ICYMI: Nigeria at 60: Charting a new course for Kwara

Nigeria at 60: Charting a new course for Kwara.

Today marks the 60th anniversary since the Union Jack — the British flag —was lowered for the green-white-green Nigerian National flag at the iconic ‘The Race Course’ in Lagos. It was an emotional scene for Nigerians as they reminisced about the horrors of colonial rule and imagined a future filled with great aspirations. 60 years down the line, people share varied opinions about the journey since independence.

For Kwarans, the years between 1967 when it became a state and early 2000 held so much promises in terms of people-centric development and commitment to the aspirations of its founding fathers. Kwara, straddled between the far north and the western region, is strategically positioned to be the centre of commerce. Its fertile lands and proximity to the international border are major incentives for growth. But the consensus today is that the state has underachieved, with the most basic amenities lacking and its resources committed majorly into ego projects. At the heart of the problem, many argue, was a political establishment that sank public funds in self-perpetuation causes while pursuing enclave development to the detriment of the state.

The trajectories of Kwara State changed in 2019 following the success of the Otoge political movement that enthroned Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, a popular face of the
voices that rejected the old order. Since coming on board, he has charted a new course for the state on all fronts.

For a start, he has focused on investments in basic education, primary healthcare, rural and urban roads, water and sanitation, gender inclusion, youths engagement, citizen engagements, and efforts designed to open up government for public scrutiny and accountability in manners consistent with the political barometer of the north-central state. As a leader, he has run a lean administration and he leads his team with his signature simplicity and tolerance for opposing views.

To be sure, the state was not without infrastructural strides in education. Past administrations would readily tout the founding of the Kwara State University, the Aviation College, and the IVTEC as their major achievements. That is true. But those institutions were founded on quicksand as the basic education had totally collapsed in most part of the state. In 2019, a post examination assessment of students who sat UTME papers revealed that seven in 10 candidates from Kwara could not cope with CBT. Similarly, the West African Examination Council in the same year slapped a N30.5m fine on the state following state-wide examination malpractices which pervaded the state. Whether anchored on the available infrastructure or on the quality of teaching, a visit to any primary or secondary school in the state would reveal a collapsed system. The state last accessed the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) counterpart funds in 2013 and there was no evidence of substantial investments in the sector from the state coffers. In 2013, Kwara came under the blacklist for mismanaging funds accessed from UBEC and ranked lowest in its assessments. Many counterpart funds, including in the primary healthcare sector, were last paid in 2012.

Kwara is off the UBEC blacklist. It is accessing a backlog of N7.1bn UBEC counterpart funds with a matching grant of N7.1bn to gradually reposition the schools. 31 basic schools are being renovated. Hundreds more are to be fixed. A team from the ministry of education is collaborating with some experts with a view to honing teachers’ skills while also devising strategies to end truancy and boost education outcomes. An education summit, earlier planned for March 2020, is slated to hold early next year. All the Colleges of Education that had shut down following arrears of no less than 30 months salary have resumed, while their long-lost accreditations have been restored. Same for the College of Midwifery Ilorin.

In May 2019, water tanker was the source of potable water in most parts of the capital city, even in the Government House. Pipe-borne water is back and stable in Ilorin metropolis while nearly 500 boreholes have either been dug or rehabilitated across the state. No fewer than nine water works have been fixed since the Governor came on board while contracts for more have been awarded. With water situation being tackled, Kwara is keying into the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), a key component of the Sustainable Development Goal 6 to promote hygiene and end open defecation. Under this scheme, many schools and hospitals across the state would now for the first time get tap water and pour-flush toilets.

The administration is ending the enclave development that had plagued Kwara’s past. Many agrarian communities are now getting standard roads, those hitherto cut off from civilisation are being linked, while at least 600 rural roads are to be fixed under the World Bank-enabled Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project (RAAMP) arrangement for which the administration had earlier paid counterpart funds. Road projects are spread across the senatorial districts, deliberately linking agrarian areas to the urban centres.

The health sector has received about the highest priority even before the advent of Covid-19 pandemic. With over 52 captured in the first phase, the administration has started rehabilitation works across over 100 decrepit primary healthcare facilities. Long-abandoned routine immunisation and vaccination is back. For the first time, Kwara now has isolation centres equipped with modern gadgets like ventilators, defibrillators, patient monitors, and others. Its oxygen plant has been revived. For the first time, the state now has ambulances with capacities to manage patients in critical conditions on the go. The administration is building a state-of-the-art neurosurgical unit at its premier General Hospital Ilorin that would be the biggest and best in central Nigeria. Now rated an A-list state in healthcare, the administration has resumed payment of counterpart funds which now ensures free malaria care. It recently received 2.3m mosquito nets from Global Fund, a reward for its counterpart funds, and was among the first states to be supported in the World Bank-NCDC regional disease surveillance systems enhancement (REDISSE) to strengthen Nigeria’s response to COVID-19. Despite its lean resources, the administration has recently engaged more health professionals and is on the record to have paid the highest COVID-19 hazard allowance to frontline health workers after Lagos. Kwara had the worst rate of child malnutrition in the north central. In response, the government paid the ANRIN counterpart funds to access support in this regard. The administration has implemented free healthcare insurance for at least 10,000 indigents to end out-of-pocket medical expenses, while thousands more would be enrolled in the coming years.

