Nigeria Matters

Edo State: 24 Years In Retrospect

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deepHoly Bible

This piece is dedicated to the good people of Edo State – “The Heartbeat Of Nigeria” – as they celebrate the 24th anniversary of their beloved state. It traces the origin of Edo State and the different trajectories through which it has evolved since then. It examines the driving forces behind the state’s creation, the expectations that accompanied this landmark event and the extent these objectives have been reached.

Image: Edostate.gov.ng
Image: Edostate.gov.ng

The involvement of the collectivity today known as Edo State in Nigerian politics dates back to the origin of the Nigerian State itself – the pre and post 1914 years – but 1960 was a watershed, so I will commence this overview from then. Nigeria attained independent status in 1960 as a country of three (Eastern, Western, and Northern) strong regions and a rather weak center – a patrimony of the 1954 Lyttleton Constitution – ; a con-federal arrangement in which each region was dominated by one giant ethnic group – Hausas in the North, Igbos in the East, and Yorubas in the West.

In 1963, the Mid-Western Region, Nigeria’s fourth region came into being. This new region was made up of all the minority nationality groups – Edo, Etsako, Ika, Isoko, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Esan, Ijo, Ukwuani, Asaba, and Aboh – in the defunct Western Region. The creation of the new region was consequent to the general yearnings by the minorities – Benin and Delta people – of the old Western Region for a separate region of their own. The campaign for the creation of the new region was spearheaded by the late Oba Akenzua of Benin Kingdom, in concert with other leaders of Mid-Western origin such as Chief Dennis Osadebey, Chief Festus Okotie Eboh, Omo Osagie et al. This request was initially resented by the leaders of the Western Regional Government. But after much intense lobbying, in conjunction with several constitutional debates, a plebiscite was eventually convened on July 27, 1963 to determine whether or not the proposed region should be created. At the end of the referendum, majority – 87%, which was more than the statutory minimum – of the adults of voting age in the Benin and Delta areas, consented to the creation of a new region. With the passing of the Mid-Western Region Act of 1962, which was afterwards ratified on the 9th of August, 1963, a fourth region known as the Mid-Western Region was born, with Benin City as its capital. Chief Dennis Osadebey who was initially appointed Sole Administrator, eventually became the region’s first Prime Minister in February 1964.

Due to the strategic exigencies thrown up by the Nigerian Civil War – 1967 to 1970 – Nigeria’s con-federal, four-regional arrangement was further Balkanized by the military dictatorship of General Yakubu Gowon to make way for a twelve states structure on the 27th of May, 1967. The Mid-Western region remained territorially intact under this arrangement, transforming into the Mid-Western State. Then, on the 3rd of February, 1976, the military administration of General Murtala Muhammad continued from where his predecessor stopped by increasing the number of states in Nigeria from 12 to 19. The Mid-Western State was consequently renamed Bendel State, losing some riverine communities to the emerging Rivers State in the preceding boundary adjustment exercise.

Edo State formally came into existence on 27 August 1991, when the then Bendel State was dissolved to make way for the present Edo and Delta States. Its creation was consequent to both the expediencies of politics and the people’s earnest yearnings for a state of their own. The original request for the creation of the state was presented to the Nigerian National Assembly in Lagos on July 16, 1991, by a delegation led by the great Oba Omo n’oba Erediauwa, the monarch of Beninn Kingdom. This formal presentation was sequel to the setting up of a Steering Committee in the National Assembly to work out proposals for the state’s creation.

