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Edo success and governance reform

By Tunji Olaopa
13 November 2019   |   3:00 am
In a country where governance performance is few and far in between, it is so easy to see those few conscientious performers who came into politics solely because they were driven by the desire to serve.


In a country where governance performance is few and far in between, it is so easy to see those few conscientious performers who came into politics solely because they were driven by the desire to serve. It is in this context that we can appropriately situate Edo State as a place where the government and the governed are in communion about what the people need and what the governor is able to do to make their aspiration come to pass.

The 2019 edition of the Edo Summit aptly titled “Delivering to the People as Next Level” tells a story on its own of a consistent and coherent blueprint put in place to ensure that governance is all about the Edo people and them alone. This is very significant for two reasons.

The first is the immediate context of Edo State itself and its past governance dynamics. What is happening in Edo State presently, which is too glaring for all to see, can only be assessed in relation to what has gone before. And it is within that context that the chief helmsman of the state can be situated within the performance or non-performance continuum.

The second reason why the Edo Summit theme is apt is that it speaks to the sub-optimal governance trajectory that underscores why Nigeria is still struggling with democratic governance. It is not difficult to say that there are only a few states in Nigeria that are optimal in terms of the capacity to achieve good governance. These few states, including the incredible miracle of governance in Edo State, denote an oasis in the midst of the desert. We call Edo State and other governance successes in Nigeria the “pockets of effectiveness.” The idea of “pockets of effectiveness” becomes necessary within a context like Nigeria because it has been difficult since independence to achieve a holistic development blueprint to tie the entire country together.

In order, therefore, to forestall the conclusion of unmitigated failure in Nigeria’s governance and institutional reform architecture since independence, the next best thing to do is to tease out some of those excellent reform successes in specific sectors and contexts that constitute strong points of administrative transformations. The administrative history of Nigeria points at the theoretical advantage of this insight.

The governance and reform miracles in Edo State immediately attest to the leadership acumen of a tested professional, technocrat-politician who has been in the governance corridor for too long not to understand the significance of leadership responsibility in the lives of the people a leader has been called to serve. This is where the definition of leadership by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, becomes rather apt. According to her: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” It is in this context that we come face to face with the overwhelming governance initiatives and reform facilitated by the governor of Edo State, His Excellency Godwin Obaseki. Despite the lack of a national development model by which to benchmark the successes of the pockets of achievement in institutional and governance reforms, Governor Obaseki understands immediately that what makes for any institutional reform progress has a lot to do with leadership, vision and the building of institutional capacity.

Obaseki’s leadership advantage derives from his adoption of a technical-rationality guided by knowledge and competence, as well as a deep respect for professionalism and integrity as the fundamental elements that lead to governance efficiency. This technical-rationality suits the temperament of a dedicated governor who has an utter disregard for the usual excuses that politicians deploy in order to pursue crude and criminal accumulations on a scale that hurts the citizens over whom they exercise authority in trust. Governor Obaseki understands the crucial difference between, on the one hand, the futility of a populism founded on the “stomach infrastructure” ideology; and on the other hand, management best practices that deliver the tangible dividends of democratic governance to the citizens. It must have been very clear to the governor that if he loses the people, he has lost everything.

This point helps me to raise a significant question on governance: In governance terms, what is the difference between what the people value and what is of value to the people? The two usually do not mean the same thing. In other words, it is not always what people consider to be valuable and conducive to socio-economic development that eventually translates into significant growth and sustainable development.

The challenge, therefore, is for a technocrat-politician who cannot afford to be disconnected from the people who voted him in and entrusted him with authority to protect his mandate from those who will want to undermine the mandate for their own selfish ends. This requires being innovative in creating a balance between what citizens consider to be of value and what is really of value as legacy or impacts that outlast the tenure of Godwin Obaseki as Governor in Edo State. So, in interrogating Governor Obaseki’s stellar achievements in the last four years in spite of all the odds, we need to generate frameworks that would help his team to highlight what worked and what is not working as a basis for impact assessment, deepening and consolidation that moving to next level would entail.

No reform or reformer can stand alone. In other words, all reform and those who make them possible can only be understood within some specific contexts within which their reform advocacy and achievements are made possible in the first place. Obaseki’s reform and governance cannot be understood and adequately assessed except we place it within the larger context of democratic governance and development in Nigeria. This is one administrative context that is not the only complex like most other administrative contexts all across the world but also unfortunately disarticulated. It is a governance context that has consigned Nigeria to the status of a protracted status of a “project” that has defied all completion plans and blueprints since independence. Nigeria has become a policy space where almost all models are bound to fail when confronted with anti-governance and anti-democratic forces.

