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Selfless leadership: the Obaseki example

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Obaseki presents N177.6bn budget proposal for 2020
Obaseki presents N177.6bn budget proposal for 2020

For anyone who grew up or has lived in Benin City, in the last 40 years, two imposing derelict structures within the space of the Benin Civil Service Secretariat could not have gone unnoticed. Most of us grew up seeing these abandoned, but imposing behemoths and wondered why they had been left in such a state for so long. The response to such queries about the buildings were never really consistent. But as we grew older and came to understand the workings of government in this part of the world, one gleaned that such practices were not uncommon because although government is supposed to be a continuum, projects initiated by previous administrations that were not completed were, sadly, usually abandoned. This was true especially for building projects as against road constructions.

The reasons the situation prevailed remain speculative at best. Most of it can be traced back to a general lack of incentive for a new administration to continue with such projects. In some cases, the contractors, working in cahoots with corrupt officials and civil servants from the previous administrations would have been paid most, if not all, of the contract sums to complete the project. Such situations should naturally have led to the probing and subsequent prosecution of such contracts/contractors and all those complicit in the process, but this was hardly ever the case. Rather, the projects remained abandoned.

Another reason largely responsible for the abandonment of such projects was the lack of kickback for the new administration. Kickbacks for government officials are usually collected upfront. So a new administration, for the lack of kickbacks which remained a sine qua non, would see no need to continue with such a project but would rather initiate its own and collect kickbacks upfront on terms they fix with their own contractors. Consequent on this, the vicious circle of unfinished projects and initiation of new ones repeat itself in every government. There was also the situation where some of the abandoned projects became fodder for boondoggle. They were continuously awarded and re-awarded for political patronage and relevant documentations regarding such awards always seemed to get lost in the fray.

Lastly but certainly not the least of these reasons is the egoistic nature of man, most especially among our leaders. Every president or governor, as in this case, wants to originate and complete their own projects within their tenures. The need for these projects to be remembered after them always seem to supersede doing the right thing and resolving whatever issues existed around and continuing with old uncompleted projects. Whatever the reason was, one thing remained clear and constant – the real loser was the taxpayer, the common-man who would have gotten value for the monies that had been expended on the abandoned projects through the years.

This situation was and remains ubiquitous in Nigeria and all its states, including the Federal Capital Territory. Edo State was no different either. Uncompleted and abandoned projects such as the Secretariat Buildings, the Edo State Fertilizer and Chemical Company Limited, Benin Technical College now Government Science and Technical College (GSTC), Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) now Edo Innovates Hub and Edo Wharehouse/Workshop now Edo Production Centre, just to name a few, lay as wastelands and derelict, adding little or no value to the people.

So they remained until the man Obaseki came. The technocrat who would brook no form of wastage but is always seeking ways to add value to the system and apply spigots to leakages.

It is no secret what the Governor Obaseki-led administration has done with these hitherto abandoned projects and parastatal buildings. The Secretariat buildings have been transformed into the envy of civil servants nationwide. Edo State civil servants now work in an environment that promotes productivity and efficiency. These structures are of world-class standard and can complete with all the offerings of a 21st Century workplace. The Edo State Fertilizer and Chemical Company Limited has been refurbished for over two years and is now operating at full tilt and delivering much needed fertiliser to agriprenuers in the state resulting in an unprecedented uptick in agricultural produce.

Today, the new Government Science and Technical College (GSTC) stands where the Benin Technical College (BTC) was. What happened here can only be described as a transmogrification as even those who are aware that it was formerly BTC still hesitate to accept the new reality. The new college is equipped and poised to churn out graduands who can compete favourably with colleagues from any part of the world not just in the Industrialised Edo state that is hardly chimerical anymore but becoming a reality before us but also the world over.

With almost ninety per cent of work done, the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium stands ready to host the 2020 edition of the Nigeria Sports Festival. Upon completion, the stadium will be the first in Nigeria equipped with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology, already being used in Football matches in developed countries.

Same can be said of both the Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) now Edo Innovates Hub and the Edo Wharehouse/Workshop now Edo Production Centre. The Edo Innovates Hub has since its inception, over two years ago, trained over 5000 Edo youths on ICT skills; equipping them with the much-needed skill-sets to be competitive in an ever evolving digital market-space. Today, some of these trainees are offering their services to clients from all parts of the world and earning income in foreign currency. The Edo Production Centre hosts entrepreneurs within the state, who because all other amenities necessary for them to produce have been provided for them within the centre, are able to focus on the core of their businesses, with a resultant boost in output.

In all, Edo State under the leadership of Governor Obaseki is undergoing a renaissance of sorts that all well-meaning Edo indigenes and residents should be proud of and join hands to sustain. Posterity will not necessarily remember him with most of these projects. It will never be said that he built the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium or the Government Science and Technical College. Nor will it ever be said that Governor Obaseki built the secretariat buildings. This notwithstanding, the Governor jettisoned whatever credit would have accrued to him personally by embarking on new projects but rather put the people first and gave them value for all the monies that had hitherto been pumped into these abandoned projects. And by this, Obaseki has once again distinguished himself as a different brand, one of the ilk that is truly scarce amongst leaders in this part of the world. Governor Godwin Obaseki has truly applied selflessness to leadership.

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