Simple lessons from impending Edo poll

Inec
We may have exhausted the literary evidence of much of the chances of extending our knowledge of the imperial greatness of the ancient Benin Kingdom. It is, however, unlikely that our study of the exploits or achievements of contemporary states or kingdoms will do much to modify the ornate narrative we have of the dynamic, politically-astute and economically prosperous entity. Infinitely rich in manufactured articles in copper, tin, silver, brass, glass; and flourishing in arts, crafts and forest resources, exporting vast cargoes of ivory, as well as tortoise shell and rhinoceros horn, Benin Kingdom was a great industrial/commercial hub.

The nature of the exports and imports indicates a considerable high level of culture among the people especially among the native Binis and between them and their vassals, neighbours or trading partners. Much, if not all, of what is Edo and Delta states today was comprised within the vast geographic expanse that was Benin Kingdom. The kingdom engaged in or waged many military campaigns, much of which were successful even as she was understandably exhausted by alternate periods of dominance and of loss of territories in her wars. The severe destruction inflicted on the kingdom during the British expedition brought untold economic difficulties even as “culture decayed and the efficiency of the kingdom [was] terminated.”

This is the background to today’s prostrate economic, social and cultural situation of Edo State – the hard core of that historic wonderland. Benin City, its capital and nerve centre, is paradoxically less of a city and little more than a vast expanse of un-planned or wildly-growing human settlement. Expectedly, our kind or style of governance has by its sheer desultoriness or cant cast a pall or a thick dark cloud on the atmosphere and on the innate effervescence or proverbial industry of the people even as government after government have become more and more insular and dismissive of progressive affairs, events or achievements in other climes. The people are taken for granted and not as the epicentre or raison d’etre of development. Edo State has been sliding down the slope as a result of wrong-headed policies manifesting in un-sustainable development, un-fundable programmes and hard-worn or un-innovative proposals. As if bogged down by some impish or implacable imprecation, the state has just been waffling on or plodding along like an unwilling horse. Nothing seems to work. The epic or mellifluous eras of the Samuel Ogbemudia and Ambrose Alli interlude have been rendered un-important or un-celebrable. What with a long line of successive, in-appropriate or in-effective leaders of government business!

There is in Edo State a fitting paradox exemplified in the friction-less co-habitation of a fiercely oppositional relationship between the mythical or mystical regime of a living culture of gnomes, goblins, demons, adzen, orisha, etc. and the empirical or replicable acts of the individual or of government. There is a resolution or reconciliation of all oppositions. The state has become identical, in the public imagination, with the deities, their mystical mediums, their contemporary incarnation, the grim, petrifying horrors of their reality and the solid myths respecting their idiosyncracies, rituals, magic, charms, sorcery, incantations, metaphysics, the occult, etc. Edo State may well be competing for honours or for the first place position with Ogun State as the cultural headquarters of our pre-scientific past going by her jealous or pristine preservation of the culture, mores, attitudes and habits of our pantheon of gods and goddesses, their formal worship or adulation and their true or sincere veneration.

The institutional environment made possible by government regulatory administrative and legal framework within which businesses, firms and individuals interface to generate wealth or income for the economy requires proper or skilful management of public finances and high-quality management advisors. Inept or inefficient management imposes significant economic and social costs on the business environment [and even on the business of governance] and delays the process of rapid economic and social development. The metaphor of a round peg in a round hole is particularly appropriate for making efficiency the cornerstone or benchmark of governance in our country. It is regrettable that conscious efforts are not visible on the part of our managers to reverse our unsure or unsteady steps in the direction of desired development. The Global Competitiveness Report [GCR] series has consistently painted in bold relief the precipitous slide by Nigeria from year to year into gloom or even doom. Government inefficiencies are obviously induced by the palpable lack of will on its part and on the part of the people to insist on competitiveness especially for appointment or election into critical operational offices of state.

The cavalier postponement of the Edo State Governorship polls from September 19 to 28 of the same month by the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] leaves a bitter taste in the mouth even as it is portentous of the grave dangers that await our political programme time-scheduling, etc. The postponement announcement was calculatedly delayed and has a priori given rise to seemingly valid postulations regarding a hidden agenda: a devious or disingenuous requirement to buy time for a feared loss by the party in power. The Oshiomhole government is generally perceived to have performed far below the expectations of the people given the presumed pro bono publico antecedents of the former labour union impresario and his swash buckling civil society leadership posturing.

The poll shift, however, affords the people an opportunity to deeply interrogate their objective social, economic and material condition with a view to arriving at reasoned conclusions. It must be deemed unacceptable a situation whereby a state which accounts for a sizeable chunk of foreign exchange inflow into the national economy from the hard-earned personal income of her Diaspora citizens is steeped in an abysmally parlous economic conditions in the comity of Nigeria’s constituent units.

The scenario bespeaks an intolerable lack or dearth of cerebral or committed public management ethos. Such management paradigm, if it existed, would have ensured the harnessing of the infinitely do-able engagement of the Diaspora funds with a bullish public-private sector participation in a partnership or collaborative embrace.

This self-same template would have ensured the requirement to partner with relevant stakeholders for resuscitating or revamping much of Edo State cottage businesses like the Bendel Brewery, Ewu Flour Mill, Ava Cement factory, the Cassavita Industry at Uromi and the Fertiliser plant at Auchi, among others.

A radical current in the Nigerian public intellectual sphere had in 2010 ostensibly taken the new helmsmen too seriously and so volunteered to help steer the drifting ship of Edo State through sustained intellectual or scholarly engagement of the serious issues of governance. The substance and the accustomed mode of this engagement were, however, lost on the chieftains of the administration.

The radical ferment had poorly misjudged the situation thinking that “comradeship” or sloganeering was tantamount to or freely translates to reasoned agreement on goals or to their dis-interested objective or measurable achievement. The idealists soon beat a retreat leaving the government and its leaders to their predictable fate. Action on many issues of state has remained more muscular than reasoned. Youth unemployment [an expressed cardinal focus of the administration] has, for instance, received a tepid or lukewarm attention, occasioning in its wake an unprecedented rural-urban migration trajectory and with it a growing band or pool of young, hapless citizens ready to do the bidding of anyone “who pays the piper …” including being ready tools in the hands of the mischievous or unscrupulous, etc.

The answer to our myriad of moral, social and economic woes exemplifying themselves in our weak institutions, non-existent or decayed infrastructure, embarrassing macro-economic instability, inexcusable human capital deficiency, inefficiency of labour, simple or outmoded technology and a monstrous regime of official thieving, facetiously referred to as corruption is located in the requirement to make hard choices anytime we are faced with the option to choose in a basket of seemingly identical options. The forthcoming Governorship Election in Edo State uniquely provides one such opportunity for reversing the trend of our continuing under-development or slide into global irrelevance, or even, oblivion. No other time is more prime or appropriate. May the people’s choice carry the day.

• Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, recently toured Edo State.

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