Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki has accused the nation’s political class of “preying” on the divisions in Nigeria’s diverse society to reap political benefit.
“Nigeria has over 300 languages across geopolitical zones which can be turned one way or another by political actors to drive one form of political benefit or the other.
“In many cases, rather than emphasise important issues of our common national patrimony while assessing and selecting leaders, many political actors try to throw up dichotomies based on tribe, religious learning, state of origin, among others,” he said.
His views were contained in a lecture with the topic: “Making Politics Work for Citizens and Development: The Edo State Experience”, delivered at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos.
Obaseki said that such sentiments usually “con” the unsuspecting electorate into giving politicians their support “without rationally evaluating the developmental benefits accruable”.
According to him, politics in Nigeria has not been able to prioritise nationalism over primordial ethnic, religious and regional sentiments.
The governor also regretted that the political system was not designed to attract selfless service.
“What we have is a situation where politics mostly caters for actors with resources, most of which was not legally earned, who invest in it and expect huge personal returns.”
He also spoke on why many accomplished professionals run away from politics.
“Many accomplished professionals have a negative perception of politics and the attendant skirmishes including mudslinging, deliberate character assassination and blackmail.
“Some also get discouraged by the cost of the electioneering process and the proliferation of political parties with no clear ideology.
“Generally, the hyper-commercialisation of the political process makes the system inaccessible to people with honest intentions and with capacity to deliver value.
“Others are also scared of electoral malpractices,” he said, adding that public perception that votes would not count was responsible for voter apathy.
He particularly regretted the dwindling interest in voting during elections, and lamented that less than 12 per cent of the electorate voted in the Anambra governorship election last year.
Obaseki also observed that Nigeria had, over the years, hinged political growth on the rise of powerful individuals, who are expected to use their strong personalities to stir the nation in pursuit of progress.
He said that what the nation needed were strong institutions and not strong men.
The governor emphasised the need for Nigeria to build strong institutions that would protect national interest, pointing out that strong figures in politics usually create the “godfather” syndrome which could limit the strength of institutions and hinder productivity.
He also opined that the unitary Federalism the nation was running had made many leaders lazy and solely dependent on the federal purse.
“With the concentration of resources and power at the centre, federating units become absolutely dependent on the centre, thereby losing creativity and drive to generate internal resources toward becoming economically viable sub-nationals.
“This structure creates the impression among political actors, who aspire to lead federating units that no rigorous effort is required to lead at those levels.
“They always feel that all that is required is to rely on the monthly Federal Account Allication Committee (FAAC) for funds with which to run their governments.”
He related that the situation explains why majority of the sub-national units, particularly the local governments, were not economically viable.
Obaseki challenged the political class to strive to meet public expectations of democracy as the system of government that could engender development and work for the poor and vulnerable.
According to him, democracy is expected to create a climate of true political and civil freedom which will enable the country achieve fundamental conditions for development.
He said that Nigerians expect those in authority to organise the socio-political, geographic and economic environment in such a way that it would guarantee security of lives and property.
“Unfortunately, the nation has continued to grapple with the problems of insecurity, specifically terrorism, militancy and communal clashes.
“We must explore ways to protect our people by working with them and winning their confidence to support security agencies and government efforts toward protecting them.”
Obaseki prayed for a rewarding democracy that would explore the potential of the people and available resources to improve the quality of life and make Nigerians proud of their motherland.
He also spoke on what he had done in Edo.
He recounted: “In Edo, we have taken deliberate steps to retool our politics to engender development. This has led to the introduction of people-centric policies and programmes which have earned our administration significant trust.
“We inherited a state that was under the control of non-state actors, but we were able to open up the political space to a broad range of players.
“We did this by enhancing the work environment, ensuring regular payment of salaries and pension, improving compensation packages and creating better conditions of service for workers.
“We also revamped public service to cut back waste and, with this, we were able to deliver more projects with less resource than would have been required.
“Having built public trust, we had to open up a sound business environment which led to robust partnership with the private sector and international development organisations.
“With their support, we have been able to substantially curb the menace of human trafficking and irregular migration which once pillaged our most valuable resources – our young people.
“We placed the people at the centre of our politics which led to huge investments in human capital development, particularly focusing on the educational system.”
He said that government had entered into agreement with power generating outfits which had improved power supply and improved the business environment.
“These efforts have created more than 300,000 jobs,” he stated.
“Today, Edo is the haven for investment in the building, hospitality, agriculture, power, oil and gas, and industrial sectors.
“In agriculture, we have attracted almost 500 million dollars investment into palm oil cultivation having allocated the first phase of 60,000 hectares of land under the Edo State Oil Palm Production Programme.
“Nigeria has not witnessed this scale of oil palm cultivation since independence,” he pointed out.
Obaseki emphasised the need for Nigerians to “set sentiments aside and take tough decisions to put the country on a sound path of growth.
“We must adopt proven methods and innovations in retooling our politics and democracy and make them work for the delivery of good governance and development of our people,” he said.
Earlier, NIIA Director-General, Prof. Osaghae, had said that domestic policy had a strong bearing on foreign policy and called for peer review among leaders to promote growth.
He commended Obaseki for the various initiatives and policies that had transformed Edo and made it attractive to investors.
In his remarks, a former NIIA boss, Prof. Bola Akinterinwa and Chairman of the occasion, praised Obaseki’s achievements in Edo, urging others in government to emulate his result-oriented strides.