The creation of Edo State was historic and long overdue – the former because for the first time, people – Bini (57.54%), Esan (17.14%), Afemai comprising of Etsako (12.19%), Owan (7.43%), Akoko Edo (5.70%) ethnic groups, together with migrant groups such as Igbira-speaking communities in Akoko Edo, the borderline-dwelling Urhobo, Izon, Itsekiri communities in Ovia North Easth and South West Local Government areas, as well as Ika-speaking communities in Igbanke, in Orhionmwon Local Government Area, are domiciled within the state – with common socio-cultural ties were given the opportunity to live independently as one; and the latter because for so many years the peoples of the present Edo State had ceaselessly agitated for a state of their own with concerned authorities ignoring these requests. This obviously explains the general euphoria that accompanied the events of 27 August, 1991, when the military administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida formerly decreed Edo State into existence.

Edo State is one of the more homogenous states in Nigeria – the cultural and linguistic affinities that exist among the various groups in the state points to this fact. Most of the communities in the state trace their origin to the ancient Kingdom of Benin. Customs, burial rites, diets and traditional modes of dress tend to be similar across the state. The political pattern and behavior were based on a system under which both monarchical and republican ideas flourished in an integrated manner. The monarchical (or chieftaincy) system revolved largely on primogeniture, while the republican element was reflected in the free selection by villages and communities of elders.

Also, Edo State is divided into eighteen Local Government Areas – Akoko Edo, Orhionmwon, Ovia North-West, Ovia South-West, Esan North-East, Esan South-East, Esan Central, Etsako Central, Etsako East, Etsako West, Oredo, Esan West, Egor, Igueben, Ikpoba Okha, Owan East, Owan West, and Uhunmwonde – and three Senatorial Districts – Edo South, Edo Central, and Edo North – with the historical Benin City as its operational capital. It lies roughly between longitude 06o 04’E and 06o 43’E and latitude 05o44’N and 07o34’N. The state is bordered in the South by Delta State, in the West by Ondo State, in the North by Kogi State and Anambra State. It occupies a land area of 17, 802 square Kilometers. According to the 2006 National Census Estimate, the state has a population of 3,218, 332 people, consisting of 1,640,461 males and 1,577, 871 females, and a growth rate of 2.7% per annum (according to National Population Commission Figures, 2006). It has a total land mass of 19,187 square Kilometers and a population density of about 168 per square kilometers.

The state is rich in both agricultural and mineral resources. Some of the agricultural resources include: Food crops – yam, cassava, maize, rice in the Benin lowlands and on the Esan Plateau; tree crops – rubber and oil palm in the Benin lowlands and Esan Plateau; forestry products – plethora of tropical woods, especially in the Benin lowlands and Esan Plateau; and an ecology that supports large herds of livestock – cows, goats, sheep and birds. The mineral resources include: marble, limestone, clay, quartzite, gypsum, chalk, shale, mica, gold, lignite/coal, etc. Several other resources abound in the state. The state has also produced notable individuals who have made their marks in different areas of human endeavour – politics, business, philanthropy, sports, academics etc.

With such a rich history, cultural uniqueness, coupled with the abundant human and natural resources that the almighty God had so extravagantly endowed her with, much was expected from Edo State in the years accompanying her creation. The state was also expected to exploit the comparative advantage it had enjoyed as the administrative nerve centre of the old Mid-Western Region, Mid-Western State, and Bendel State to jumpstart the processes that would lead to its full development and growth. Unlike other states it was created together with, the state had the sole advantage of having been the administrative hub of a pre-existing state. These where some of the reasons why the founding fathers of the state fought so doggedly for its creation; a struggle that was based on strong personal convictions on the part of these early pioneers that the state would be able to maximize its unique strengths and opportunities to evolve into the true heartbeat of Nigeria; into a giant within a giant.

