Obaseki: New dawn, new challenges

Tomorrow, Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole will bow out of office as a happy man. Like many successful leaders, he will be handing over to a competent successor. Therefore, as an era ends in the Southsouth state, a new chapter also unfolds. Unlike his former boss, who is a unionist and politician, Governor Godwin Obaseki is a technocrat. His vision is to lay a solid edifice on the foundation laid by the former governor, in accordance to the electoral promises made by the All progressives Congress (APC). But, many challenges will face the new administration. Will Obaseki reenact the feat he has recorded in the private sector in Edo?  Will he cope with the murky waters of politics and become a master of the game? Will he leave an indelible mark at end of his tenure? Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU highlights the challenges that will confront the new helmsman.

Joy was bold on his face as the electoral commission declared him the winner of the historic governorship poll. For him, it was a milestone. He mounted the open roof sports utility car, which drove him round the streets of the ancient Benin City, waving the broom, the symbol of the All Progressives Congress (APC), at the jubilating crowd. With him was his political mentor, the ebullient and fork-tongued Adams Oshiomhole, who led the dancing train of women and youths. The attention of the people shifted to Godwin Obaseki, who had just received their mandate to shoulder the burden of governing Edo State in the next four years.

It was a moment of excitement. Party leaders swarmed him. Yet, the man of the moment was full of tenderness. In utmost humility, he was nevertheless in sober reflection, the euphoria of victory notwithstanding. Peeping into the future, he realised that governance will not be a tea party in Edo because to whom much is given, much is expected. During the campaigns, he had reeled out messages of hope. But, now as the governor-elect, he sent a message of assurance to the people. “I will continue from where the comrade-governor will be stopping. I will justify the confidence reposed in me by you, the electorate. I will fulfill the electoral promises made by me and our great party,” he told the crowd.

To observers, Obaseki’s  victory at the poll was a fulfillment of destiny. His co-aspirants at the tensed primary never gave him a chance. To them, the contest was not for an apolitical figure. A year ago, the financial expert was not aware of what fate had in stock for him. He had no ambition to succeed the workaholic governor, although he was always willing and ready to offer constructive advice on economic management.  As the Leader of the Edo State Economic Team, he was widely acknowledged as a silent worker at the ‘Think-Tank Office, assisting  Oshiomhole in policy initiation and implementation. As he was working diligently, his boss perceived in him the quality of a diligent successor.

The new governor was self-effacing.  He knew his onions as an economic expert. But, he also knew his limitation as a political animal. As a professional, his colleagues felt that politics was a no-go area. Although he had established himself as a boardroom guru and master of corporate politics, he was perceived as a gentleman who could not survive in the political furnace. Besides, Obaseki was not identified as a notable party chieftain and a leader of opinion. Little did he guess that he will eventually emerge as Oshiomhole’s successor, following a historic contest between him and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the more renowned and astute flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Many obstacles were thrown on his path. His detractors derided him as an inexperienced political upstart who needed a long period of tutorials to measure up. Frustrated and desperate chieftains described him as an outsider, unmindful of his illustrious background as a descendant of the legendary Obaseki, the most popular Iyase of Benin. He was mocked as an imaginary stooge of the combative governor, who will later be tossed around and dance to the whim and caprice of the Iyombo-born politician. Some delved into history, saying that Obaseki was living to expectation as an usurper, recalling that his great grand father attempted to hijack the stood of Oba of Benin, when Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi was deposed by the British interlopers and banished to Calabar.

When those twisting history were reminded that the great Obaseki was instrumental to the ascension of Ovonranwen’s son, Oba Eweka 11, to the exalted throne, the historical fact was deliberately ignored. The fallacy became a strong tonic for an effective propaganda by dubious politicians inciting the people to stop Oshiomhole from foisting on Edo a ‘stranger,’ who has never ploughed back to his roots since he became a successful investor in Lagos. Also, some traditional rulers and community leaders were mobilised to reject his candidature. But, Obaseki remained focussed, undeterred by the cheap blackmail and rigorous campaign of calumny until he breasted the tape and lifted the crown.

