On November 12, 2016, Edo State governor-elect, Mr Godwin Obaseki would be sworn in as Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s successor. In this interview, Obaseki gives Edo people a glimpse into his administration and allays their worst fears….. Excerpts
Sir, the new Oba of Benin has admonished you on several occasions to ensure you follow the footsteps of Governor Oshiomhole. How do you intend to do that and how loyal will you be to the traditional institution?
Of course, I have to be loyal, because I need the institution more than Oshiomhole in terms of my developmental plans. In the past, they came to government house, this time I will go to them and seek their advice. My goal is to bring in investment and this investment has to be located in their domain. I have to design a relationship so that they would help me create the environment, the stability and the security required for those investments to thrive. So, my relationship with them will not only be cordial but symbiotic. They are going to be active in my government, because I respect them and my expectation of the role they would play in stabilizing the polity.
But there is this fear that you may not be as generous as Oshiomhole in your dealings with people?
The truth is that Oshiomhole was generous, because oil prices were high, if oil prices go back up and I get the revenue, I will too. We have to be more prudent and we are hoping that once revenue picks up and the economy is more buoyant we’ll take care of them, they are my employers. But right now, when we are struggling to pay salaries and keep government running, it will be imprudent to borrow to satiate their needs but hopefully, the hardship will not last too long and certainly if the economy is as good as when Oshiomhole started, I will give as much. Honestly, I will do my best to satisfy our people. I don’t think there is anything to fear.
You said you would not accommodate opposition members in your cabinet. Can you elaborate?
Yes. First, we don’t have a government of national unity, we won fair and square in an election, the people spoke and it was very clear the choice they wanted. My agenda is very straightforward and different from that of the opposition, my party is very rich with people with ideas and even from the federal level down, we have an agenda, a very progressive agenda to run and I don’t see how the PDP or other party people will fit into my government. I will come up with programmes that will benefit all and they will be glad I emerged as governor rather than their own candidate.
How will you deal with PDP leaders like Anenih, Igbinedion and others?
As far as I am concerned, from the polls, it was shown that they were rejected, so I expect and hope they have read the handwriting on the wall and they will gracefully retire from politics. I heard one of them is retiring at his book launch and on that day he would declare he is retiring from politics. The handwriting is clear; they should leave the coast because they really don’t have much to offer. They have offered everything they can in this democratic dispensation. So, they should retire gracefully, they have played their part as leaders and now I think they should allow the younger ones to take over.
What will be your focus in the three senatorial districts?
The first thing is that we would complete all existing projects. There will be no abandoned project; I mean that is the hallmark of continuity but the focus is now more on economic empowerment. So, for each locality, we have identified the key economic drivers and we will create an enabling environment in terms of security, infrastructure, and manpower to support these economic activities in each of the senatorial districts. For instance, in Edo North, thanks to the limestone project that is already on ground in the Okpella axis and we will leverage on that to increase access to mining and agricultural opportunities. We have identified a few which we believe can be started-up by the first quarter of next year, ditto in Edo Central. People are waiting to see the shape of the new government before they bring their investment in specific opportunities we have identified. So, those ones will be supported. In the South, the story will not be different. The buzzword today is
Agriculture and as you will see, even from my inauguration, we are making sure that will be the starting point by inviting a lot of investors to Edo to now begin to feel comfortable coming in and taking a position economically.
Concerning Gelegele Seaport, as we speak, proposals are being considered and once I am sworn-in, we’ll setup a team to look at what has been done and what is required to attract the necessary investment. We believe that we may not have to wait on the federal government, once we can establish its viability we can get private investors to support it.
Why do you think sitting governors always fight with their predecessors?
The reason may be because they are core politicians that want to build an empire. We want to build a political empire but the good thing about Oshiomhole and myself is that we are not regular politicians. We have executed specific assignments, which are more germane. For me, my goal is not to build a political empire; I would rather build an economic empire for the benefit of my people. I just want to focus on more governance than politics. If you look at it, we are one team that came into government and we are still working together as one. We have got to share a common passion for the state and that is the key driver and given the way we have worked in the last eight years, I don’t see what will radically change today that will make us be at each other’s neck.
I would love politics to be played at Iyamho because Oshiomhole is our leader and that will give me enough space and time to work. That would be ideal, because one of the challenges of my predecessor was the need to build a party and stabilize the polity. He could have accomplished more if he had more time to deal with issues of governance. If I am fortunate enough to have people who can help me manage the polity, so that I can drive development that would be ideal. That is why we need a strong party structure where a party leader spends more time in helping to manage the polity. The governor who is the chief executive officer implements the policies of the party but if I have to spend time settling quarrels at ward levels, I won’t have time to pursue issues of governance.
How would you satiate your 200,000 jobs promise?
Yes, I am very optimistic, because we didn’t get that number from the air. There are specific activities of social transactions that we are looking at which we will begin to unveil when we get into the office. Like I said, we are fortunate that even at the federal level, there is also concern and resources are being expended to ensure that government creates enabling environment for businesses to thrive. The bulk of these jobs like I said is going to come from agriculture and mining and government is going to be very active in identifying these opportunities. I hope nothing will change too drastically from where we are today and that things can only improve.
What’s your strategy to tackle the recession?
The recession throws up opportunities, because what essentially is happening is that as a country, we are not earning enough foreign exchange to buy and import the almost $30 billion goods that we consume in this country regularly. This means that there is now a huge opportunity to produce most of those goods and services within Nigeria. This will be done in states that are well managed where investors feel their investment is safe and secure. I want to position Edo as one of those states, as one of the top three so that when investors come and they are interested in producing goods and services in Nigeria, Edo must be one of the top three they consider.
People are afraid that you may raise taxes in Edo. Should they be prepared for this?
We should distinguish between taxation and extortion because what people are complaining about is extortion and the way people get levies and fines from them. That must stop and would stop. There are only a hundred and sixty thousand people in Edo State today who pay taxes, that is the people that pay tax and the government receives. What we need to do is to expand the base so that more people pay something and make the process fairer because right now, it is not fair because only 160,000 carry the burden of the entire state. You will find out that you don’t need to increase the amount of tax people pay but just make sure that more people who are obliged to pay, so that more people shoulder the burden of our development.
What do you hope to achieve in your first 100 days?
I have a four-year term, so I am not going to benchmark myself on a traditional timeframe. There are certain short-term milestones, which we need to achieve whether in 50 or 120 days or 180 days and we will determine how realistic it is to accomplish those short-term goals and then look at the medium and longer-term work. I’m not desperate to play to the gallery and make noise I feel people want to hear. For me, the important thing is to create something that is enduring, I am not going to white-wash anything because I am so anxious to see things accomplished in a 100 days.
There are rumors that you want to appoint people from Lagos into your cabinet and abandon those who worked for the party?
I don’t have any such plans, I have been here for the last eight years and I have worked with people and I believe we have very good quality manpower. Certainly, I am not going to hire non-Edo people, so, even if they are going to come from Lagos, they are going to be Edo people.
However the emphasis is on good quality people who are representatives of where they come from in the state. So, I will be working very closely with all the political leaders in the state in determining who we select or appoint, I will consult extensively with them but whoever we appoint must be people who the political leaders are comfortable with whether they come from within or outside. Political leaders will determine whom I appoint. I am serving them and I must be loyal to all Edo people.