Saturday, 12 September 2020 12:10

[OPINION] Obaseki: Reengineering the Future of Edo - Tony Usidamen

 

Innovate or die! This is the single, most important mantra in the business world since the turn of the millennium. The indication is that companies that fail to innovate risk extinction. And that is the stark reality! But the innovation imperative is not one for corporate enterprises alone. The government must also reinvent itself to fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens, as well as to guarantee a more sustainable future. That means new ways of thinking and doing.

From the moment he declared his intention to run for governor, Godwin Obaseki had a clear vision for the state. That is, a modern and progressive Edo where every citizen is empowered with opportunity to live life to its fullest. And, upon assuming office, he laid down a strong marker. His government would harness the inventiveness and expertise of the private sector in providing better public services for the people.  It was not going to be business as usual.

Accordingly, Obaseki assembled a Strategic Planning Team (SPT) to help in setting policy and program priorities for the state. The SPT held a series of workshops and thematic sessions with critical stakeholders. And a consensus was reached on the six main pillars for growth. These are Institutional Reform, Infrastructure Development, Economic Revolution, Social Welfare Enhancement, Environmental Sustainability, as well as Culture and Tourism.

Portfolios were aligned with the priority sectors. And Ministries, Boards, and Agencies (MDAs) were reorganized. A formal governance structure—with SOPs and MOUs—was also put in place to ensure a united front across multiple jurisdictions and disciplines. Today, all the systems and processes within the government are driven by the use of ICT. The multifarious reforms have led to increased efficiency and transparency in public services.

The Obaseki government is focused on improving the quality of infrastructure in Edo. Thus, providing an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. In addition to the 460MW Azura-Edo Independent Power Plant, it entered a Power Purchase Agreement of 55MW with CCETC-Ossiomo Power Limited to boost electricity supply in the state. Upon completion, the plant would power housing estates, hospitals, hotels, as well as industrial clusters.

Thanks to Obaseki’s relentless drive—including the establishment of an Investment Promotion Office that has helped to improve the Ease of Doing Business in the state—the dream of a dynamic economy running on rapid enterprise development is becoming a reality. His administration’s policy agenda is anchored on access to capital, technology, and skills development. And it is geared towards creating opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.

The Edo State Agripreneur Programme was launched in 2017. And thousands of Edo youths have been engaged in agribusiness through the scheme. Over the last three years, the government has attracted more than N25bn investment in large-scale commercial farming, built around key crops with a natural adaptive advantage in the state. These include rice, maize, cassava, oil palm, and rubber. Obaseki's efforts also led to the revamp of the Edo Fertilizer Company. The plant can produce up to 60,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer in a year.

Recognizing the ability of the manufacturing sector to provide transitional opportunity to the labour force in agriculture, and the multiplier effect for job creation in the services sector, the Obaseki government has given the industry a boost. It set up the Edo Production Centre where artisans and small-scale manufacturers have access to 24-hour power supply, factory space, as well as finance through the Bank of Industry. It has also secured a $250m commitment by an anchor tenant who has started setting up shop in the Benin Industrial Park.

Obaseki is as committed to building people as he is to building systems and structures. More than 230 schools have been rehabilitated, and about 12,000 teachers have been trained and equipped with digital skills under the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EdoBEST) programme. This has helped to improve learning outcomes for students. Over 20 primary healthcare centers have been revamped and upgraded with new facilities. And a health insurance scheme has also been developed to make healthcare affordable and accessible.

An Office of the Public Defender was created to provide legal representation in criminal and civil cases to the indigent and defenseless citizens of the state. Also, a dedicated Agency for Domestic Violence & Child Abuse was set up, and the Edo State Task Force Against Human Trafficking was established. This government has facilitated the return, rehabilitation, and reintegration of more than 3000 victims of human trafficking over the last three years. And many have been equipped with skills to make them employable, or to start their own business.

Through the Edo State Skills Development Agency (EdoJobs), tens of thousands of Edo youths have been matched with jobs in the public and private sectors. The EdoInnovates programme has also helped to develop the entrepreneurial competencies of many in ICT. It is no wonder that Edo state has the lowest unemployment figure of 19% in the south-south region, according to the latest data released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. Under the Obaseki administration, salaries of civil servants are regular and prompt. And monthly pensions and death benefits are duly paid.

One of the top priorities of this government is to balance economic productivity with environmental sustainability. And it is committed to internalizing pollution externalities and managing natural resources for the long term rather than the short. Thus, ensuring a clean and green future. The Edo Waste Management Board has been reconstituted for greater efficiency. Parks and other green spaces are being built to beautify the city centre. And public toilets are being deployed. Also, there are several flood alleviation and protection construction works ongoing in different parts of the state.

Another major area of focus is to restore Edo’s pride in the arts, both locally and on the global stage. As “Commissioner” of the Nigeria Pavilion in Venice, Obaseki was instrumental to the country’s first-ever showing at the world’s most important international art festival—Venice Biennale—in May 2017. Edo painter, Victor Ehikhamenor, was one of three artists who represented Nigeria at the 122-year old biennale. The government is also exploring opportunities for investment within the broader hospitality and tourism realm. These include restaurants, parks, hotels, resorts, as well as festivals.

As the renowned political philosopher, Herbert Croly, noted in The Promise of Progressivism: “A better future would derive from the beneficent activities of expert social engineers who would bring to the service of social ideals all the technical resources, which research could discover and ingenuity could devise.” This is what Obaseki has modeled in the last four years. For him, governing means not just addressing discrete challenges as they arise, but formulating comprehensive policies aimed at giving large social systems more rational and coherent forms and functions. And Edo state is the better for it. Given another term in office, Edolites can rest assured that our best days are ahead of us.

 

Tony Usidamen, a public affairs analyst, writes from Benin.

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