By Victor Ajayi
The mind is a terrible thing to waste, and perhaps the best way to keep your mind productive is to ensure that your hands do not stop working.
In Nigeria, for the most part, the prevailing socio-economic, ethno-religious and political challenges take their root from these two sides of the same coin: Idle hands and wasting minds.
Call it the insurgency in the north-east, which has claimed the lives of over 30,000 people and displaced over two million, with an estimated economic loss of $9 billion, representing around 50 per cent of Nigeria’s budget for 2017, or any of the other less analysed restive situations around the country, they all take their roots from idleness of a large proportion of the population, particularly young people.
Unfortunately, these very counter productive socio-economic upheavals have spread across the entire country in the form of herdsmen-farmers fatal clashes across the north-central regions of the country and militancy in the Niger Delta which almost brought the country to its knees recently.
With the atrocities caused by terrorism in the north and militancy in the delta area already well documented, the rising problems of violent thuggery and gangsterism which are equally deadly and devastating to socio-economic and political cohesion in states like Edo, are creeping in subtly, poised to become an intractable problem in the near future that will result in national emergencies if not checked.
In Benin City and other parts of Edo State, the names of these thugs and gangsters, some of who now lay claim to some form of political relevance which is actually non-existent, dot the societal horizon.
Ask these fellows and their likes what they do for a living, or what skills they possess with which they ply one trade or the other, for their economic survival and the answer you are certain to get is…….wait for it……., NOTHING. They have no jobs, no vocations, no trade.
Yet, you see these hoodlums move around in top dollar SUVs, build expansive houses with wives and children spread across the various local governments of the state.
If you thought that these people seeming to live in opulence without any commensurate productive effort is a tragedy, then more tragic is the fact that the younger generation have idolised and projected these thugs firmly as their role models. This poses potent threat posterity and must be addressed.
If a survey is carried out in the sub-urban and parts of the urban centres of Edo State to determine what children want to become when they grow up, the outcome will likely be shocking.
Those days are gone when children wanted to become doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists when they grow up. Now they want to be community thugs and local tyrants, who now somehow seem to be the ones with all the money, fame and power, for creating absolutely zero economic value.
However, judging by some steps that have been taken by the Edo State governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, since he took office, it seems like he has set out to adjust some of these maladies.
A good example is his decision to return the responsibility of revenue collection in local governments across the state to local government employees.
Obaseki’s argument anchored on the fact that only parties empowered by the laws of the land should carry out constitutional activities like collection and remitting of government revenue is sound to any fair-minded person.
But for the thugs and gagsters who have made government revenue collection their forte and have in the past amassed mind-boggling wealth for themselves as a result, Obaseki has murdered sleep.
Threats are being issued and efforts are being made to stir up violence in the state with the instrumentality of proliferating secret cult groups across the state, as well as activities of other criminals.
Some politicians and interest groups seeking undue relevance in government and in the polity have also thrown their subtle or sometimes brazen support behind these aggrieved thugs who have been nothing but leeches to the government for decades. There are also allegations that major security agencies that are supposed to be unapologetically on the side of law and order, are sometimes in passive support of these hoodlums, conferring with them and treating their criminality with kid gloves.
They want the waste to continue, because when there is chaos and disorder, people receive patronage that they do not deserve.
Each of these individuals consider themselves as power blocs in the state and they demand to be courted ‘one-by-one’ by the governor. When they are told that the appropriate thing to do is to form themselves into interest groups with productive agenda, they get offended. Their intention is to reduce the responsibility of governance in the state to continuous frolicking with individuals towards satiating each person’s selfish needs. This will never be a sustainable approach to governance.
The biggest mistake being made by these people is that they have failed to understand the resolve of the Edo governor to stick to only decisions and activities that are in the best interest of the majority of the Edo people instead of satisfying the greed of a handful.
The old model of governance made popular by some Nigerian governors, where state chief executives seem to strengthen their political security, simply by patronizing individuals who have created some mobster status for themselves, as well as some so called political leaders and godfathers, is never in the interest of the larger population of any geopolitical entity.
The most essential, yet most limited resource available to a governor or a president for that matter is his time. Instead of spending it courting the approval of a few individuals in the name of political survival, it must be spent meeting the manifold and dire needs of the teaming populace with the people left to judge in the fullness of time, who has served them well and who has betrayed them.
Having analysed the problem, Obaseki seems to clearly understand that among the negative actors comprising the thugs, mobsters and the seemingly responsible politicians who support them are many who are largely victims of the system, so he is therefore developing models that can return them into the state’s productive economic cycle.
He has identified the need to create massive amounts of jobs and is deploying a clear strategy to ensure that millions of decent jobs are actually made available. The idea is that people mostly want to be honest and decent as long as in their honesty, they can be gainfully employed and be given the dignity deserving of responsible members of the society.
Obaseki’s foray into the development of the Azura-Edo power plant is clearly part of the overall strategy. It is a 450MW Open Cycle Gas Turbine power station being constructed near Benin City in Edo State, Nigeria. It is the first phase of a 1,500MW Independent Power Project (IPP) facility located on a 100-hectare site, large enough to accommodate future expansion of the power plant.
The plant is situated close to Nigeria’s main trunkline, the Escravos Lagos Pipeline System (ELPS), which is only 1km from the Azura-Edo project site.
With power generated and effectively deployed in Edo State, the governor is working on industrial zones that will receive the power evacuated, along with favourable tax regimes and massive human capacity development through revamped global-standard technical education.
When all these come on stream, it is expected that labour will move from thuggery, gangsterism and the prevailing wasteful ‘community youths’ system in different suburbs in Edo into technical and vocational schools for skills acquisition that will help them benefit from an actively evolving economic climate.
Many have said that by trying to change this very negative status quo, which puts money where no real value is created, out of fear of a political backlash, Obaseki is trying to commit political suicide. But the governor himself seems to have effectively counted the cost and is resolved that it is always a suicide mission when anyone attempts to put the interests of the helpless many over those of the ‘privileged’ few.