By Joel Brinkley

By most accounts, Adams Oshiomhole is the most popular governor Nigeria's Edo state has ever had. He is up for re-election, and the outcome could go one of three ways: Ruling-party thugs will kill him, as they have already twice tried to do. They will steal the election, as is the nation's custom. Or, the least likely, Oshiomhole will be declared the winner.

"They have not had a transparent election in a very long time," Oshiomhole told me in an interview.

You see, during his four years in office, the governor has done something Nigerian politicians just don't do. He has actually spent some of this oil-rich state's largesse on schools, roads and other infrastructure for ordinary people's use. That left President Goodluck Jonathan and every other totally corrupt official aghast, asking: Who the hell does he think he is?

Nigeria is a wealthy nation.

Each and every day, the government takes in just over $169 million in oil revenue. A year ago, when a barrel of oil cost more than $100, the gross was at least $210 million. Every single day.

Most people understand the phrase "oil curse." Well, Nigeria invented it -- and still lives it. While government officials wallow in lives of incalculable splendor, the nation also finds itself on or near a number of unenviable top-10 lists, including the number of children infected with HIV, lowest life expectancy, the number of children who die before age 5 and the number of women who die during child birth. It also ranks near the bottom in adult literacy, average annual income, pandemic corruption and infant wasting -- babies given so little nutrition that they're virtually starving to death.

That's not so unusual in southern Africa, but none of the other states is so besot with oil money. And that's Oshiomhole's problem.

For years, he said, his predecessor in the Edo state governorship, like every Nigerian official, told constituents there simply was no money available for public-works projects. Now the governor has shown them all to be liars.

Around the world, scores of states are totally corrupt. In fact, the relatively clean states of the West are anomalies. Most countries run vast patronage networks under which everyone from the head of state to policemen and schoolteachers benefits from the corruption. So if one official stands up and defies the "rules" of governance, he jeopardizes the positions of everyone else.

That's why two dozen thugs, apparently ruling-party employees, opened fire on his convoy last Thursday as he returned from a campaign event. The governor's own guards protected him and repelled the attackers.

In April, a large truck deliberately rammed Oshiomole's convoy but hit the wrong car and ended up killing three journalists instead. And a few weeks later, four assassins burst into the home of the governor's principal private secretary and killed him in front of his wife and young children. Another attempt, to kill his information minister, failed because the minister was not home at the time.

The governor is a former labor leader who led several successful nationwide strikes. That helped him get elected the first time. I can't tell you that he's totally honest; that's hard to know. But his track record of building infrastructure is undeniable and leaves his opposition, the ruling People's Democratic Party, only to cavil about the lack of qualified teachers for the shiny new schools. (So, whose fault is that?)

"The entire establishment is mobilized against me," the governor said, grimacing. When he ran for governor the first time, in 2007, the state election commission declared the ruling-party candidate the winner, and only 17 months later did legal challenges succeed in establishing that Oshiomhole had actually won.

Meantime, under President Jonathan, the state has fallen into chaos. Among so many other problems, a Muslim terror group, Boko Haram, is bombing churches and other sites, killing hundreds. Twenty seven people died when Boko Haram attacked a police station last week.

Oshiomhole explained that the terror group came in to existence as a government official's private force but then "the bombings spread beyond where they started" and are now beyond any official control.

The Edo state election is July 14. Oshiomhole likes to say "my strategy is to invest in a way that brings the greatest good to the greatest number of people." For democracies worldwide, that's a boilerplate campaign trope. In Nigeria, however, Oshiomhole is the only politician who says things like that -- and then actually follows through.


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