Godwin Obaseki:  It’s Scandalous, Deceptive to Continue to Describe N18,000 as Living Minimum Wage

.Nigeria Must Be Redesigned to Function Well, Govt Should Exercise Fiscal Restraint 

.I Don’t Want to Be Godfather After Office

.From $10.6bn in Terms of GDP, Ive Grown Edo’s Economy to $26bn

.No Opposition Party Can Upstage PDP in Forthcoming Governorship Election

Shaibu Was Impeached as My Deputy to Prevent What Happened in Ondo State

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has begun his countdown to exit the Osadebey Government House, Benin City, after eight years in office. He appears confident about his stewardship and service to the state. Like a lead role in the theatre of life’s drama, Obaseki believes he has acquitted and discharged himself well and has thus conceded everything else to posterity. In this interview with THISDAY, he provides insights into his many choices as governor, policies, political manoeuvrings, legacy and successor, among other critical national concerns. Excerpts: 

In six months or thereabout, your administration will come to an end. In the last seven and a half years, tell us what it has been like governing Edo State?

Through the will of God and the mandate of Edo people, I got elected as governor and was sworn in as governor of Edo State on November 12, 2016. If you recall, at that time, Nigeria was in the throes of another recession and the country was quite challenged in the face of the global recession. Crude oil prices were at their lowest, states’ revenues had declined tremendously and states were heavily indebted and could not meet their obligations. For us, beyond that, we had our own peculiar challenges.

There were flights out of Edo State; at that time, it topped the list of states where human trafficking and irregular migration were rife. Young people did not want to stay because the place had almost become completely uninhabitable. Non-state actors had taken control of the state and the politics of the state, and were responsible for revenues that were due to the government. These non-state actors who were being used by political actors posed a threat to the smooth flow of our democracy.

So, it’s against this background that we should now review what has happened in the last seven and a half years. The politics was  top-down; it was controlled by cliques in disguise of godfathers. So, only those who were related to the political structure benefited from patronage or even government policies and activities. There was no incentive for people to go and produce, because even if you did produce, there were too many toll gates at which you have to pay to the political gatekeepers, and so the economy wasn’t growing at the rate it should have.

 So, let’s look back seven and a half years and where we are today. Take the issue of the perception of the people themselves. Are Edo people happy?  Are they happy with themselves? Do they now believe in themselves? There was this aspiration by our young and not-too-young people to just want to travel out, why? Because they just didn’t see hope in living here; all that has changed. Today, there is a mass influx of people into Edo State.

In fact, the challenge we have today is how to deal with the mass migration into Edo State, particularly from the North and the Middle Belt. So, from that perspective, I think we can confirm that we have turned things around. Edo is now a land of hope; Edo people are proud now to be Edos. How did we go about this? First, we tried to restructure the political arrangement we met on the ground which is what people hear about the most. We had truly democratised the process of politics in Edo by ensuring that people really participate in politics and people get the benefit of government policies. 

When I got into office, I made it very clear that politics and party matters had to be dealt with in the party office and Government House was not a place where we just focused on politicking because every Edo person, whether they voted, belonged to my party or not, is responsible for me becoming governor. That didn’t go down well with some of our politicians. But if you now look at other areas, what did that do for us? It meant that the government could put its foot down, for instance, non-state actors could not collect government revenues.  And with that, you could see government revenue increase.

In terms of law and order, these non-state actors, I call them the political infantry or the infantry arm of the political class, had to be cut to size so that ordinary citizens could go about their activities in peace and calm. If you compare Edo today in terms of safety, security of lives and properties and well-being of the people, to what we met in 2016, it’s like night and day. You can walk the streets of Benin City at day or night without the fear of being molested. You can do your business without the fear that anybody would come in and impose illegal levies and taxes on you. 

In the area of services to the people, let me identify that one key reason why a lot of young people lost hope was because the education system had collapsed and Edo, for instance, had become the ‘miracle’ center for exam malpractices in the country.  We then had to take very drastic measures to reenact the education sector. If you recall one of the selling points, one of the things that Edo was renowned for was the fact that we held education as premium, and every family’s objective in life was to educate their children. And then Edo could boast of quality education.

