The premier web site of Edo speaking people.
Nation of people who are mostly located in the Midwestern part of Nigeria, Western Africa.
How Edo Man's Dignity Was Restored
FAR from being just a socio-cultural event, the 2005 Convention of Edo National Association in the United States and Canada, provides an opportunity for an aggregate evaluation of the welfare of its members in North America, and more importantly for synthesizing appropriate responses to and intervention in the exigencies back home. The theme of the convention, "Excellence for the new Millennium", is indeed an interesting one. Were it merely a matter of numbers, it would seem extravagant in the first case that we are proposing to define the next 1,000 years, which is what a millennium is. A century is long enough, and by current life expectancy, it is doubtful that any one of us here today would be around at the dawn of the next century. Yet, there is inherent in theme of the convention, a desire to look beyond the here and now. It is at once indicative of our desire to shape our collective destiny, to hand over to succeeding generations a legacy and a history upon which they can build and catapult our collective heritage into a higher orbit.
Excellence for the new millennium, therefore, means that we must face up to a new world, a world of challenges and of opportunities. This we must do with fortitude, with determination in our hearts, and with a patriotic fire that burns brightly and helps to illuminate our paths and bring glory to Edo land and its people. From the regular feelers that I get, there are two issues that bother people most about Edo State. These are roads and security. My government has already taken positive steps to address these problems. A number of urban roads in the state capital have been fixed. The notorious "Morocco and Spain", as Upper Sakponba was once referred to, is gone. The flooding at "Teachers? House" at Upper Siluko is being tamed. Upper Mission, Medical Stores, Uwelu, and Uwasota have been rehabilitated. In July, the state Executive Council approved almost N2 billion for the second phase of road rehabilitation.
As soon as the rains abate, work will commence. As part of our measures to reduce the cost of road projects, my administration is partnering a firm in Trinidad and Tobago on the production of cold-mix asphalt that is an important component of road resurfacing.
In addition, because the ownership of roads is shared among the Federal, State and Local Governments, my government has directed local councils in the state to construct a minimum of two kilometres of asphalted roads each year. Ordinarily, we have no control over Federal roads, such as the Uselu-Ugbowo Road. But road users do not want to know who owns the road; they just want it motorable. This is why I took steps to visit and implore the Federal Minister of Works to expedite repairs on the failed portion of Uselu-Ugbowo Road. Work has begun on that road, and the traffic snarl has eased considerably. The other happy news is that the Federal Government recently approved the completion of the Benin bye-pass, which would take inter-city traffic out of the inner city.
The security situation is a concern to you, but to us all. But the problem is very often exaggerated. What is true, though, is that we could do with better policing. We operate a Federal system of government, yet the police force is run as though we were a unitary government. The police force is not decentralized. This, together with inadequate training as well as welfare, hampers the efficiency of the police. Edo State presents a unique scenario. We are a junction state that provides access to the north, south, east and west. A number of the crime incidents involve cross-boundary outlaws who are chasing luxury buses some of whose passengers carry large amounts of cash. Indeed, last December when some of these criminals operated in Benin City, it was clear that they were from out of state. We were not and have not been helpless. My administration set up a military-police joint patrol task force, a move that cost the state government at least N6 million per week. Happily, the crime situation has abated considerably. We are not the crime capital of the world.
One useful lesson to draw from the reactions to the experience under review is for me to suggest that the Edo National Association should send, from time to time, an official delegation to Edo State, to see things for themselves, hear our own side, and exchange ideas with us on the best forward for our state. That way, we can be true partners in progress. Knowing ourselves the way we do, we recognize that baseless rumours, especially about government and its officials, are traded freely, and this can very often be an impediment to efforts at mobilizing support for public causes.
Let me place on record my deep appreciation of the immense contributions by the sons and daughters of Edoland, to the amelioration of the economic situation back in the land of our common ancestry. The widespread manifestation of their positive intervention in this regard can be found in their regular remittances to dependants. However token the amount, the distortions in Nigeria?s macro-economic policy environment are such that every dime or dollar goes some way in meeting certain needs. In addition, frequent remittances have spawned beneficial consequences in ways other than mere reliance on handouts. In Edo State today, as in most other parts of Nigeria, the money transfer business has become one of the more visible products of banks. Indeed, so lucrative is this slice of banking business that one of the older generation banks has dedicated an entire branch in Benin City solely to Western Union Money Transfer.
Upon assumption of office in my first term in 1999, I made the restoration of the dignity of the Edo person a priority. In this regard, I had the ready support of my wife, Eki, who then formulated it as her pet project under the banner of Idia Renaissance. This became one of the early sins of my administration, as allegations flew around that my government had come to deny the people their means of sustenance. This was not unexpected, considering the ignorance and short-term profit that drove the illicit and inhuman trade. Regrettably, this initial resistance to extirpating human trafficking in Edo State conditioned some people in their response to other governmental policies and programmes that were ultimately for their own benefit. We have never been deterred, though. And I am happy and proud to say that our relentless drive to restore the dignity of the Edo person has begun to yield rich harvest.
