As AbdulRasaq lays hands on the plough in Kwara
With the benefit of having been administered by three different political parties at different periods, Kwara State is one of the states in the country that is constantly under public scrutiny. KUNLE ODEREMI takes a look at the trajectory of governance in the state vis-a-vis the current administration of Governor AbdulrahmanAbdulRasaq in the state.
WEEKS back, the controversy surrounding Ile Arugbo in Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State took a centre stage in political discourse. The two parties involved in the row: the state government and the family of the Second Republic Senate Leader, the late Dr Olusola Saraki became embroiled in a cold war. The issue almost relegated public scrutiny of the activities of the current government in the state, with the media buzz with the real and the sublime on the facts behind the Ile Arugbo controversy.
While the dramatis personae have ceased fire, at least, publicly over the faceoff, the issue of governance has gradually returned to the front burner of political discussion and dissection in a state widely regarded as a cultural melting pot in the North-Central part of the country. Since May 29, 1999 when Nigeria restored civil rule, Kwara has had four civilian governors, beginning with Mohammed Lawal, who was elected on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). The party is one of the legacy parties that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2014.
Lawal only served for a single term of fours before he was replaced by Dr Bukola Saraki, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who administered the state from 2003 to 2011. He handed over to Abdulfatah Ahmed (PDP), who lost his bid for re-election to the incumbent, Governor Abdulrahman AbdulRasaq, in the 2019 general election. Each of his predecessors contributed their widow’s mite to the socio-economic growth and development of Kwara. The impact of each cuts across the provision of public utilities, impetus into agriculture, infrastructure and education.
So, the arduous task before AbdulRasaq now is to raise the bar of governance such that the people of the state can derive maximum benefits and results from the sweat of their efforts at the poll, despite the lean resources at his disposal. His primary assignment is to bring a value addition to the distraught people, whose access to the basic things of life is seemingly forlorn before now. And since placing his hand on the plough, the governor appears to have picked the gauntlet, going by some information obtained from some independent sources within and outside the state. Because governance is a continuum, the administration has no choice but to inherit both the assets and liabilities of his predecessors.
The inauguration speech of AbdulRasaq on May 29, 2019 indicated that the task ahead was beyond sloganeering but more importantly about pragmatism: “What we stand for is to empower our people; make society and life better; strengthen family values; improve efficiency and service delivery in our public services” he said. He gave an insight into what he regarded as the bane of Kwara over the years and promised a new dawn His words: “What we have lacked before now are dependable and sustainable development plans, credible policies and policy discipline, accountability and transparency, a good sense of social justice and ability to expand social and political spaces that will promote tolerance, equality and innovation.”
To make a difference therefore, the governor listed key areas of priority as he hit the ground running: “Revamp our education to produce the best minds that will in turn make Kwara second to none; promote industry, agriculture, technology and social services and open up new vistas of opportunities that will promote the common good. These are areas where our government will make a difference.”
Things will have to be done differently; that the new leadership should always think outside the box because of limited funds. Blessed with diverse natural endowments, Kwara is famous for agriculture asthe main source of the economy and the principal cash crops include cotton, cocoa, coffee, kolanut, tobacco, beniseed and palm produce. Mineral resources in the state are gold, limestone, marble, feldspar, clay, kaolin, quartz and granite rocks.
Notwithstanding the scarce resources at its disposal, top officials said the administration recorded major strides in many areas cutting across ministries, departments and agencies (MDA). In accordance to popular demand, the government is said to be resolute on transparency, accountability and due process towards reducing the overall cost of governance without compromising standard and productivity of its workforce. It pruned the number of ministries from 19 to 16 by restructuring the MDAs and created a Ministry of Special Duties. Accordingly, the government has leveraged on the new structure to create necessary synergy towards making all the machinery of government and governance, smooth, effective and efficient. A few instances will suffice, based on facts and figures from the MDAs. For example, the government paid a sum of N20 million counterpart fund for the World Bank RAAMP project 3, as well as rehabilitated no fewer than 27 roads and constructed a lot of interlocking pavements in strategic locations in the state capital.