According to analysts, Obaseki’s victory has implications for Oshimhole’s future career and the entire state in post-Oshiomhole era. The triumph destroyed the threat by the PDP to disgrace him out of office. It marked the fulfillment of the former governor’s dream to hand over to a competent successor, careful planner and incorruptible technocrat. Having fought many ‘wars’ in the last eight years in Edo, Oshiomhole was anxious about the critical succession battle . He had led a successful crusade against the godfathers. The former governor claimed that these political barons had converted the state into their fiefdom, sharing the resources among their lackeys and fencing out the masses. The platform on which he conducted the war was ‘one man, one vote.’ In Oshiomhole’s view, it was necessary to halt the personalisation of power by the modern-day Edo aristocrats who have rejected the vision of inclusiveness and wider democratic participation. His triumph over the entrenched forces attested to his doggedness, resilience, resolve to usher in a new era and commitment to the yearnings of the common man.

Besides, Oshiomhole fought the infrastructure battle, earning an applause for an impressive performance. He was on a rescue mission of sorts. Having seized Edo by storm, there was no going back. The people were thirsty for dividends of democracy which were elusive under the Igbenedion administration. Unlike the previous eight years, Edo became a huge construction site. At a rally in Auchi, a confident Oshiomhole reflected on the giant strides. He said Edo bounce back on the strength of an indomitable progressive vision and action plan, which was a wide departure from the government of marauders to the benefit of few lackeys. The former governor always linked his success in government to the contribution of the shrewd technocrat. “They said roads cannot be constructed in some communities because of hills and rivers. We rejected that excuse. Now, these communities have access roads. They will not forget the Oshiomhole years. The brain behind the laudable projects is Godwin Obaseki,” he said.

In other sectors, the former governor was not a failure. When other states could not pay salaries, Edo stood out in the Southsouth. No single capital project was suspended on account of the drop in revenue accruing to the state’s lean purse. Even, during the campaigns, the former governor still took time out to inspect developmental projects across the districts.

However, despite Oshiomole’s track record, the poll was not a walk over for the APC. The succession battle may have really affected the ruling party, making some chieftains to threaten to subvert or undermine it at the poll. Although Obaseki was eminently qualified to be governor, there was a strong opposition to his emergence. Analysts have also pointed out that the electoral contest was hot because of the PDP’s determination to regain control. Pastor Ize-Iyamu is a veteran of many onslaughts. He was one of the pillars of the progressive bloc before he dumped the platform. In fact, some have suggested that the

To the comrade governor, Obaseki was the right choice, giving the prevailing circumstances. It appears that progressives governors are now fascinated by the quality of technocrats without partisan inhibitors, encumbrances and drawbacks. Professionals in politics are now preferred to professional politicians. The electorate appear to be losing confidence in politicians without a second address. Oshiomhole had studied the succession pattern in Lagos State where the two governors who had come after former Governor Bola Tinubu-Babatunde Fashola (SAN) and Akinwunmi Ambode-had lived up to expectation. When Asiwaju Bola Tinubu insisted on Fashola’s candidature, many party stalwarts were taken aback. Later, they hailed his wisdom when they saw the lawyer in action. But, according to the Lagos PDP, Ambode’s has even achieved in two years what it took Fashola four years to accomplish. Obaseki shares a similar trait with these successful administrators.  Having successfully laid a new foundation for Edo’s future, Oshiomhole believed that only a hardworking administrator and a goal getter like him could defend the worthy legacies and continue to build on the foundation.

Describing him as the best man for the job in Edo, Oshiomhole said: ” Obaseki is more competent than me,” adding that he will fast-track the work of governance and get maximum results for the state with the scarce resources. He said the new governor has the discipline, courage, passion for progress and ideas about how to run a state beset with dwindling revenue and achieve maximum productivity.

During the campaigns, the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, described Obaseki as the best choice. He is not a noise maker, but a silent worker and achiever, he said, stressing that he was better than Pastor Ize-Iyamu, who had served under a discredited government. The former governor said the current circumstances made his candidature compelling. In his view, Edo needed an economic expert to navigate the difficult ship of state at this trying time when no state can hope to survive in the face of the dwindling federal allocation.

To Ambode, Obaseki is an epitome of economic creativity; an expert who understands the economic challenges and prospects of the Southsouth state what can be done to catapult it to the horizon of progress. The Lagos governor, who headed the APC Campaign Council for Edo, said Obaseki will generate more income for Edo, set the stage for its industrialisation, promote transparency and accountability and sustain the progressive vision and agenda.

Also, Fashola congratulated Edo APC for fielding Obaseki as a flag bearer. He said: “Godwin Obaseki is truly a remarkable figure with limitless talents, a big heart and a self-effacing, down-to-heart personal style that gives no indication of his extraordinary accomplishment.”

