AbdulRasaq and the challenge of restoration in Kwara
On his first day in office, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, the seventh democratically elected governor of Kwara State, gave a clear signal that his administration would be a departure from a past laced with profligacy and fanfare that had crippled the state. He had insisted on a lean inauguration ceremony on the grounds that Kwara didn’t have the resources to waste. No partying. No merriments. He backed that up with a no-private-jet policy and has kept a very lean entourage that often comprises himself, with his signature backpack, and a few aides. Three months on, he continues to ride his personal vehicle as a mark of discipline.
At a post-inauguration meeting with Kwara thought leaders, he told them he wouldn’t be a ‘Government House’ governor. At the parley with civil servants, he made it clear they were free to air their views as the engine room of government without fear of witch-hunt. He has kept both promises. AbdulRazaq has repeatedly been sleeping in some villages in the state, visiting schools, hospitals and moribund institutions and industries — dozens of kilometres away from the comfort of Government House or his own home — to better assess the endemic rot and determine government redemptive initiatives. The last time a Kwara governor slept outside of the state capital while on state duty was in the 1980s under Cornelius Adebayo. AbdulRazaq added another dimension to his when he summoned the permanent secretaries and directors to join him for a meeting at a decrepit school in Patigi, many kilometres away from their Ilorin base, so they could have firsthand experience of the extent of the pains of the people and the rot to be fixed.
In July, he directed that the 2019 budget review sessions be held at the Special Needs School at Apata Yakuba, away from the air-conditioned conference rooms at Government Secretariat. The Governor said holding budget review sessions in an environment as deprived as that school was his way of redirecting the focus of the technocrats to the plights of the poor.
The main talking point after inauguration was the fate of the so-called sunset workers whose employments were almost surreptitiously effected by the departing administration. After initially suspending their pay to allow for some checks, AbdulRazaq restored their salary, in what was a clear departure from the past. In 2003, workers and statutory appointees engaged by the administration of the late Mohammed Lawal were summarily sacked and all entitlements due them withheld without any recourse to the law. AbdulRazaq’s position was that the affected civil servants are Kwarans. While their employments may indeed be questionable, he didn’t rule out the possibility of a general screening — now ongoing for teachers — to ensure that only qualified hands are allowed to teach our children. This instantly set him apart as a statesman.
AbdulRazaq inherited a state with abysmal records on all fronts. The people of Baruten often had to visit the neighbouring Benin Republic to access medical care. In Ilorin, the state capital; thousands troop to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital for minor health issues. The General Hospital in Ilorin, the state’s premier hospital, didn’t even have water— much less drugs or basic facilities to attend to millions of people. The state had spent over N6 billion on water without result. Children sit on the floor to learn in schools with thatched roofs. Retirees were not getting paid. Ministries, departments and parastatals of government had nothing to work with. Public facilities were sold out to cronies of the defeated dynasty at ridiculous prices.
With chronic default in payment of counterpart funding, Kwara held the crown of being the lowest performing state on the Universal Basic Education Commission ranking. Everything was retrogressing. Investors stayed away. Public trust in government was at its lowest. The state-owned media houses, including the popular Radio Kwara, were down. And the state was indebted to the tune of N80bn with nothing meaningful to show for it.
That was enough to overwhelm the faint-hearted. Not for the clear-eyed and sure-footed AbdulRazaq. He started where it matters: offering empathetic leadership and building public confidence in the new administration. His first few meetings did the magic, followed by visits to various public facilities and his love for staying low-key. No sirens. No long convoys. No prior information about visit to warrant official niceties.
The visits have been purposeful and those who sneered at his moving around are now eating their words. Within 100 days, Radio Kwara is back on air. Kwara Television is back to our screens. The Herald is back on the newsstands. Water is now running in most parts of Ilorin, including at the General Hospital. The rehabilitation and upgrade of the state’s four major water works in Ilorin, Lafiagi, Patigi, and Igbaja are over 95% completed. 400 boreholes are also being rehabilitated across the state to ease water crisis. No more water tankers!
Colleges of Education are back to work, with prompt payment of staff salaries and arrears owed by the last administration, and re-accreditation of their courses. With the prompt payment of the N450m debt, UBEC has readmitted Kwara from its pariah status. The Kwara State School of Nursing and Midwifery has now been reaccredited. The governor recently paid N232m counterpart funds to address child and maternal health problems, malnutrition, and malaria. This will enable Kwara to access the Basic Healthcare Provisions Fund to provide subsidised healthcare, especially for the poor and the vulnerable.
Dozens of roads have been fixed in the state capital to ease movement of people and goods. The OkeFoma bridge has been fixed, ending years of suffering of communities long cut off from other parts of the state capital. Having paid the first tranche of N200m counterpart funds, Kwara will now benefit from the $60m Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project III of the World Bank. Contractors are now back to site to fix the Gwanara Road, in Baruten, where two former governors were stoned during the election. The Coca Cola Road in Road in Ilorin, long abandoned by the previous administration, has now been fixed.
Two different courts — one in CentreIgboro and the other in Sango — have been rehabilitated. Efforts are ongoing to build more courtrooms and renovate the derelict ones.In his bid to save lives and properties, he has rehabilitated the Ilorin Fire Service Operational Station on Unity Road which had long collapsed.
Positive continuity in the overall interest of the people of the state underpins the governor’s philosophy of governance. Under no circumstance will Kwara State be a cemetery of uncompleted projects, he recently said. His predecessors never touched any projects initiated by their own predecessors since 2003. Not so with the people-first Governor. The New Secretariat Complex will be ready for commissioning in the coming weeks. Lamenting how Kwara civil servants still work from rented structures, the Governor had in June after an assessment meeting with the contractors, released N350m to the contractors to complete the project left by his predecessor.
Beyond that, for the first time in many years, government ministries, departments and agencies now get their monthly running cost to be able to function. And many years after, gratuities are being paid. Bids have opened for the construction of 13 major roads across the three senatorial districts. Kwara is pitching to benefit from the N200bn Central Bank of Nigeria ‘innovation hub’ fund for investment in textile and creative industries — an initiative specifically targeted at the youth and women.
Holistic equipping of the Ilorin General Hospital is on the cards as the Governor plans to convert it to a tertiary hospital ahead of the expected take off of medical programmes at the Kwara State University, Malete. When completed, according to the Governor, the hospital will be the launchpad for telemedicine in Kwara. Talks are ongoing with the African Development Bank on the construction of Kosubosu-Lafiagi road, a project certain to reduce travel time within the expansive Kwara North and shore up investments in the axis. Owing to his leg works, the state may also benefit from $200m energy project for National Electrification and transmission lines and a $50m facility to support SMEs, especially women-owned enterprises.
The icing on the cake is his first executive bill to the state Assembly — Kwara State Social Investment Programme. It targets the poor through conditional cash transfer, unskilled population, the small and medium scale businesses, and schoolchildren. Modelled after the Federal Government’s initiative, Kwara’s anti-poverty bill seeks equitable distribution of wealth and economic growth in the interest of all.
One hundred days may not provide a definitive assessment of performance. However, on the evidence of initiatives and interventions of Governor AbdulRazaq, a new dawn has already broken for the long-suffering people of Kwara State. The pointers are that the building blocks of prosperity are being assembled to take the good people of Kwara State out of the morass of underdevelopment. It calls for commitment, sacrifice, belief, and patience on the part of all.
Is Kwara now an Eldorado? No! But certainly a breath of fresh air. What no one can deny is that Kwara is no longer the stagnant state it was a few months ago. People can point at sincere efforts to build a state that works for everyone — whether rich or poor, young or old.
Ajakaye is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Kwara State.