Posted by By Olu Obafemi [email@example.com] on
There is this gnomic saying, in my part of the world, that if one’s masquerade dances brilliantly in the village square.....
There is this gnomic saying, in my part of the world, that if one’s masquerade dances brilliantly in the village square, one is elated and proud. But if your masquerade is sluggish and unexciting at the performance arena, you are bound to dash for cover and fly for shame—or simply adopt the position of convenient neutrality, when judgment is being passed on the dancing feats of masquerades, the day after.
This is simply the reason why, for more than twenty years of writing newspaper columns—from The Herald to The Punch, The Triumph to The Post Express, The Comet and presently The Sun, I have hardly devoted any of my weekly stints to Kwara State (my original state before Kogi State was yanked from its crucial side and where I have lived for nearly four decades, since 1966) nor to Kogi State, where I now belong, since the last states creation exercise. This is precisely because these states have been sheer kill-joys, until comparatively recently, and in the specific instance of Kwara State, which is the subject of my reflection this week. One of the twelve states that the then Colonel Yakubu Gowon created in 1967, Kwara State, for many years gave one the painful feeling of still-birth.
Quiet, even peace-full, like the grave yard, you get the impression, if you lived there or even if you visited fairly regularly, that nothing has changed—or if you are kind, not much. If you drive from the Airport road down through Taiwo Road (it was called Oyo Bye-pass then), via Unity Road, you get on to Murtala Muhammed Way on your way out of the town to Jebba. Except you wish to explore the ancient traditional beauty, which the indigenous homestead avails you, as characterised by the Emir’s palace—and take the pot-holed roads that lead you on through Omu-Aran to Kabba and Lokoja, or risk the ferry to navigate your way to Dekina (where I went to school) and Idah, there was really not much to cheer you or remind you that the ‘dividends’ of state creation had come. It was all a painful legacy and memory of stunted growth, occasioned by failed leadership—by one military government after the other—even with the punctuation of one civilian aegis.
The only breathing space, or the only moment of growth- respite was the short era of Ibrahim Taiwo and George Agbazika Innih (both of blessed memories)—a few housing estates, some government secondary schools, and of course the stadium complex. Any ‘native’ commentator, therefore, that told the story as it was, stood the risk of being branded an incurable pessimist or simply unpatriotic.
So, when things began to happen in the state, and some development crept up, before one’s very eyes—and the masquerade began to dance—it may be time to beam the light, cautiously, both to encourage and admonish. It is no wonder, therefore, that Kwara State is one of the few states that the president has visited thrice since he began to make local trips. It began with the former Governor—Lawal, who certainly began to do a few things, but who, I am afraid, spoiled the taste by allowing those things done with public funds to be attributed to himself, by labelling them after his own name—just like his counter-part Audu was doing in Kogi State.
Things have begun to take a brighter turn with this young and clear-sighted Governor—Bukola Saraki. No matter what the colour of your politics show, it is becoming increasingly difficult not to notice that Kwara State has woken up. The streets are clean and healthy. Some have even said that the governor has up-graded the philanthropic generosity of his patter and mentor by giving jobs to those whom he should simply have given money—or food. It is no surprise, therefore, that the president has found it both expedient and essential to visit Bukola Saraki’s state twice, in fairly quick successions. True, the city of Ilorin and a few towns in Kwara have begun to stir into urbanity. Many roads now wear the garments of asphalt-lay or macadam. My own personal attraction is in the area of the governor’s commitment to Education, and to some notable extent, Agriculture.
I am particularly enthused by his understanding and perception of the centrality of the library to the development of a reading culture in the state. I will comment about his effort to uplift education in the state, some other time and space—efforts such as re-engineering Secondary Schools, through the project of training principals and teachers of core subjects of science, English, Mathematics and Computer, the rehabilitation of major Secondary Schools in Ilorin (he should extend this praise-worthy project to other parts of the state), the renovation of about 500 classrooms in 140 primary schools and construction of many more classrooms in primary schools cross the state. It is particular gladdening for me as a writer, to find the government’s practical demonstration of his commitment to reading through the allocation of huge sums of money to the purchase of chunks of well- selected books by appointed consultants through the Book Revolving Scheme. When I learnt about the convocation of an educational summit of all stakeholders by the governor, very early in his administration, I was curious, but the steps taken to actualise the resolutions of the summit thus far reveal positive and striking difference from the past lip service paid to the educational sector.
As I said earlier, it is the major project of rehabilitating (in fact virtual reconstruction) of the state library that actually prompted my interest in taking a second look at what is being done to uplift and enhance access to quality education in the state. I was close to the initial idea behind this courageous project. A senior, septuagenarian friend of mine, Chief Henry Olaosebikan, is the Chairman of the State’s Library Board. When he was appointed, many of our mutual friends whispered to me to ask him to reject the offer, as they felt it was a devaluation of his political stature as a front-line politician. But the old man proved everybody wrong when a month later, he thrust on my laps a copy of the proposal he wanted to forward to the governor to rehabilitate the library as a vital education support service structure.
I was pleased and sceptical—pleased with the information but sceptical, given the poor perception of books that we find among people of government. But, when three months after, Chief Olaosebikan informed me that the governor had not only approved his proposal, but that the contractors have moved unto the site, I was shocked with disbelief. It turned out to be one of the major projects that the president came to commission and about which he was full of commendation. This is truly justified because I am not aware of other state libraries that is structured and equipped to be able to render complete range of IT facilities and services with limitless online resource, with one hundred units of computers all linked to the data base of major libraries across the globe. No wonder the president said that he would recommend the model to some other states.
From an ideological stand-point and following my visit to Zimbabwe, I was not at all enthusiastic about the relocation from Zimbabwe of white farmers as basis for the implementation of the government’s Commercial Agriculture Initiative within the integrated Agriculture Policy. However, after a privileged one-hour air chat with the intellectually endowed Emir of Shoga, Alhaji Haliru Yahaya, whom I have known since our NYSC days in the mid-seventies, in the then East Central State, I began to take the Shonga farm ventures seriously.
The Emir dismisses the imperialist implication of the 25-year lease-hold of his land and informed me of both the employment potential (already nearly 2000 jobs are said to have emerged from it) as well as the economic advantage of the venture. Its immediate expected yield of about 150 heads of cattle for milk production and the projected poultry yield of 10, 000 chickens per day are heart-warming—especially if the guarantee that there will be no white occupation of the plains of Shonga.
These are pleasing signs that there will be happier climes in this our beloved state, especially if the governor goes on, more consciously, to ensure that the people themselves derive greater economic benefit from his laudable programmes and envisioned projects. It is clear, in the horizon, that the slumbering State has been revved awake, with this young, shy-looking, vibrant governor.
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