Mr. Godwin Obaseki, Edo State Governor –Elect, will be sworn-in this weekend in Benin City. In this media chat, he reiterates his campaign promises to build on the achievements of his predecessor. He says his focus will be on governance and explains how members of his team will be chosen. Anayo Okolie brings excerpts
The new Oba of Benin has admonished you on several occasions to ensure you follow the footsteps of Governor Oshiomhole, how do you intend to do that and how loyal will you be to the traditional institution?
Of course, I have to be loyal because I need the institution more than Oshiomhole in terms of my developmental plans. In the past when they will come to government house, I will go to them and seek their advice. My goal is to bring in investment and this investment has to be located in their domain. I have to design a relationship so that they would help me create the environment, the stability and the security required to those investments. So my relationship with them will not only be cordial but symbiotic. It is not going to be a formality, they are going to be a active part because of the respect I have for them and the role they would play in stabilising the polity.
But there is this fear that you may not be as generous as Oshiomhole in your dealings with people?
The truth is that Oshiomhole was able to afford it because oil prices were high, if oil prices go back up and I get the revenue, I will but right now it is not the situation we find ourselves. We have to be more prudent but we are hoping that once the revenue picks up and the economy is more buoyant I have to take care of them, they are my employers. But right now when we are struggling to pay salaries and keep government running it will be imprudent to go and borrow to distribute but hopefully it will not last too long and certainly if the economy is as good as when Oshiomhole started, I will give as much. But honestly I will do my best to satisfy our people. I don’t think there is anything to fear about.
You said you will not accommodate opposition members into your cabinet, are you still stuck with that?
Yes. First, we don’t have a government of national unity, we won fair and square in an election, the people spoke and it was very clear the choice they wanted. My own agenda is very straight forward and different from that of the opposition. My party is very rich with people with ideas and even from the federal level down we have an agenda, a very progressive agenda to run and I don’t see how the PDP people will fit into my government. I will come up with programmes that will benefit all and they will be glad I emerged as governor rather than their own candidate.
How are you going to deal with PDP leaders like Anenih, Igbinedion and others?
As far as I am concerned, from the polls, it was shown that they were rejected so I expect and hope they have read the hand writing on the wall and they will gracefully retire from politics. I heard one of them is retiring on his book launch and on that day he would declare that he is retiring from politics. The handwriting is clear, they should leave the coast because they really don’t have much to offer. They have offered everything they can in this democratic dispensation. So they should retire gracefully, they have played their part as leaders and now I think they should allow the younger ones to take over.
What will be your focus in the three senatorial districts?
The first thing is that we would conclude all existing projects. We will not have any abandoned project, I mean that is the hallmark of continuity but the focus is now more on economic empowerment. So for each locality we have identified the key economic drivers and our programme as a government will be to create an enabling environment in terms of security, infrastructure, and manpower to support those economic activities in each of the senatorial districts. For instance, in Edo North, thanks to the limestone that is already on ground in the Okpella axis, we will leverage on that to increase access to mining and agricultural opportunities.
We have identified a few which we believe can be started up by the first quarter of next year, ditto in Central; there are people waiting to see the shape of the new government before they bring their investment in specific transaction we have identified. So those ones will be supported. In the South, the story will not be different. The buzz word today is Agro-business and as you will see even from my inauguration we are making sure that will be the starting point by inviting a lot of would be potential investors in Edo to now begin to feel comfortable coming in and taking a position economically.
On Gelegele sea Port, as we speak, proposals are being considered and once I am sworn-in we are going to get to setup a team to look at the amount that has been done and all what is required to attract the necessary investment. We believe that we may not have to wait on the federal government, once we can establish its liability we can get the private investment to support it.
Why do you think governors always fight with their predecessors?
The reason, maybe because they are core politicians that wants to create an empire. We want to create a political empire but the good thing about Oshiomhole and myself is that we are not classic politicians. We have come in to take on some specific assignments which is more germane. For me, my goal is not to build a political empire, I would rather build an economic empire for the benefit of my people. I just want to focus on more governance than there is politics. If you look at it, we are one team that came into government and we are still working together as one.
We have got to share a common passion for the state and that is the key driver and giving the way we have worked for the last eight years, I don’t see what will radically change today that will make us be at each other’s neck. I will love politics to be played at … because Oshiomhole is our leader because that will give me enough space and time to work. That would be ideal because one of the drawbacks of my predecessor was the need to build a party and stabilise the politics, he had to spend a lot more time on the politics. He could have accomplished more if he had more time to deal with issues of governance.
If I am fortunate enough to have people who can help me spend more time to manage the politics so that I can drive development, that would be ideal. That is why you need a party and a strong party structure where a party leader spend more time in helping to manage the politics. While the governor who is supposed to be the Chief Executive Officer implement the policies of the party but if I have to spend time settling quarrels at ward levels I will not have time to pursue issues of governance.
On the 200,000 jobs promise
Yes, I am very optimistic because we didn’t get that number from the air. There are specific activities of social transaction that we are looking at which we will begin to unveil when we get into office. Like I said, we are fortunate that even at the federal level there is also concern and resources are being put in to ensure that government create enabling environment for businesses to thrive. The bulk of this job like I said are going to come from Agriculture, mining and government is going to be very active identifying the opportunities. It is hope that nothing will change too drastically from where we are today but that things can only improve.
The recession throws up opportunities, because what is happening is that as a country we are not earning enough foreign exchange to buy and import the almost $30 billion goods that we consume in this country. Which means that there is now a huge opportunity to produce most of those goods and services within Nigeria. These production will be located in states and only those states that are well managed that investors will feel that their investment is safe and secure, those are the states that would attract those investments and companies. I want to position Edo as one of those, one of the top three so that when people come in, they are interested in producing goods and services in Nigeria, Edo must be one of the top three they consider.
People are afraid, you may increase taxes in Edo?
We should distinguish between taxation and extortion because what people are complaining about is extortion and the way people are trying to get levies and fines from them. That must stop and that would stop. There are only a hundred and sixty thousand people in Edo state today who pay taxes, that is the people that pay tax and the government receives. What we need to do is to expand the base so that more people pay something and make the process fairer because right now it is not fair because only 160, 000 carry the burden of the entire state. You will find out that you don’t need to increase the amount of tax people pay but just make sure that more people who are eligible pay so that more people carry the burden of our development.
What do you hope to achieve in your first 100 days?
I have a four year term so I am not going to benchmark myself on a traditional benchmark. There are certain short term milestones which we need to achieve whether in 50 or 120 days or 180 days we will determine how realistic it is to accomplish those short term goals and then look at the million and longer term work. My goal is not to be desperate to play to the gallery and make the noise I feel people want to hear. For me, the important thing is to create something that is enduring, I am not going to white wash because I am so anxious to see things accomplished in a 100 days and therefore create white wash and phantom projects.
There are rumours that you want to appoint people from Lagos into your cabinet when sworn-in ans abandon those who worked for the party?
I don’t have any such plans, I have been here for the last eight years and I have worked with people and I believe we have very good quality manpower. Certainly I am not going to bring non-Edo people so even if they are going to come from Lagos, they are going to be Edo people.
However the emphasis is on good quality people who are representatives of where they come from in the state. So I will be working very closely with all the political leaders in the state in determining who we select or appoint, I will consult extensively with them but whoever we appoint must be people who the political leaders are comfortable with whether they come from here or outside. Political leaders will determine who I will appoint. I am serving them and I must be loyal to all Edo people.