Edo State had its first experience as an autonomous political in 1993 when General IBB’s military regime organized a General Election. Since then, it has become an integral part of the political evolution of the Nigerian State. From having Chief John Odigie Oyegun of the Social Democratic Party – who defeated Lucky Igbinedion of the National Republican Convention – as its first democratically elected Chief Executive Officer in 1993, its several years under the rule of Khaki administrators – (Mohammed Abul-Salam Onuka, December 1993 – September 1994; Bassey Asuquo, September 1994 – August 1996; Baba Adamu Iyam, August 1996 – August 1998; Anthony Onyearugbulem, August 1998 – May 1999), to the return of democratic rule to Nigeria in 1999, which has witnessed first the coming of Lucky Igbinedion of the People’s Democratic Party, and second, the emergence of the incumbent Head of Government, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of the All Progressive Congress (formerly Action Congress of Nigeria), the political evolution of Edo State has read like an adventure story with several twists and turns – like a saga full of intrigues and suspense.

For so many years after its creation, Edo State passed through the winnowing fire of political baptism, stuttering from one formidable challenge to another like an infant groping for guidance in the dark – bittersweet experiences that subsequently defined its several political graduations. Edo State during this period was akin to a state in desperate search of itself. It passed through several trial and error processes as it tried to make a way out of a conundrum of confusion that enshrouded it. That was why several years after its origin it remained a mere toddler – politically, economically, developmentally, and in other significant ramifications – despite its huge potentials: a seemingly unviable, directionless project that broke the hearts of the founding fathers and its initially enthusiastic people; a state that was susceptible to the man-made vagaries of politics. It remained so for so many years.

With a little bit of hindsight, on the other hand, it would not be inappropriate to conjecture that constant military intrusions into the country’s politics made it practically impossible for any reasonable form of development to take place in the state during its early formative years – especially from 1991 to 1999 – as the first democratically elected administration of Chief John Odigie Oyegun had barely settled down to business before it was sacked by the Abacha-led palace coup that terminated the life of Chief Alex Shonekan’s Interim National Government, replacing it with an undemocratic military regime with military administrators at the helm of affairs in all the 36 states of the federation. Thus, the stagnated state of development in Edo State during its embryonic stage could be adduced to the undemocratic and directionless nature of military rule which made any form of development impossible.

However, apart from the unavoidable drawbacks of undemocratic jackboot rule during its early years, the leadership deficits of the early post 1999 years also contributed in no small measure to the stunted development of the state. The civilian government that succeeded the vacating military administrators, contrary to expectations, threw the state further back to the stone-age. From May 29 1999 – when civil rule returned to the country, after several years of Khaki dictatorship – to 2007, it would not be an exaggeration to state that Edo State lacked direction; that like a ship without a seasoned captain, it sailed at the mercy of the elements; that like a vehicle without an experienced driver, it travelled on the dangerous expressways of politics; that like a basket case, it leaked profusely; that it lacked the primary foundations from which the aspirations and expectations of the people could be projected – a democratic system driven by quality leadership and popular followership: missing links that made development and growth practically impossible in the state throughout this period; a period that could be described as a “Gilded Age” – an “Age of Darkness”, so to speak.

The unsavory conditions that subsisted in Edo State during the gilded age ensured that it remained a basket case; an empty-shell state without substance; a backward, lethargic, white elephant project in every sense of the word; a perennial underachiever; a corruption-laden, underdeveloped and directionless beast of a state that became Nigeria’s laughing stock; a monumental shame in every sense of the word; a rudderless vessel heading for the rocks; a poorly chauffeured vehicle in need of a new driver to check her careless descent into an infinite abyss. That was the state of Edo politics between 1999 and 2007 – eight empty years of tears, sweat and blood; painful years of weeping and gnashing of teeth; tragic years of native slavery, man’s most insidious, inglorious and injurious invention; catastrophic years of the most callous exhibitions of man’s bestial capacities.

