By Idemudia Oviosun (PhD)
Yesterday, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State announced the appointments of 192 Special Assistants to represent every citizen in the state. The media – specifically the social media – was awash, with many minds, representing the binary opposites of wisdom and folly, and a third otherwise dormant pole occasioned by misunderstanding, declaiming vehemently on the issue. It is necessary for a proper citizen of Edo, who is perceptive to the internal structure, to put explanations right.
Edo State, like many other states in the country, is replete with cultural diversity. This diversity is so intense in Edo that there are villages, especially in Edo North and Esan Land, with as many as fifteen clans representing as many as seven different interests. Such a village is, in turn, just one of several others in a Local Government, which is also just one of 18 in the state.
Now, many of those who have been raising hell and crying wolf on the appointments are, oddly enough, outside Edo State and quite oblivious to the nature of affairs in the state. Some are sons and daughters of Edo, who are not resident in Edo, while others are neither resident in Edo nor do they hail from Edo. These represent are, for the most part, social media activists, who never really understand a situation, but nonetheless wait in the shadows for anything remotely suspect to come up so that they can air intellectualism, which may or may not suit the situation.
It would be a tedious read, if this piece were to launch into Edo’s history to explain the depth of nuances in Edo’s socio-cultural clime and the majority and minority groups in the state. However, some facts must be noted.
In Nigeria, the democracy in practice has, to a great extent, been modelled to accommodate the peculiarities of the country’s numerous ethnic groups. This explains the roles of councillors, who report to Local Government Chairmen in the state. According to the Local Government Act of 1989, a councillor is to participate in the decision-making of the Council and to represent the local community in that decision-making, as well as the councillor is to contribute to the strategic direction of the Council.
They, therefore, consider the diversity of interests and needs of the local community when decisions are being made at the Local Government Councils. This is different from the roles of the newly appointed Special Assistants, whose very appointments have run the gauntlet of a concerned but needlessly misguided host of social media intellectuals.
The very fact that there are marginalised tribes in Edo State is an indication of the failure of the Councillor system of state government representation at the ward level. That they report to the Local Government Chairman, who then reports to the State Government, is a flawed system. Governor Obaseki identified this early on and decided to appoint Special Assistants, who were not selected by him, from the wards.
For those, who have not been following the news in Edo, for whatever reason, and have decided to show a leg and pontificate on this issue, a rethink will not be out of place at this point. Governor Obaseki, earlier in his tenure, already indicated his intension to clear all partisan-based politicking for appointments from his desk and direct them to the wards where individuals were selected from and screened by a special committee set up for that purpose.
Their duties are clearly listed by the Governor’s Chief of Staff in a statement he released, and these duties do not clash with those of the councillors. They channel information directly to the governor and not through the Local Government Chairman as before, which gave room for a sense of marginalisation.
If memory would not fail the social media, it would be recalled that the old Benin Empire – kingdom as some historical schools of thought have it – annexed many smaller kingdoms or vassal states and these broke away at the slightest chance. These minor breakaways significantly staggered the empire and eventually joined forces with a succession of kings tormented by the British to collapse the empire.
That was under a monarchical system, where the Oba of Benin could muster as many as 180,000 men to battle if the need arose. Under a democracy, all it takes to weaken a state is internal strife and a majority tribe willing to break away to form its own state, a la Biafra from Nigeria.
To avoid any hint of marginalisation, people have to feel like they belong to the system and that they have a say in what happens in the state. They need to know that the governor hears directly from them, not through the Local Government Chairman, whose reports may favour the community he hails from to the detriment of other minor communities.
The Special Assistants at the ward levels are to report to the governor on a monthly basis and the governor will only provide them a mode of communication with him as well as ensure that they are resident in the state. Their duties will in no way clash with those of the councillors who will still report to the LG Chairmen. The councillors often do not reside in their wards, but these Special Assistants will.
Some people made the case for excessive spending and bloating of the civil service. They have not even inquired as to their pay, which has been said to be in just tens of thousands. As to the question of official cars and fat cheques of corruption, that is not true.
Governor Obaseki has proved, over the course of six months, to be a man astute with resources and who will not make an expenditure that is not an investment. Giving cars to people who will remain resident in their wards and send reports to an email would be a frivolous thing to do.
Meanwhile, against the argument that 192 Special Assistants is wrong, if the constitution thought so, it would have provided a limit to the number of such appointments and governors of such states as Cross River and Bauchi would not have special assistants in their thousands.
Let the public eschew mass hysteria and understand, as Mr Taiwo Akerele, the Chief of Staff has said, that the appointment is not a cause for celebration, but a call to service. Let the public read the news before constructing a bandwagon to scream foul play and hurtle curses. History is key in many of Governor Obaseki’s policy formulation. Activism is good, but let it be done with a sound mind and progressive ideologies.