So, what we then did was to reenact the education system, starting with the foundation, basic education. We trained our teachers, we brought technology into the classroom, changed the pedagogy to make it more relevant to our current realities today, ensured that teachers are paid on time, ensured that there was accountability and also community and parents were made to participate in our school system. 

Today, you can see the learning outcomes have improved significantly. The average Edo child in 6th grade ranks up to 70% of his peers in Europe or Asia. We’re not there yet but we’ve gone 70%, hopefully in another five years, we’ll be there – where the child in the 6th or 9th grade in Edo will be compared with the child anywhere else in the world. We have also looked at other areas, particularly healthcare. One of the first projects I embarked on was the geospatial mapping of Edo when we got survey experts to come and fly over Edo to produce maps from surveys and establish a geographical information system to help us title land and document our land properly.

So, today, Edo has one of the best geographical systems in the country, and that has led us to issue land titles very efficiently.  As of now, we have issued almost 30,000 C-of-Os. This is three times or twice the number of C-of-Os issued since the creation of Edo State in 1991 and with that, people now have titles to properties and businesses can now use these titles to raise finances from financial institutions to fund their businesses. 

So, these are some of the planks on which our reforms have rested, on which  we have seen the changes that have occurred in Edo such that from one flight a day and one airline when I got in in 2016, today, we now have about seven airlines and almost ten flights a day coming into Benin City.

You had to put your foot down and fight, you said; you had to fight even your predecessor to be able to do some of these things. How difficult was that?

For me, it was quite difficult because before I took over office, I thought there was an alignment. I thought there was an agreement in terms of the purpose for being in politics and the purpose for me contesting, which was to improve the level and quality of governance; to provide better services and better life for our people, not just a few actors in the political corridor. I thought that alignment existed. But I could not be dissuaded because I came in for a purpose, and in my view, that was the agreement – to go in there and make the sacrifices necessary to ensure there was a level playing field, open access for more of our citizens and create a system that will guarantee and offer our people a better life.

You had to dismantle what you call the infantry arm of the political structure and there were significant blowbacks. How you were able to overcome thatOrdinarily, some people will scamper away, but you stood your ground. How difficult was that?

It was difficult, personally. However, I was convinced and also knew and had evidence that it was what the people wanted. I knew I had the backing and the support of the people because I could feel the pain and restrictions that the activities of these warlords had caused Edo people and the economy. It was like they had essentially kept people in bondage. So, once I took on that fight, I had allies; I had support from the people and that was what sustained me until the task was accomplished.

Is there something about your style that you think people didn’t understand and so felt Obaseki was a difficult person?

I think it has to do with substance. The substance is that you cannot negotiate evil. There’s no nice way to accommodate evil and bad. Evil is evil. So, for me, if you are talking of style or trying to romance evil, I mean, it’s a dangerous style because evil can overwhelm you in that process. Unfortunately, it has been a way of life for many of these people and change is very difficult, especially change that affects your pocket and economy; it’s very difficult. 

So, there was no way you could convince people who for almost a generation had lived off the state without rendering real services that you could be nice and loved them to make them change. No, as far as I’m concerned, it was a fight we had to embark on. They were restricting progress and we couldn’t negotiate them out of the way. We had to just confront them and that process of confrontation, unfortunately, if they interpreted it in any way, it cannot be nice.

Did you think your political opponents, or those who made themselves opponents underrated your ability to fight?

Yes, they did underrate me but one thing that has become clear is that, unfortunately, a lot of the political actors are not ready to work hard; they have become so dependent on the system. So, you go to an area and you see somebody who has dominated the political scene for decades but has no relationship with the people he is representing. I mean, if you look at the statistics in Edo State, maybe it happens in many other places, 80% of politicians that we have elected in Edo to represent us at the National Assembly in Abuja, don’t come back. What does that tell you? 

They go, finish their term or whatever, and stay there; they never come back home. It just tells you a lot about the relationship between the political class and the citizens. So, once you’re prepared to do the work, meet the people, serve the people, and be there with them, they’ll always reciprocate.

You have fought many battles in the last seven and a half years and won. What was it that gave you that winning edge?

First, I do not instigate battles. I don’t start a fight; I have never started any fight. People have always tried to fight, upstage and confront me but because God knows that whatever actions I’ve done are not out of self-interest, but for public good; to improve and make things better for my people, he weakens the aggressors’ position in any fight against me. That perhaps has been the reason why I have won almost all the fights.

