download 2024 Budget SpeechThe Trailblazer Governor

Making politics work for Citizens, Governance and Development: The Edo State Experience

21 Mar 2022

His Excellency, Godwin Obaseki.

I want to thank the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof. Eghosa Osaghae, and management of the Institute for inviting me to deliver this lecture at the Distinguished Lecture Series of the Institute Since it was established in 1961, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs has led the charge in shaping Nigeria’s international relations and has been the vanguard in developing a robust and pragmatic foreign policy milieu in the country. Today, with the developments in the global community, particularly the realignment of interests among global powers resulting from the Russia-Ukrainian war, the importance and relevance of this great Institute has been brought to the fore.

Therefore, it is quite an auspicious moment for me to be asked to deliver this lecture and I am immensely grateful for the honour and opportunity.

Our country is faced with existential challenges as it tries to cope with several transitions, from political transition in a few months, to the demographic transition and economic transition occurring locally and globally.

As we reflect on these transitions, it is important to remind ourselves of our journey over the last 60 years.

Having gone through over three decades of traumatic political experiences from the mid-1960s, there were high expectations after we replaced the military dictatorships with democratic rule in 1999. Nigerians expected to reap great benefits and advantages, particularly good governance and the associated growth and development.

Democracy was expected to give the populace the opportunity to participate in decision making within the political process.

The expectation was based on the fact that Democracy, be it liberal, African or modern must include equal opportunity for all; there must be the fundamental recognition of popular sovereignty, representativeness, majority rule, protection of minority rights, popular consultation, the right of choice between alternative programmes and consensus on fundamental issues as well as periodic elections (Oke, 2005). 

The expectation of democracy is that it will create “a climate of true political and civil freedom which will enable the country achieve the fundamental conditions for development. That it will produce responsible government that is committed to the advancement of the public goods rather than private interest of the political actors and their own families and cronies (Diamond, 2005).

As we commence another political transition in our democratic journey, we must reflect on the challenges faced in this Republic, so that we can better understand why our democratic experience to date has not provided good governance and why our economic and socio-political development have remained stunted.

We should also reflect on why we the political actors particularly those of us who are the political elite who have the responsibility not only to institutionalize the democratic process but also to develop a political culture which should foster and enhance development have so far failed to do so.

The Nigerian people, having subscribed to the ideals of democracy, expect that at the very least those in position of authority will organize the socio-political, geographic and economic environment in such a way that it guarantees to a significant extent, the security of lives and property. 

But unfortunately, this has not been the experience in our country, as the people have continuously had to grapple with the ever-evolving problems of insecurity, specifically terrorism, banditry, militancy and communal clashes.

A properly functioning Democracy should not only provide basic social and economic goods, such as roads, portable water, and improved education, in addition, democracy should provide the right of groups and individuals to hold their governments accountable. 

It is only when citizens can hold government accountable that the state would improve on its ability to get things done accountably to citizens and be responsive to citizens’ rights and needs. Good governance reduces poverty by empowering citizens to realize their rights and address the issue of gender equality, discrimination and social inclusion. 

However, in Nigeria, these have not been adequately provided. The people have had to contend with a poverty rate of 47.3 percent representing 98 million Nigerians; 38 percent unemployment rate among the working population and a struggling national economy.

The State of Nigeria’s Politics

Osiki, Omon Merry (2010) in an article “Gold, Guns & Goons‟ aptly describes Nigeria’s political setting as follows:

Bribery, use of thugs and physical weapons continued to be part of the political development of Nigeria and the country’s electoral politics… Elements of money politics, use of thugs and dangerous weapons were effectively used by the political class to alienate the electorate and have a firm grip on the machinery of government. The trend helped to sustain the phenomenon of “godfatherism”, which assumed a potent force in Nigeria during the period. The fact that the Nigerian electoral system thrived on patronages made the illegal use of money, weapons and goons the surest option available to the political elite.

Our political system is not designed to attract selfless service. Rather, it mostly caters for actors with resources, most of which was not legally earned, to invest in the political system and expect huge personal returns.

Some of the defects in Nigeria’s political system include:

  1. Entry barriers to the political system such as age restriction and high cost of nomination and expression of interest;

  2. Negative perception of politics and the attendant skirmishes including mudslinging, deliberate character assignation, blackmail which make it unattractive to accomplished professionals to participate in.

  3. Prohibitive cost of the electioneering process

  4. Proliferation of political parties with no clear ideology; 

  5. Electoral malpractices which have instigated voter apathy.

The hyper-commercialization of the political process makes the system inaccessible to people with honest intentions and with capacity to deliver value.

