OPINION: AbdulRazaq: Two years of reasserting Kwara's leadership.
By Rafiu Ajakaye
One interesting takeaway from the American presidential democracy is the undying culture of people marking the milestones of their elected leaders — like the first 100 days, first year anniversary, and a lot more. Members of the public, and especially the media, take such opportunity to benchmark administrations against the past, as well as set agenda for the future. Some leaders spend such times to roll out the drums, others do not really care much about this tradition. Wherever you stand on this tradition, there is no harm in periodic review of the situation of things.
Skippered by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, the Otoge administration in Kwara is understandably under watch by supporters and opposition alike. Two years on, a lot has happened to chart a uniquely new course for the frontline state despite the harsh economic realities. From health sector, basic education, human capital development, safety net for the poor, water, to general infrastructural development, Kwara has verifiably turned the page.
A revolution is going on in the health sector, as it is elsewhere in Kwara, tangible and intangible - to the chagrin of bookmakers.
For the first time since its founding in 1967, Kwara is having a general hospital that is worth that name in facilities and in accreditations. Until now, the premier general hospital had no functional intensive care unit (ICU) facility. No state hospital had any. Today, the AbdulRazaq administration has delivered a 12-bed ICU that is not just the largest in central Nigeria but is equipped with modern gadgets that include ventilators, patient monitors, defibrillators, syringe pump, suction machines, infusion pumps, and appropriate ICU beds, among other medical tools required to manage patients in critical condition. Before now, ICU equipment were available only at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital in Oke Oyi, a federal government facility.
Additional two dialog+evolution hemodialysis machines have been procured to serve special needs of patients with kidney diseases in enough quantity to prevent cross infections. Several modern ophthalmic equipment have also been purchased for the hospital - the first time any Kwara State administration has done so. Previous ophthalmic equipment were supplied by some non-profits. The administration has also purchased new equipment for all sections of the dental section of the hospital, including two new dental chairs with modern accessories. The focus is to create another healthcare haven and eventually surpass places like Kaduna as the go-to place for specialist services in northern Nigeria. A 25-bed new ward for in-patient care is also underway at the general hospital, along with a new ophthalmic centre and a remodelled dental centre.
In December 2020, the hospital bagged a historic accreditation by the Faculty Board of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (O&G) of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria to train resident doctors. That came alongside another accreditation by the West African College of Physicians for the general hospital to train resident doctors in family medicine. The accreditations were a product of deliberate investment in the general hospital over the last two years.
Similar investments have been made or are in the works in a few other general hospitals, including Offa, Okuta, and Lafiagi. The Oro General Hospital is on the radar, prepped to assume a new, strategic status in the kingdom and nearby communities.
The administration has brought basic healthcare facilities back to life, with over 23 of them hitherto abandoned to rot already fixed across the state. Many more - in the north, south, and central - are primed for rehabilitative works. Add all of those to the commitment fee of N100m that has enrolled Kwara into a federal government-supported one PHC-per-ward primary healthcare gateway.
Last year, the moribund state oxygen plant came back to life, serving especially the newly built top-of-the-line isolation centre. Since coming on board, the administration has hired over 300 health care personnel, including doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists, pharmacists, and other alike to strengthen service delivery and improve quality of care, while at least 5,000 poor citizens have benefited from free surgical interventions, including eye surgery for cataract, removal of breast lumps, cervical cancer screening and cryotherapy treatment, repair of inguinal hernias, hydrocele, and lipomas .
In September 2020, the Governor flagged off the onboarding of 10,000 indigents into the state’s health insurance scheme. 31,000 more indigents have since been enrolled into the scheme while formal sector participants have also keyed into it. Kwara now has a few state-of-the-arts ambulances, up from zero when the government came on board.
Kwara is a leading state in the fight against COVID-19, with the state leading national tally in vaccination for the pandemic.
In the education sector, the administration has set a pace that is the talk of the town in Nigeria. At least 4,701 teachers were recently employed through a process that considered only competence and qualification, shutting the door against favouritism. It was the first time in the recent history of the state that applicants for government jobs needed not know anyone, politicians, thought leaders, or any social influencers; all they needed was competence, right qualification, and an ability to convince the panel comprising top educationists that they merit the job. In that exercise, children of the rich and influential played on the same field as their counterparts from poor homes.
The recruitment occurred amid an ongoing process to give facelift to dilapidated school structures and build new ones across the state -thanks to the N7.1bn the Governor had recently accessed from the Universal Basic Education after seven years of official blacklist of Kwara State. No fewer than 300 schools will be rehabilitated in the process. At the moment, the administration has concluded works on most of the 43 schools under renovation across the state.
Having earlier breathed life back to many of them, especially the hitherto moribund Colleges of Education, Kwara’s tertiary institutions continue to receive attention. The administration has completed a 3,000-seat auditorium at the Kwara State Polytechnic and a fully-equipped 300-seat information communication technology centre at the Offa College of Health Technology, complete with an access road that had been a nightmare for years.
The Governor became a national figure at age 30 when he became the first Nigerian to own and operate the first fully-indigenous firm to trade in crude oil. He had since then been known as a billionaire entrepreneur. His passion for youth empowerment possibly had its root in the success he made of his youthful days. Recently, the administration rolled out the Kwapreneurs, an ambitious plan to invest in and raise a new generation of successful young people. Under the scheme, 35-year-olds or younger people with viable business ideas or existing one will be supported with interest-free loans ranging from N350, 000 to N3m. With 1,200 young people designed to benefit over the next four years, the Kwapreneurs is Kwara’s most significant economic programme yet for the youths. The recruitment into the Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM), in which at least 2,000 teachers were engaged, had exclusively targeted youths as persons above 35 were not considered for the jobs.
