skilled technical manpower and create jobs.
He said: “We have to bring it up so that it becomes the basis for training the technical manpower we need to drive our industrial revolution in the state.
“To create jobs, there must be facilities and institutions where you train people on practical knowledge on how to create work and create things. That is why we felt that the first port of call should be to find out what happened to our technical college, which is supposed to be the institution to train skilled technical manpower, and I’m sure you will agree with me that this is pitiable. It’s really, really sad.”
“If you could see the quality of the infrastructure that was built 40 years ago, two of these institutions were donated by the Canadian government to two African countries 40 years ago. If you look at the equivalent of this institution in Tanzania, it is producing highly qualified technical manpower in that country.”
Governor Obaseki told the Principal of the School, Mrs Bose Imafidon, to submit the survey plan of the property through the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education to the Governor’s Office.
On Tuesday, Obaseki visited the Civil Service Staff Training Centre, Palm House, Secretariat Building and Block D. Facilities at the buildings, which accommodate the state ministries and agencies, and the unkempt environment also shocked Obaseki.
During his time as the Chairman of the State Economic Team, Obaseki proved to other political appointees the need to work in a neat and conducive environment by getting his friends to renovate the old executive chamber. A peeved Obaseki, after inspecting the buildings, said “people cannot work in such condition and get results,” adding that instant renovation work would begin on the buildings and all the necessary facilities would be put in place.
According to him, “We have a major challenge. You do not expect people to work in this condition and get results. It is not the fault of anyone in particular today, because as you can see, this complex was designed and most of it constructed almost 40 years ago. So, the decay started quite a while ago.
“What we need to do is go back to the drawing board very quickly, begin a process of instant rehabilitation of some of the offices and ensure that we create a perimeter fence. We have to create this as an enclave, provide security, provide maintenance and all the facilities required so that our civil servants can work in a safe and efficient environment.
“We need a total overhaul. Not only cleaning, but the entire process. You could see squatters. You could see traders all over the place, and that in itself creates insecurity for the people working here. So, we are going to look at the entire gamut; from ensuring that this place is properly fenced to having a power system. Rather than each ministry having a power generator, we need to have an efficient system that powers the secretariat and the entire complex, ensure that they have water, ensure that the place is properly cleaned and ensure that you have control in terms of access of who comes here, and that government documents that are kept here are safe.”
Reeling out his policy thrust to the permanent secretaries, Obaseki said he would reduce the cost of governance by realigning the current workforce and not having a large cabinet. He said he would work with the permanent secretaries in the next six weeks with a view to understanding the processes and the system with a view to meeting the high expectations of the people.
His words: “We do not have the kind of resources we had six years ago. Everywhere we travelled to during the campaigns, people demanded for better schools, healthcare system and new lease of life. We cannot afford to make excuses. Even though we have these challenges, it is incumbent on us that we deliver, and it starts from the way we organise government right from the quality of people who head government.
“We will tackle the challenges ahead of us. We are cognizant of what is going on around. Government has to work for politics to succeed. Initially, we will emphasise more governance. Let us put in place a governance structure so that our political structure can survive and endure.
“For the next six weeks, we are going to work with the permanent secretaries to understand the structures of government so that we can make governance much more efficient. We cannot afford to continue with the high cost of governance we run today. The money is not there. We can restructure how we work. We can get more from the people we already have.”
At a meeting with lawmakers in the state, Obaseki said he would continue to invest in infrastructure despite very lean resources, as well as run a very transparent government.
He continued: “The last eight years were basically years of foundation laying. We have laid the right foundation for our economy to take off, and so the next four to eight years, by the special grace of God, will be one in which we will now take Edo to much more higher level than we have seen in the last four decades.
“What are the key issues we seek to address? First, we must recover our society. We are likely to lose our society if we do not begin to emphasise those key issues of human development and economic empowerment. We have too many young men and women, in our own estimate, between half a million to three quarters of a million, between the ages of 15 to 30, who have nothing doing. We have to engage them, and to engage them, we need to do several things. So, the last two days, you would have noticed that we are trying to understand the issues.
“We are going to create jobs. We promised a minimum of 200,000 jobs, and to do that, we first have to understand our direction and the challenges we face in terms of unemployment. On Monday, we went to Benin Technical College, which was established 40 years ago, to champion technical and vocational training for young men and women. The challenges are enormous because what we saw was pitiable, and even though we have an obvious task, we are not daunted at all.
“So, we will, using this institution, to quickly understand what we need to do and the investments we need to make. To create the platform, put a lot of our young people through training so that they can be employed in the businesses that we are attracting. We also understand that no matter how great, no matter how interesting the policies we pronounce are, no matter the bills we have put forward, if we do not have the institutional framework, if we do not have the bureaucracy that can execute, these policies would just be as good or as nice as they have been pronounced.
“Therefore, the key priority for us would be to ensure that we revamp and strengthen our civil service. That informed our visit yesterday to just have a firsthand understanding of how our civil servants work. Members of the house, we have a lot of work to do. In the last 40 years, not much has been done, particularly in the physical environment in which our civil servants work. But more critically, training them and building their skill level.”