Is Governor Obaseki walking his talk on human capital development in Edo State?

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku
Gov. Obaseki

Are there any indications that Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki may walk his policy talk concerning human capital development in Edo State? From inception as governor, Mr Obaseki had relocated or closed down one public educational institution or the other. From the Institute of Continuing Education, ICE, School of Nursing, School of Agriculture, Centre for Community Development, College of Education Ekiadolor, etc. The blame for such closures was put on the shoulders of large-scale corruption in these public educational institutions, or that the governor wants to toe a different path from education as usual to one of innovativeness based on ICT and digital learning.

And then after he won his election for a second term, the governor has made human capital development a key point in his agenda. Recently, he announced that the state school of nursing which is being renovated would resume in 2021, after being shut down for most of his first term as governor. Prior to this, Mr Governor in 2019 relocated the Centre for Community Development, CCD, from Benin City to the hinterland Bekuma, Edo North. He converted a section of ICE into an innovative, arts and entertainment hub, leaving the biology, chemistry and physics labs in that institution to rot.

Part of the reason Mr Obaseki gave for converting the CCD to a centre for the relocation and empowerment of returnee migrants was his insistence that if Edo human capital is developed, those wishing to travel abroad seeking greener pastures would have a rethink. A civil society organisation like the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, is already taking the challenge to the governor. In a town hall meeting, THM,  that ANEEJ  organised in Benin City on 3rd of December 2020, executive director of the organisation, the Rev David Ugolor, said that the THM, was put together to discuss outcome of budget monitoring in the education sector in Edo State. He added that the TMT flowed from a previous research conducted by his organisation which established that strategic investment in education, health and other areas that advance human capital development could stem the tide of illegal migration and human trafficking in Edo State.

In a communique issued after the THM, stakeholders said that they welcomed the governor’s policy statement on investment in human capital development as reflected in the 2021 budget proposal currently before the State House of Assembly. Attendees also noted that the ANEEJ research report, “Corruption-Migration Nexus”, is a useful document in advancing the governor’s policy agenda on human capital development.

After a short presentation, ANEEJ program manager Innocent Edemhanria urged participants to undertake monitoring of the state budget as presented by the Edo state government, and to focus on the Education sector. We have also taken up the gauntlet and undertook a project monitoring exercise said to be taking place at the long-abandoned Teacher Training College in Abudu in Orhionmwon local government area of Edo State. The Teacher Training College in Abudu, in Orhionmwon local government area of Edo state was the equivalent of a teacher training Harvard.  Students came from all over Nigeria in the 70s and 80s to train as teachers, thereby cutting off the influx of expatriate Ghanaian and Indian teachers. Successive administrations however abandoned the institution and it died. Our investigation concerning this school at the relevant archival points in Edo state, dating back to the old Midwestern Region and defunct Bendel state yielded zero results – raising questions related to the status of the school, and why the Obaseki administration chose to renovate it. Among all the schools that the civilian and military administrations funded – colleges of education Agbor, Warri, Benin city, the Institute of Physical Education Afuze, Federal College of Education Asaba – this particular teacher-training college was never mentioned.

There is strong evidence however that the renovation work which began in 2018 on this abandoned teacher training college is in top gear. Our team found heavy duty earth-moving machines on site, and workers were to be seen putting finishing touches to various stages of the renovation of this institution. An official of the contractor, A&K Construction Ltd declined to tell us when the renovation would be completed. We visited the Edo State Government portal on open contracting data standards however. Information gleaned therefrom reveal that in Orhionmwon local government area where this teacher-training institution is sited, the Edo state government has awarded contracts for the renovation of some schools like Evboeghae Primary School (N10,000,000), Umagbae Primary school, Ugbokonugbe (N2,500,00,00), Oza Primary School Oza (n2,500,000,000), Idunmwingun Primary School, Urhonigbe (N2,500,00.00), Iguere Primary School, Iguere (2,500,00,00), Iyedo Primary School, Obazagbon-Nugu (N2,500,000,000), Obioba Primary School Igbanke (2,500,00,00), Igbontor Primary School Igbanke(N2,500,00,00), Obozogbe Primary School Obozogbe-Niro (N2,500,00,00), Iyobosa Primary School Urhomehe (N2,500,00,00) and Obaseki Memorial Primary School Abudu (N2,500,00,00).

In all of these schools, procurement processes were seemingly followed (adverts in newspapers, with a procurement entity and within a stipulated tender period and a budget amount). Information on actual dates on contract award was missing on nearly all the primary schools in Orhionmwon seen in the government open contracting portal. That apart, some of the headmasters and headmistresses in some of these schools complain that even though such renovation would likely boost learning at the primary schools, ‘some of us still spend our monies to buy instructional materials like boards and board markers, and with other expenses that the government has not factored into the overall plan of human capital development’, one of the headmasters told our team.

Details of the contract sum of the teacher training college in Abudu was not on the Edo State government Portal on Open Contracting data standards, raising critical questions. How did A&K Construction Ltd win the contract for the renovation of this institution? What is the contract sum, and to what extent can the bid process be evaluated as open and fair? Who is beneficial owner of A&K Construction Ltd? Is there a beneficial owner among the public officials in the Obaseki administration?

But these did not include a critical question agitating the minds of some staff of the teacher- training college. ‘I received my last salary on August 2019, and have barely survived being owed up till this point by the government. There was one of our colleagues crossing the road to borrow money from a friend. He was hit by a vehicle and died instantly. As we speak, his family are unable to bury him because they do not have the money. This renovation is good but how can the government spend so much money renovating a school when the people to work there are not being renovated as well”, a staff of the institution told our team.

We got in touch with Bar. Osarodion Ogie, Secretary to the Edo State government, concerning the plight of the staff of the teacher training college being renovated. Even though the Secretary scheduled an appointment for 11am on 15th December 2020, he failed to show. We made further request to him to make a statement regarding the salaries being owed staff of the now known College of Education Abudu. At the time of filing this story for publication, the Edo Secretary to government did not made any statement, apparently owing to the heavy burden of his hectic schedule. Staff of the teacher-training college in Abudu are not the only ones owed salaries after the outright closure, conversion or ‘upgrading’ of their institutions.  Staff of the College of Education Ekiadolor, the State School of Nursing and the Institute of Continuing Education in Benin City allege that they have not been paid their monthly salaries for as much as 18-16 months. Even though staff of other critical and sensitive public institutions known to build human capital like the Edo State Library along the Sapele Road receive their monthly salaries, investigations reveal that the library is utterly neglected. Apart from a measure of power supply, this library has no toilets, the book shelves are worn and there is dust covering most of the book shelves.

Talking Points:

(i)                 The renovation of long-abandoned institutions in Edo state – the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, the State Secretariat aka Palm House, the Centre for Community Development, the teacher training College Abudu, the state school of Nursing, seems to be a peculiar trait of the Obaseki administration. This is something to be commended and for other state governors to emulate.

(ii)               However, these renovations especially of tertiary institutions in the name of building the human capital development, and without paying the salaries of staff of these institutions is self-serving and amounts to a cosmetic endeavour.

(iii)             Staff of critical institutions like the ones mentioned above are the stakeholders in the human development value chain. Government should develop human capital not by a mere revamping of these institutions but making sure those running the institutions get their dues.

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