Eventually, the calamitous state of Edo State experienced a new twist in 2008 when a new dawn brought about a massive paradigm shift in the governance of the state, consequent to a political revolution that democratically handed over the governance of the state to a fresh breed of progressive leaders committed to exorcising the demons of the previous years of misrule; an epoch that gradually overturned the avoidable shortfalls of previous years of undemocratic rule – the era of Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole; a leader whose coming totally reconfigured the symmetry of power relations in Edo State by returning political power to those it truly belongs – the popular sovereigns. Gradually, under the guidance of this iconoclastic maverick and his formidable team of musketeers, Edo State has gradually moved closer to the dreams of the founding fathers; a total departure from the discouraging scenarios of the gilded age; a gigantic leap forward in every imaginable ramification.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing all the way for this master reformer as he has had to contend with a legion of odds: an absolutely disheveled political system where corruption had become a norm; a demoralized populace in dire need of inspirational leadership; a shambolic public service staffed by a disgruntled workforce; a dearth of functional infrastructural facilities and basic amenities that had turned the state into a living hell; a stone-age educational system that was turning out ill-equipped individuals without the required productive capacities to contribute to the development of the state; a peripatetic health sector that left the infirm at the mercy of quack physicians, fake faith healers and unrefined traditional medicine practitioners; a regime of joblessness that had bred a high degree of hopelessness, helplessness and desperation in the psyche of the youths; a state of mind-bending insecurity spurred by widespread disenchantment within a section of the populace against the system and its operators; a revenue base that was at its lowest ebb, to other equally disheartening pitfalls, the governor had his hand full.

However, rather than allow the aforementioned demons of underdevelopment to deter him, like they did his predecessors, Oshiomhole took on them head on, determined to take the state out of the doldrums of stagnation and underdevelopment it had been wallowing in, prior to his coming, to a whole new level of growth; determined to build a state of solid marbles out of a state of rubbles; determined to create a blissful paradise out of a living hell; determined to create an order of abundant wealth out of a regime of abject squalor; determined to turn hollow dreams into practical realities; determined to turn Edo State into a fluid working machine. His approach to governance has been a total departure from the shameful practices of the past when a few individuals dominated the political space. He has opened up the processes of governance by carrying the people along.

As a progressive reformist, he came with an agenda that sought to completely overhaul the system, purging it of all the rank rot that had been corroding its development and growth. Knowing how badly the state needed rehabilitation, and how passionately Edos yearned for constructive change, he launched a series of far-reaching reforms that have brought about a new dawn in the state.   Through sheer doggedness, uncommon wisdom, firm dedication and humble disposition to leadership, the governor has been able to bring a high level of stability and sanity to reign in the governance of the state; performed feats that have elevated him to the plinth of tin-gods – an immortal position of reverence that is reserved only for the extraordinary. That has been his preoccupation since 2008.

From the excursion so far, one does not have to be a seer to decipher the invincible hands of the creator in the processes that defined the trajectories that culminated in the creation of the new state. From constituting a peripheral part of the Mid-Western Region (in the disjointed and unequal con-federal post-colonial Nigerian State system) to becoming an independent political entity of its own – in its current form as Edo State – it would not be out of order to state, without fear of contradiction that “Edo State is not a mere child of necessity, as has been advanced in some quarters, but a product of divine decree. In the same manner the first creative act – as depicted in the Biblical Book of Genesis – was in tandem with the creator’s program schedule for mankind, the origination of Edo State, far from being a product of political expediency, was a destiny waiting to happen. The emergence of Edo State was pivoted on a divine rudder, hoisted on the omnipotent will of a supernatural force, much more powerful than the mortal designs of politics. The choice human resources – a vibrant population made up of some of the most cultured, uniquely gifted, creative, and intelligent minds on the surface of the earth – and natural – both agricultural and mineral – resources the state is extravagantly blessed with, is proof of the divine purpose behind its creation.

Thus, despite the challenges Edo State and its resilient people have had to grapple with over the years, the future has never looked as promising as it currently does. With the right kind of leadership and the unyielding support of the people, the slogan “Heartbeat of the Nation” will keep taking on more practical meaning by the day. There is justification for such hope. Long live Edo State and its wonderful people! Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria! Happy 24th Anniversary and several more glory-filled years ahead! Pax Vobiscum, Amicorum!

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