The Kwara State Social Investment Programme (KWASSIP) is AbdulRazaq’s multi-faceted and nonpartisan response to the question of extreme poverty and government’s poor attention to the vulnerable. Under the scheme, at least 21,623 petty traders have accessed soft loans to stay afloat while over 10,000 transporters who could not work during the COVID-19 lockdown were supported. Similarly, already-enumerated 10,000 vulnerable and poor senior citizens, from age 60, are to get monthly stipends under what would be the state’s first ever institutionalised safety net. The scheme is also offering free digital training to young people to help them cope in the new economy. Over 3000 persons received training in July while 10,000 more are undergoing a richer version of the course in the second phase of the programme in conjunction with Wootlab Innovation and Grow With Google. A total of 30,000 young people are billed to benefit from the training within three years. Proprietors across 1,119 private schools in the state are also being offered soft loan to help cushion the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown. The federal government has hailed Kwara State’s version of the Owo Isowo (TraderMoni) for its innovative features, such as the inclusion of BVN of the beneficiaries.

Kwara’s ease of doing business ranking was poor, going by the World Bank assessment released in 2019. The administration has taken steps to steadily remedy the situation and make the state more business friendly. Steps already taken include the launch of e-Governance team to bring Kwara closer to the business community, prompt processing of certificate of ownership, aggressive reforms at the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service, and increasing adoption of electronic platforms to conduct government business. Besides, the government has recently activated public procurement agency (PPA) to ensure contract award is timely, open and easily accessible, and follows due process. The Kwara State Investment Promotion Agency (KWIPA) bill is now with the State Assembly, designed to coordinate investment proposals, facilitate contacts and negotiations with relevant authorities, and organise recruitment and identifying suitable properties. The government is also working on a digital one-stop shop to provide information on all investment opportunities, procedures and requirements, as well as allow investors to do online registration of their businesses, e-Tax registration and remittance, online land allocation inquiry, and process and receive their e-Construction permit. Add that to the recent near 100% waiver of the right of way to telecom firms to deepen broadband penetration in the state and the recently passed law setting up Kwara State Geographic Information Service (KW-GIS).

Development is closely tied to good planning. The administration has recently designed a soon-to-be-launched agricultural transformation plan for the state — the first of such in the north central. The Governor is also giving Ilorin a new master plan to guarantee proper development that takes care of population growth and preventive measures against natural disaster like flooding and rainstorms. The first and only Ilorin master plan was designed in 1972 by the David Bamigboye regime.

The plan captures Kwara’s strategic involvement in the National Livestock Transformation Programme which seeks to guarantee food security and end the perennial clashes between herders and farmers. The administration has recently hired tractors to help in the 2020 planting season. About 2,400 poor farmers across 60 communities benefitted from the tractor subsidy.

AbdulRazaq is redefining governance in the state. He has set the record as the first political leader in Nigeria and indeed black Africa to have 56.25% women appointees in the cabinet, making him the most gender friendly Governor. Nearly 50 percent of his permanent secretaries are women, another first in the state, while over 60 percent of his appointees are persons between 30 and 45 years.

Transparency is key in government business. The Governor is increasingly famous for involving third parties and independents in his programmes. He recently formally invited the country’s top anti-graft agency to probe allegations of funds diversion from the local governments’ accounts under his own watch. That was a first in the country. Again, in response to public demand for more value for money, he introduced the social auditing process that allows third parties to vet government projects in the state. That is another first, designed to check poor execution of contracts, cleanse the system, and put officials on their toes. On Tuesday September 29, he directed that a government contractor should make refunds after they were indicted for a job not properly done in a social audit report by a civic group.

A general civil service reform is ongoing to reposition the sector for optimal service delivery, heralded by a promotion exercise and provision of good working environment to boost morale and restore professionalism. The Governor deems these steps to be very crucial to evolving the Kwara envisioned by its founding fathers — one that would compete among its peers as Nigeria faces the challenge of development in the post-COVID-19 global economy. And he feels that growth begins ultimately with fixing the shaky foundation of a state that once led the old northern Nigeria.

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