[ID:184936 Cable dated:2008-12-29T06:09:00] ====================================================
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LAGOS 000514
STATE PASS NSC FOR BOBBY PITTMAN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2018
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, ECON, EAGR, ELAB, ENRG, NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: EDO'S NEW GOVERNOR SEEKS RADICAL CHANGE
REF: LAGOS 447
Classified By: Acting Consul General Helen C. Hudson, Reasons 1.4 (B,D)
1. (C) Summary: Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress (AC), who assumed the governorship of Edo State on November 12 following an Appeals Court ruling which voided the gubernatorial election results of 2007, told PolOffs in his offices in Benin City on December 17 that he intends to make radical changes to the way politics is done in Edo State. He provided a long list of priorities for his State including fiscal responsibility and procurement reform, education and employment, but stressed that competence and integrity were at the heart of good government, which is why he intends to appoint professionals rather than politicians to be commissioners of five key ministries and bring in accountants from the private sector to set up financial management systems. Success will largely depend on whether the Court of Appeals upholds the decision of the Election Tribunal awarding disputed seats in the State House of Assembly to the Action Congress (AC) rather than the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP), thereby giving the AC a majority in the state legislature. Oshiomhole's style and commitment to good governance are a refreshing reminder that Nigeria possesses competent and honest leaders who, with sufficient popular support, are capable of bringing change to Nigeria. End Summary.
Volunteers Key to Success in Court
2. (C) On December 17, Pol-Econ Chief and PolOff called on the newly installed governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, at his offices in Benin City to discuss his recent success before the Appeals Court and the challenges facing his administration. Oshiomhole told PolOffs that he was able to successfully challenge the decision of the Independent National Election Commission, which had declared the Peoples Democratic Party candidate Oserheimen Osunbor the winner of the 2007 gubernatorial elections, in the courts because of the help of unpaid volunteers. He noted he had roughly 2,000 volunteers, who had worked at 120 polling places, and seven graduate students, who had systematically gone through ballots, result sheets and voter registration records line-by-line to produce documentary evidence of fraud.
Oshiomhole told PolOffs that it proved impossible to use forensic evidence because of the poor quality of thumbprints and that claims of intimidation also
proved difficult to prove in a court of law, but documentary evidence, such as proof that the "Vice President" had voted four times, for example, proved decisive in the courts.
Osunbor Debts Totaled 10 Billion Naira (USD 77 million)
3. (C) After roughly 18 months in power, the embattled PDP government left office on November 12, 2008 leaving behind debts of roughly 10 billion Naira (USD 77 million), the AC's Oshiomhole said. Oshiomhole claimed that the two previous PDP governments, which together held power for close to six years, had no proper government accounting or financial management systems in place. (Note: In addition, according to allegations in the press, former governor Osunbor stole one billion Naira (roughly USD 7.7 million) from the Edo State accounts in the less than 24 hours between the announcement of the Court of Appeals decision in favor of Oshiomhole and the latter being sworn in as governor the next day. End
4. (C) As a result, Oshiomhole sees his very first task as establishing a baseline of available resources, and a catalogue of on-going obligations and projects. He plans to bring in accountants and controllers from the private sector to set up proper financial management for the state. He also noted that civil servants report "no problems" when asked to describe the state of affairs in their areas of competency, but when he brings all the players in a certain area together in one room he can rapidly identify inadequacies, problems, and tensions.
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Professionals not Politicians for Key Jobs
5. (C) Oshiomhole told PolOffs that "politicians have too many obligations to their supporters" and are more conerned with making enough money to contest the next election than in delivering services; professionals, in contrast, are concerned about getting a job done. Oshiomhole therefore plans to appoint non-politicians as commissioners to the ministries of finance, economic planning, agriculture, infrastructure, and education, which he described as key.
Contract Fraud is State's Biggest Problem
6. (C) Oshiomhole said that his greatest challenge is not passing the right laws or creating institutions but filling posts with competent and honest people. He argued that the problem in Nigeria is "not the rules, but fraud." Financial resources, he said, need to be managed more efficiently.
Instead of delivering only a few kobo (cents) worth of value on every ten Naira spent, government should deliver eight Naira of value on every ten Naira spent, that is an 80 percent return on expenditure rather than less than 10 percent. Likewise, he said, there was no value in transparent bidding and contract
monitoring procedures unless the people responsible for awarding and monitoring contracts understand the technical aspects and fair prices of the purchased goods and services. Understanding the true price of goods and services will allow the state to avoid inflated contracts.
Education, Agriculture, Infrastructure Priorities
7. (C) Oshiomhole told PolOffs that education is the pre-requisite for all development because without skills workers cannot find work and without work people are driven to crime creating the insecurity which inhibits investment and so development. He pointed out that most Nigerians cannot afford private education and it was therefore necessary to improve public education. Currently, he said, there are often only two teachers in a school where there should be ten or twelve. Teachers also frequently have to teach all classes in the same classroom. This inevitably results in a high rate of failure, he said, and so young people grow up very angry.
8. (C) Another priority of the Oshiomhole government is agriculture because this is where the bulk of the population is employed. Currently, he said, farming in Edo state is very primitive. The farmers are dependent on the weather and have no mechanization. Because of the bad state of the roads, they cannot bring their products to market. If they sell their products near their homes, no one has money so prices are low. During the military era, Edo had a number of model commercial palm-oil plantations. (Note: Other interlocutors, notably Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, the first civilian governor of Edo State, have told us they believe poverty could largely be eliminated in Edo State if every family produced the products of palm trees on a small scale in cottage industries. End Note.)
9. (C) Infrastructure development is likewise critical for development and employment, Oshiomhole said. He listed drainage to prevent flooding in the rainy season and the development of a mass transit system as two key components of infrastructure development. Electricity and potable water are others.
10. (C) Asked about press reports that claimed Oshiomhole had promised to create 10,000 new jobs in the next six months, Oshiomhole confirmed that he had made this promise. Asked where these 10,000 jobs would be created, Oshiomhole replied "there is so much to do" especially in education and infrastructure projects. Oshiomhole said that initially the state would pay workers to provide services, but at a later stage he believes citizens can be asked to pay for public services.
Fighting Crime with Employment
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11. (C) One of Oshiomhole's personal assistants and long time associate in the Nigerian Labor Congress, Eustace James, reported to PolOff on November 19 that
Oshiomhole wanted to create as many jobs as possible because he believes unemployment is the root cause of the crime in Nigeria.
According to James, Oshiomhole believes that providing people with jobs will end the vicious cycle of violent crime and economic stagnation, and plans to invest in the economy not in guns for the police.
AC Majority in State Legislature Critical
12. (C) Oshiomhole's ability to fulfill any of his promises will depend in part on an AC majority in the State House of Assembly, where currently the PDP holds a majority and is thus in a position to thwart Oshiomhole's initiatives, according to James. However, the Election Tribunal ruled that four of fourteen mandates currently held by the PDP had been won by Oshiomhole's AC. As a result, control of the state legislature will pass to AC, if the Court of Appeals upholds the Electoral Tribunal's ruling as is expected in the first quarter of 2009.
13. (C) Comment: Oshiomhole faces immense challenges due to the budget situation left him by his predecessors combined with the huge needs of the state and the high expectations of
the electorate. Nevertheless, Oshiomhole's style and
commitment to good governance are a refreshing reminder that Nigeria possesses competent and honest leaders who with sufficient popular support are capable of bringing change to Nigeria. End Comment.
14. (U) This cable has been cleared by Embassy Abuja.