By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
NOVEMBER 15th, marked the ninth anniversary of the passing of Rear Admiral Muhammed Alabi Lawal, naval officer, former Ogun state military administrator and first democratically elected indigene of Ilorin as civilian governor of Kwara state. To commemorate the anniversary, a prayer session held in his residence in Ilorin, while his political associates used the opportunity to recall his contributions to Kwara’s development. I was unable to attend ceremonies to commemorate his death.
I had a very difficult relationship with Governor Muhammed Lawal. There was really nothing personal between us, but by proxy, we became enstranged, as a result of issues and individuals within his administration. Those directly concerned did everything to set Muhammed Lawal against me, and I must openly declare today, that it was testimony to his character, that he did not go as far as they wanted, in the manner that I decided to end my tenure as General Manager of the Kwara State Television Service.
I met Governor Lawal alone in his office inside the Government House, Ilorin, on May 7TH, 2002, to submit a letter of resignation; we then spent the next one hour and a half hours discussing all the issues that were crafted as political allegations against me as well as my honest view of his performance as governor that he insisted that I offered.
“You’re a journalist and Political Scientist”, he had reminded me, “please tell me the truth”! I resumed as Editor of DAILY TRUST the following week, and in February, 2003, I met Governor Muhammed Lawal again, in Ilorin, this time at the behest of General Ibrahim Babangida, who insisted on the meeting, so we can settle whatever differences we had. That meeting held before the 2003 elections and the backdrop was the deep political division, which had developed in the Ilorin Emirate, and the feeling that Governor Muhammed Lawal had designs against the Emir of Ilorin and the Emirate structure. Dr. Olushola Saraki postured as defender of our community’s values; therefore, a tactical alliance was built against Governor Muhammed Lawal.
The late Olushola Saraki exploited our feelings and manipulated emotions about our historical values to open access for his son, Bukola, to seize the reigns of power and unfortunately, we couldn’t foresee that we were embarking on a journey to perdition. The Saraki hegemony has turned out to be the worst plague that our community has ever or can ever suffer! But that is a different issue to interrogate at another point in time.
After Governor Muhammed Lawal’s defeat in the 2003 elections, I won’t get to meet the man again, until April 2004, in Sokoto and later on in Abuja. That last meeting in Abuja held for a very long time and we discussed in some detail, many of the issues that haunted his administration and led to his alienation from the community.
I left Muhammed Lawal that day, a bit more sympathetic towards him, even when I was still caught up in the sweep of the emotions of the events, which led to his defeat at the elections. Not long after our last meeting, his mother died in Ilorin. I went to greet him but did not meet him, I however left a very long note. We were not destined to meet again, till he died in 2006. I wrote an obituary which some of his supporters were not happy about. And when I attended a wedding ceremony in his mosque a year or so after, a member of his family even attempted to assault me as we filed out of the mosque!
It was indicative of the deep emotions that the late Governor Muhammed Lawal continued to stir in our community. But I think nine years after his death, and with the experience of the Saraki hegemony in Kwara since 2003, there has come a newer understanding of the Governor Muhammed Lawal’s years in our state as well as a greater appreciation of the man himself.
The late Governor Muhammed Lawal belonged to that generation of Ilorin elite born during the 1940s; they were the first set that really had university education and therefore were the link between the older generation and the much younger. They helped the community to finally appreciate the importance of tertiary education.
That generation was also unique, because many of them were outstanding students and Muhammed Lawal was also one of the best of his generation. They went into professions and would be outstanding in their various fields. Muhammed Lawal studied engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, before joining the Nigerian Navy, where he rose to become an admiral. When he retired, it came as no surprise that he would join politics; and it was also remarkable that he became civilian governor at a point when the Ilorin community had reached a consensus, that one of its children should become governor, for the first time since the creation of Kwara state in 1967.
Muhammed Lawal took to the job like a duck to water and made tremendous effort at rehabilitating many projects that had decayed over the decades of military dictatorship. He went on a roads rehabilitation and construction spree; health centres were rehabilitated; a new presidential lodge was constructed and Muhammed Lawal renovated Kwara Hotel and government quarters all over the GRA were given a facelift. Above all, he consciously chose to empower local contractors and so a lot of money circulated within the economy of the state.