How well would you say the reform of the political structure has succeeded and is it sustainable after you leave office?

If you look at subsequent elections since 2016, if you look at my reelection in 2020, where the ‘Torgba’ Movement emanated, that is 4 + 4, that movement influenced the Obidient Movement to some extent. So, you can tell that if it wasn’t popular, if that wasn’t the way the people felt, then we would not have been able to sustain it, and even after the impact of the Obidient Movement on our politics, you could see the comeback in the next election and how my party dominated, from the House of Assembly and subsequently the local government elections where only PDP won in every ward and local government.

Some people say Obaseki is vindictive; it’s tough to deal with him. Why do you think they say this? Is it that they misunderstand you?

It’s not like they misunderstand; they have certain expectations. Even from your family, the moment you get elected and you are in a public office, people just think, ‘Oh, my person is now there, so it’s now my opportunity to benefit from the largesse’, forgetting that you are there to serve a larger interest, and if you serve the larger interest well, everybody will benefit. So, if our people don’t get what they want, then, I think they tend to be difficult and even impossible. Look at people, for instance, who worked with me, when they cannot get what they want, they suddenly become enemies. They forget that at one point, we were friends when they got what they requested.

Your relationship with your predecessor seems to be looking good. What happened?

Time heals. I think he is now beginning to see and understand what happened; to see that fundamentally, we didn’t have any difference in terms of the objectives of what we set out to do. I stayed on the course, but there must have been pressure. You know what happened.

You recently announced a new minimum wage for workers in Edo State when most states and the federal government are saying that there is a revenue shortage. How are you going to be able to implement this and what are your plans for its sustainability?

First, let me say it is scandalous that we continue to deceive ourselves that N18,000 minimum wage is a living wage, but we all know that by no means can anybody live on N18,000 today, which is why I took the step in my state to increase the minimum wage first from N30,000 to N40,000 in 2022. Having made all these efforts, even if they are laudable, it is still clear that even the N40,000 is still a far cry from what an average person or family needs to survive. So, it is only sensible to take it up again to N70,000. Even the N70,000, I daresay, is not going to do too much but at least people can begin to make an effort to live with that amount.

On sustainability, I have been a private sector person for most part of my career before I ventured into the public sector. With that training and background, we don’t just make statements without careful analysis of our revenue flow and expenditures and then analyse how we are going to go about ensuring that we are able to live up to our promise. 

We have been very strategic in Edo State. We embarked on a very radical reform of the civil and public service which engendered a transformation exercise that completely turned around our civil service and has made it more efficient and effective. We are perhaps the only state government in Nigeria that has now gone totally paperless, we run our government on the e-gov platform and we have made a lot of savings from there. 

We have what we call a fleet management system for our vehicles in the state government so we no longer have multiple vehicles for multiple public officeholders running different expenditures to manage all these vehicles; they are all managed in one single pool called the Fleet Management System. We have made massive savings from there as well.

Also, early in my first tenure, I entered into an agreement with a private company to generate electricity and serve the government and this has come on stream since 2020, 2021 and the state government has since been taken off the national grid and curbed the use of diesel and petrol to run the government because we now have 24-hour power supply from Ossiomo. So we have cut down on diesel expenditure and in many other areas. 

Another area is training. Before, people had to leave the state to get trained but now we have John Odigie Training Centre where all our civil servants are trained at very frequent intervals at little or no cost because we have a training centre in the state. So all of these have resulted in massive savings for government which allow us to be able to take this bold decision which also mean that we will be able to sustain it.

Let’s talk more about the paperless system. When you say paperless, what exactly do you mean?

When we got into office in 2016, we knew that for us to truly transform the state, we had to fix the public and civil service because that is the engine of the government. No matter the political pronouncements you make, if you don’t have an effective and efficient public and civil service to drive the state and run those policies, it will come to nothing. One of the things we then did was to make the civil service strong and meet the requirements of governance. 

First is the people, motivate them, secondly manpower development. So, we set up the John Odigie Oyegun Public Service Academy to train and retrain them. Also, the environment in which they work. When we came in, those government offices, the staff couldn’t use the toilets. I mean, you ask of officers and they’re not in their offices because they have gone outside the premises to use the toilet; it was that bad. The next was the system; the work processes. How do we make sure that there is transparency? How do you make sure that they work more efficiently?  That led to the introduction of the EdoGov platform. 

