By Ebomhiana Musa
It was a roundtable discussion and the second in the series as we count down to November 12, the terminal date of the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s eight year tenure in Edo State. The brain behind the intellectually stimulating series is no less a person than John Mayaki, former Executive Director (media & public affairs), office of the governor. Date was Saturday, February 5, 2016 and the usual venue? The Bishop Kelly Pastoral Centre in Benin.
Personalities cutting across top government officials, media practitioners and civil society groups had come together to xray the government of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole sectorally. The legislative arm was ably represented by the only amazon in the house of 24 lawmakers, Hon Elizabeth Ativia. Chairman of the Edo State revenue board, Chief Oseni Elamah set the tone for the day with his representative,
Barr Emmanuel Usoh who dissected the topic ‘beyond crude oil and federal allocation:What future for Edo State?’ He initially painted a gloomy picture of the global economic situation and zeroed it down to Nigeria and its ultimate effects on Edo state. He said we got caught up in the harsh economic web as a nation and as a state due to our over dependence on crude oil to the embarrassing neglect of agriculture coupled with the high level of corruption in the system. He lamented that global oil glut has made things worse for us due largely to our mono-economy. Instead of throwing up our hands in despair, he said managers of the ecenomy at all levels of governance need to wear their thinking caps, task their managerial acumen, bring the best out of them and keep the state afloat.
He gave the Edo example where the Oshiomhole government inherited a criminally low monthly internally generated revenue of #250million in 2008 which is believed to be unacceptable for a government that wants to connect with the people through the execution of projects and leave behind worthy legacies at the end of its tenure in office. With strong political will power and uncommon courage, the government blocked all areas of leakages, embarked on aggressive tax drive and above all, transparency in government operations. Today, Edo rakes in an average #1.7 billion monthly from IGR, ranking fourth out of the 36 state’s in the federation. Lagos, Rivers and Delta are in the forefront. Usoh said the revenue board has a wide latitude to operate withing the ambit of the law without government interference, adding that the board is in court with some corporate bodies and highly placed individuals over tax default. Usoh rounded off his submissions on a cheerful note thus: ” Without oil, Edo can survive and meet all its obligations to its workers, contractors and the people of the state, we can beat our chest on this.”
Then came the turn of Comrade Abdul Oroh, the state Commissioner for Commerce and Industry and one of the longest serving cabinet members who is privileged to have started with the government at inception in 2008, serving in three different key ministries. So, everybody was all eyes as he did justice to the topic, “Commerce & Industry: Edo’s fair share and the policy direction.” According to him, Edo favours all-year round farming given its favourable climatic condition which provides enormous investments opportunity in the agriculture sector. Oroh described Edo as the energy hub of the country with gas and oil pipelines criss-crossing the entire state to link other states of the federation. Beyond this, he said the state has a gas reserve of over 1.5 million cubic ready for proper exploration, adding that Edo has $31milling stake in the three on-going independent power plants in the state. Aside the numerous employment opportunities, the plants are capable of generating over 5, 000 megawatts of electricity on completion. As if these were not enough for applause to the Oshiomhole administration, the commissioner said the oldest factory in the state, the Okpela Cement factory now produces full capacity following the determination on the part of government to save it from going under in the hands of its hitherto bad managers. Employment opportunities now abound for the unemployed with emphasis on the Edo indigens, adding that the management has procured over a thousand trucks to distribute the product across the country. He narrated a pathetic story of how the Igarra Cattle Ranch collapsed in the hands of the previous administrnation of the People’s Democratic Party , PDP. The perimeter fence of the ranch was said to have fallen, some persons applied for money to move the herds to Benin for save keeping, money approved, end of story! The Ehor Fruit Juice factory was said to have been sold by the same government in questionable circumstances #100million less than the cost of putting up the factory in the first place! On the policy direction of government, he urged serious minded businessmen to come and invest in the state with its abundant resources and friendly government policy of industrialization, adding that Edo State government has a deliberate policy of providing the enabling environment for industry and businesses to thrive rather than being involved directly. As part of the government commitment to continue to support small and medium scale industries, he disclosed that a #2billion loan was recently secured to boost SMEs in the state,encouraging industrialists to come and invest in the abundant solid mineral sector in the state. According to him these include lime stone, bauxite, caoline, coal, clay and granite.
Perhaps, the most controversial area touched in the course of the roundtable discussion was that by the Edo coordinator of State Employment and Expenditure for Results, SEEFOR projects, Taiwo Akerele who dwelld on the intangible achievements of the Oshiomhole government in the last seven years beyond the infrastructure seen by all. On the much talked about $75million World Back loan granted the state, Akerele said Edo is privileged to have been considered qualified to draw from the highly competitive loan basket , given the stringent conditions attached to it. He said the state government deserves commendation rather than condemnation , adding that Edo is the second state in Nigeria and the 6th in Africa to be so qualified. Unfortunately, he made it clear that the state is yet to draw from the second tranche of $25million despite the hues and cries by the uninformed and mischief makers in the state. According to Akerele, some of what qualified Edo for the loan was its openess in governance coupled with the high fiscal discipline on the part of government. The determination to introduce information communication technology, ICT in the state which led to the connection of all government agencies and ministry by fibres is largely responsible for this transparency and openness in government. According to Akerele, the introduction of ICT has, to a very large extent reduced the incidence of ghost workers, fraud and wastages in government. Above all, the oracle which is a novel idea in this clime is said to have been introduced by the Oshiomhole administration whereby all payments, including salaries of workers must pass through the oracle before payments are effected. The open portal system whereby any contract up to #10million must be published in the portal, the mid term expenditure plan to guide the state’s spending and the publication of government financial statements in national dailies, showing inflow and out flow of government, all point to intangible legacies the Oshiomhole adminustration wants to beaquate to successive government. Edo is about one of the few states in the federation that has adopted this all important financial framework. Above all, government budget has always been on the side of capital projects on 60-40 ratio in the last seven years, showing a commitment and determination for enduring development.
Arch Frank Ewonwan talked on the contentious land use charge, emphasising on the issues, misconception and the realities. He said the law was not punitive and not targeted at any individual as being peddled in some quarters. Rather, he said it was meant to shore up the state’s revenue base to the ultimate benefit of Edo people. The commissioner for Housing took time to explain that worship centres,densely populated areas and traditional and family houses are not taxable as against the misinformation by the opposition aimed at discrediting the laudable objective of government. He however said the law has no room for abandoned property anywhere in the state because all buildings are expected to be occupied.
In all, it was a very robust talk where the discussant gave very good account of their area of discussion, correcting all areas of misconceptions and misinformation about government programmes and policies in Edo State. According to the initiator, the third edition of the roudtable talk comes up in Lagos, March .