Straight Talk with Tony ABOLO: Oshiomhole’s Profligacy and Obaseki’s Prudence
Tony Abolo is a veteran journalist, media Consultant and teacher speaks straight on the Godwin Obaseki administration performance so far and decision to privatize some public assets of Edo State. He points out that private management patterns are not easily transferable into the public sector, among other incisive analysis of the realities and challenges that confront the Governor in government, surmising that as power belongs to the people, the people have the ideas to help the government succeed.
I thought that by and large he was methodical in starting; he was careful in trying to distinguish the challenges of the State and how he should administratively run and manage the State for his own benefits and that was what we noticed for a start.
So, you didn’t hear propaganda from him, you didn’t hear too much noise, he was not carrying himself up and down, he was ready to work and without noise, he was upgrading roads in the State and the few administrative arrangements he was making, arrangements that would produce the 200,000 jobs he talks about through the private sector; it doesn’t matter whether he said he was going to create it and people mistake it that he was going to create it directly, but whether he was doing it through the instrumentality of government policies; that was okay.
But I am sure going forward, the reality of the State and the national economy is impinging on his capacity because there was never over the years a carefully drawn out economic development pattern and plan for Edo State.
Everything has been ad- hoc; as they see the money, they use it as they like, and that was more and more what was the pattern of public financial administration in Edo State.
And he coming from a background of a private sector of finance; he was more intent on trying to see how he generates funds.
But then the debilitating fact is that if there is no structure for individual capacities; collective capacities; there is a limit to which you can draw.
How many are there in Edo State; whether public or private, very few. And how many new ones were coming up? Little to none! So, it becomes an elastic situation and I am sure he is seeing himself in a bind.
But certainly he is waking up; instead of being honest and straight forward, because the pain in this country is that Nigerian governments never engage with the people truthfully and they never tell the people what their challenges are so that they can even think for them.
Because they believe that they are government, they have all the answers, they know all the issues and they don’t and until they get humbled, and know that the energy is with the people and the people can even sympathize and assist either with ideas or finance.
So, he woke up either over promising, and the challenge is that he doesn’t have any more funds because he managed at AAU to confess that Universities are meant for learning, research and teaching and that they should find a way to begin to generate internal income because even the government itself is broke.
That was the first time he opened up. And instead of even being forth right, so that the people know that this is the challenge before them, because all along people have been spoilt by the monthly rental collection from Abuja.
So when you collect that money; you spread it, but how much was invested in the people and in the State because this is where the issue of development is.
If you invest in the people and the people have capacity, it may take some while but eventually they will now have money that you can crop up and say oh, this is tax, this is levy.
But if you didn’t invest in the people, for how many years; nobody has invested in the people so what is there to reap years after, nothing.
Then we ran a very scandalous Oshiomhole government, very scandalous one because it was profligacy; money shared up and down. That is the reason you now see him say; don’t come to the government House, don’t bother me, everybody just think carefully so let me know what I am managing.
That is why he is been prudent about expenditure. So he now finds that he is before the reality and while he has done a few smart things, there are few things he is not going to really, really do.
And the challenge is; he generated a very large bureaucracy; special assistants, senior special assistants, special advisers; it is all massive bureaucracy.
I don’t know why he will even choose that pattern knowing the limited resources of the State. But again maybe he is playing politics so he now says when he does that, there is job for the boys and everybody will be off his neck, or maybe they told him; create structures and that is the way to create structures.
But you create structures; like they say in Africa, you grow big teeth; you must grow big lip to cover it. So he is growing big teeth, I don’t know how he is going to cover it and that is where the challenge is.
He promised that he was going to re – organize and clean up the urban traffic. How is he going to create the garages? It is going to cost a lot of money and I don’t know where people get all these fake ideas.
Just like Trump is talking about fake news; there is fake ideas going up and down the whole place. We are not Lagos; Edo State doesn’t have the history of a long number of years having money poured into the State.
So, there is no such a base. Lagos for example can generate monthly, thirty something billions and in a year, you know how much that is. So where does Edo State stand? Little to nothing.
So, he can’t build the garages because it is going to cost him a lot of money, meanwhile people are going up and down the whole place trekking around the Ring Road in the rain and in the sun, and I am not sure the people are enjoying themselves.
So, if that is what is about to happen, then he must as well be honest and prudent about it.
Now, he has abandoned Edo Line; rather than pay the bill, he takes the members of staff into the ministry. Are you not solving a problem by creating a problem? And to me that is imponderable because this is even an error coming from a private sector.
America even today, has woken up to the reality that private sector management patterns are not easily transferable into the public sector.
So no matter how clever you think you are, if you try it, it will break you because by and large, if you divide public sector, nearly three quarter of what you are going to do is social service delivery which means the people collectively must pay for it and very little is going to be economic service delivery.
Now you have to work out the percentage and the ratio; how are you going to do it. So, I am sure he is now up against the wall and so he is saying he wants to privatize the fake hospital Oshiomhole built because it is fake; he used so much money, and now he wants to privatize it.