With a law in place, coupled with an aggressive re-orientation programme, fewer and fewer of our girls now find any attraction in heading to Europe to trade their bodies. In recent times, as His Royal Majesty, Omo N?Oba N?Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, has rightly observed, girls who are being repatriated from the prostitution ring now falsely claim Edo as their state of origin. Upon rigorous interrogation, they are revealed to hail from elsewhere. A critical adjunct of our campaign against human trafficking is a rehabilitation programme for the returnees as well as skill acquisition to discourage potential recruits. In the past four years, more than 1,000 graduands have been produced by Edo State Skills Acquisition Centre on the outskirts of Benin City, where courses are available in computing, catering, fashion design and hairdressing.
The very important lesson to draw from the foregoing is that we must keep our economy in shape and expand employment opportunities for our teeming youths and others in the labour market. At least from 1963, when the then Mid-Western region was created, Edo State, like old Bendel before it, was referred to as a civil service state. That appellation reflected not just the quiescent and relatively placid nature of our dear homestead, it was a tag that showed the absence of or minimal commercial activities and industrialization. Regular jobs were to be found in the civil service. Unfortunately, years before I assumed office, the ranks of the civil service had been decimated by frequent rounds of retrenchment, and those who remained had little motivation for quality service delivery.
Therefore, I recognized early that unless we set Edo State on the path of industrialization and increased commercial activities, we would remain largely a backwater state that is often the first to sink when buffeted by adverse economic conditions such as we find from time to time with the vagaries of the macro-economic environment. My administration has been a facilitator in opening up the economic space. Nobody visiting Edo State for the first time since 1999 would fail to notice that commercial activities have picked up, although it is still early in the day.
I must admit that, on the face of it, it seemed incongruous that at a time of privatization and general divestment of government from business activities my administration was forging ahead with the establishment of industries. However, our guiding philosophy was, and remains, one of demonstrating what is possible in Edo State. We do not intend to establish and run the industries forever; instead, our plan is to within the shortest possible time privatize them, with the hope that, as private sector operators run the enterprises with their typical shrewdness, the businesses would remain afloat, jobs would be created and sustained, while the government?s revenue base would increase with the payment of taxes. We evaluated the Nigerian economy, as well as that of our state, and came to the conclusion that the economy is in dire need of value addition. We are still too much of primary producers who then open up our foreign reserves to finance the importation of finished goods. It is interesting, in fact, that the petroleum sub-sector, which is the nation?s chief revenue earner, still suffers from low value addition by indigenous entrepreneurs. Whether in the upstream sector or downstream, local content is quite low, which explains why for more than a decade now Nigeria has suffered the embarrassment of dependence on the importation of refined petroleum products, because the state-run refineries are unable to utilize their installed or rejuvenated capacity.
For us in Edo State, we targeted some of our primary produce and minerals for value addition. Thus, there is a Fertilizer Blending Plant at Auchi; a Cassavita Plant at Uromi, and a Fruit Juice Factory at Ehor. Recently, I set up an eight-member inter-ministerial committee to facilitate the completion and commissioning of these industries and other on-going projects. We are well on course, and in the months ahead, these industries will become operational and subsequently put on the block for the highest bidder. This again will be in accord with our orientation that it is possible and profitable to do good business in Edo State. Nevertheless, in the light of government?s inadequacy to go it alone, there will have to be increased and sustained partnership with the private sector. The Edo State Government will ensure a conducive policy climate for private sector investment to flourish. There is protection of investment. We are in a democracy, which is being strengthened and deepened. Property rights are constitutionally guaranteed and respected. With a population of over 120 million, Nigeria is the largest market in Africa, and the exponential growth in the telecommunications sub-sector bears testimony to the potential volume of business in the country. Labour is cheap and available.
The polity is generally stable, the occasional hiccups notwithstanding.
But in this regard, I must say that it is acknowledged that Edo State has been, and will be, one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria. For us as indigenes, we must also recognize that where there are no businesses to absorb those on the job queues, crime can only be reasonably managed. Therefore, my quest for a better Edo State is a call for professional, patriotic and business participation.
With Edo people's extensive contacts in the Americas and elsewhere, they can do for Edo State, and Nigeria at large, what outsourcing has done for China and other Asian economies. A simple inventory of the primary produce we have in Edo State presents a range of investment opportunities: rice, rubber, palm oil, cassava, among others. We are very also rich in solid minerals.
Edo State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Kingsley Osadolor, delivered this address on behalf of Governor Igbinedion at the annual convention of Edo National Association in the United States and Canada
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