I owe it to my leaders and to the people of Edo State, who put me in office, to explain what we (my administration) have tried to accomplish in the last 107 days after you gave us the responsibility of providing leadership for our state.
My mandate is clear; you gave it to me on a progressive platform – so our agenda is a progressive one; a people-oriented one in which we agreed to pursue policies that will help improve the lives of our people.
We promised to provide a minimum of 200,000 jobs within four years of our administration because we realised that employment constitutes one of the state’s most daunting challenges.
I promised to do all that is within this government’s power to focus on the economy and improve it to ensure that we lift our people’s living standard to where it should be.
I also promised, if you recall, strengthening our party, making it supreme, and separating governance from politics.
In addition, I promised that, as governor, I would ensure that we have peace and stability, without which we cannot have economic growth and political development.
We were sworn in on Saturday, November 12 and on Monday November 14th, when we started work, after meetings with the permanent secretaries to understand the state of affairs, our first assignment was to the Benin Technical College.
This was deliberate – if we promised to create 200,000 jobs, then we had to identify how to go about it. We wanted to send out a clear signal that institutions for training people to acquire skills would be our first priority.
Thankfully, it went viral. People applauded the move because they could perceive its importance. Since then, we have done a lot more. As recently as last week, we went out to tender a new design for that school, which does not only include rebuilding the school itself, but encompasses plans for creating an industrial park around the school where students can go and work and acquire more knowledge in their various practices.
One of the earliest things we did was to create a consensus around key issues we campaigned on. Therefore, we had a retreat where we invited some of the leaders and officials of the party, some members of opposition parties, civil servants, traditional and religious rulers. It was a consensus meeting held in sessions, and we came up with a six-point plan on how we wanted to proceed with our administration. We have since gone ahead to focus on each of those elements.
The first was agriculture. As a basis for our economic growth, we had another workshop where we brought over 70 investors in agriculture from outside the state. We have been able to set up an Agric ad hoc committee led by Chief Osaro Idah.
We are preparing about 5000 hectares of land and we expect to get about 200 or more people to invest. We are making arrangements for over 25,000 metric tonnes of maize this season and we are hoping to get more than 200 of our young men and women to go into profitable agriculture as a business.
We also listened to the yearnings of our people. One of the issues the opposition raised during my campaign was what they referred to as ‘double taxation’. We quickly tried to understand what was going on, and found that there were all sorts of people collecting levies and fines on the streets and the money was not coming to the government’s coffers.
Therefore, in my New Year broadcast, I made it very clear that we were not going to accept that situation anymore and we banned the collection of government revenues by non-state actors – that action received a lot of applause from members of the public.
We have also been able to negotiate with some of our contractors, and I am pleased to inform you that we have rehabilitated more than 45 roads within the Benin metropolis. This is in addition to completing those inherited from the previous administration under the SEEFOR programme. We have flagged off the Agbede-Awain road in Edo North. Last week we were in Igueben, where we inspected and met with engineers on how best we could construct the Amarhor–Ogua road.
We have started something we believe will be revolutionary in Nigeria; that is the use of concrete to construct roads. Working with AG Dangote, we have commenced direct labour on a high brand road, called Nevis Street in Benin City, which connects Lagos Street with Idahosa Street, Mission road and Forestry road. We are monitoring the cost and we believe that once we get it right, we can roll out massive road reconstruction across all our major cities in the state.
One remarkable achievement that we have made, which may have gone unnoticed is the issue of electricity. During Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s tenure, six years ago, we had worked with some investors to build the Azura Power Plant, which is currently under construction. It is one of the most highly rated finance projects in the African continent today and they are ahead of schedule. That plant will be completed before the end of next year and it will produce 450 megawatts of electricity.
We have also located another investor around Ologbo and a purchase agreement has been finalised for an initial 5 megawatts of power. Once we do that, within the next first four to five months, we should be able to generate about 5 megawatts at Ring Road to power all government buildings and all our street lights in the city. Once we do that, it will be very significant because it will be the second place, after Lagos state that this has happened, and even then, the cost is economic.
Once we generate the 5 megawatts at Ring Road, we can generate another 5 megawatts at an industrial park in Sapele Road, and so even before Azura gets ready, we will be able to attract many people to come and use the ready electricity in Edo to set up factories and production centres.
Because of the progress we have made in electricity, Siemens, a German company has indicated interest in working with Edo State government. They have signed MoU with us not only to train our young men and women in electricity, but also to collaborate with us and generate an additional 1000 megawatts of power in Edo state.
We have been very passionate about education, because we believe that the only way we can create 200,000 jobs is to train our people to be ready for work. Hence, the initiative behind the Benin technical college.
We inspected the School of Nursing and School for Health Technology to confirm their states and we are now completing a redesign of the nursing school. We are also trying to reaccredit those schools to make sure that we have higher standards than the national average so that those schools become places to train quality labour.
Another significant achievement we have made in education is getting approval for the Tayo Akpata University of Education. I am pleased to inform you that the Nigerian University Commission, with the active support of the Chairman of Council has given approval for the university to commence operation.
