OPINION: Kwara: The Fire This Time. By Bolaji Abdullahi

Date: 2002-05-15
By Bolaji Abdullahi

Kwara State was in the news again recently. Unfortunately, and as usual these days, it is for the bad reasons. The state capital, Ilorin was on fire. People were killing and burning and looting and running. Before our very eyes, the state of harmony has transformed to a state of full anarchy. But no one who has followed events in the state in the last few months would be surprised by this latest vortex of insanity. The prognosis has been made long ago on this page. And what we are witnessing now, no matter how bad, is still merely symptomatic of the coming disaster. And when it happens, Kwara and its people may not be the only victims. The First and the Second Republics did not collapse because the entire country was on fire. The two tragedies started from isolated cases of crises. Now we are on the march again. This time, God forbid, it could start from Kwara.

Why all this is happening is well known. But it would not be superfluous to recap here, if only for the purpose of amplification. Kwara, today, represents the classic patrimonial state. A most shameless personalisation of the state and everything in it. Everything and everybody in the state revolves around the Governor. The commissioners are mere supporters club in the very ordinary sense of just clapping for the governor. The governor's name and image have seized the town like a bad case of hay fever. Signboards and billboards, taxis, buses and wheel barrows, streets and public toilets: everything literally screams the governor's name. There should be limits to self-glorification. But in Kwara, erecting images have become a dominant weapon of occupying the territory. And last week's mayhem was immediately traceable to the contest over political signboards by followers of the governor and those of his erstwhile patron, Dr. Olusola Saraki. I don't intend to go into the details of who did what in that grim episode here. But what has always been clear to me is this: The naval officer does not want to lose his control of the ship. And he would rather sink it and everyone on board with it rather than allow the ship to sail without him in charge; the political landlord is afraid of losing his claim on his territory, and he would do anything to prove that he is still relevant. Therefore, even utterly stupid things like cheap signboards assume a high political significance, important enough to kill and maim for. These two men are going down, and they want to take all of us with them. We have watched them and their thugs transform the people into mad dogs and set them against one another, while their own children luxuriate in their parent's obscene riches, far away from the scene of battle.

The governor himself put the gravity of the matter very clearly last week. He announced that he has evacuated his family from the house so that they would not be caught in the crossfire. This, I must say, is a wise decision for any man who could afford it. But Governor Lawal is not any man. He is the Chief Security Officer of the state. What he did was therefore a clear abdication of responsibility. By moving his family out of town, the governor has admitted that the state and its people can no longer be trusted in his care. So, he has no business remaining in that office a minute longer, if Kwara had a House of Assembly that is alive to its task. But there is yet another side to this, which is very troubling indeed. except that now that the governor has evacuated his family from the battle zone, all the fury of hell should now descend on the town. And those who have nowhere to move their families should only wait to be slaughtered as sacrifice to the ambitions of these two power merchants.

Kwara is also a classic prebendal state. And this is closely connected to the problem of thuggery and desperation that we see play out now. Even the most fanatical supporter of the governor would agree that things used to be better than they are today. Kwara was never a rich state. But it has always managed to get by, at least, it could pay its salaries. Today, we are witnessing a situation where at no time in the history of the state had it had so much money from the Federation Account, and at no time had things gone so bad that the government would want to put its workers on half-salaries. But I will return to this shortly.

Uptill now, the 2002 budget has not been approved by the House because they could not agree with the Governor on what he wants to spend. That is heartening. Last year, the House approved N254million for him, but the Governor spent N510million and nothing happened. This time, he is asking for N610million security vote. Even if Kwara State is at war with its neighbours, one should still ask the Governor what he intends to secure with that much money apart from his political fortunes.

At the second anniversary celebration of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, the Governor of Sokoto State said something that I find very significant indeed. Bafarawa was trying to convince his audience over how unfair the Obasanjo Presidency has been to the north, especially in the distribution of resources. He said: "By the time we came in, crude oil was selling at $9 per barrel. Three months later, the price shot up to $30 per barrel and remained so for two good years. If a state such as Sokoto could receive about N20billion from the Federation Account over the period, one could imagine the quantum of the resources at the disposal of the Federal Government all these years! Unfortunately, however, what has the North got from the Federal Government in the areas of education, health, agriculture, transport, etc in return for the support given to Obasanjo?"

This is my interpretation of what the governor was saying: "if you could afford to give me so much, it means you have a lot more, but what have you done for me? I am sure it would not take a gifted five-year old child to ask the only question that must naturally follow: "what have you done for yourself with the much you have been given? "If Bafarawa, by his own admission, has collected N20billion from the Federal Government in two years, shouldn't the people of Sokoto State ask him what he has done with that enormous amount of resources. But Bafarawa still thinks we should blame Olusegun Obasanjo for the street children in Tambuwal, who should be in school, and the sick women in Dogondaji who don't even have a dispensary to intervene between them and cheap death. This is very fraudulent indeed: blame others for your crime, if necessary, the victims themselves. I have not been to Sokoto in a while, so I don't know how much Bafarawa has done. But in that crowd of ACF celebrants were people like Governor Muhammed Lawal. And Lawal, by implications, also obviously wants to know what President Obasanjo has done for Kwara.