Nigeria is one of the countries in the world with the highest number of development plans and innovative development paradigms that are meant to transform the ex-colony into a vibrant economy. Yet these visioning and planning have not translated into deep democratic governance performance metrics and productivity framework that give teeth to sustainable infrastructural development and the well-being of Nigerians.

Most unfortunate is the fact that for 59 years, Nigerian leaders have failed to institute and institutionalize coherent national development practices and standards which can be termed Nigeria’s development theory of change with elements of peer learning and review to which state’s performance could be benchmarked.

A further complication is that Nigeria’s constitutional order makes governance extremely difficult. First, the federal arrangement is lopsided in such a manner that Nigeria creates states that are not viable, and that are forced to depend on the Federation Account for fiscal survival.

Now further imagine such non-viable states bogged down with a huge cost of governance burden that swallows up the little that such a state gets from the Federation Account in redundancies and wastages. On the other hand, the unitary character of the Nigerian federal constitution destroys the fiscal creativity of the few states, like Edo, that are viable and have the capacity to grow fiscally.

Prof. Olaopa, a retired federal permanent secretary & Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Bodija, Ibadan, presented this keynote paper at the Alaghodaro 2019 – The Edo Summit – on the theme “Delivering to the People: The Next Level” convened by Governor Godwin Obaseki on 11-12 November, 2019 in Benin City.

But even such viable states are further enmeshed in a public service reform trap characterized by (a) a public service that is not capacity ready to deliver public goods and services, (b) an adversarial trade unionism and industrial relations that undermine performance metric and productivity profile in ways that limit good governance, and (c) a dysfunctional inter-governmental relations that undermine the spirit of genuine fiscal federalism. Once we take all these in, we immediately come to the acknowledgment of the huge institutional and governance progress that Governor Obaseki has foisted on Edo State and its citizens.

A good place to start the assessment of Obaseki’s governance and institutional reform projects is the statement of reform intentions. That is provided for in the Edo State reform document titled “The Road to Prosperity, 2017-2020.” This document presents the vision of the Obaseki administration as follows: “To develop a modern and progressive Edo state where every citizen is empowered with the opportunity to live life in its fullness.” The mission statement is: “To achieve Economic prosperity for Edo State.”

The reform architecture is anchored on what has been called “the key pillars of the brand hexagon.” These pillars are infrastructure revolution, institutional revolution, economic revolution, socio-welfare revolution, environmental revolution, and new township development. And in the context of facilitating the successes of these reforms, the government also initiated the Alaghodaro Edo Summits that opens up the government reform agenda to public and private engagements with government, non-governmental and nonstate actors in ways that demonstrate the awareness of the Obaseki administration about the all-inclusive nature of governance in the twenty-first century.

The trajectory of the first two summits and this present one tells the story of an unravelling visioneering. The first two summits had investment and human development as their themes. This present one is titled “Delivering to the People: The Next Level.” These summits are meaningful only when one places them vis-à-vis the governance reform focus of the Obaseki government. This reform blueprint is anchored on six factors: (a) Building governance capacity; (b) Strengthening public institutions; (c) Promoting fiscal management; (d) Ensuring security of lives and properties; (e) Reforming the civil service; (f) Encouraging public participation.

Governor Godwin Obaseki has an intimidating background grounded in a solid education and professional practice, together with political and developmental involvement in Edo State. Charting the course of his emergence as the governor of Edo reveals some kind of single-minded determination, right from the choice of a course in the university, to the adoption of a career path, and the professional direction, and even down to kind of commitment packages that Obaseki had been involved with since the establishment of his Afrinvest West Africa Limited. All of his politics and policy participation in Edo development hinge around what he knows how to do. Thus, while we have the profile of an active reformer and dedicated achiever, we still need to set in place specific governance and institutional parameters.

There are three different but correlated questions that will enable a fundamental assessment of the Obaseki administration and its reform initiatives and projects. The questions are: Where was Edo State, pre-Obaseki administration? Where is Edo State right now after the administration has been instituted, and has already spent three years plus in office? Where does Edo State need to be? These three questions speak to the reform imperatives of restoration, transformation, and repositioning.