Apart from a bulk of his appointees being persons in their 20/30s and 40s, various government offices have rolled out different youth-focused programmes. These include the Kwara digital scheme and the ongoing software development training.
Two imposing structures are sprouting a few metres apart just adjacent the Government House. One, located just within the expansive precincts of Kwara Hotel, is the Innovation Hub, and the other is the Visual Arts Centre. Both had been conceived by the Governor to give young Kwarans, and anyone alike, a foothold in the digital age. When completed, Innovation Hub will be a breeding ground for techies to weigh in on societal challenges, while the Visual Arts Centre, the second Dolby Atmos certified film production studio in west Africa, will make Kwara the new go-to place for African creative industry.
Kwara State Social Investment Programme, initiated by the Governor, is the largest (and, according to the Bank of Industry, the most transparent) safety net by any subnational government in Nigeria today. The four-pronged scheme targets poor and vulnerable elders, petty traders, young people, and school-age children. These are Owo Arugbo (which currently has at least 10,000 elderly beneficiaries); Owo Isowo with no fewer than 21,000 beneficiaries; K-power for youths with over 13,000 trained in digital marketing skills; and Ounje Ofe, free food, designed for schoolchildren.
Agriculture is Nigeria's number one driver of economic growth. Blessed with vast arable land, good climate and peaceful atmosphere, Kwara has comparative advantages to be the country's hub for agribusiness. But this requires substantial investments in critical infrastructure and sustainable plan to convert its potentials to real growth. Steps are already being taken in this direction. On January 15, 2021, the administration launched a 10-year agricultural transformation plan that is pegged on six pillars of crop production, finance, livestock, access to market, value chain, and cross-cutting programmes.
The administration has paid unprecedented attention on rural and urban roads to reduce travel time, boost productivity, and encourage investments in agriculture. Over 700 kilometres of rural roads and several river crossings linking farming communities are to be fixed under the World Bank/Kwara partnership within the next years - made possible with the government’s payment of N400m counterpart funds between 2019 and 2020. The asphalt work on the 33kilometre iconic Gwanara Ilesha Baruba road has begun, while significant rehabilitation works have been done on the long abandoned Kaiama-Kosubosu, while talks are ongoing to get Abuja to fix the long stretch between Kishi and Kaiama. Earlier, the administration graded the Bani Kaiama road to ease movement of farm produce. The administration has constructed dozens of interlocking (access) roads in the metropolis to shorten travel time.
From zero functional tractor it inherited in 2019, the administration has purchased at least 15 new tractors, complemented with implements and sustainable plans, to support commercial farming, drive economic growth, and create jobs. Recently, the Governor flagged off agricultural inputs subsidy scheme to support smallholder farmers with chemicals, improved seeds, and fertilisers at half market price. No fewer than 10,000 beneficiary farmers have been captured. The subsidy is an offshoot of the Beta Yield component of the transformation plan. Another component is the 500-hectare per local government Farm Kwara initiative whose pilot scheme has berthed in Ifelodun local government, supported by the private sector to help young people and women through agribusiness.
Within a space of two years, Kwara is back to national reckoning in sports and youths development. That effort began with the reintroduction of the sports festival which was last held in 2005. The official football team, Kwara United, are back in the premier league and, thanks to the government's support, are a strong contender for the continental ticket. The administration has just constructed an eight-winged squash court, the largest in the country. Dilapidated facilities like the basketball court, handball court, baseball court, Kwara Football Academy facilities (hostel have been revamped. The Olympic-size swimming pool, long condemned to rot like others, is already taking shape. The extensive works on these facilities are a deliberate attempt to engage the youths and redirect national traffic of sports lovers and athletes to Kwara.
Up from its strides in the water sector in the first anniversary, the administration has commenced the construction of new waterworks in Jebba, completion/extension of the one in Oyun/Offa, and Rore, and extensive reticulation within Ilorin metropolis.
Huge investments are being made on security, such as purchase of patrol vehicles. Besides, Kwara currently sponsors the largest number of (community) police constabularies to aid intelligence gathering and protect lives and properties.
The administration is working hard to promote accountability. Its adoption of e-procurement process, its enviable profile in the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS), and the social audit programme testify to this. Add that to its prudence which enables the state to survive, and pay salaries as and when due, at this crunch time.
The administration's towering achievements across sectors are just as significant as the Governor's silent yet prevailing Greater Kwara Doctrine - a culture of extending the dividends of democracy to every Kwaran or residents of Kwara, regardless of their persuasions. That Greater Kwara Doctrine erases the cronyism of the past years where government jobs or patronage were reserved exclusively for chieftains and followers of a political tendency. The doctrine has consistently played out since 2019: from the unexpected retention of top civil servants in their positions to distribution of COVID-19 relief food, ENDSARS business support funds, recruitment of medical personnel, teachers’ recruitment, and payment of promotion arrears for teachers dating back to 2015, among others.
What we see under the Governor is what the ordinary man calls 'Ijoba mekunu' -- a government with genuine attachment to and love for the vulnerable and the poor.
Strategic plan is central to sustainable development. On that note, a 10-year Kwara State Sustainable Development Plan (2021-2030) is ready for launch. The blueprint will serve to better coordinate government’s responses to population growth, youths bulge, food security, human capital and infrastructural development, and job creation strategies. And, as the capital city expands and grows in population, the second Ilorin master plan is now in the works to prepare for the future - 49 years after the first master plan was designed by the Bamigboye regime.
•Ajakaye is Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Kwara State