 

Obaseki’s motivation is not primitive accumulation, but service to the 53 year-old state. Contrary to the propaganda by detractors, he is a homeboy. He attended St. Matthews Anglican Primary School, Benin City before proceeding from to Eghosa Anglican Grammer School, Benin City. He attended the University of Ibadan where he

obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Classics. Obaseki

attended the Columbia University and Pace University, New York. He has an MBA in Finance and International Business. He is also a Fellow of the

Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers, Nigeria and an alumnus of the Lagos Business School Chief Executive Programme. The financial administrator was nominated as a Global Leader for Tomorrow (GLT) by the World Economic

Forum in 2001.

 

Obaseki began his career over 30 years ago in the financial sector. He has a track record that has drew the envy of many in Investment Banking, Asset Management, Securities Trading and the

Public Sector. He became a stock broker 1983 with Capital Trust Brokers Limited, Lagos. Later, he worked with the International Merchant Bank (an

affiliate of First Chicago Bank). In 1988 he joined AVC Funds Limited, Lagos. where he served as a Project Manager. He led the core team that set up two new generation banks that eventually reshaped the face of the banking industry in the country.

 

Between 1993 and 1995, Obaseki worked in New York as a principal of Equatorial

Finance Co, a Financial Advisory firm with a focus on Africa. The company provided what experts have described as structured trade finance for African-related transactions through credit, financial advisory and risk insurance.

 

In 1995, his career blossomed as he Founded Afrinvest West Africa Limited (formerly Securities Transactions & Trust Company Limited (SecTrust)). He was its the pioneer Managing Director. The firm is a leading investment banking and  Management firm. In 1995, SecTrust was appointed the correspondent stockbroker for Nigeria by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). In 1996, it established the first derivative product, the Nigerian International Debt Fund (NIDF), on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, which allowed Nigerians to invest local savings in the US Dollar instrument. This fund has outperformed projections on returns.

 

Also, SecTrust was the local adviser on the first global offering by a Nigerian bank through the issuance of Global Depositary Shares (GDS) to raise UD$50 million from the international Capital market. Afrinvest has acted as an adviser on some of the largest and most significant transactions in the Nigerian capital market since 2005. It is one of the most trusted advisory firms in the domestic corporate finance market, pioneering major innovations and providing leadership in the

Nigerian Securities market. The firm has advised on numerous landmark

Transactions, including the first Eurobond Issue by a Sub-Saharan Africa Corporate (outside South-Africa); the first ever simultaneous merger and tender offer transaction in Sub-Saharan Africa and the largest ever listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

Afrinvest has been ranked as a major investment research firm, which is at the forefront of playing instrumental roles in the introduction of new financing products such as Eurobonds and Global Depository Receipts to Nigerian Companies.

Obaseki was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the firm, which

won the Best Asset Management Firm in Nigeria (2014) Award by the Wealth &

Finance International Magazine Finance Awards.

 

Since March 17, 2009, Obaseki has served as the Chairman of the Edo State

Government’s Economic and Strategy Team (EST). The achievements of the team included the documentation of the Edo State Economic Development Framework through Sectors’ Strategic Planning, which was reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis; the introduction and enculturation of retreats as a platform to ensure engagement, not only in planning and executing development initiatives, but also in the monitoring and evaluation of outcomes; the sourcing of N25 Billion Infrastructure

Market in 2010; Development Bond from the Nigerian Capital, and

$225 million Concessionary Rates Development Loan from the World Bank

with the 1st Tranche of $75 Million already accessed;

 

The team successfully hosted the sector-based Economic Summits and Policy Dialogue Series, including the Power Round Table in 2010, 2011 Education Round Table and 2012 Agribusiness Round Table. These summits  included the Azura-Edo IPP project with over $1 billion in FDI, currently in Ihovbor, Uhunwode local government area, and education reforms, which have translated to significant improvement in infrastructure and student performance in the West African School Leaving Certificate Examination.

 

Following the 2012 Agribusiness Summit, the state attracted

investment in the rubber sub-sector for the development of the single

largest rubber plantation project in Sokponba, Orhiomwon

local government area under a privately developed and financed initiative;

A framework for local economic empowerment through out-growers

schemes was finalised to attract funding into the development of

key crops for which Edo State has natural endowment, including oil

palm, rubber, cassava, cocoa, rice and other grains

 

Obaseki has been part of other committees set up by the Edo State government. He was the Chairman of the Tax Assessment Review Committee for Edo State Internal Revenue Service (TARC). He was a member ofthe Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME). He was the secretary of  the Committee on the Implementation of the Law Establishing the Edo State University of Science and Technology, and members of the  Committee on Contributory Pension Scheme, the Edo SEEFOR/DPO Steering Committee, and the Committee on the Report of the Audit of the Credentials of Teaching Staff in public schools.

