Obaseki’s Edo State Quandary 

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By Crusoe Osagie

My conclusion is that Nigerian political leaders are drawn to power and political offices mostly because of what they stand to gain for themselves and their close family and friends.

Otherwise how do you explain individuals who are elated to take on Herculean tasks of governing local governments, states or even the entire nation to the point that most of them sell their properties and sometimes their very souls in order to get into offices. 

Pondering on the sheer magnitude of the problems that these political leaders are elected to solve and observing the state of mind and body language displayed as they ride to office, it is easy to conclude that an incredibly large percentage of these individuals have not heeded that good counsel of counting the cost before embarking on the onerous task of governance.

 Watching leaders of developed countries like the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, among others and examining their approach to their jobs as leaders of municipalities, states and nations, it is unequivocally clear that their motivation for power is different from ours.  

 Donald Trump, a billionaire businessman rose to power in the United States on the back of a populist ideology of putting America first and the immediate financial benefits to him for serving his country as the president is one dollar ($1) a year.

The private plane he flew on as a businessman is perhaps as luxurious as the Air Force One he is now being flown on as the president of perhaps, the greatest country on earth.

There were arguments about the need for him to sell off his many businesses or place them in a blind trust to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

He had to declare that when foreign nations patronise his numerous luxurious hotels, apartments and resorts around the world, the proceeds will go to the United States government, while he handed his businesses to his two sons who may not be able to run them as satisfactory as he did, considering his vast experience.

In essence, Trump has had to take a massive pay cut and concede huge personal, business and financial gains in order to serve his people.

The case is exactly opposite when it comes to political office holders in Nigeria.

They often look forward to the massive benefits to themselves, their families and friends and clearly never really take stock of what price they have to pay and the intractable problems they are confronted with as leaders of largely dysfunctional political entities.  

President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent medical vacations abroad are good examples.

While I sympathise with him and pray that he gets well soon, it is important to draw a parallel between his case and those of other senior citizens who have served Nigeria creditably like Buhari himself has done, but would never have the opportunity of accessing world-class health care simply because it is unavailable in their country and they cannot afford to go to the United Kingdom or any other first-rate nation for that matter.

Going by the amounts published by Buhari in his asset declaration just before he took office, which stated that he had around N30 million ($60,000) to his name, I doubt that he would have been able to embark on two medical vacations to the UK as he has done in the past 6 months. As for Governor Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki of Edo State, perhaps it is too early to pass judgment.

However, from my interactions with him and judging from the very austere characteristics of many of them from the Obaseki family in Benin City, he deserves an opportunity to show that he is in a class different from that which is occupied by the majority of Nigerian leaders.

Obaseki, like most governors in Nigeria, has nearly impossible problems in his hands. Unfortunately, many of these governors come to their various assignments completely oblivious of the challenges ahead of them.

If the United Nations has declared that people with incomes equivalent to $2 (N1000) a day are living in poverty, then perhaps 80 per cent of people living in Edo State are poor.

A N1000 per day’s wage would translate to N30, 000 a month if the individual works for the entire 30 days of the month. But if like the average person in Edo State, the individual does not work on Saturdays and Sundays, it means that the monthly wage will be around N20, 000 which is less than $2 a day.

With a government minimum wage of N18, 000 monthly and private sector minimum wage in Edo State which is lower because most of the private sector operators are micro or at best small enterprises, coupled with the vast unemployment figures as high as 40 per cent, it is clear that 80 per cent of the 3.2 million population of the state are wallowing in abject poverty.

How, therefore, do you throw a big party of opulence and grandeur when you are elected to serve a population of mostly hungry people? You do so only if you have not carefully considered and taken time to appreciate the enormity of the problems you have been beckoned on to attempt to solve.

When the 2017 budget for the state was announced and recently signed into law, as an indigene of the state with a fair knowledge of its vast socio-economic and infrastructural needs, I chuckled. N150 billion ($300,000,000) is the figure.

The population of the state of Iowa in the United States is just about the same as Edo State, around 3.1 million people. Conversely, the budget figure for Iowa in the year 2015 was $21.8 billion (N10.9 trillion) and on average, this figure rises at the rate of 6 to 7 per cent every year.

Even the University of Iowa had a budget of $3.5 billion in the year 2015, a figure which is over 10 times larger than the entire Edo State budget figure for the year 2017!

A superficial analysis of these figures sufficiently tells the precarious state we find ourselves as a nation and if our leaders consider these kinds of issues carefully, they will certainly handle their responsibilities as chief executives of states, local governments and the nation with more reverence and sacrifice.

Gone are the days when opulence is displayed in political leadership. The resources available to you as the governor are grossly inadequate to meet the most basic of the needs of your people.

As for Obaseki, the opportunity that has come to him to lead Edo people, instead of stirring misguided elation should elicit philosophical calmness and deep meditation.

Even the entire budget sum for the year cannot equip the Central hospital along Sapele Road in the heart of the city with the necessary equipment and manpower to ensure that citizens who need diverse medical care do not have to leave the state to get help or die from their condition.

The entire sum cannot make the state-owned university, Ambrose Alli University in Ekpoma a world-class institution, thereby ending the citizens’ quest for better education outside the state and outside the country. The full budget if spent on building roads will hardly fix 10 per cent of the roads across the state in desperate need of rehabilitation and reconstruction.

It will therefore be criminal for some portions of this wretched budget to be set aside for compensating political party stalwarts and feeding the avarice of political godfathers.

It will be the height of ungodliness and morbid insensitivity for parts of this grossly inadequate budget to be expended on state dinners for friends and well-wishers of government and settling the greedy members of the House of Assembly in order to make political headway.

As a servant of the state, before you put your hands in the till of government resources, you must ask yourself if the expenditure will be for the benefit and survival of the much greater majority.

You must daily put your conscience to task and be true to yourself that most of the time if not the entire time, you are acting and standing on the side of the most vulnerable in your sphere of governance.

Usually, it appears as if there is no consequence for bad and terrible leadership in Nigeria. As long as political alignments are right, leaders always seem to walk free after years of dishonest leadership has led to the demise of many. But we must always keep in mind the injunction of the Holy Bible in Ecclesiastes 8:11-13 which says: “11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.12 Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him.13 Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.”