HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE SERVANT GOVERNOR

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Godwin Obaseki

Crusoe Osagie pays tribute to Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, at age 63

In the last three years and seven months, the people of Edo State have been enthralled by the re-enactment of people-powered governance led by the citizens, with Governor Godwin Obaseki on the front seat, designing and executing people-centric policies, and programmes which have transformed the state.

Edo is today basking in the euphoria of an orderly society where the rule of law holds sway and is ratcheting up the ease of doing business amid a boisterous social sector.

The story was not always this inspiring! Gone are the days when thugs wielded giant whips, scourging poor mothers struggling to eke out a living in markets as well as commercial bus drivers who were toiling night and day to cater for their families.

Obaseki briskly put an end to the menace of these hoodlums who oppressed honest citizens daily in the name of revenue collection. Although this won him numerous political enemies because the patrons of these enforcers were ‘big men’, it was the right thing to do and it was in the best interest of the majority, so Obaseki stuck to his guns.

For setting the people free from the strangleholds of political thugs and their collaborators in the corridors of power, Edo people salute Governor Obaseki as he adds another year to his age today.

Even at the risk of placing his re-election bid in jeopardy, Obaseki refused to mortgage the wellbeing and future of Edo people to those who were desperate to return the state to her inglorious past. Interestingly, with the support of Edo people, Obaseki has won virtually all the political battles initiated by his detractors.

Obaseki reminds one of servant leaders in history such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, (Mahatma Gandhi) who led his people in India with his civil resistance movement to independence from Great Britain.

Gandhi did so at great personal cost, he was arrested and detained several times for his pro-people ideology. Gandhi died leaving behind a pair of slippers, a piece of loin cloth and a pair of eyeglasses.

The servant-leadership model, with its mass appeal, has proven to be practicable only by few leaders with the moral stamina to defend their people and put their interests first. A great deal of courage is required to keep the faith.

Obaseki’s leadership style has the manifest stamp of a servant leader, determined to provide the greater good for the greater majority of Edo people even at the risk of his personal comfort and life.

In his essay first published in 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf, who first coined the phrase, servant leadership, said: “the servant leader is servant first…it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then consciousness brings one to aspire to lead.” He added: “That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.”

Author and Harvard Business Review contributor, David Burkus, explains that “Servant leaders get results for their organisation through whole-hearted attention to their followers and followers’ needs…servant leadership puts its emphasis on collaboration, trust, empathy, and ethics.”

The governor continues to demonstrate his affection for his people, task after task, no matter the cost:

Obaseki was quick to define the place of Edo people in his administration shortly after assuming office, when he intimated his team of his resolve to put an end to the criminal activities of some persons that were parading themselves as members of Community Development Associations (CDAs).

The Ant-Community Development Association Development Law, was the administration’s response to the myriad of attacks on real estate developers by these persons who had formed themselves into criminal gangs that were notorious for selling people’s properties and hounding genuine investors in the sector.

As with most servant leaders, initially, Obaseki’s decision was unpopular among some segments of the political class, some of whom were working hand in gloves with the CDA members, who were used as political thugs during elections.

The governor, after wide consultation with the leadership of the Edo State House of Assembly, the Benin Monarch, Omo N’ Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, galvanised the making of the Anti-CDA Law, which criminalised the illegal reign of the community development associations.

The socio-economic gains accruing to developers, home and abroad, governments and other stakeholders have become reference points in parts of the country where such people-oriented law is not in place.

The icing on the cake in the sector was the creation of the Edo State Geographic Information Service, an agency that delivers Certificates of Occupancy to property owners in less than eight weeks, and at an affordable price. In all, Edo people won the battle against the killer community gangs.

Convinced that a reformed revenue collection system that would leverage modern technology would better serve the people, Governor Obaseki introduced Point-of-Sale devices to ensure efficiency and transparency in the sub-sector. The initiative was met with resistance as it was misconstrued by the operators as a threat to the old manual method of collecting revenue which was fraught with lack of transparency and accountability.

Again Obaseki, with the support of the people, directed the revenue collectors, who were not ready to migrate to the modern technology-backed platforms, to leave the state’s motor parks, markets and other business places.

For Obaseki, such brutish approach where traders were assaulted and harassed by revenue collectors, belonged to the past and must be discontinued. The response from some of them who were political thugs and had enjoyed enormous patronage from previous governments, was as expected, a declaration of war on the Obaseki-led administration.

On the flip side, this singular action freed business people from years of harassment and abuse from these political thugs. Yet Obaseki was unruffled and supervised the migration of the old revenue collection method to the new one.

Again, Obaseki demonstrated his affection for the citizens when he collaborated with the Benin Monarch to rally support for victims of human trafficking. Instead of blaming the victims who were primed by bad leadership of the past to migrate, Obaseki took responsibility for the failures of his predecessors and challenged governments at all levels, non-state actors and development partners to rise to the challenge and nip the problem in the bud.

Through carefully cultivated and sustained partnerships with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), federal government agencies like the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Obaseki reinvigorated the prosecution of human traffickers and their partners in crime and deployed massive grassroots mobilisation against risky travels through the Sahara Desert to Europe.

Osagie is the Special Adviser to Governor Obaseki on Media and Communication Strategy