Issues in Obaseki’s reform agenda
KUNLE ODEREMI and LAOLU HAROLDS examine some issues affecting the administration of the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, against the background of the rising tempo of horse-trading ahead the 2020 governorship poll in the state.
WITH the elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states over, two off-season governorship polls are scheduled for the incoming year. The states are Edo and Ondo, where the incumbents are seeking a second term bid. The incumbents are already taking stock of their stewardship, just as other governorship hopefuls begin to gird their loins ahead of the release of the election timetable by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The governorship election in Edo State will come first as the previous exercise took place on September 18, 2016, and that of the Ondo was held on November 27, 2016. As the contenders jostle, the question is to what extent have the incumbents delivered on their promises during the campaign? For Edo, the horse-trading is pulsating as Governor Godwin Obaseki showcases his achievements based on the social contract he signed with the people. Dubbed Mr Come and See, Obaseki has placed premium on human capital development by embarking on holistic reforms.
According to the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), African countries need between US$130 and $170 billion a year (with a financing gap in the range of $67.6 to $107.5 billion) to overcome their infrastructure deficit. Obaseki, an investment banker, has taken serious pragmatic measures that have endeared the state to international development institutions and investors. Thus, his expertise has facilitated the mobilisation of funding and siting of the Edo-Azura Power project in the state, with the World Bank Group, Siemens, Julius Berger, among others, on board. Apart from the Edo-Azura supplying power to the national grid, its presence has led to a domino effect drawing more power companies to the state.
With urban renewal as one of his key development thrusts, Obaseki has embarked on massive construction of roads, reclaiming of gully erosion sites, parks and restoring sanity to public places across the state. It was because of the unprecedented urban renewal projects that the people gave him the sobriquet ‘Wake and See Governor’, ostensibly in appreciation of his unique leadership style that abhors unnecessary fanfare. The road construction projects cut across parts of the state and are being spearheaded by the Ministry of Infrastructure, State Employment and Expenditure for Results (SEEFOR) and SEEFOR Plus, the government-funded scheme modeled after the World Bank-funded project. The major roads that have either been completed or receiving attention include: St. Saviour’s Road, Ugbor-Amagba Road, Lucky Way, Ehaekpen-TV Road, Ikiran-Oke-Ikakhumoh Road, Benin-Abraka Road (the longest road project ever constructed by the state government), Agbede-Awain Road, Uzebba-Okpuje-Akagbor Road, Irhirhi-Aruogba-Obazagbon-Obagienevbosa, among others. In short, many say the spate of road construction being witnessed can only be compared to what obtained in the Old Bendel State, as most of the roads were last worked on 40 years ago.
Civil service reforms
Top among Governor Obaseki’s reform agenda is the building of human capacity towards achieving enhanced productivity and growth. This informed the decision to re-train civil servants for efficiency, and through a partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the state government is retooling the state’s workforce for effective service delivery. In line with its efforts to ensure that no civil servant is redundant, the state government conducts regular training for civil servants with a focus to make them better at their jobs. The government has also undertaken to redesign offices and build a training school that would provide institutional support for the plan to ensure that workers are brought up to speed with current developments in their areas of expertise. The government has equally built judges’ quarters to ensure that the welfare of members of the top brass of the judiciary is well catered for. The pension reforms in the state have also helped in clearing the backlog of pension arrears accumulated for almost 20 years before the current administration.
A major aspect of the governor’s infrastructure drive is the renovation of public schools across the state, expected to complement investment in human capital development. Schools, including conventional and technical institutions of learning, are being remodeled to reflect the governor’s commitment to build infrastructure in the quest to revive the state’s industrial sector. The Government Science and Technical College is being remodeled to be become a centre of excellence in technical education. With its new state-of-the-art twin blocks, the school has resumed for a new academic session, while the state government has recruited new science and technology teachers to ensure that the school is top-rate. Work on the old buildings is already underway. The target, according to the government, is to have an institution that would serve as the grooming ground for best-in-town technical experts, who will receive training and certification that would be recognized in any part of the world. Governor Obaseki said the GSTC will host a production hub to spur industrialisation in the axis, noting that the hub will serve as a location for design and production of machines so as to create opportunities for students to work with those in the industry and translate what they learn to the real world. The governor said the government was in talks with foreign partners for exchange programmes which will make provision for experts to train teachers on technical subjects. “We need more teachers that can teach technical subjects and we need to train them. We are considering different options as we are talking to foreign partners to provide technical support and assistance on how to bring people who have done this before to accelerate the training of our teachers,” he said.
