Godwin Obaseki, a financial expert, is a governorship aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State. He spoke with THE NATION’s EMMANUEL OLADESU and ENITAN SERIKI on his ambition, his plans for the state and the challenges of governance in the post-Oshiomhole era.
What are the qualities you expect of the next governor of Edo State?
In determining the qualities of the next governor, you have to look at the antecedents of this administration and what has happened in the last eight years. You have had a government that has come to deliver what you popularly call the dividends of democracy to the people, a government that is now more accountable, whereby people can ask questions about government official s, how they spend money. You have had a government that is able to build world-class infrastructure like roads, a government that has been able to renew the infrastructure of schools and the educational system, a government that has been more responsive to the needs of the people. When you have had a situation like this over a period of time, it therefore, means that the sort of qualities a leader who seek to govern a state, where these developments have occurred in the last seven and half years, should be one who has the understanding of how to continue what has already been started; somebody who has the understanding of the specifics of a policy that has led to this development you are seeing.
You require the one who has the mind of a democrat to continue this process, where a leader feels the sense of accountability to the people and the people can ask questions, where decisions are made to the benefit of the larger number of citizens in the society. One key quality is that the leader must have the mind of a democrat and believe in democracy. The second is that, particularly now that resources are much more scarce; financial resources; the states are not getting as much revenue as they did because of the slump of oil price. You need someone who can manage scarce resources, someone who has a proven track record of managing men and materials because in the past, states usually queue for allocation from the centre, where the state exceptionally were funded from the allocations from the federal level . I will say for 80 to 90 per cent of states in the country today, the allocations from the centre can barely cover their personal costs, not to talk about their expenditure.
So, for most states, what they get from Abuja cam hardly pay salaries and that means you cannot refurbish schools, road and build infrastructure. That is the situation we have today. For a state that is seeking to have a new governor, that governor must be somebody who have the experience of managing resources. In a nutshell , first, the person must have the mind of a democrat. Second, he must have an understanding of what has occurred in the last seven years so that he can see the connections; why certain policies were taken, so that we can avoid the dangers that face most African states where a governor makes such progress and the succeeding government now pushes it back because they did not understand why the policy was made. The person must have the capacity, ability and capability to manage men and materials.
What are the challenges of governance you foresee in the post-Oshiomole era?
The major challenge that I foresee in the future is meeting the expectations of the people. Before Governor Adams Oshiomhole came, the pace of development in Edo State was quite slow and low. Oshiomhole has undertaken an unbelievable infrastructural development. One of the feats is the extraordinary 15-kilometre drainage system to drain Benin City, which has now created the basis to build more roads that will be more long lasting. We have also seen the rapid transformation of our school infrastructure within a short period of time. So, most communities now expect that, as a minimum, primary and secondary schools located in the locality should be refurbished by the government. They now expect that somebody will ensure that there will be enough teachers for most subjects, particularly science subjects, and those teachers are punctual in schools. Oshiomhole has raised the bar significantly for governance in Edo State and the real challenge is that in the face of the resources , the citizens will find it difficult to accept lower quality services from their governor.
Why do you want to succeed Governor Oshiomhole on the platform of the APC?
I have been a part of the APC story in Edo State. I worked with Governor Oshiomhole before he decided to run for the governor. I encouraged him to run for the office. We actively supported his electioneering and more importantly, we also went with him in creating a blue print for the administration. Beyond creating a blue print, some of us volunteered to begin to implement his policies. So, I can with a sense of of responsibility that I have been part of every major policy decisions of the Oshiomhole administration in the last seven years and I understand the imperatives and arguments for why certain decisions were made during the era. So, being a key part of creating the blue print and also sourcing for the financing of most of our programmes in the last seven and half years, I understand clearly all the major decisions we made and many of them are still work-in-progress. We have not completed all the projects the administration set out to do. In fact, the Edo project is work-in-progress. Governor Oshiomhole has just completed the critical aspect of it, which is laying the foundation . What is now required is that someone who understands the designs should build on that foundation that has been laid. That is why I am in the race and that is why I am feeling confident that I will be able to continue from where Governor Oshiomhole will stop.
In concrete terms, what are your plans for the state?