Within the same two-year period that Bafarawa was talking about, Governor Lawal has collected N19billion from Abuja on behalf of Kwara people. Shouldn't, the people of Kwara, in whose name, he has collected that money, ask what he has done with it? I am sure if we put this question to the Governor or any of his lieutenants, it would take only a few minutes to reel out a long chain of what and what and what lofty achievements he has recorded. Afterall, no one who dance to himself before a wall mirror like the governor has been doing, would fail to award himself a bonanza of excellence. But the question remains: what did Governor Lawal do with the N19billion that he collected from Abuja between 1999 and 2001? I will take two projects. One is the so-called renovation of Kwara Hotels, the other is the water supply project, obviously, the governor's loudest claim to seriousness.

The contract for the renovation of Kwara Hotels was awarded at N893 million. That hotel, a four-star hotel, has 100 rooms. I was there a few days back. I saw the extent of the renovation' that was done. N893 million means about $8.9million. It also means, perhaps more importantly, that each single room was renovated for about N8.9million, translating to about $89,000 per room. Recently, I gathered that EKO Hotel, with more than 200 rooms, was renovated for $9,000. I also gathered that to build a new four-star hotel, using a Grade A Contractor like the Julius Berger, would not cost more than $10million, including the cost of land and whatever. I am sure Julius Berger could confirm this. Yet, my governor used $8.9million for repainting a hotel, using back-water contractors, the same set of contractors he used while he was military administrator of Ogun State. This certainly, will not pass. One of the most painful irony in the governance of Kwara today is that the same state that produced Justice Mustapha Akanbi, the Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, whom Andrew Young described last week as a "paragon of virtue" and integrity'" is the same state that has now been seized by predators.

Meanwhile, it is also significant to ask of what immediate importance is that hotel in a state where people cannot have access to a very basic need like water? So far, Lawal claimed to have spent N774million on water projects. Again, what was this money spent on? Instead of giving people water to drink, the governor has been more obsessed with building "monumental" water tanks all over the town to paint his name on. When I visited last week, the "Up Lawals" on the tanks have transformed more pretentiously to "Up Kwara", whatever that means. I understand the erasure was desperately effected few weeks back ahead of president Obasanjo's visit. But the implication of this impression projects is not lost on anybody. When I visited, the state capital was like one massive refugee camp in the desert where water was a luxury. Everybody, man and woman, young and old, as running helter-skelter round the town like the judgement day, looking for water in all imaginable places. I saw desperate people scooping water from the gutters. The story is like that in other parts of the state. Long after guineaworm has been declared extinct in the country, Kwara holds the distinction as the only state where a new case of guineaworm has recently been discovered, this in Ilorin East Local Government. Yet, the governor wants us to congratulate him for building water tanks all over the place. If the people cannot get water to drink, the least we could do is to insist on an answer to the question of what happened to N774million?

I want to think the governor had good intentions. But this is what happens when you do the right thing for the wrong reasons; when you use state resources to cultivate political patronage; when you award water contracts to butchers and marabouts; when you personalise the state. When the Governor could no longer look the other way over the acute water shortage, I gathered he took journalists down to the dam to show that the engine was not working because it had been vandalised by his political opponents. But I am sure the governor does not seriously expect anybody to believe his conspiracy theory. If we must, then we must ask to know what brief he has given to the state police commissioner towards recovering the stolen dam.

This disease is certainly not peculiar to Kwara. Kwara is only a grave metaphor for a bad malaise that has seized the entire country. Almost everyone I spoke with had something to say about how their governors are just stealing the money. Yet, this people would claim their people are begging them to contest for another term inorder to carry on the good job. But some people somewhere must begin to insist on a basic minimum standard of behaviour. Since the Anti-Corruption Commission was set up, it would appear every public officer in the country has suddenly turned a saint. The President told us there would be no sacred cows, but the country has been taken over by the same herd of fat cows that have wagged their tails at us with impunity over the years. So many of them were in Ota penultimate weekend to 'beg' the President to contest next year. This is easily understandable. They have been winning with the Obasanjo team. So, why change the winning team?

Two things here. Tafa Balogun, the new Inspector General of Police, has been saying the right things. While it is good, for several obvious reasons, to concentrate energies on Lagos and Abuja, the IG has to begin to compile a list of the problem states ahead of the elections and plan how to avert the disaster that is waiting to happen in those places. Kwara, Anambra, Kogi and Enugu should make the top four of that list. Balogun could be on his way to wining the battle against the armed robbers. But the greatest challenge to his career might as well be the anarchy that is building up in these states and how they could comprise the next elections. As in the case of Kwara, he should be interested in what the Commissioner of Police in the state is doing about all this.

I am convinced that the difference between the military rule and civilian democracy is that between a fibroid and a foetus. Certainly, a pregnancy holds more promises than a disease. However, I also know that a pregnancy, with all the humanity it promises, could easily degenerate into a tumour. This is my fear for this democracy. And even the illiterates among us, can clearly read the handwriting on the wall.

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