So, when I log into the system, it tells me everything. I have a dashboard; my profile, human resources, all the emails that are coming in today, and the financial situation of the state. I could see services; if I have a memo from any agency, it comes in there. We have analytics; any procurement we want to do comes in there too. Everything we used to do with paper, we can now do electronically and more seamlessly too. So, if you send me an email, even if you write me a letter, we scan it and a copy just comes to me. 

Then, we went back to 1999 to scan every document we have and today, we’ve archived 71 million records in Edo State. For example, if I get a request for approval for an event taking place, let’s say in another state and they are requesting for N766 to be approved, all I have to do is go down there to the platform and approve it. This, in no small way, enhances efficiency and transparency in the service.

What about the fleet management, which has changed the way government deploys its transport assets and the health insurance scheme which has changed the way government caters to the people?

As I said earlier, if the public service is not strong and efficient, you can speak your grammar from now till tomorrow and nothing will happen. So, apart from technology, what are the other things that will make the public system work?  The offices are now clean and rebuilt; we have 24/7 electricity supply from Ossiomo Power, and we have high speed Internet because we have fiber connected across the state. In addition to the other gains of these reforms, we are also saving. 

We don’t have to buy papers because we have gone paperless; we don’t have to pay for airtime from network providers because fibre optics have been connected across the state. We don’t need to buy diesel because we get steady power supply from Ossiomo Power, among others. Then concerning transportation, we said to ourselves that with the cost of vehicles today, if government wants to buy a vehicle for each official, it will be too much. 

So, we decided to create our own transport system and developed the MEGA Connect and today if you want to go anywhere during work hours, you just log in and book and the vehicle comes to you; yes, it’s free. For example, if you are going to Auchi, you just have to book your ride and the driver will arrive at the set time in front of your house or your office and will take you there and bring you back. So, we are able to optimise the use of the fleets and maintain them. These are some of the things we have been doing in the last seven years to make life better and easier for our people in Edo State.

What is the size of the economy now? What was it when you came in and how have you grown it over the past seven years?

When I assumed office, in terms of GDP, the economy was about $10.6 billion but today, at the last count, it was about $26 billion. We have doubled tremendously. The important thing is what has led to this? We have been able to attract substantial investments and investors by just creating the enabling business environment. Today, the main contributor to our GDP is agriculture. What have we done with agriculture? We looked around and said, where do we have the competitive advantage? We are the home of oil palm, so we went back to the drawing board and asked ourselves what to do with this asset.  

We went to Malaysia and everywhere else and decided to start a programme to develop our oil palm. Even though we had Okomu and Presco here, the two largest agric companies quoted on the stock exchange, let’s do more; let’s double the acres under cultivation. So, we set up an oil palm programme, not just allocating lands, it’s a programme where we decided to provide a certain amount of land for the cultivation of oil palm because oil palm is a very prolific crop; there is no waste. So, we did it in two phases. 

In the first phase, we did a forest audit. We identified degraded forest lands that will never be able to grow back as forest and I took that and we got over 120,000 hectares of such and then began to prepare them for oil palm cultivation. We did the survey and made sure that under the programme, we got certification from a body called RSPO, the global body responsible for promoting responsible oil palm production, because if you don’t have the certification and they don’t certify your palm to make sure that in producing that palm.

You didn’t deforest, you didn’t treat communities improperly, some companies like Unilever, PZ and others will not touch your palm. So, we made sure that Edo State qualified under that programme and today we have over ten companies that we have allocated land to and they are preparing their nurseries, including firms like Dufil Prima Foods, the makers of Indomie Noodles, Saro Oil Palm and Flour Mills Nigeria Plc, an American company called Fayus, and Saturn Farms, among others. I mean they are all there. The first phase is in Orhionmwon. 

The next phase is going to be in Ovia, which we are preparing now. Don’t also forget that Edo has hydrocarbon assets, particularly gas.  Remember we executed the 450MW Azura deal and the 95MW Ossiomo Power project, which is bigger than that of Abia State. What they are doing now, we have done a long time ago, and all of these are to attract investors. 

