Home Edo "I Want To Be Governor of Edo State" Odia Ofeimun

"I Want To Be Governor of Edo State" Odia Ofeimun

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My fortune is that I have spent the last forty years of my life interacting with the best minds in this country. Great minds that are not burdened by cynical projecteering. From factory labourer to journalist, civil servant and worker in the cockpit of one of the best organised political movements in this country, I have learnt not to look for easy ways out of solving national problems. Living always as an ordinary Nigerian, going by public transportation as a matter of choice, and as a matter of never dodging the pains faced by my fellow countrymen and women, I have more than forty books to show where I stand in the confrontation with the poverty, corruption, insecurity and other hazards of our time.

I want to be Governor of Edo state in 2016. My purpose is to realise a collective sense of achievement for a people who have always taken pride in being heirs to a great heritage. Colonialism may have demolished that heritage and the incorporation into a larger Nigerian fold may not have assuaged it. But I am determined to prove that within the particularity of one nationality, Edo, and the fold of a multinational state, Nigeria, it is possible to achieve high feats of modernity, cultural civility and technological proficiency comparable to that of any other country in the world. And, this, within forty months. Not two terms of office.

The programme underlying my quest is made up of seven platforms:

  1. Wipe out illiteracy for all citizens from age one to sixty and computerise education in order to position the state for competition with all-comers, including the Asian tigers and the Western world;
  2. Re-plan and rebuild every village, town and city, in a format that turns the whole state into one true economic community based on shared welfare and common morality;
  3. Build a Super Dome Underground Railway station, surrounded by replicas of the iconic buildings of the world, at Oba Square in Benin City, as the nucleus of an All-Nigeria Central Line linking the Ijaw towns and villages in Edo State to Kogi State and the Kaduna-Abuja line already in existence;
  4. Ensure that sixty percent of all goods consumed, or sold in shopping malls, are produced either by factories and processing plants in Edo state or in collaboration with neighbouring states;
  5. Create a health care system, free for majority of citizens, that removes foreign medical tourism from the agenda of Nigerians;
  6. Create money, investible and welfare funds, through aggressive solid minerals, gas and agro-allied industries that eliminate punitive taxation, waste, and improper expenditures;
  7. Turn Edo State into a proper House of Culture, attracting the rest of Nigeria and the world, with a Showpiece Cultural Programme covering communal theatres, special online and offline libraries, museums and galleries, a film emporium, with a translation centre that renders the best of world literature including Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Festus Iyayi, William Shakespeare, and Leo Tolstoy in Edo languages.

What I wish, therefore, is to offer a comprehensive engagement with issues of development that would require all, whether natives or not, to be part of a self-uplifting that is also a communal enterprise. Heirs we may be to dramatic historical exemplars! but we need not burn down our towns and cities in order to rebuild them. Creatively, without occasioning more dislocation than the existing oddments of misdirected development, we must plan and design, re-plan and reconstruct our villages, towns and cities. I mean every village, town and city.

My strategy is to bring together the best minds that Nigeria, at home and in Diaspora, can muster. It calls for a basic recourse to self-sufficiency while challenging the whole country, and the world at large, to participate in a new modality of nation-building based on respect for cultural diversity. I believe that this must begin with the complete elimination of illiteracy across all age grades. Put every child in school and nudge and humour and cajole every citizen and resident in Edo under 60 years of age, and above if they so wish, to go to school. Provide for everyone who does not have it, whether native or not, with the equivalent of a school certificate which the Nigerian Constitution, since 1979, has declared as the minima for full citizenship. Not to forget: the current Constitution requires that people may vote but cannot be voted for unless they acquire this equivalence or a diploma. This is not a responsible provision for a Constitution to have. Unless education is offered free at the requisite levels and made justiciable, it is a dampener of commitment to a healthy sense of nationality. A country that makes education a definer of citizenship but fails to have a coverall education policy is fit only for spoils. As things are, with millions uneducated to that level, the challenge is to press the supply of education into a driving emergency. The young will go to school in the morning and the elders would attend their classes later in the day. All age grades, as beneficiaries of a computer and internet age, would have access to special classes on dedicated communication and television channels. All schools must have computer savvy backed by a policy of one-child-one-computer. One-adult-learner-one-computer. The whole society must become a school as well as a buoyant industry of progress. And progress must be defined in no facile terms. In all walks of life, it must imply unyielding, community-enhancing attributes.

