The Second Republic (1979-1983) without a doubt was the glory days of Esan excellence. The development inclination of the Esan people was demonstrated under the leadership of Professor Ambrose Alli who was the first governor of the then Bendel state, now splintered into Edo and Delta states. Governor Alli spearheaded an even development in Edo state. The industrial base of the state was strengthened. Okpilla cement factory, Bendel Brewery, and Ughelli Glass factory received generous attention under his leadership. The most notable area where he excelled was education. Under the toga of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), he implemented to the letter the free education programme of the party. Indeed, education was massified in the state. Every community in Bendel state had a Grammar School, and teachers’ training colleges were established with a view to staffing the grammar schools.
Bendel state became a leading educational state besides excellence in sports and other human endeavours. It is on record that despite his ordeal before the military tribunals under the Buhari-Idiagbon military junta, he never enriched himself. Esan people own its drive towards all-round urbanization to the foresight of Ambrose Alli, especially the location of the state university in Ekpoma, one of the major towns in the Esan country. It was under his tenure that Ewu Flower Mill (Bendel Feed and Flour Mill) was established.
The Short-lived period of Governor Osunbor in the prevailing Fourth Republic was also eventful. He did not do what was extra-ordinary but routine business of government. When he assumed office in 2007, the state of infrastructure, especially roads was a blot on the landscape and required urgent attention. He rehabilitated some of the roads in Benin City and other parts of the state such as the Ekpoma-Opoji-Ugbegun road, Ibillo-Ososo road in Edo North, Igbanke road, and some roads in his home-town of Iruekpen. Within 18 months in power, these were remarkable given the neglect of infrastructure and misappropriation of state resources before him. What was remarkable about his conduct in office was that he took the entire state as his constituency and spread projects across the state within that subjective matrix.
We equally had chief Tony Aneni and Mike Onolemenmen as ministers of works. In the positions, they were answerable to the federal authorities. Their actions were limited. Even at that, they were able to do a few things in Edo state. Chief Aneni constructed the Benin by-pass without which commuting in the state capital, Benin City would have been impossible. On his part Onolemenmen started the reconstruction of Benin-Auchi-Okene-Lokoja road, given the nature of cash-call in the implementation of government business; the road was not completed before the Jonathan administration was voted out of office in 2015. Nevertheless, he was able to rehabilitate some roads in Uromi. What is clear from the foregoing is that the average Esan public office holder works for the community rather than pursuit of parochial objectives. What does power shift mean to Edo central? I shall try to provide an answer in what follows.
A Russellian definition of power as the production of effects is a useful compass to answer the question posed above. For power to produce an effect, intentionality must be there abinitio. Do we want power for power’s sake? Do we want power for transformative purposes, affect the lives of people in ways meaningful to their earthly existence? What is the state of Edo state? Let us start with the state of Edo. The state population as the last census was 3.2 million if we assume an average of 2 percent population growth per annum since 2006, then the state’s population must be somewhere around 4 million. Edo state also has a sizeable diaspora community. In the meantime, let us leave the problems of the diaspora community to their host countries.
What does this large number do for a living? A portion of the population lives by means of rudimentary farming intertwined with small and medium scale enterprises and petty trading. For these segments of our population, life is precarious. A small minority works in the civil service that is barely productive while reproducing corruption within the bureaucracy of government. Edo state is educationally advantaged by the Nigerian standard and has many unemployed graduates. Some in this segment of our population, unable to cope with the hostile Nigerian condition look to ‘yahoo’ businesses and migration as escape routes from abject poverty and the corresponding hopelessness. Infrastructurally, the state is in deficit, many of our towns and villages are barely accessible by roads which are in varied conditions of decay. The consequence is that the local economy suffers without exchange among the people.
A logical consequence is the acceleration of the desire to migrate to the barely productive urban centres, and overseas. The existential problem of the Edo people is compounded by the general insecurity prevailing in the state. On account of this reality, our people can no longer go to the farms and worse still, cannot commute between communities without fear of being kidnapped by the notorious Fulani herdsmen and their local collaborators. Above all, there is moral degeneration, people no longer confront reality with objective insight and easily lured with money and other material inducements. No more adazes [gentlemen and women] in our community who cannot be compromised. As you can all see our problems are monumental, but we must confront them if we must live.
Thus, a cursory overview of our external world, in other words, of our resource endowment, becomes imperative. Edo state is endowed with both human and natural resources that include Limestone, Marble, Kaolin, Gypsum, Feldspar, Gold, Granite, Dolomite, Galena, Tantalite, Gemstone, Quartz, Bitumen, Bentonite, Laterite, Sharp Sand, and River Gravel, oil and gas. Let me add a caveat that human resource is by far the most important of the strategic resources required for the survival of man in the twenty-first century.
Human exertion is behind the changing dynamics of the development of productive forces on our planet; it is behind the Internet and communication technology (ICT) and the emerging field of artificial intelligence (AI). I chart the way forward in the next and last section of this conversation.
What I have done in the foregoing is to argue for politics of inclusion and the exercise of power as a social responsibility. Given the problems of the wider political context of a skewed federal system and fiscal insolvency of the federal authorities, I have advocated recently the enclave paradigm, that is, a socialisation towards self-sufficiency in the context of available resources and the strictures of a federal behemoth at the centre that stymies local initiative through unimaginative and sinister appeal to the overweighed exclusive list (Akhaine, 2019). Edo state requires a creative, courageous, selfless, and critical thinker to govern the state after Obaseki. A critical thinker is one who understands causalities and capable of confronting and transforming them for progress. The imperatives of inclusivity dictate that Edo Central or the Esan country should produce the next leader of the state. But are we to leave it to the vultures, those who hanker after material accumulation for themselves and their cronies? Or we should search for a public-spirited individual who will spread development across the state? Don’t we have them in our midst? Surely, we do. Doing the right thing, in terms of the choice of leadership, calls for informed choice, and not parochial considerations. We must be guided by the knowledge that the Esan people had always produced master builders for Edo people from Okpota no Ojioboh to Professors Alli and Osunbor. The Esan people would say: Abha rua ite oi jia kpe, that is, if you want to succeed do not ignore preliminaries.
Professor Akhaine delivered this paper, originally titled “Balance of Power and Politics in Edo State: Edo Central in Focus”, at the 4th End-of-Year Celebration & Award Dinner organised by the Edo-Okpa Unity Forum which held at Adesua Hotel and Event Centre, Ikotun-Egbe, Lagos, on December 6, 2020.