The jury is out on who is most culpable in Nigeria’s political conundrum: the electorate or the political class. The political class is believed to have a stranglehold on the electorate because it deploys its resources to exploit the deprivation faced by the majority of the people, riding on their back to political office and turning around to plunder public resources which could have been used to extricate the mass of our people from poverty.

Conversely, there is also the argument that the avarice of the electorate is to blame. It is believed that the majority of voters only support people from whom they can get personal benefits.

Whatever the case, the political class bears immense responsibility for the failures of leadership in Nigeria for various reasons:

a) Institutions vs individuals

Nigeria, over the years, has hinged the possibility of its emergence from political and governance doldrums on the rise of powerful individuals, who would supposedly use their strong personalities and charisma to redirect our development trajectory and stir the nation back on course in pursuit of progress.

But drawing from the insight provided by former President of the United States of America, Barrack Obama, that Africa needs strong institutions and not strong men, it is clear that Nigeria has benefited almost nothing from enthroning people with perceived strong character.

Rather, it has resulted in the dysfunctional traits where hero-worship and eye-service have produced “Godfathers” whose antics have hindered the growth and development of our institutions, thus, continually limiting our output and productivity.

b) Challenges with managing diversity

Politics in Nigeria has not been able to prioritize nationalism over primordial ethnic, religious and regional sentiments.

The political class has continually preyed on the divisions that appear to exist due to the very diverse nature of the Nigerian society. For example, Nigeria has over 300 languages spoken across the various geopolitical zones of the country, which can be tuned one way or the other by political actors to derive one form of political benefit or the other.

In many cases, rather than emphasize important issues of our common national patrimony that should underpin the discourse during the process of assessing and selecting leaders in the country, many of the actors within the political class try to throw up dichotomies based on language, religious leaning, state of origin, geopolitical zone of origin, tribe and so on, thereby cunning the  unsuspecting electorates into giving them their support without rationally evaluating the developmental benefits accruable. 

c) Flaws of unitary federalism

With the concentration of resources and power with the Federal Government, the federating states become almost absolutely dependent on the center, thereby losing creativity and drive to generate internal resources as well as chart the path for progress as economically viable sub-nationals.

This defective structure also creates the impression among political actors who aspire to lead as heads of the federating units i.e state governments and local governments, that no rigorous effort is required to lead at these levels, as all that is required is to rely on the monthly Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) for funds with which to run their governments. This provides clear explanation why majority of the sub-national, particularly local governments in Nigeria are not economically viable. 

Juxtaposing Nigeria’s democratic experience with the theories propounded by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their book, ‘Why Nations Fail,’ it becomes evident that the Nigerian reality today confirms their theories.

The authors had argued that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success, which is sustained when government becomes accountable and responsive to citizens and the majority.

The Edo Experience

Although politics and democracy have not dealt favourably with us in Nigeria, that does not deny the existence of the potential for democracy to be the vehicle for delivery of development to the people.

In Edo, we had to take deliberate and intentioned steps to retool our politics to engender development. This has led to the introduction of people-centric policies and programmes which have won our administration significant public trust.

We inherited a state that was essentially under the control of various non-state actors who served as enforcers for the old political order in the state. In exchange for their loyalty and service, their pay off was the collection of revenue that should have accrued to the public purse.

Following this, we were able to open up the political space to a broad range of players to the chagrin of the godfathers. These patrons of the old order thrived in the exclusion of the majority from participating in the political process. For them, the fewer the actors in the system, the more relevant they were and the more they were able to take the process hostage.

With the opening up of the political system, we embarked on institutional reforms to enhance the capacity of government to deliver public services. This was done by enhancing the work environment, ensuring regular payment of salaries and pensions, improving compensation packages, and creating better condition of service for workers. 

We also revamped the public service to cut back on waste and with this, we were able to deliver more projects with less resources than would have been required.

Having built public trust, we had to open up the business environment which led to robust partnership with the private sector and international development organisations. With their support, we have been able to substantially curb the menace of human trafficking and irregular migration, which once pillaged our most valuable resources – our young people.

We rolled out infrastructure projects in a fair and equitable manner that engenders a sense of inclusion among the people across the various sections of the state.

We were able to win the trust of the electorate in Edo State because we had focused on ideals that have come to define our politics and through which we have made the most impact in their lives.

We placed the people at the center of our politics, which led to huge investment in human capital development, particularly across all tiers of the state’s education system, starting with the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EdoBEST) programme, which has transformed the lives of over 400,000 pupils across the state and improved learning outcomes.

There has been a deliberate emphasis on strengthening partnership with the private sector, from which we have reaped immense benefit. We signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Ossiomo Power Company to provide stable power to government institutions and to also drive the state’s industrial sector. Today, the company generates 95MW out of 550MW it has set out to provide, supported with a distribution infrastructure that has been developed to supply government offices, streetlights and the state’s growing industrial sector with constant electricity.

