By Babamale Ismail
AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, the Governor-elect in Kwara State, is today the closest public official who bears as much burden of expectations as did President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.
Although his fellow party men have also clinched all the legislative seats at the state and national levels, AbdulRazaq has won the biggest prize in the 2019 elections in his state.
Kwara has had a peculiar history. It was the only state where, as if in a monarchy, a son almost seamlessly succeeded his father as the political leader of the north central state. Cumulatively, the Sarakis reigned for nearly four decades amid tight control of the socioeconomic and political destiny of the people. While the older Saraki was respected for his friendly style, notwithstanding his prebendal politics, the younger Saraki is considered an arrogant dictator against whom Kwarans have finally revolted.
This piece is not about castigating the Sarakis. It is about the natural expectations of a people who have long yearned for good governance, probity and development. For this reason, AbdulRazaq deserves to be pitied because the next few months may be tougher than he and his team had ever thought. Kwara hasn’t been creative or smart enough to shore up internally generated revenues. The Sarakis ran an unsustainable patronage system which made thousands — including the political class — totally dependent on favours or crumbs from elected or appointed officials.
This system is fed with public funds. This system had until recently made it almost impossible for any opposition figure to succeed. Indeed, apparently knowing the difficulty in sustaining the patronage system, the Sarakis often taunted the opposition for being nocturnal politicians who couldn’t stay around for too long. Staying around means spending so much to keep your support base. That system served the Sarakis because they were in government.
This is the system AbdulRazaq is inheriting. It is not sustainable — certainly not in Kwara with less than 3bn monthly allocation and less than one billion naira IGR. Yet he cannot simply discard it on his first day in office. But the people must realise this system must end if Kwara will progress. There must be a consensus for this system to end and for development to take place.
Forget the pretences in the media, Kwara has one of the most opaque systems in human history. AbdulRazaq will discover soon enough that he’s inheriting problems far greater than he ever imagined. These include huge debts, unpaid salaries, pensions, and a rotten public accounting system. In the bid to cover up shady deals, many public spendings not linked to concrete projects or verifiable endeavours will not be accounted for.
These are the realities of the next four years. I have always told friends in private circles that, like Buhari, whoever succeeds the Saraki dynasty may be very unlucky except God decides to be kind with him and give him a very understanding public. Things can hardly be rosy for the new government because Kwara has operated an unaccountable ‘monarchy’ in the past 16 years.
For the first time, Kwarans will have a government that would be subject to viable opposition from not just the ousted Saraki but the now energetic public themselves. While the Sarakis, like the PDP in Buhari’s case, will pray that AbdulRazaq should fail, the public will be in a haste to have things fixed within the shortest time possible. Like a man feigning sleep, nothing can placate the Sarakis. They will seek to wrong foot the new government every step of the way to prove that the people were wrong to have chosen AbdulRazaq.
Kwarans must never fall for such in their own interest. The people of Kwara must realise that the state has reached the rock bottom and is just about to start anew. Without necessarily indulging bad behaviour or arrogant posturing, they will need to support the new government to reset governance. This won’t happen overnight.
Because so many things are wrong and would require critical thinking to move in the right direction, the new administration may appear slow or inactive. It would require patience, proper planning and constructive criticism to move the state forward.
As my dear state begins a new journey on May 29, it is perfectly within the democratic right of the people to be vigilant and expectant of a better deal. However, such expectations must be realistic and situated within the context of where the state is coming from. Things will definitely change for the better in Kwara but it would be gradual. No miracles. I wish the governor-elect good luck for he deserves all the prayers and support at the moment.
*Ismail is resident in Ilorin