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Governor Obaseki: Dining with a long spoon!

These are not the best of times for constitutional democracy in Edo State. As it stands, governance of the state resembles that of a dictatorship…

These are not the best of times for constitutional democracy in Edo State. As it stands, governance of the state resembles that of a dictatorship rather than of a democratically elected government. Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki is not “governing”, he is “ruling”. In spite of all constitutional provisions he rules without Commissioners, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Local Government Chairmen, or a properly constituted State House of Assembly!

He has effectively become the ‘Sole Administrator’ of Edo State operating with his own ‘cabal’! It’s as if Edo people elected an emperor who believes he has a monopoly of wisdom and good ideas, rather than an administrator who requires all hands to be on deck to reverse the rot in the state. The backward slide of Edo State is apparent in the scandalous condition of the state capital, Benin City, which has regressed into being a filthy, noisy, traffic gridlocked and lawless city.

Not only is Benin City the least developed of the four original state capitals, its relevance has diminished from being originally one of only four, into one of 12, then one of 19, and now one of 36! New state capitals, which were mere towns or even villages when Benin was a capital city, have long since overtaken it in modern infrastructure. There can be no disputing that Obaseki’s predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, radically changed the face of the state capital for the better, the evidence is there for all to see even if at inflated costs as alleged.

Obaseki has been unable to match his predecessor’s public infrastructure strides. To the chagrin of many Edo citizens he has spent billions renovating the rarely used stadium, the state government secretariat, the High Court, and the Government Training Centre complexes rather than solve any of their problems. It’s mockingly referred to as governance by photograph! It’s an example of government inappropriately spending money on itself rather than on serving the people and alleviating poverty.

It’s difficult to fathom the logic behind the thinking that Edo citizens would regard the renovation of government buildings as being a priority over solving the problems of environmental degradation, open unhygienic gutters, pothole filled roads, inadequate health facilities, traffic gridlock, and rampant insecurity in the state. An essential part of good governance is a commitment to maintaining a clean, ordered and well planned environment, rather than presiding over ghettos. The once pristine Benin City has declined into being a noisy, litter filled, lawless shadow of its former self, and a far cry from what a modern city should resemble.

It’s become arguably the dirtiest state capital in the nation. Benin City has an ancient history of order, good town planning and cleanliness. Records are there documenting the impression of early European adventurers to the Great Kingdom of Benin. These days even as other state capitals rid themselves of multitudes of street beggars and enhance their environment with plants and flowers, Benin City has been overtaken by beggars, litter and squalor. Even the “elite” Government Reservation Area (GRA) is degenerating into a slum. Unhygienic cattle markets proliferate within city limits and undeveloped plots in GRA and elsewhere are being used for cattle grazing! It appears as if there is no state or local government official mandated to plan, clean, and enforce environmental laws. It’s disheartening that a city, once admired by foreign adventurers centuries ago, has fallen to this level of rotten environmental disorder.

While Governor Obaseki occupies himself attending political meetings, burials and weddings of prominent people’s relatives, there is no evidence of any concrete government plan to alleviate the daily problems experienced by citizens. These days insanity reigns on both the state’s highways where kidnapping and armed robbery are now routine, and on the urban streets where the absence of bus stops forces buses and taxis to stop in the middle of the road to pick passengers causing chaos.

Under the pretext of traffic control and increasing Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) major roads in urban areas have been turned into dens of tax collectors who zestfully harass and extort drivers. Known as “Obaseki police”, they forcefully divert citizens to “mobile courts” where nobody is ever found innocent! Lawyers aren’t allowed and the only evidence offered is the fact that the driver has been brought there!

The outrageous fines, seizure of vehicles and time wasting imposed by mobile courts encourages corruption because drivers routinely exercise the option to “settle the “boys” rather than be taken to a mobile court. One would have thought that given all these problems in the state capital alone, much less in local governments, Governor Obaseki would accept that he can’t solve all the problems alone and must have all hands on deck. Alas this isn’t the case.

It’s widely believed that the reason he operates with only a clique or ‘cabal’ without needing advisors or heeding public opinion is that he has a problem of whom to appoint. Political analysts predicted that the manner in which he won re-election would catch up with him one day, and so it has. First elected under the auspices of the All Progressives Congress (APC), once it became evident that he wouldn’t get ticket for re-election, he decamped into the hands of the very same Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwarts who he had previously accused of being responsible for the financial ruination of the state in the first place!

His predicament is that PDP leaders rightly expect to reward their party members with positions in a supposedly PDP administration. As far as they are concerned they only gave Obaseki the governorship and deputy governorship positions, not the right to take over their party and make all appointments. The dilemma is that those who decamped along with him and even those who remained in APC as fifth columnists to undermine their election efforts also expect to be rewarded with appointments.  It’s really no surprise that Obaseki hesitates to appoint only PDP members into his cabinet.

He cannot have forgotten that when Oshiomhole brought him from nowhere to impose him as APC governor, the PDP publicly ridiculed him. Back in the day they mocked him as a “political neophyte”, rubbished his academic qualifications falsely claiming they were fake, and even went as far as disparaging his family background. The truth which Obaseki must have discovered by now is that he has few political friends, just alliances with enemies of his enemies! He took a decision to dine with “political devils” and “political jobbers” whose motivation is to enjoy their personal “dividends of democracy” and who are waiting in the wings for appointments. No matter how hard he tries to keep them at bay, he cannot continue to ignore the constitution which requires every state to be governed by an executive council not merely a governor. He must make the necessary appointments and cease trying to dine with a long spoon!