In the area of entertainment, film, music, we created the Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub and we are attracting a lot of Nollywood producers to come and produce films in Edo State. Also, because we reformed our geographical information system, we can now get data and are working hard on mining. Since I got into office, Dangote has opened a cement company; BUA has expanded. 

There are a lot of economic activities going on in Edo State. We have about eight Chinese companies in Benin City alone, all producing tiles, glass, and iron sheets, among others, all from local raw materials because we have electricity.

The Radisson Hotel being developed in Benin City is another good project to set a new standard in hospitality services and boost tourism.  But is it in the place of a state to run hotel business?

One of the key planks of our reforms is to position Edo as the culture and tourism hub of West Africa. That’s why we have started the conversation about the return of the bronze works and setting up the Museum of West African Arts, trying to tell the world that we have civilisation here. In the last seven years, we have had investors of all shades coming in, the World Bank, among others and now we are trying to attract more foreigners. 

When they come, where will they stay? Should we now wait for one private person to come before we take action? We saw an opportunity and put in our investment, when we finish it, we could sell it. That facility needs to be there to support what our intentions are.

Talking about your education reforms, how well structured is the system now? Are you confident you are leaving behind a legacy?

You see,  the whole system had been corrupted and broken down. First, it’s aligned to the structure of the country, whereas basic education is the responsibility of the parent and the local government because the local governments are the closest tier of government to the people. The local governments should be responsible for things like education, primary healthcare, market, sanitation, among others.

With the weakening of the local government system, the education system at that level was negatively affected. The teachers weren’t properly enumerated; they were not effectively supervised and no adequate investments in the infrastructural development of these schools, among others, but we can’t continue to lament. The truth is that children under the age of 18 constitute more than 50% of the population of this state today. 

So, what we’ve done with education is to say, look at what exactly was the problem? First, we said let’s focus on the foundation, the basic education system. There seems to be so much emphasis on the tertiary, but how many people really end up in tertiary schools? So, we decided to focus on foundational learning because that is what’s going on all over the world today. When a child is between 4 and 6 years, early childhood, we should focus on that child and ensure that the child is not malnourished and is being taught something.

That’s when you learn how to spell. That’s when you learn how to put your words, your tenses together. But if the teacher is not in class, the child would not be able to learn. So, the first thing was to ensure that we have a system where the teachers are encouraged and they are in class. Having gotten the teachers into the classrooms and ensuring they were teaching, we now asked ourselves what the teachers were teaching the children. 

That was the basis of our basic education reform, which we call the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EdoBEST) Programme. After seven years, you could see the clear difference and what we did was to bring technology. We partnered with a technology company, made sure that every teacher had a tablet and with that tablet, I can tell if a teacher is in class or not.

Is there a way to see that? 

Yes, because once a teacher comes to class, you synchronise your tablet with that of the head teacher and it comes into my portal every day. So, yes, if you are not in class, we know you are not in class and if you are not in class, the children cannot learn. With that, you can tell if a teacher came to class and completed his entire lesson note for that day or not because in that device, we have preloaded their lesson notes for that day. It’s backed up in the portal and it’s the system that checks all of that.

Are there other states with similar …?

No, a few states have tried to understudy us and replicate the system, but it goes beyond just having the technology. It requires having the system and people in place to make sure that things are done properly.

Let’s talk about politics. The governorship election is coming up in September. How confident are you that your party will retain this state? Do you think this government has endeared itself sufficiently to the people that they will be willing to reelect the party?

Honestly, there’s no opposition in Edo State. The opposition is on the pages of newspapers and in the media but in reality, there are none, because Edo has always been PDP; the PDP structures and tentacles are very strong. Yes, for about 12 years, the state got hijacked by another party and unfortunately, that other party has not done well for the country. 

As I said, we have PDP supporters in every nook and cranny of the state; every councilor in Edo is a PDP member. I campaigned and was voted for; I wasn’t imposed. I went round with all of them. So, where is the opposition coming from except they want to rig the election and they know that cannot happen in Edo. 

So, if you then go further and look at the quality of the candidates, you know our party is sure of victory.  The Labour (Party) story in Edo was just an aberration and we knew it was because of the Obidient Movement and the issues in the country. The governorship election is a local election; we know ourselves. It’s what we call ‘face me I face you’ election. We know what the issues are.