Remarkably, Muhammed Lawal did not choose to sell off state assets as Bukola Saraki was eventually to do when he became governor and he didn’t prioritise non-Kwara contractors as Bukola Saraki was to do, in a conscious effort to impoverish the community, as a weapon of control. And because Muhammed Lawal was a bonafide son of our community, he readily showed respect for our culture and our people.
Whether at wedding ceremonies or funeral prayers, Muhammed Lawal knew the values that our people valorised. On the contrary, when Bukola Saraki became governor, his arrogance became the talk of the community. He looked down at people, including the elders of our community, and carried on as if he was doing a favour being governor of Kwara state.
Second term politics
Unfortunately, the politics of Second Term in power distracted Governor Muhammed Lawal. Unbeknownst to all, late Olushola Saraki had decided that his son, who was alien to the community, was ready to become governor. He postured as defender of the values of the community at a time that Muhammed Lawal was increasingly becoming profiled as antagonistic to the Emir of Ilorin and the structures of value of the community. It was a battle that he could not win, since the Saraki family had entered the ruling PDP; federal might was called upon, after then Vice President, Atiku Abubakar had imposed Bukola Saraki as PDP’s governorship candidate, despite protestations of original members of the party in the state.
Muhammed Lawal was defeated in the 2003 elections, and people in our community and state rejoiced. What we could not foresee in 2003, was that we were about to enter into the worst possible period in our history.
The Saraki hegemony was finally instituted and the control of Kwara’s finances since 2003, led to the entrenchment of Bukola Saraki’s personality cult. He defeated his father and sister in the 2011 elections and installed as governor a long-term loyalist, AbdulFatai Ahmed. With that action, the most unique political project was foisted on Kwara state, which has no parallel in Nigeria-genuinely ruling a state by proxy!
There is no gainsaying the fact that the twelve years since 2003, has been the worst in the history of Kwara state. The steady impoverishment of our people has gone side-by-side with the jaw-dropping enrichment of Bukola Saraki and the coterie of political hangers on around him. Today teachers, local government staff and workers in parastatals are owed salaries.
The huge sums that Kwara took from the Federation Account along with the massive loans taken in our name over the past twelve years, cannot be seen in meaningful developments genuinely touching the lives of our people. Governance in Kwara since 2003 resembles an elaborate project of deceit and patent fraud. It is like entering a “One Chance Taxi”, and in the name of Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP), Kwara state has been systematically fleeced while its resources resembles a lady that fell into the hands of serial rapists. This is the lie that governance has desperately continued to attempt to hide since 2003 and it’s the reason that Kwara state lies prostrate. Our people are in acute despair because governance is a fraud, which does not touch their lives positively.
Given the pains they have gone through since 2003 with the institution of the Saraki hegemony and the enthronement of Bukola Saraki’s personality cult, it is no wonder that people are reappraising the Muhammed Lawal legacy in Ilorin in particular and Kwara state in general. There were many things that people disagreed with during his administration; they included the employment of thugs and cultists who visited violence on the community. His commissioner son-in-law also alienated people. They were also unable to tolerate his disrespect of the emirate structure and they expressed their displeasure through the ballot box.
However, in the years since he left power, and following his tragic death, we now know better, who was really a genuine lover of our community and its ethos. Muhammed Lawal worked devotedly as governor and he never attempted to alienate the properties of government, nor sold them to cronies. He did not take loans in the name of Kwara, nor use the loans to build shopping complexes, diagnostic centre or aviation college; he did not appropriate hundreds of millions of naira for a so-called Zimbabwe farm, then turn around to say those projects do not belong to our state, but to a so-called “Private Sector”. That was the governance gimmick introduced to Kwara state by Bukola Saraki.
Muhammed Lawal was a genuine patriot who loved our community and worked for its genuine development and the empowerment of our people. He did not manipulate the House of Assembly to approve for himself an immoral pension package and did not treat Kwara as a private estate. That came after he left power and the state became the hegemony of a single family and eventually the wallet of an individual. This is the background today, why the late Governor Muhammed Lawal is now fondly remembered in Kwara state. May Allah forgive Governor Muhammed Lawal and grant him Aljanna. Amin.