Obaseki was the Chairman of the Land Use Charge Committee, a member of the State Steering Committee on the European Union Assisted Niger-Delta

Support programme (NDSP) Component Three (Development of Edo State Water

and Sanitation Policy and Law.

He has served on the Presidential Committee on the Reform

of the Nigerian Pension System. He also served on the Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission Committee on the Re-activation of the Nigerian Bond Market and the review of the Investment and Securities Act. He was a member of the Nigerian Stock Exchange Council between 2006 and 2009. He also served on the board of some companies such as Dorman Long Engineering Limited, Pillar Oil Limited and Seric Impianti International Limited.

 

Obaseki was the founding secretary of a New York-based US-Africa Chamber of Commerce in 1992, which promoted US organisations doing business in Africa. He was a Director in Junior Achievement of Nigeria, the local affiliate of the worldwide ,’Not for Profit’ organisation which trains students to appreciate market economy

values. He also a Trustee of the Dr. Jackson Owen

Obaseki Foundation, a family NGO, which is involved in providing free

educational and health services to the less privileged.

 

However, having been catapulted from an aide playing a supportive role to the driver’s seat, the governor would be confronted by the challenges of adjustment imposed by the transformation. He is not a run-of-the-mill politician. He has to start learning the roles as the new leader of the Edo APC. Apart from the huge administrative assignments, he is expected to occupy the position of party symbol. The role cannot be left for his predecessor, who may be considered for a national assignment by the Federal Government and his deputy, Philip Shuaibu, who as deputy governor will not be perceived as the man directly in charge. The buck, as it is said, stops at the table of the governor.

The joy of victory may have withered in the face of the daunting challenges. Much is expected of the governor-elect. The baseline for assessing his performance is the achievement of Oshiomhole, who has left the state better than he met it. It is a new era and new challenges will confront the governor. Having succeeded in the private sector where he had worked in the last 30 years, Obaseki is expected to enact the success story that made him a man of pedigree.

During the transition period, the governor left no stone unturned. He is conscious of the weight of responsibilities on his shoulders. He has a laudable blue-print for turning around the state. Armed with the manifestos, he approached voters during the campaigns. Now, the people look forward to the speedy fulfillment of the campaign promises. The campaign promises included more roads, more hospitals, jobs for the youths, increased funding for agriculture and industrialisation. In his victory speech, Obaseki promised not to let the people down. He said: “Our promise to build a state anchored on a productive economy that will transform and empower our citizens is sincere. We promised jobs. We promised improved scial welfare services and a secured state. We will strive to deliver on all these promises. As we travelled all over our great state selling our programmes, we also took note of your concerns and problems, and I want to assure you that we will do everything in our power to address them.”

 

Obaseki may be inheriting a divided APC as the party leader. Many observers are of the view that Obaseki’s first priority is the reconciliation of the aggrieved forces in his party. Many aspirants who competed for the ticket with him may still be bitter with justification. It was not possible that the conflict was totally resolved during the campaigns. After the poll, Obaseki has demonstrated his intention to run an all-inclusive government. He has been discussing with stakeholders, including aggrieved stalwarts, community leaders and other stakeholders, who were upset by the selection process that produced him as the flag bearer. The goal is to pacify them, give them a sense of belonging and tap from their rich experience.

Besides, Obaseki has sought for another favour from voters who gave him the mandate. Urging  the people from the 18 local governments to unite behind his administration, he said: “Politics and elections are over. Now is the time to begin the task of development to move the state forward.” He knew that the pre-primary acrimony could be carried over to his first term. Therefore, he urged reconciliation so that the party and the government could be on the same page. Obaseki added: “It is time to bury the hatchet and close ranks for the good of our state. Our state is superior to all other interests and we must as individuals subordinate our personal ambitions to that of the collective.’

The next assignment after the inauguration is setting up a cabinet of talents. It is expected to be a blend of politicians who are professionals and technocrats without tainted reputation; a cabinet of achievement-oriented persons who should not be weak in personality, experience and patriotism. It should be a recession-time cabinet bubbling with ideas about a new beginning and how to overcome the current financial difficulties, increase internally generated revenue without imposing a suffocating tax regime and making an almost perfect clean break from corruption and opulence in the corridor of power. During the campaigns, Obaseki spoke on the need to maximise the opportunities for taxation. However, he also admitted that taxation should have human face because over-taxation could provoke uproar and disillusionment.

