By Sebastine Ebhuomhan
On Friday, 10th of January 2020, organized non-state actors in Edo State under the aegis of Edo State Civil Society Organizations (EDOCSOs) criticised the state government for what can at best be described as government irresponsibility to the people.
Writing under the title: The Phobia of Holding Town Hall Meeting in Edo State, the group outlined 13 grounds upon which Edo State people want to ask “critical questions” but which they are being denied now that the government has unveiled plan to hold its very first town hall meeting in Lagos.
Signed by its Public Relations Officer, Osazee Edigin, the EDOCSOs statement reminded Governor Godwin Obaseki that governance is a two-way thing, which power is held in trust for the people. It harped on the recent past when a town hall meeting in Benin City saved the planned sale of Edo Government House in Lagos by the immediate past Governor of Edo State and current National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, which government Mr Obaseki midwifed its businesses as Chairman of Economic Team.
It stated, “However, an assessment of the present government of Edo State has shown that it hasn’t deemed it necessary to interface with critical stakeholders in a town hall meeting for over three years. It came as a surprise that the very first organised town hall meeting will be holding in Lagos with Edo indigenes. While it’s not totally out of place to also meet with Edo indigenes in Lagos, it appears to be a misplaced priority in ignoring the need to interface with the Edo people at home for over three years of governance.”
“Edo people live in Lagos and pay their taxes there for the development of Lagos State while Edo people living here seems not to deserve an interface with a government they pay their taxes to?”
“We are pretty convinced that the reason the government of Edo state have refused to hold town hall meetings in Edo State is because it knows the people will ask critical questions on issues unlike the Edo-Lagiosians who may not know the true reality at home.”
The group therefore demanded as follows very important issues that need urgent and critical government response and clarification.
- Privatisation of Specialist Hospital.
- Benin Water Storm project.
- Amount received as Federal Allocation and internally generated revenue.
- Security votes and the state of insecurity in the state.
- State of tertiary institutions in Edo South.
- Revenues to EDSOGPADEC and expenditures.
- The true ownership of Edo University, Iyamho.
- SEEFOR/WORLD BANK project details.
- Edo Broadcasting Service privatisation.
- SUBEB and EDOBEST school projects.
- The Benin seaport project (Gele-gele) and the contents of the agreement with the Chinese.
- Demands to make public the contents of the various agreements/MOUs it has entered since takeover.
- Openness in the financial books of Edo state vis-à-vis audited account and financial reports of the state.
While EDOCSOs itemised a 13-point questionnaire, the list is long and inexhaustive for the ordinary man and woman struggling, suffering and trying in vain to smile daily in Edo State’s harsh economic weather.
For example, the people of Edo State would like to know the drama or crimes that allegedly led to the arrest and detention in Europe of Edo State Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs, Osaze Osemwengie-Ero, one of the government’s most respected and likeable cabinet members, who disappeared from the state for over a month now without explanation.
The people would also like to know how Mr Osemwingie-Ero came about the huge cash of USD $2 million allegedly found in his possession when he was arrested as well as what the Governor and government are doing to bring him out of the problem.
“We want a town hall meeting in Edo State. The people want to know what the government is doing and to ask critical questions,” EDOCSOs concluded.
Indeed, a circulating invitation personally signed by Governor Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki invites guests to a Town Hall Meeting scheduled for Sunday, 19th January, 2020 at Billingsway in Oregun.
It is not arguable that an elected government owes it a responsibility to give the people timely, critical and regular feedbacks.
In the words of Shawna McKnight, “When feedback is included as part of regular, ongoing performance discussions throughout the year, the employee, the manager and the organization are all better off.” Ms McKnight is Saba Software’s Customer Success Executive.
Her recommendation of feedback for better business in an organization is no less relevant for government in politics. Obaseki presented himself to Edo electorate in 2016 as a successful business technocrat.
Apart from briefing people on what the government is doing or not doing while using the opportunity to showcase purported successes, however, there is much more than meets the eyes in Edo State government’s pursuit of a townhall meeting in Lagos.
What must be known by all citizens and observers, is that there is an anticipated political gains to be made from holding a meeting (whether townhall or by any other name) in Lagos at this critical moment the state governor is confronted by internal and external rejections. It does not take a rocket science for anybody to know the great expectation is for a huge political gain.
When the Edo State All Progressives Congress (APC) faction of Governor Godwin Obaseki began deconstructing Oshiomhole’s populist politics with a view to dismantling his political structure for a total, brutal and unrestrained control of politics by Mr Obaseki in Edo State, they claimed to have studied and mastered the failed model of ex-Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in Lagos and promised to perfect its shortcomings in their own brand. But in doing so, the Governor’s commanders and foot solders tacitly but openly and disdainfully directed their searchlight with insults and shame encapsulated in the hashtag #EdoisnotLagos, to former Lagos State Governor and APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Although Obaseki’s henchmen knew Oshiomhole was going to fight back, they had wrongly believed that the influence of Mr Governor’s leadership post in the comity of Governors would eventually prevail over any stubborn resistance even as they under-estimated the former labour leader’s inspiring performance and robust relationship with Aso Rock, especially given the cordial relationship between President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Obaseki.
The first thing that jolted Obaseki’s faction into reality was Mr President’s body language of neutrality. This unsurprising stand, coupled with Oshiomhole’s ability and capability to not only hold and unite NWC and NEC together but also split the Progressive Governors Forum, shifted the balance of weight and influence to party elders and leaders, whose leadership is held by the Asiwaju and other strategists, whose ‘siddon-look’ position heaped migraine on the heads of leaders of Mr Governor’s faction.
With Asiwaju Tinubu’s coffin-nailing statement on respect for party supremacy and leadership by the NWC last week as well as the suspension of arrowheads of Obaseki’s faction this week by the NWC, the need that was always there to repair and renew friendship with former friends in Lagos but which was relegated and spurned during the needless grandstanding soon became the only option for the faction as it waits for the commencement of formal campaigns, no thanks to a dying 2nd term bid of the Governor.
The forthcoming townhall meeting in Lagos, quietly designed as an opportunity to present issues to Edo in ‘Diaspora’ is a life-saving chance to apologise and placate Asiwaju Tinubu and court his foot soldiers’ support for a new friendship ahead of Governor Obaseki’s greatest battle in his life.
How this plan or political calculation of Obaseki’s APC faction will or can work will only become clear in the fullness of time. But what is not in doubt, whatsoever, is that more members and leaders within APC’s body politics are increasingly not supportive of the Governor’s re-election bid. Worse of all for him, they are not bothered about who replaces him as much as they are, to be confronted again with another wasted four years of poverty, excuses, blames, lies, deceits, abuses, hypocrisy, backstabbing, name-calling, intrigue, nepotism, stealing, laundering, cultism, threats and violence.
So, to Tinubu’s Lagos State and gate, comes Edo State’s first townhall meeting of Obaseki’s administration for the opportunity to explain, plead, postrate, kneel and roll on the floor for the forgiveness of past sins!
Sebastine Usifo Ebhuomhan is an award winning Nigerian journalist based in Abuja. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.