For tertiary education, the government has placed premium on revamping the institutions to become more forward-looking. The affected institutions include the College of Education, Abudu; Edo State Polytechnic, Usen and Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma. The College of Education, Abudu campus used to be the defunct Provincial Teachers Training College that later transformed to the orientation camp for National Youth Service Corps scheme. An equipped computer laboratory powered with solar energy has been completed, among other buildings have been completed at the campus. Governor Obaseki had last year said the state would now have one College of Education and three schools instead of having three different colleges.
As part of the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (Edo-BEST) programme, the state government is renovating schools across the state to ensure that the schools are conducive for learning. Over 230 schools are being remodeled as part of the commitment to provide conducive learning environment for pupils in the state, a major pillar of the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EDOBEST) programme. The state government is keen on ensuring faith is restored to the public school system in the state, which is being achieved through improved teaching and learning methods, and provision of a conducive environment for teachers and their pupils.
The world is paying attention to education reforms in Edo State. In a recently published commentary on its website, the World Economic Forum (WEF) applauded the Edo State Basic Education Sector Transformation (Edo-BEST) initiative for improving learning outcomes among pupils in primary schools across the state and described Obaseki as a trailblazer who is “quickly and dramatically lifting the quality of government schools and upskilling teachers in his low-income state.” According to the WEF, “education experts around the world and across Africa in particular are paying close attention to Edo-BEST, and has become a beacon of light to other education ministries because it is improving learning for marginalised children and upskilling both novice and experienced teachers at scale, within existing state budgets and without western aid.” The World Bank and the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) have also highlighted EdoBEST as a crucial programme that can be a template for transforming education in educationally disadvantaged societies. Last September, the World Bank Group organised a side-event at the UNGA summit in New York to discuss Edo-BEST. The Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) also estowed Obaseki with the Best Performing Governor award in recognition of his education reforms, success of the Edo-BEST programme and his prioritisation of teachers’ welfare in the state.
What is EdoBEST?
Nigeria has some of the highest numbers of out-of-school children in the world. A number of official estimates conclude that 11 million Nigerian boys and girls are not in school. The education crisis is partly an issue of access, but it is also one of quality and transformation at scale, which has historically seemed beyond reach. To counter this trend and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all), Governor Obaseki created the Edo-BEST programme. What the programme does is to rebuild school infrastructure and equip teachers and administrators to become better purveyors of knowledge using technology. It is a comprehensive programme aimed to develop state education across five pillars of work: governance, teachers’ training and development, community partnerships, infrastructure, and the local education board. To roll out the programme in three local government areas of the state, the government pooled funds from the Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Areas Development Commission. As at September 2019, under the auspices of Edo-Best, over 8,700 teachers had been trained and equipped with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) devices for improved learning outcomes, which have positively impacted over 150,000 school children in the state.
Also, over 234 schools are being reconstructed with 7094 computer tablets distributed to teachers and head teachers and 11688 School-Based Management Committee (SBMC) members have been trained to help in administering and maintaining public education facilities. “In Edo State we decided to dedicate ourselves to not just building classes but to go to the foundation of education,” Obaseki said. “And you’ve got to think of education strategically to realise that what is most important is the foundation-that is basic education. What we have done in Edo in the last one and a half years is to first prioritise basic education and technical education. Basic education from the perspective of encouraging teachers, making sure we are able to deploy technology to determine and tell when a teacher is in class. I can tell from my office today when a teacher is in class. If a teacher is not in class, then the teacher hasn’t signed into the platform. Once a teacher is signed in, the lesson note for that day will be loaded into the teacher’s tablet. And we’ve trained teachers to understand how to use the tablets and the technology to teach the children.”