According to observers, the governor must have the courage of conviction to take the right decisions. Taking the right decisions requires resolve and elevation of the interest of the state over personal interest. A lot of pressure will be exerted on him in the course of the struggle for the distribution of appointments by stakeholders. Edo is a heterogeneous state. This makes geo-political balancing more compelling. While striking a balance among the competing interests, Obaseki should bear in mind it is the chief executive that will take the blame for the success, mistakes, and failure of the government. There is the need for him to maintain a harmonious relationship with the House of Assembly. Besides, he should be sensitive to the antics of the roaring lion seeking whom to devour. At the initially,his attention may be diverted the post-election litigation by Pastor Ize-Iyamu. The PDP factor in the state cannot be dismissed. The opposition party has two senators and some members of the House of Assembly and Representatives. The party is bitter. In post-Oshiomhole era, it may play an effective opposition role.

Obaseki is expected to make a mark as an astute administrator. During the campaigns, he had told the people that his priority was the economic survival of the Southsouth state. He is expected to bring his experience in the private sector to bear on governance. As an investor and a big name in the private sector, he will be assessed by the quantum of local and foreign investments he will attract in his first four years in office. If Obaseki is able to revive the moribund industries, the state would have a dual advantages of boosting employment and expanding the internally generated revenue.

The governor has hinted that fiscal discipline and frugality will be the watchword. “I will not have a large cabinet,” he told reporters, shortly after his victory at the poll. This may have wider implications for the building of a new perception about governance. By planning to reduce the size of the State Executive Council, the governor may be reducing the cost of governance. Also, loopholes must be bridged and wastages should be prevented. If the governor can lay a personal example, his team will follow his footsteps. It is better to prevent corruption than to wage war against it when the damage has been done by unscrupulous politicians and public servants.

Without doubt, Oshiomhole has left behind some uncompleted projects across the three senatorial districts. Successors will always inherit the unfinished business of the state. Since Obaseki is presiding over a government of continuity, the onus is on him to complete these laudable projects. Its completion should be a core priority, having been part of their initiation and implementation from the beginning.

Obaseki has assumed the reins at a critical time in history. The country is in recession. Many states are unable to pay salaries. Capital projects have been put on hold. Many governors have agonised over the poor state of the economy at a time people are demanding for more dividends of democracy. Some governors have cried out in despair, saying that this is not the best time to be governor in Nigeria. Yet, economic experts have continued to paint a gloomy picture. Obaseki should tow the path of Oshiomhole, whohas managed to pay salaries and financed the on-going projects, unlike other oil-producing states. He has to roll up his sleeves. Since the federal allocation to the state may continue to dwindle, no thanks to the crash in oil price and production due to vandalisation by unrepentant and unpatriotic militants, he should adorn his thinking cap and explore avenues for income generation to boost the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). In the past few days, militants have also been on the prowl in Edo State. Oil installations have been blown off. The new governor should come up with fresh ideas on how to better handle the volatile Niger Delta restiveness.

God has used Oshiomhole to assist Obaseki to secure the key to the Edo Government House . He has been elected for four years. If he performs, the mandate can be renewed for another term of four years. But, it should be borne in mind that power is transient and no condition will be permanent. Obaseki has a mentor and role model in his predecessor. The greatest honour he can do his benefactor is to strive to beat his performance. Obaseki may not have the skills and styles of Oshiomhole. But, the new helmsman should also be sensitive to the mistakes the former comrade-governor may have committed as a party leader and administrator.

Besides, Obaseki should not relegate his former boss to the background now that he has gained political control. He needs his advice and support to succeed in the onerous task of administering the highly heterogeneous state. A new relationship anchored on mutual respect is required. Former governors may be full of nostalgia. But, it is illogical and illusory for them to think that they are still in charge in states where they have constitutionally relinquished power to their former subordinates. In this dispensation,  predecessor-successor crises have always marred relations between former governors and their anointed candidates. The Nnamani/Chime tango in Enugu State, the Kwankwaso/Danguge rift in Kano, the Obi/Obiano conflict in Anambra and Akpabio/Emmanuel crisis in Akwa Ibom are clear examples. These post-victory rifts often divide the ruling parties and divert the attention of the affected governors. They can be prevented through mutual respect, promotion of understanding, acknowledgment of limitations to influence, compromise and consensus building.

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