This close links with the private sector has also led to the establishment of the 6000bpd Edo Refinery and Petrochemical Company Limited (which is 100 percent complete) a landmark project that shows what is possible with well-intentioned Private Public Partnerships (PPP). The model that birthed the refinery project is being deployed for similar high-impact development and industrial projects in the state.

We have also midwifed extensive agricultural development programmes such as the Edo State Oil Palm Programme (ESOPP), among others, which have opened up the space for large scale commercial farming in the state, impacting the lives of thousands of farmers.

There is no better illustration of the expanding private sector space than the increased air traffic and high occupancy rate of hotels in the state. When we came into office, there were only two airlines flying into the state, today, there are five of them. The state has generally become more attractive to investment with the influx of investors in real estate, hospitality, oil and gas, industries, technology, agriculture, and manufacturing, among others.

The security situation in the state has improved significantly with the linkage of the Edo State Security Network with the federal security structure. The local actors have leveraged this partnership in terms of training, intelligence gathering and surveillance. This has ensured synergy that has helped in curbing urban crime, banditry and other forms of criminality.

We have also upskilled our youths and placed them on a pedestal to actively participate in the 4th industrial revolution through capacity building and skills development initiatives, chief among which is the Edo Tech Park programme developed in partnership with leading technology company, Decagon, through which we are training not less than 15,000 software engineers in the state in the next five years.  The Edo Innovation Hub, Edo Production Centre, the Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub and Sound Stage are other expressions of how we have meaningfully engaged our youths, leading to the creation of over 300,000 jobs in the state.

The Way Forward

Edo State with all its features is very representative of the larger Nigerian nation. We have demonstrated in Edo State that the political firmament can be altered for the benefit of majority of its citizens.

Edo State reversed the political norm in Nigeria. Voter consciousness and voter turnout reached an enviable level. Citizen participation (including Edos in the diaspora) in the elections shocked bookmakers. The issues for campaign were clear and reduced to few key overarching subjects affecting our people. 

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) stood its ground and insisted on free and fair elections. Voters results were transmitted directly from the polling units to a central portal and the results matched those we were collating in our situation room.  It is possible to scale this template to a national level. 

Insistence on good governance has helped us in building public trust with citizens. By rebuilding the culture of transparency and accountability, we have reduced the level of resistance to our reform agenda. 

For instance, because we were able to secure the trust and confidence of teachers, in five years we have been able to transform our basic education system on a scale and with speed that is exemplary on in the African continent. Today, in Edo State, a six-year-old child in any of our public schools reads fluently at about 70% of his or her peer in Europe and Asia.

Even though security still remains a major challenge, we have demonstrated in Edo State, that with citizen participation, a bottom-top approach, intelligence-driven security system and effective cooperation with federal agencies, the country can address issues of terrorism, banditry, and small-arms proliferation, among others.

At the base of the Edo template for growing its economy, is the restructuring of the governance architecture to support business and production. Our vision is to make Edo state the choice for businesses by creating an enabling environment that supports business. We have succeeded in removing bottlenecks that hinder business and continue to emphasis a level playing field. Today Edo state is the haven for investment in the building, hospitality, agriculture, power, oil and gas, and industrial sectors, etc.

For instance, in Edo State, one can find all the materials required for completing building and construction projects, from cement, tiles, aluminum sheets, iron rods, glass, ceramics, roofing sheets to paving stones, among others. These have been made possible by the conducive business environment and government incentives as well as an existing local real estate market.

Edo presents a very striking example of how Nigeria can fix its intractable electricity problem, which has plagued the country since independence. With robust partnership with the private sector, the state government has succeeded in encouraging generation by attracting firms like Azura (450Mw), Ossiomo Power (95MW) is now proceeding to create its own electricity markets to encourage investments in distribution of power within the state. Currently, there is stable electricity to power public institutions and infrastructure in metropolitan Benin City. 

In agriculture, we have attracted almost $500 million investment into Palm Oil cultivation having allocated the first phase of 60,000 hectares of land under the Edo State Oil Palm Production Program (ESOPP). Nigeria has not witnessed this scale of oil palm cultivation since independence.

Following the effort to change the paradigm in Edo State and the result it yielded, which highpoint was victory at the election, in which the people freely exercised their franchise and elected a leader of their choice, there is need to scale this political achievement to the entire country.

If what happened in Edo can be replicated in the forthcoming Presidential and National Assembly elections, Nigeria would have taken a critical step to democratic consolidation.

It is time to set sentiments aside. The country is adrift. It is time to take the tough decisions to rescue the country from the brink. We must now adopt proven methods and innovations in retooling our politics and democracy and make them work for the delivery of good governance and development of our people.

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