With regard to the first question and the imperative of restoration, it will not be fair to conceive of the pre-Obaseki administration as a ground zero of barren achievements from Obaseki’s predecessors. We all will agree that since the government is a trajectory of continuity, no governor could ever meet a governance ground zero bereft of past and ongoing projects, initiatives, and innovation, especially in terms of institutions and infrastructures. Thus, with this in mind, it does not serve any purpose to outline or highlight what was in place before Obaseki assumed leadership of the state. It suffices to say that he inherited both benefits and burden, and governance positives and negatives that he needed to transmute into his own legacy framework.

The more important question, however, is: What has the governor done different, and what has that helped him to achieve so far? The methodology Governor Obaseki adopted is to be expected. He is too steeped in the development thinking not to immediately see the obvious advantages of a developmental approach to governance that was rooted in knowledge and competency-propelled leadership.

This led to the urgency of harnessing analytical competencies made up of multidisciplinary expert teams needed to generate a nuanced baseline scenario analyses that serve as the envisioning platforms for understanding the future Edo State, and that also serve as the bases for strategic planning that took the governor six (6) months to complete. This was available for a cross-section of stakeholders to engage, review and validate at the 1st Edo Summit in 2017. This methodological approach is pragmatic in its simplicity: as a developmental model, it took lessons from past governance efforts—what worked, what did not work, models simulation that relied on portfolio of policy options, scenario building, benchmarking of lessons of experience from good, smart and best practices locally, continentally and globally; a dynamics that delivered a set of knowledge packs, manuals and toolkits for translating policies into strategies and for driving implementation and for project management.

But then, while technical and technicist dynamics and requirements have their place in the facilitation of reform success, it is definitely impossible to say that the level of successes witnessed so far in Edo State is the function of technocratic competences alone. The additional but most fundamental variable that need to be referenced is the political will and willingness to put government intention into implementation through first, the design of a viable and realistic policy blueprint; and, second, the exploration of the vast governance space to harness a deep level of stakeholders engagements, including a dynamic partnership with non-governmental organizations and other nonstate actors.

I will briefly highlight three of the most fundamental achievements out of the numerous others that decorate the Obaseki administration since its inception in 2016. It is part of the visionary leadership of Governor Godwin Obaseki to make the connection between governance and institutional reform and the state of law and others in the state. The pre-2016 Edo State was characterized by incessant thuggery, armed robbery, hooliganism, and brigandage. This climate of fear and terror was an immediate variable of disinclination for investors.

The new administration launched an integrated security system networked to a local neighborhood watch system and joint security agencies system alignment. This is heavily resourced and backstopped with a security management information system that not only deploys technology to gather intelligence but provides real-time security alerts that make crimes too risky for criminals. Thus, it is so easy to see, for instance, why the disempowerment of NURTW touts, that extracted most of the state’s revenues in the past, could bolster the Edo State IGR which rose from N19.1 billion in 2015 to 23 billion, 25 billion and 27 billion in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.

The second is the alacrity with which the Obaseki administration latched on to the urgency of a civil service reform architecture. It is only axiomatic that a functional public service is only functional in the face of a pragmatic vision and political will that are capable of engineering the shift from ‘business as usual’ mentality to the ‘can do it’ transformative orientation which is now being globally celebrated. And it is this very baseline change management tactics that backstop the Edo Infrastructural Miracle right in front of us all.

For the governor and his remarkable team, the only way to achieve a functional public service and infrastructural development is to institute a meritocratic and competency-based HRM system. This has become the base competitive structure that has been applied not only to the appointment of permanent secretaries in the state, but it serves also as the structural model for promotion dynamics moderated by ASCON and backed with highly intensive training and retraining programmes.

The third achievement of the Obaseki administration is radical and very dear to my heart. Human capital development is a critical element that is crucial to the developmental profile of any state. For instance, a state’s human capital becomes the sourcing point for the recruitment and training of a new breed of public managers needed to take the public service into the twenty-first-century knowledge and technology-based economy. But such a proactive human capital framework requires an even more proactive educational sector that is optimally capacitated to educate the modern workforce. This is where Obaseki took the initiative for EdoBest, the acronym for “Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation.”