Education, as a basic investment in the consumers and producers of the future, must be an inalienable priority. Essentially, this is about a tool that must become an end in itself. It is necessarily a function of cultural literacy, the capacity to locate our struggles as a people in the context of a general national and international competition for the use and enhancement of the world’s resources. We must not only learn to develop and deploy the resources, such as we are, as economic beings. We must take special interest in how and what we contribute to the way the world works and the heights towards which we propel our energies.

Cultural literacy deserves to be emphasised as a basic factor in our definition of progress. Not only in Edo state but across the country. At a time when pre-modern school buildings are being torn down, and new ones erected all over the place, we must know that school buildings do not an educational system make. We must create a proper educational system, trustworthy enough to deliver world class competition in learning and character-building. A proper educational system must have a staffing that has priority in the allocation of resources. Teachers must be well-trained, well paid, and promptly, if we must insist on their dedication and commitment to duty. Only such teachers can give a general education of high quality for all to look to the future with a positive sense of mastery at handling the critical problems of our time.

Think of industrial estates, industrial parks, emporiums of music, youth camps and the first standing army known to our part of the world! No hedging or shaking! It prescribes for us a way of turning agriculture into a grand pre-occupation by linking farms and factories. But not as a choice between one or the other.

But, first, let me be upfront with it, that education is about linking indigenous knowledge and creativity to universal know-how. It must begin with saving our indigenous languages from the irresponsibility that goes with neglect. We must resuscitate them. Allow them to enter the conversation of world languages. Translate world classics – Shakespeare, Soyinka, Achebe, Tolstoy, Iyayi, Dickens, Ibsen, Faulkner and Mahfouz and the great philosophers and scientists of the world – into our indigenous languages. Watch the synergies go beyond mere theatre such as performing Shakespeare and Soyinka in Edo language in 2016. Let’s link the feats in language development to the great creativity that gave Benin bronze sculptures to a mesmerised world.

We must not forget, and must teach the young, that the organisational complex that made such a great past possible was due to the savvy of one redoubtable fifteenth century monarch in Edo history, Ogun Ewuare, who burnt down and then rebuilt his capitol. He, it was who created the broad, well-paved and straight streets, crossing at right angles, still in contention, which the Portuguese adventurers admired so much. He, it was, who ensured that every coming of age implied being fitted into an occupational bracket. Every quarter in the capital city was an occupational zone into which he insinuated the best practitioners of trades and callings from the known world. In the manner that, today, the United States of America seduces and lures owners of special skills and intelligence to her domicile, Ogun Ewuare pulled off the transformation of society by literally barracking people according to areas of competence in order to domesticate the best that the human mind can produce. Think of industrial estates, industrial parks, emporiums of music, youth camps and the first standing army known to our part of the world! No hedging or shaking! It prescribes for us a way of turning agriculture into a grand pre-occupation by linking farms and factories. But not as a choice between one or the other.

Unfortunately, the centuries of slave trade and rude western incursion, exploitation and rampart imperialism, have continued to deter our people from bold and grand entrepreneurship; halting progress, and truncating whatever trajectory was in the offing. Nigeria, as a country, has been shadow-boxing with history as a result. But we do need to return to the organisational suasion that our history vouchsafes. If we must progress, the purpose of education in our times must be to dredge the old heritage, refine it in relation to the knowledges with which our people were once conquered. We must craft a different future from the one that the ill-fortunes of our history have laid out.

To be specific: gainful employment in every hand is a critical necessity. The deal is to prepare a special generation, within the shortest possible time, to fit into an industrial culture that can produce, at worst, sixty percent of the goods consumed in our society. What we are unable to produce on our own, we must go for in partnership with neighbours. On a non-exploitative basis.

This is to say that we are not looking for a clue. We have found the key to a different way of looking at and using our past. Friend and foe describe the feats of Great Benin. We must grasp the key and insert it firmly to open the way to a much greater future. We need to celebrate the picture of that future into which me must move. And let’s recast the picture to make it ever good enough for our steps to be unwavering. The will to a greater livelihood for all, and freedom, that is, self-governance for individuals and society, must begin with having command of what is knowable. A fast-track educational advance is a necessary foundation, if anything, for full employment, control of contingencies, and futures.

To be specific: gainful employment in every hand is a critical necessity. The deal is to prepare a special generation, within the shortest possible time, to fit into an industrial culture that can produce, at worst, sixty percent of the goods consumed in our society. What we are unable to produce on our own, we must go for in partnership with neighbours. On a non-exploitative basis. Why, for instance, build shopping malls for only foreign-made goods that will not only deprive petty traders and small holders of their usual clientele but rob the society of the benefits derivable from being producers of the goods that ought to be sold in the malls! Look at how faces glow across our cities when they encounter those malls! All fawning but hopelessly distraught! How may we all go to sleep feeling comfy, without genuinely accommodating the reality of streets that will soon unravel unless something was done. And done, quickly.