Realising the importance of energy supply to the socio-economic growth and development of the state, the administration has settled debts running into millions to ensure seamless operations by MDAs, including institutions in the health sector. While giving fillip to rural electrification, the administration procured transformers to also to boost water supply to the citizens, with remarkable successes in Ilorin, Sobi, Igbaja, Lafiaji and Kaima. One of the most striking pragmatic intervention of the administration was in the education sector, which remains a major concern to all stakeholders in the state. Apart from giving priority to the payment of bursary to students of the state origin in tertiary institutions, the government released monthly subventions and allocations to all its tertiary institutions, as well as ensure the accreditation of the School of Basic Midwifery, Ilorin. The progress achieved by the state ministry of finance and economic development, according to available data, amply demonstrate the attitude of the government to the welfare of its workforce and matters that could fast-track the agenda of the governor to make a difference within the shortest possible time. The multifaceted approach launched by the ministry towards the attainment of that singular dream of the governor include payment of the pension and gratuity to retired civil servants, release of counterpart fund for strategic projects in partnership with international donors; prompt release of subventions to parastatals and agencies; special budgetary provision to feed the downtrodden and the physically challenged children. A whopping sum of N500 million was released to the World Bank for the Accelerated Nutritional Programme designed to tackle the menace of malnutrition, starving and other nutritional deficiencies. The government has also paid the outstanding N450 million counterpart fund to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) so that the state can access grant for the renovation of public primary schools that had been begging for attention. Similarly, the sum of N200 million was channelled into the Rural Agricultural Marketing Scheme (RAMS), just as N49.7 million was paid to the World Bank to access FADAMA 3 to improve productivity. To further boost the morale of workers in the civil service, the government makes sure that they get their salaries latest by the 25th of every month.
Among the strategies introduced by the governor to give a new phase to governance in the state is on the issue of gender sensitivity. The paradigm shift is underlined by the fact that nine out of his 16 commissioners are women, with the action of the governor described as epochal by an organisation, More Women Campaign Group. The body, which comprises professionals and experts, said the task before the beneficiaries was enormous. Therefore, they counselled: “This step by Mr Governor resounds the yearning of well- meaning Nigerians, home and abroad. The appointment demonstrates his support for women voices and serves as a recognition of their relevance in the society. We call on the distinguished women so appointed to embrace the culture of inclusion, transparency and accountability, to demonstrate the importance of women contributions to good governance.”
One of the senior citizens of the state that called on the governor shortly after he took over the mantle of leadership was the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari. The governor did not mince words about his mandate as he began to settle down in Government House. He said he was aware of the situation he met on ground but that he would remain focused on the cardinal programme he had set for his administration.
The blueprint encompasses the provision of potable water, rehabilitation of bad roads, payment of unpaid gratuities, completion of abandoned projects, resuscitation of the state media organisations, especially Radio Kwara, deliberate effort to end the resurgence of polio, revamping of education sector and the healthcare system. He said all the issues had received attention since he became governor.
With three months to the first anniversary of his administration, one question that is likely to preoccupy the mind of Governor AbdulRasaq is public perception. With the seeming policy of more action and less talk of his administration, he and his team believe their work should speak for them. And given the prime position of Kwara among the states in the North Central geopolitical zone, the burden on the shoulders of those currently on the driver’s seat is to say the least, tasking and challenging. Of course, the governor realizes the challenge in view of the agenda he presented to the members of his cabinet from the beginning: “Let me remind all of you that we are not necessarily the best out of the 3.5m people in this state. However, providence has placed on our shoulders the historic responsibility to take our people out of Egypt and safely into the Canaan land.” But in moving forward, AbdulRazaq added: “This task requires focus, patience, sacrifice, tact, speed, and constant supplication to God Almighty to guide us every step of the way. We must engage, listen, and relate well with our people whose mandate has brought us here. In doing so, we must see the whole of Kwara as our constituency.”