We have set up a committee that is currently working and we are looking at the designs so that we can put in place the infrastructure required before they open in September this year. Consequently, we are moving the students registered at the College of Education, Ekiadolor to the College of Education in Igueben. Therefore, we have visited the college at Igueben, and we are working on the master plan and putting money in the budget to expand the school so that it can accommodate the students from Ekiadolor.
Meanwhile, we have commenced paying the salary arrears of lecturers in both schools. We have set up a forensic audit on SUBEB because a case came up. The report has been submitted and we are working on it. By next week, we will make payment for all the jobs that have been completed by SUBEB, clean up the mess in there and apply for funding for this year so that before June, we should get the funding and award new sets of contracts for the balance of the junior secondary schools that we have not completed.
On administration, we have commenced the Contributory Pension Scheme in Edo state. For us, this is significant because without commencing the scheme, we will not be able to draw the line to ensure that we begin to deal with the challenge in pension administration.
From January this year, Edo State Government adopted the Contributory Pension Scheme, which means that we are not going to have any pension liability in future save those who will retire under five years. We can now deal with all the issues of outstanding pension that have accumulated up to that date. We believe that is significant and we could finally end the pension problems in the state.
The House of Assembly has also been supportive. We have sent a couple of bills to the house. They passed our 2017 appropriation bill in record time. In less than a month, they worked on the bill, we are grateful. In addition, they also helped us to finalise a bill to harmonise all rates and levies in the local governments because part of the challenge is that we never had one law stipulating what local governments should collect for services, so everyone did as they liked and appointed whoever they liked to collect taxes and levies.
However, with this law, people who do otherwise will be penalised. They have also helped us with the amendment bill of the Tayo Akpata University of education so that it will meet conditions for approval.
Additionally, they are also working on a very important bill, which will criminalise activities of CDAs. This was one of the key concerns of Oba Ewuare II during his coronation. We came up with a bill, which has passed second reading and which should be adopted into law very quickly. We have the enforcement mechanism already put in place to ensure that we introduce law and order.
We are concluding the first phase of the GIS in planning land administration in Edo state. This phase covers about 2000km radius in Benin to capture a high quality picture of the terrain, so that we can create maps. More importantly, with this GIS we can begin to reissue C of Os within 30 days, drop the cost of C of O, and ensure that we help the process of land administration and make this place more attractive for investors.
These are some of the modest achievements made in the last 100 days; but we will not be able to end it without mentioning the advanced work of the committee working on Gelegele seaport.
There is a technical team, which has surveyed the river, and has found an interesting location to locate the port. God has truly blessed us as a people; there are two large prolific gas fields close to that location. I got this information from the companies working there. They are starting to drill in one of the locations. Drilling is also expected to commence in the other location, which means that the amount of gas they will get there will be able to generate more than 1000 megawatts of power for 20 years.
We went to China, and we are optimistic that that axis will be a major industrial hub for this country. I want to thank you and I know that all of this wouldn’t had been possible if you did not accept my request that you give me the first few months to be able to sit down and plan and think about where to take this government to.
I am indeed grateful and I want to assure you that all we are doing is to help remove the pressure from you. We understand the pains, the difficulties people are facing, but the only way out is for us to change the paradigm to ensure that we create new areas of economic growth.
I want to assure you that I went round; I cannot say, as people claim, that I am not a politician – some of my statements have been misconstrued – maybe I am a technical politician because my politics is a bit more technical. That is why as we look at the political landscape, what we want to do is to try to place some order so that we can understand where we are at any point in time, and so that we can assist the political process and our political leaders.
I had a conversation with the party secretary this morning, which left me a bit worried. As we go out every day, we are looking for opportunities – we have sent people round the state, they will be located to try to register people who do not have jobs so that we can have a major database and therefore know how to begin to plan.
However, two weeks ago, the Industrial Training Fund came and we agreed to partner with them to give vocational and ICT training. We sent out to leaders across the wards and, of 450 that they requested we were only able to get 280 – for me that was worrisome. How can we say we have a problem of unemployment and of training our youths when we cannot even get them to train? I believe that as I have always argued, we have to use the party to govern and we will like to work with all of you and ensure that we are in touch with all of you so that when things come up, we can reach you.
With the signal we have sent out to the world, people have realised that Edo is the place to do business. Yesterday, we had a major international investor that flew in with his private jet and I had to take him to Illushi. He is one of the major exporters of banana. He said he heard that Edo’s soil is good for agricultural purposes and that he wants to do tissue culture. He has 6 million tissue culture of banana that he wants to grow for export into Europe. I had to spend all Sunday going around with him. On Wednesday, the National Investment Sovereign Wealth Fund is coming with major investors from South Africa. These people have 25 to 50 million dollars to spend to cultivate rice in places like Edo.
Since we have these opportunities, nothing will gladden my heart more than ensuring that as this people come in, I have people I know and people I have worked with, who are my political leaders that I can now collaborate with them to achieve the desired goals.
I want to thank you again.
By Governor Godwin Obaseki, Executive Governor, Edo State, Nigeria