This is a revolutionary reform initiative that is founded on the fundamental belief that the development of a state begins with the reform of its education. And so, in order to radically transform the learning outcomes for over 300,000 pupils across the over 1,500 public primary and junior secondary schools across Edo State, the Obaseki administration is aiming not only to infrastructurally improve these schools, but also develop and capacitate the over 15,000 government teachers whose teaching and learning strategies ought to significantly impact the pupils for the overall economic development of the state. This educational reform is hinged on curriculum design, community partnership, teacher development, and school governance.

The government teachers are also taken through a relearning process that enables them to acquire pedagogical and technological knowledge and expertise that will assist them in harnessing data intelligence and classroom instructional efficiency to deliver real and qualitative content to the students.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Governor Godwin Obaseki has achieved a lot in such a short period. Whereas Lagos State used to be the benchmark for the “pocket of effectiveness” reform template, Edo State has now become a rival template. What makes the new Edo governance politics even more remarkable is that the Obaseki-led administration has refused to be inundated by the “politics of the belly” that pits godfathers against the citizen-motivated governance. It must have been clear to Governor Obaseki that if he lost the people, he has lost all. And so, in that spirit, Governor Obaseki has indeed been delivering to the Edo people since he became the helmsman of the state. Yet, we need to note that reform achievements are measured, and are indeed measurable, only in terms of legacy and generational quantum. In other words, we cannot give Governor Godwin Obaseki a legacy plus to his pass mark just yet until we are sure that the administration has put in place structural and institutional dynamics that will ensure that post-2020, the dividends of democratic governance that the Obaseki administration has championed and put in place to deliver to the Edo people, keeps delivering good governance. That will be the foundation that keeps the Obaseki legacy ringing even after he has left the office.

Having made this point, three questions become fundamental in charting the way forward to a reform legacy for the Obaseki administration. The first question is straightforward: How do we create a balance between what citizens consider to be of value and what is really of value in terms of public goods and services? This is a significant distinction because what the people consider to be valuable may just be a perception of the short-term “stomach infrastructure” while the government must always think in terms of what will yield medium- and long-term institutional value to create distinctive good governance template that goes beyond the trivial achievements.

The second fundamental reform question is: What system and processes should drive the delivery of these values in healthcare, education, utilities, infrastructure, etc.? This question speaks primarily to systematic institutionalization of the reform processes and procedures in ways that will achieve an institutional logic beyond human whims. It is this institutional logic that will ensure continuity and sustenance of the reform achievements so that they are deepened and consolidated to last. It also makes it impossible for the governance and institutional achievements to be reversed by less-than-transformational leadership.

The last question is equally significant: What are the mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the delivery of good governance to the people? No reform is ever successful outside of an evaluative procedure that projects the deepening of the reform through the feedback mechanism that reports on the performance of the structures and institutions already in place. Such evaluative mechanisms will include the following:

The urgent importance of deepening citizens’ participation and engagement within bottom-up planning methodology and agenda-setting with citizens embedded reviews and satisfaction feedback which will be critical to the sustainability of current legacies and governance gains. Thus, for instance, while it is worthwhile to significantly increase the IGR, the Edo people will get more value from transparent reporting of disbursement to projects and reports of the impact of those projects; Periodically convened performance review stakeholder meetings to review service delivery standards, benchmarks, and performance; Deepening of how government communicate development by utilizing the full scope of strategic communication targeting culture change in the dynamics of citizens engagement and inclusive policies and programmes design, implementation and reporting

The first condition that makes for a successful reformer is courage. Reform requires administrative and political courage. It demands that the reformer must be willing to commit class suicide by visioneering on behalf of the citizens rather than being locked within the hubris of greed that often characterizes elite politics. It is exactly this courageous politics that characterizes the reform success of Governor Godwin Obaseki and his administration. And the critical point to make, which is really the subtext to this keynote, is that more courage is often required to sustain a reform architecture than is required to establish it. This becomes immediately clear once we note that reform is a legacy project that keeps an administrator forever in the minds of those whose lives have been empowered to live the good life.

Thus, as the first term of the administration’s exciting reform-filled tenure comes to an end, the attention should be directed at consolidating the institutionalization process that grounds the reforms into a persistent delivery mode that continues to deliver the goods and services to the Edo people.

Prof. Olaopa, a retired federal permanent secretary & Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Bodija, Ibadan, presented this keynote paper at the Alaghodaro 2019 – The Edo Summit – on the theme “Delivering to the People: The Next Level” convened by Governor Godwin Obaseki on 11-12 November, 2019 in Benin City.