Edo innovation hub
The hub is a cluster for technology innovators and inventors set up by the Governor Obaseki’s government to strengthen the state’s nascent technology innovation scene. The hub was commissioned on June 14th, 2018 by the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and hosts the South-South Innovation Hub, a regional cluster for technology entrepreneurs in the Niger Delta. Tagged Edo Innovates, it provides a range of beginner, intermediate and advanced training in business and technology innovation, providing youths the opportunity to learn a wide array of employability and entrepreneurial skills. Specifically, some of the offerings at the hub include digital skills, business support services, start-up incubation and business acceleration, mentorship, co-working spaces, and entrepreneurship training. More than 1000 youths have been trained at the facility since inception, with not less than a quarter of them being females. Some of the organisations with presence at the hub include Microsoft, Tech4Dev, LinkedIn, Curators University, Hotels.NG, Siemen’s Impact Hub, Makers Academy, and the Pan Atlantic University’s Enterprise Development Centre, among others. The hub has recently proven to be a resource center for the state’s government plans to build an internationally competitive locally-trained labour force in partnership with reputable organisations working to mitigate the menace of human trafficking and illegal migration. This has attracted investment from the World Bank-assisted State Employment and Expenditure for Results project (SEEFOR) Project, United Kingdom (UK) the Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE), a number of Chinese companies, among others, at the hub.
War on human trafficking
One of the biggest tasks before the state government is the challenge of human trafficking and illegal migration, and the Governor Godwin Obaseki-led administration has faced it head-on. When he came into office, he set to work by employing a mix approach of engagement and dialogue across to get the necessary stakeholders on board. With this, the state was able to set up the Edo Taskforce Against Human Trafficking (ETAHT), empowered by the Edo State Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Law. The law was a landmark feat to give legal backing to the fight against human trafficking in the state. With such commitment, the governor has appealed to different bilateral organisation, particularly those from countries that suffer migrant crisis to invest in opportunities of building institutions and infrastructure that will complement the state government’s efforts in engaging and empowering youths in the state. This has attracted a lot of attention to the state, much of which was predicated on the state government’s sincere and decisive stance against human trafficking and illegal migration. To further buttress the government’s campaign, the Benin Monarch, His Royal Majesty, Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, threw his weight behind the campaign by placing curses on traditional medicine men that administer oaths on victims of human trafficking, urging everyone involved in the diabolical practice of human trafficking to desist from it henceforth.
Edo production centre
The centre is a novel initiative to drive industrialisation in Edo State. It is a facility that provides Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and artisans with 24-hour electricity, business support, market development and industry linkage opportunities. It currently serves as a mini-replica of the big businesses and diverse industries expected at the Benin Enterprise and Industrial Park. It is fitted with 500KV transformers, which are connected to the 33KV line in the area. It will have 1.2MW of power at the onset, which will eventually be expanded to 4MW to power heavy machines to be run at the facility. The Edo Production Centre is fitted with factory space, security and office space and will provide live-in desks for relevant government agencies to engage, support and provide services to small businesses. The agencies to be hosted at the facility are the Bank of Industry (BoI), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Edo Internal Revenue Service (EIRS), among others. The centre aggregates different manufacturers, including welders, metal and fabrication companies, polythene makers, printers, woodwork experts, recyclers, footware makers, among others.
Benin enterprise and industrial park
The park is a $200 billion park complex to be sited in Iyanomo axis of Benin City, in Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area. The Federal Government through the Ministry of Environment is currently conducting the Social and Environmental Impact Assessment for the project. The proposed project will involve development of industrial processing and non-processing zones, which include automobile zone, construction and building materials zone, mineral zone, agro and food processing zone, amongst others. The project will be provided with state-of-the-art infrastructure such as site grading roads, power, water, communications, drainages, sewage treatment plant, effluent treatment plant, storm water drains on a total land take of 996.72 hectares.