There are issues concerning the primaries and of course your former deputy governor. He contested and felt you should have supported him, but you endorsed another candidate. Before the relationship went cold, what exactly happened between you and your former deputy?

I think it’s about ambition. Yes, our tenure was coming to an end and actually, we had a bit of some discussion and I felt he could pursue a career at the Senate. We actually offered him a senatorial ticket, which he declined. So, as far as I was concerned, he didn’t want to pursue his political career. He declined it and we had to offer it to somebody else and till tomorrow, he never sat down again to have a conversation with me about his political ambition. 

I think I heard one or two interviews where he admitted that he didn’t have that conversation with me. What I heard was that he said he didn’t discuss it with me because of my body language but I’m one politician you can read from a mile away. To have a united Edo, we needed to make sure that the fundamental principle of our policies should be fairness and equity so that every person in Edo feels part of the state. 

So, if we have had governors from the North and the South senatorial districts, I think it’s only fair to give the Central a chance, particularly when you look and understand the circumstances of our political survival. When we were going through our battles and ended up with a 10-man House of Assembly, five of those ten were from Edo Central. It would have been grossly unfair and unjust not to have given them the opportunity.

Before this politics about him wanting to contest or not, your relationship was very warm and it was the model for other states because whenever you travelled out of the country, you handed over to him and he signed the bills. When did things start to go south?

I think it was just basically his personal ambition which is, ‘if I don’t get it, then nothing else matters. The past relationships don’t matter, past benefits don’t matter; the house must come down. I must have my own alternative primaries. I will go to the streets. I will do this and that.’ It was no longer about our common good which we were fighting for; it now became about his personal interest.

He did say publicly that every attempt to meet you failed as you were not taking his calls and all of that.

You know, when someone unilaterally takes you to court, I mean, you wake up one day and you’re being served court papers by your deputy. How would you react? The basis for the relationship and trust had been broken.

Couldn’t there have been a political solution rather than an impeachment?

Well, we are all witnesses. Thank God we are all witnesses to events in the country today. The primaries and the activities outside the primaries, you could imagine the level of hostility. You saw what happened in Ondo State.  If unfortunately, a situation like that occurred to me in Edo, what would then happen to our political future? So, we couldn’t afford that risk.

Why the choice of a 37-year-old as your new deputy governor?

The deputy governor’s slot was zoned to Edo North and Marvelous Godwins comes from Edo North, Akoko Edo Local Government precisely.  We just felt that in the spirit of fairness and inclusiveness, now that this opportunity has arisen, we should give it to an area that has never had that opportunity. If you look at Edo North, it’s made up of Etsako, Owan and Akoko Edo. 

From Etsako, Michael Ogiadomen was deputy governor, as was Philip Shaibu. With this opportunity, it’s only fair that it goes to Akoko Edo and this is a young man who has done so well.  He started in Labour as the organising secretary. He is an amazing person; we need to begin to create new role models for young people in our politics today.

Edo used to be rife with insecurity, kidnappings and all of that. But for quite some months now, it seems to have cooled down. What did you do?

First, we said to ourselves that it is our problem and we cannot leave it to anyone else. We can’t wait for the Federal Government to come and secure us. Rather, let’s see how we can work with the Federal Government to support us in securing our state; that was the thinking. So, we then fell back on the traditional security structures we had before the coming of the British. 

Every community had a security plan; we had young men who came out at certain times at night and did turns. So, those were now moved into our neighbourhood or vigilante arrangements. We then decided to bring them under some control. We registered them and developed a training programme for them, working with the military, DSS, and the police. We refurbished the Police Training College in Ogida Barracks and we have trained more than 10,000 of them today. 

We worked with our vigilante teams who understand and know their communities, and then gave them the back-up to control security substantially. In most local governments in Edo State today, they do what we call a weekly or biweekly bush-combing exercise, with the military and police giving them back-up and the hunters going into their bushes while we support them with area patrols to make sure that we don’t have camps for people who shouldn’t be in certain locations and flushing them out.

With this, are you one of those who support the idea of state police?

As I have always said, if you want to curb any of our challenges today, for example, if it is a security challenge, decentralise the police system. If you want more oil revenue, decentralise that system. Whatever we’re doing is not working; centralisation is not working for us. We need a redesign.

