Hon Princess Benedicta Ebuehi is the Chairman of Estako East local government area of Edo State. In this interview with PATRICK OCHOGA, she spoke on some of her policies and programmes, among others
There are debates in certain quarters that local government administration has failed and should be scrapped. What is your take?
To start with, it is important for you to have an idea of the purpose of having a local government as the third tier of government. This will enable you to evaluate and appreciate our developmental efforts in the last one year, especially in Estako East local government area.
Grassroots politics form a vital element in democracy in the modern state. The absence of a healthy local government system is a disaster in any democratic experience. Democracy on the national scale can only function in a healthy manner when it is supported and nourished by a democratic local government like ours. Without the local government, democracy in Nigeria will be truncated. The best school for the development of democratic principles is the local government because it is the training ground for national leadership. The political genius among us cannot be discovered without the local government. It gives room for general participation. The local government was originally established as a training ground for political leaders at the grassroots. It provides the platform for political participation just like what we are doing here today.
This town hall meeting is an opportunity for everyone to participate in governance. It was established as a channel of communication between the national government and the local populace. As the third tier of government, the local government gives the people a sense of belonging by providing the basic needs of the people while they are waiting for the federal government intervention. Local government is a catalyst for national development by nurturing grassroots democracy, which indeed is the base for our national democracy. Therefore, those who are of the view that it should be scrapped should have a rethink because it remains the closest to the downtrodden
What is the state of the council since you took over a year ago in view of the global economic challenges?
As you are aware, I took over the affairs of this council in October 2019 when Nigeria was facing its greatest economic challenge and depression with a drastic fall in global oil prices which affected the federation account and by extension, the local government making it impossible for several local governments in the country to perform their core mandate. Drawing from the dynamism and example of our ‘Wake and See Governor’, His Excellency Godwin Obaseki who has opened up Edo State to enormous development despite all the challenges, we were able to perform the task that was committed into our hands because the duty of a political leader is not to lament with the people but to bring them of lamentation. The town hall meeting is to give a feedback on how we have been able to bring our people out of lamentation despite the daunting challenges.
Democracy derives legitimacy from the people; as such we owe it as a duty to render account to the people because they cannot be denied their right to have their say and make their contributions as to how to run a better administration hence this interactive meeting. On assumption of office as the executive chairman of the local government, I immediately conceived and embarked upon aggressive cost-saving measures for prudent spending of our dwindling resources in order to achieve maximum results with minimum cost due to the harsh economic reality.
Some of the areas we have made impact include defrayment of some debts owed contractors by previous administrations, we have also diversified the revenue base of the council by the acquisition of land to build trailer parks to service BUA and Dangote Cement companies. This will create more jobs, reduce unemployment and significantly raise the IGR of the local government when fully operational. As part of efforts to impact more lives and continue to create better opportunities and expand the political space for greater participation of our people, I presented an Executive Bill to the legislative arm which has been passed and signed into law.
The Executive Bill was signed into law for the establishment of a dedicated fish market through Public Private Partnership (PPP) in Agenebode, the council headquarters This is aimed at making Agenebode, the administrative headquarters of the local government a beehive of activities and the fishing hub in Edo State thereby creating more jobs and boosting Internally-Generated Revenue (IGR).
The council under my watch has also paid the accumulated electricity bills, provided primary health care, water supply, education, flood control, youth empowerment, among others.
How have you been able to sustain peace in the council?
I am an apostle of peace. I believe we must consolidate our democracy through constant dialogue, as this is crucial to the survival of the process. My creed that ‘no peace, no development’ is the driving force behind my resolve to engender peaceful coexistence among the people and communities in the local government area through constant roundtable jaw-jaw between communities in dispute. This is why companies operating in the local government area are carrying out their businesses without obstruction or interference from their host communities. A byproduct of this creed made the grading of Imiekhuri Road by BUA possible through Public Private Partnership with the company. I also midwifed the BUA-Okpella CDA, which has led to relative peace and tranquility in Okpella.
COVID-19 pandemic came with a lot of challenges for both state and local government areas. How were you able to handle the effect on poor rural dwellers?
The coronavirus pandemic brought about hunger and hopelessness at its peak. When the pandemic struck, as a chairman, I couldn’t leave my people in such an uncertain condition to die of hunger. I decided to personally bear the financial burden and cost from my personal earnings to ensure that families that could not afford to feed themselves were not left in a pitiable condition. I bought loads of bags of beans, rice and garri as well as cartons of cooking ingredients which were distributed to the vulnerable, weak and aged – moving from house-to-house – across the local government area to compliment the efforts of the state government in the provision of palliatives. That was the extra mile I had to go to show my people that in the midst of disaster, I can’t turn my back against them. In my one year of service, I have not absconded from my duty post and I have not abandoned the service I was called to render.
Finally, what is your message to the people of your council?
I want all the people of Etsako East local government area to come along with me in the progressive aircraft, let us pilot and move Etsako East above the base level and sustain an optimum cruising speed in the direction of our collective dream. I call on them to join me to give a voice to the collective aspirations of our people. We are in an era, in a time when the soul of Etsako East long suppressed is finding utterance. Etsako East must move forward and we can’t move forward with anger against one another. Let us forgive each other and be our brothers’ keepers. We must quench the fire of partisan political strife. We must put aside petty bickering and work together for the common good of our people.