In concrete terms, we will emphasise infrastructural development from the beginning. We had to build the schools ,roads, health care system and these are the bases of governance. We have to continue building infrastructure and we also need to extend the infrastructure to productive activities. We need to attract a lot more productive activities to the state so that we can begin to create jobs for our people. We appreciate and understand that, given the challenges the country face today, we must diversify the economy and look inward. We must create economic activities and an enabling environment for investors to come and invest. We need to start to reduce our taste for foreign goods. That is the cause of lack of foreign exchange. A lot of things we used to import into the country like food, everyday living commodities, accessories , clothing will now have to be made in Nigeria because the demands still exist and the production of these goods will have to occur in states that have the basic requirement to attract investors to come and produce them. For instance, agriculture. You know we spend over 15 billion dollar in importing food that we can produce here. Now that we do not have that amount of money anymore and the demand persists; we have over 200 million people we have to feed. With 200 million hectares of lands located at the heart of the country, with the green vegetations that can support commercial agriculture. In any case, the only two quoted companies that are registered agricultural companies in Nigeria today are in Edo State.
Edo has huge potentials to attract world class investors to invest and to create jobs. But, you need a government that understands how these opportunities can be harnesses and create an enabling environment. The next thing is electricity, although it is within the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. With the IPP project, the one thousand mega watt of power in Edo State, with that amount of electricity, with good quality roads, with an improved education system, there is no reason why we will not be the first place of choice for people to come and establish businesses, particularly as we are just some miles away from Lagos, which is the major market in Nigeria.
What experience in the private sector, especially the financial sector, that has prepared you for the role?
I graduated at the age of 21 and started working as a stock broker before I was 25. The last 30 years of my life, I have been active in the areas of advising and investment, raising money for businesses and government. In the last three decades, I have had the opportunity to work with most major businesses in Nigeria. In the late 80s, when the IBB administration opened up the banking system, I worked with His Royal Highness Chief Ebiti Banigo, who was my Managing Director at the International Merchant Bank. We set up the new generation banks. From my early age, I have always dealt with investors, making the rich to understand investment opportunity. So, I have a lot of experience on the market side. But, what has happened is that I have had the privilege of being inside the government to see how they operate. That corporate experience is very rear to find in Nigeria .
The perception is that you are the governor’s anointed candidate. How do you manage this perception?
Politics is about how to create perception. So, the opponent have tried to do a great job of creating and sustaining this perception. But, that is not what it is. Governor Oshiomole did not ask me to run. I went to him after a very careful and deep in analysis of the situation of Edo State. I went to him to offer myself to run because I have been making scarifies in the last seven years, studying and understanding the needs of Edo people. I thought it will be a disservices to my people and to my God not to offer myself for service. Governor Oshiomole did not anoint me. I went to him to seek for support to run for the governor of Edo State. In his own analysis, having worked with some of the major contenders, he believes that, given what we face as a state and as a country, I poses the skills required to take Edo to the next level, having worked with others. He felt that the person that has credentials to govern Edo State, from his own analysis, should govern the state, and if he was going to support anybody, I will be the one and that does not translate to anointing. If he had anointed me, I will not in the last 15 weeks been spending my own personal resources canvassing for support and touring the length and breadth of the state. I have done that and met major party leader across the state and I am still meeting many of the potential delegates to seek their support. So, I am contesting and competing with other aspirants on the field.
What has been the response of the stakeholders to your ambition?
I have been very surprised because I didn’t believe that, 16 weeks after indicating my interest, I will be the candidate to beat. In Benin, I have nothing less than five volunteer groups. These are groups that are excited by the hope which I represent. I haven’t printed any official materials, but if you go across Edo State, it os littered with my banners and posters because my people have started campaigning for me.
What are the conditions that will guarantee a free and fair primary election?
I have not seen any indications that there will not be a free and fair elections because the official from national level will come and conduct the primary. I dp not see why the election will not be free and fair.
The PDP is saying that it will bounce back during the election by defeating the APC. What is your reaction?
The PDP a sinking party. The PDP has its own challenges and it should spend more time to ensure it’s own survival as a party, rather than talking about the government in power. At the federal and state levels, the APC has done so well. Nigerians love the party. The APC government has continued with the programme of trying to clean up the mess, which was created by the PDP. I think is it a pipe dream for anyone to imagine that the government that has done so well, that the people of the state are so happy with, that has made unprecedented changes in the state, that has saved the state from the shame unleashed by the PDP will be defeated by the PDP. For them to imagine in their wildest thought that the state will go back to the mess that was created by PDP is unthinkable.