By Joel Ofume
T he soaring profile of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, built in less than a year in office, due to his unique style of governance that is devoid of the noise the typical Nigerian politician is known for, is currently under test with the reported cases of violent crimes in the state in the past few weeks.
With the allegation rife that there is grand conspiracy between the leadership of the police in Edo state and Abuja and a group of dislodged criminal elements, to create an atmosphere of fear in the state, a governor can only do so much.
Shortly after his assumption of office, Governor Obaseki changed the face of revenue collection from bus, taxi drivers and other business owners in Benin City. He dislodged the thugs that used to collect internal revenue and replaced them with well-trained revenue officers that were equipped with Point of Service (POS) electronic device for revenue collection. With a scratch card, business owners started paying their revenues without hassles.
The new approach sanitised a process that used to be marred by thuggery and lack of transparency that produced several emergency billionaires, who held sway at bus stops and markets and were highly sought after at local parties to spray wads of Naira notes.
Obaseki’s reform in the sector was misconstrued by those who refused to take advantage of the new initiative as a deliberate effort by the government to remove food from their tables.
But most of the former revenue collectors who saw the wisdom in the reform of the sector have either joined the new team of revenue collectors that carry their POS machines about or are part of the new environmental officers clearing major bus stops to ensure free flow of vehicular and human traffic.
The governor’s second bold step was the signing of the Community Development Association Bill into Law, which has since restored sanity in land administration in Edo State.
Obaseki had lamented that “The activities of the CDAs retarded economic growth and development in the communities and our state in general. They flagrantly disregarded rule of law so as to achieve their selfish interests.”
The law was the product of a rare synergy between the Benin Monarch, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, Governor Obaseki and the Edo State House of Assembly.
Again, the criminal elements among the youth who killed and maimed and committed all manner of crimes in the name of CDA chairmen and officials, misinterpreted the progressive intent of the CDA Law as government’s deliberate design to throw them out of business.
These bold steps towards purposive governance in Edo State, as well as the state government’s efforts at repositioning the agricultural, educational and other sectors of the state to create the desired jobs and improve the quality of life of the average Edo citizen and resident, earned the governor the sobriquet; ‘Wake and See Governor’ as people woke up us to see newly constructed roads, schools, and large farms in their neighbourhood.
Edo State is currently a construction site with several intra-city and inter-state roads undergoing reconstruction, at a time the harsh outcomes of the worst economic recession we have witnessed in years, are still being felt.
Obaseki’s frugal allocation of scarce and meagre resources, a work culture he cultivated as an investment banker, accounts for the good news emanating from Edo State.
The sudden wave of violent crimes like the kidnap of Mr. Andy Ehanire, Chief Executive of Ogba Zoo and popular musician Osayomore Joseph, as well as the killing of a professor of electrical engineering in the University of Benin, and robbery incidents in the state have been linked to the former ‘feudal lords’ who have refused to key into the reform train and want the restoration of the old ways of doing things.
The most disturbing dimension in what is being interpreted as organised crime in Edo State is that, it is not without the blessing of the top hierarchy of police in Edo State that is evident in their disposition towards fighting crimes in the state.
The police commissioner has been accused by the Network of Civil Society Organisations of Nigeria (NOCSON), the umbrella body of all Civil Society Orgnisations in Edo State of high level corruption and the Edo State police command, stations and outposts can be described as business centres where suspected criminals buy their freedom from the police for a fee.
There are claims that every DPO in Edo State has a target, an amount of money to send to the police leadership, which explains why junior police officers mount road blocks indiscriminately, even in front of their offices and collect bribes with straight faces.
About three months ago, Police Commissioner Gwandu Haliru Abukar, was redeployed from Edo State and Commissioner of Police, Armament, Johnson Babatunde Kokumo, was posted to replace him. But enjoying the support of the Inspector General of Police and some powerful people in the presidency, Haliru Abukar has spent another three months in Benin after he was posted out of the state.
Worried by these developments, Obaseki, as chief security officer of the state, made several efforts to seek the implementation of the transfers to pave way for a new order in security in the state. But his efforts proved abortive, as he was rebuffed by both the commissioner and the IG, who by this action have eloquently stated that the PSC lack the power to effect the transfer of police officers.
The violent crimes being witnessed in Edo State have been traced to members of the dislodged organised criminal network, who have since been upstaged by the ongoing revamp of most sectors of the state.
They have been stopped from intimidating and extorting innocent Edo people. These criminals are said to have taken advantage of the impasse created by the refusal of Commissioner of Police to vacate the leadership role to enable the incoming commissioner take charge.
It was learnt that Obaseki embarked on a trip to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, recently, to meet with president Muhammadu Buhari, with the aim of persuading him to prevail on the IG to honour the posting carried out by the PSC. The trip is yet to yield any fruits.
By this turn of events, Edo People and the state’s operating environment are now at the mercy of a disorganised police formation and its leadership with clear signs of being compromised by those they are paid to hunt down.
–Ofume, a public affair commentator, writes from Benin City.