By John Mayaki
The Edo State government has wielded the big stick in its reaction to the troubling case of abuse, captured in a video that immediately went viral, at Edo College in Benin City. In a recent statement, Governor Obaseki’s suspension of the Principal and House Master was announced, followed by a promise to prosecute the offenders with the Child Rights Law.
“The disturbing video exposed the incompetence of the management of the school authority,” the statement read in part. “The Principal of Edo College, Mr. Peter Edomwonyi, has been instructed to proceed on suspension effective immediately,” it said in the section outlining the government’s actions.
While the state government cannot possibly be reviled for enforcing discipline in a place of learning, even if by stringent punitive measures that, it could argue, demonstrate its willingness to maintain a high level of competence across the board, the episode also exposed something else worth emphasizing given its accurate depiction of an ailment that afflicts the Obaseki-administration.
At the heart of the decision to punish the Principal and HouseMaster is the understanding and implementation of an old convention: that leaders are responsible for all events within their domain in a direct, inexcusable way.
When the events are good, they are singled out for praise. Although some may protest that the praise is often shared with the primary actors in a way that responsibility is not (after all, it is questionable if the Principal would have been nominated for a salary increase had those children excelled at a national spelling bee, or whether it would be his pictures on the newspapers, not theirs) – this is only one of the many burdens of leadership. When the chips are down, it doesn’t matter whose direct fault it is, you take the fall as a leader.
Accordingly, a question worth asking is if Governor Godwin Obaseki, as the elected leader of Edo State, holds himself to the same unflinching standards and leadership expectations he relied on to punish the school administrators. Leadership, after all, is also about setting good examples and serving even-handed treatment to all, including those in elevated positions. What is good for the goose should be offered to the gander. There should be no sacred cows. Otherwise, decisions become selective and immoral, resulting in a dystopia where the government loses its moral authority and legitimacy over hypocritical actions and bias.
If Governor Godwin Obaseki is convinced – and we all agree – that the Principal must step aside for failing in his duties to keep his constituency free of abuse and conducive for learning, then it is only normal to inquire if he feels the same way about his own administration that has failed – woefully, it must be said – to proffer any effective solution to the problems of the state that have cut short the lives of many and made living unbearable for many more.
The mere fact that his statement to the press and public was channeled via the office of the Secretary to the Government highlights the first of many failures. Eight months after the inauguration of another Obaseki-led term, Edo State is without a cabinet, creating an anomalous situation where a team of four persons performs government functions behind a thick veil, including media coordination and routine releases, a responsibility that ought to be naturally handled by an appointed media adviser trained to do this.
There is probably no better advertisement of failure than the fact that in the absence of war or natural disaster, the state government still engages the public via the office of the SSG at arbitrary intervals, and only during extraordinary occasions, with glib statements because the Governor has refused to form a government nearly a year after he was elected to do so.
Even if Governor Obaseki believed that his triumvirate of Shaibu and Ogie possessed the magical powers to pilot the state without the support of a cabinet, the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, not least an unsolved security disaster, rising unemployment, near-comatose education sector, and the myriad crises trailing its every intervention ought to have influenced a change in tactic.
Yet Governor Obaseki persists, distracting himself further with needless political duels that threaten to keep the state in a permanently divisive state, making governance and consensus-building difficult if not impossible.
The video that came out from Edo College was troubling indeed and the government was right to react. But another thing is true; the episode, particularly the actions of the Governor, exposes his hypocrisy and lip service to values he does not hold. Unless Governor Obaseki believes there is a rule for him and a different set for others, then he ought to follow Mr. Peter Edomwonyi home as they are both guilty of the same thing – except that the Governor’s offense is incomparably worse.