What is the status of the state universities because there have been some complaints recently, particularly with AAU?

We have two universities in Edo State; the Ambrose Alli University and Edo State University in Uzaire. The rationale for setting up the Edo State University is because we wanted to change the model where at the tertiary level, the state endows the university, but then the university has to run itself to be self-sufficient. When AAU was set up, there were very few private universities, if any at all. We have tried to make that school understand that the era when these schools were set up and government had the resources to fund them has passed. Government should continue to endow and the owners, the users of the facilities should pay. That’s where the struggle has been.

Some of your predictions about the economy under former President Muhammadu Buhari came to pass with dire consequences. What’s the state of the economy today, and are the reforms that the present administration has embarked on in the right direction?

I think we should be fair to this current administration that they met a very poor economy. Putting it mildly, an economy where so much money had been printed and that had made it very difficult to tame inflation. So, we are faced with this series of problems. One is too much cash pursuing few goods. Two, is our perennial dependence on foreign exchange from oil production, which is declining because of a lack of investments and thirdly, insecurity which has curtailed our ability to produce food in the quantities that we used to. 

So, faced with these three problems and a few others, it would be a miracle for anybody to turn this around within a year. So, from that standpoint, I think we should be fair to this current administration. Yes, the APC government created the problem but trading blame won’t solve the problem and we will still have a country to run. I think we should be focusing on what we need to do in the short term to solve some of these problems so that we can stabilise the country and then do what we need to do for sustainability in the long term.

Unfortunately, there is nothing much that they can do because you cannot clap with one hand and expect to hear a loud sound.  The challenge is both monetary and fiscal. We have been utilising monetary tools, particularly monetary tools that could apply in a regular economy with the right pressure points. Here, there is too much naira in circulation and you want to mop up the naira by increasing interest rates? 

This means that people will not have access to credit. So, there are two sides of the same coin; the monetary and the fiscal arm. We have got to focus on the real issues. First, the money that comes, how do we spend it? Let’s stop trading blame. The federal government is most responsible. They get 52% of the revenues of this country. Why blame the states that share only about 26 per cent? If the federal government behaves properly, then it will have the justification for controlling the states. 

So, rather than trading blame, I think the federal government must first call itself to order because it’s spending much more money that it doesn’t have. Look at the number of MDAs and see the years it took to implement the Oronsaye report. We saw this problem many years ago and I always spoke about it. So, unless we impose some restraints on fiscal spending, there is not too much we can do monetarily. 

Secondly, we must redesign the country.  I am not even talking about restructuring. We need a new design where we reduce the level of centralisation. When I had to deal with the issue of security in Edo State, I had to think about decentralising by giving more authority to the community members. The issue of increasing revenues from mining oil can only be dealt with by decentralising. 

You are never going to be able to do much more than 1.5 million barrels per day today, unless you decentralise.  If in Edo State, I have the possibility to manage or co-manage the 147 oil wells I have in Edo today, we will produce much more than we’re producing today for the federal government. So, unless we think about decentralising this country, we are just going to be running around in circles.

What is that singular thing that you think is the biggest takeaway for you? What will you also be remembered for?

For hundreds of years, the Edo man had dominated his environment; the Edo man had excelled; he was at par with the rest of the world and I don’t see why he shouldn’t be at that same status today. What I want, my inspiration, is to create the basis for the Edo man and woman to dominate his environment again the way he did hundreds of years ago and I believe the way to start is knowledge, education; fix the system by which he organises himself.

What is next for Obaseki?

Obaseki is very fortunate and has every reason to thank God. If you look at Nigeria today, I am one of the few persons who have had solid private sector experience and have been in government. I have been in the APC and I have been in the PDP. My role is to sit back and see how I can assist and help, nurture, let people know, share my experiences with them and support them. So, I see myself going back to school, researching, teaching and just impacting knowledge.

Would you resist the temptation of being a godfather?

There is no need to. You always mentor people, but when you want to sit and begin to direct them, that’s where the problem is. I don’t like being directed, so why should I direct anybody. If I  had wanted to direct somebody, I would not have gone for one of Nigeria’s most accomplished lawyers to  step down from all his enviable professional engagements just to come and be directed in Edo State. 

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