Of course, we love to understand how he is going to privatize it. Is he going to say first floor; dental surgeons in Edo State should take first floor, second floor, those opticians should take second floor, how is he going to privatize it?
What is the privatization maybe hand it over to St. Nicholas in Lagos to come run it? Because they gave us this wonderful utopia idea that people will no longer go abroad; that was the lie Oshiomhole gave which never materialize, then he brought Buhari to come launch a fake hospital, then at the end when Buhari himself is sick, he couldn’t come to his fake hospital for treatment, he fled to the real hospital to tell you how fake the whole thing is.
Then he now says he is privatizing the media. Maybe because media is my area, I can understand part of it but then again, there is this side of it. Has the media grown the business of the State? Because there is a link between the media and State development or national development.
In what way has the media of Edo State grown the economy of Edo State so that in return the State will now be able to begin to bring advertising revenue to Observer, and to Edo Broadcasting Service [EBS]; no way.
You see all the failures of over 40 years is now catching up with what he is about to do. So with all the best of intentions, I just don’t know how he is going to swim out of it, and meanwhile, the Federal in – take is getting less and less, excepting this new fake arrangement of bringing Paris Refund to States.
So if every day they bring tranches; I don’t even know how they suddenly began to calculate this refund, whether that is the only way they want to be funding the States, meanwhile, we are trying to go into constitutional review, by the time you are going into it and you are talking about revenue allocation and you are re – adjusting, it means everybody must come back to the drawing board and begin to re – think what is the new way.
A State that has not for 40 years grown the local economy and the Government wants to be using private sector approach to do it, and the peoples’ capacity to even pay taxes and revenue to hand over to government is getting smaller and smaller, I don’t know how he is going to do it, but in my own; call it a theoretic mind, I want to give him the benefit of doubt, let us hope that he knows what he wants to do.
But even at that, I would rather that he comes clean, talks to the public and let us all dialogue and engage and let be a peoples project to recover Edo State.
It is not an Obaseki wonderful capacity to be able to do it. One man doesn’t do it, you need everybody.
So when we all sit down; oh why don’t you do it this way, why don’ t we begin to contribute this way, that is how we will do it and get it off.
But if he is only going to be sitting down inside Osadebay Avenue and begin to generate small, small ideas that they think are fanciful, they will not address the problems because the problems are monumental.
Edo State is said to be about five million people; how many people are employed, so if the employment base is very small where is the fund going to come from by taxation or by levy or how?
I would rather recommend that he engages the people in a serious town hall meeting; think – tanks of all sorts of types, think – tanks in all sorts of areas about how do we recover the State and make it a competitive State despite all the failings of the years which has nothing to do with him because he met the problems. It is possible to recover a State.
The last thing I will like to say is that using Edo line as example which they have jettisoned in a wrong way. Even in the private sector, a business may fail but people have strategy of recovering a failed business.
This is how today we talk about Access Bank. It bought into those banks that failed, collected them and recovered them, and today, Access bank is one of the tier – one bank in Nigeria.
So if he comes from the private sector, let him call up those skills of asset recovering, assets growth, development patterns; those kind of things that are fanciful in the books; and this is the time to put theory into practice and then see how you get it.
And even again, I see them buying new buses; I don’t know whether it is called Edo Line or Edo City Transport or whatever it is, by what I know in public financial administration; you don’t do for people what they can do for themselves.
It is one of those principles in public financial administration. Therefore, Edo State has too many buses; keke Napep, tuke – tuke, motor – cycle; what do you want to do for them that they can’t do for themselves, then you buy more buses, then what do you think you want to prove; nothing!
The people can carry themselves up and down. Because nobody has ever sat down and asked themselves must the public or what they call it; comrade buses or they were initially called Oyegun buses or the people have forgotten, now they are called comrade buses and I hope they are going to be called Obaseki buses.
Whatever name of buses you want to call them, I tell you frankly, this is the challenge; are they profitable? Must the public keep running those buses? Can’t you see if you come near Ezoti Street, too many buses locked up, they can’t move anywhere?
Which means, there are enough buses to cover the City; find a way by which you deploy them even as a private ownership buses in a way that you are now organizing urban traffic in such a way that all those buses are busy covering different routes in Benin City and beyond such that people are moving up and down to transact their businesses and at the end when they are making money, they are even the ready cheapest way by which Government can raise money.
You bring your scratch card, and eat your free money that is coming from investment of individuals who bought these buses and taxes and you have enough money to do one or two things that you want to do.
And then you now begin to re – plan Edo State. They said he went to China, they said other people are coming; maybe it is the micro environment of Nigeria that is preventing people from coming.
Otherwise, we will soon do one year, and it is the same story of; I will, I will. I will for one year, the people are getting hungrier and hungrier and more jobless. Abi na so we go dey dey?
So, that is the challenge he has. Therefore let Government be humble and know that the power is still with the people, the ideas are still with the people and we can help them succeed.