What I wish, therefore, is to offer a comprehensive engagement with issues of development that would require all, whether natives or not, to be part of a self-uplifting that is also a communal enterprise. Heirs we may be to dramatic historical exemplars! but we need not burn down our towns and cities in order to rebuild them. Creatively, without occasioning more dislocation than the existing oddments of misdirected development, we must plan and design, re-plan and reconstruct our villages, towns and cities. I mean every village, town and city. It is a doable imperative. At its core is a scheme of transactional flow that would renew and modernise our rural areas, transform our cities into genuinely liveable spaces, without destroying the greenness that is the hallmark of a truly renewed world.

I trust in the three million and more citizens of this country each of whom will make a contribution of one thousand, two thousand and five thousand Naira, and even more, to my campaign funds. They know they can trust me because I have the good heart and the stubbornness and unfailing passion to deliver. They can sign in for a greater future than our past has given us reason to hope for. I dare to say that benefitting from their faith and trust, there is no mountain that cannot be moved on the way to realising our collective aspirations.

Of course, one simple ambition is to draw the villages, towns and cities closer together by building railways. A passion all my life. Need I add that it cannot await but must be the vanguard of that necessary All-Nigeria Railway which we hope will link all of the South-South states, and challenge all other zones in the Federation to do the same, while creating a basis for an All-West African Railway from the Senegambia to the Indian ocean. This means that we cannot think of development and prosperity for one state without realising that it must depend on the development of other states in our part of the world.

I must concede it: that to be so ambitious at a time when the national economy is in doldrums requires either foolhardiness or unusual brilliance. My fortune is that I have spent the last forty years of my life interacting with the best minds in this country. Great minds that are not burdened by cynical projecteering. From factory labourer to journalist, civil servant and worker in the cockpit of one of the best organised political movements in this country, I have learnt not to look for easy ways out of solving national problems. Living always as an ordinary Nigerian, going by public transportation as a matter of choice, and as a matter of never dodging the pains faced by my fellow countrymen and women, I have more than forty books to show where I stand in the confrontation with the poverty, corruption, insecurity and other hazards of our time. I have always believed in, and will work only for Nigeria the beautiful where there is no boring monotony and ethnic diversity is source of the creativity that makes us a unique people who will always rise higher with every fall.

Let it be simply stated that dream-making and grand strategising in full solidarity with all segments of society is the antidote to the foolhardiness that flowers in the context of planlessness. A careful understanding of the lie of the ground and readiness to accommodate and benefit from the vast assurance of genuine knowledge in our midst, empowers me. This is why I have no fear of the obstacles that loom large in the face of grumpy money bags and godfathers who may be thinking that the 2016 election will be a cash-and-carry affair. This is one election that will not be such an affair. I trust in the three million and more citizens of this country each of whom will make a contribution of one thousand, two thousand and five thousand Naira, and even more, to my campaign funds. They know they can trust me because I have the good heart and the stubbornness and unfailing passion to deliver. They can sign in for a greater future than our past has given us reason to hope for. I dare to say that benefitting from their faith and trust, there is no mountain that cannot be moved on the way to realising our collective aspirations.

I give an unfailing assurance that, in forty months, we shall have laid the basis for a Singapore in our climes not by waiting for a cargo cult superintended over by godfathers from outer space, but truly putting our dreams to work. By ourselves.

I may well add that I have learnt how non-profit making organisations fail as much as why subsisting profit-making organisations have not reversed persisting social malaise. This is a qualification I hold with a peculiar personal history of commitment to the necessity to transform the public sector. Without a revamped public sector, we seek a buoyant private sector in vain. We must learn with the modern Chinese not to worry about the colour of the cat, but its capacity to catch the quarry. The resourcefulness of our people, so much traduced by poor planning, must be re-fixed. Its direction can and must be changed. It calls for young and old to subscribe to the ideals of social transformation with a clear map of how to get from merely wishing to actually doing it.

It was time to let the actual physics of behaviour around us become a forthright engagement with a defined and realisable future. I give an unfailing assurance that, in forty months, we shall have laid the basis for a Singapore in our climes not by waiting for a cargo cult superintended over by godfathers from outer space, but truly putting our dreams to work. By ourselves. THE TIME TO DO IT HAS ARRIVED.

Odia Ofeimun, a world-renown poet and writer, is aspiring for the office of the governor of Edo State in 2016

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