The Ongoing Debate In Kwara

By Muhammed Abdullahi

The drum of 2019 is already beating so loud in my home State of Kwara. Funny enough, the drummers are not the politicians but the citizens. As if in a hurry to get the incumbent governor out of office, the central issue being discussed in almost every major assembly point in the State presently is the profile of those who are likely to succeed Gov. Abdulfatah Ahmed.

Although my last visit to the State was not exactly a pleasant one, I still managed to eavesdropped on believable political gossips and discussion. I particularly sat through a particular conversation bothering on the low points of the potential candidates already in the public domain. And while there were sensible analyses and conclusions on almost all the presumed candidates, I found the argument against Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, one of the candidates expected to compete for the APC gubernatorial ticket in 2019, very untenable and unjustified.

While some of my Kwara political analysts argued that Bolaji should be the ideal person to succeed Gov. Ahmed in 2019, having performed meritoriously well in all the previous political positions he held; some are of the view that a completely new person should be given the 2019 governorship ticket. “Bolaji has been in government since 2003. Is he the only brilliant person in Kwara?”, one of the debaters queried.

I should point out that Kwara political debaters are often young people, mostly unemployed young graduates who are members of FRA (Free Readers Associations) at every major newsstand in town. Therefore, the argument against Bolaji’s rumored 2019 governorship ambition was propelled by the supposedly enlightened young people who, emboldened by the recent passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun, feel that it is now time for new and young faces to emerge on the political scene in the State. While this is a lofty and commendable aspiration, its basis is as faulty as it is illogical. I will explain.

Long before the #NotTooYoungToRun advocacy gave life to the dormant voices of majority of now aspiring political youths, I have consistently supported youth aspirants, no matter the political platform on which they were contesting. As a youth advocate, I never allowed the love for any political party to forestall my ability to raise my voice in support of young candidates who had the boldness to come forward to seek elective positions. And I did make it clear to all who got my support, especially in the elections of 2015, that it was simply because of their youthfulness and brilliance and audacity. Nothing more. For me, it is always about the youths and, more specifically, about my generation.

However, it is imperative to state that I have never been and would not be someone who will push for ‘space negotiations’ at the detriment of competence. While I definitely want young people to occupy positions of leadership, I will never suggest that age alone should be the criteria for leadership recruitment in Nigeria. In fact, this conviction is the reason why I will wear the toga of “competency advocate” in this piece and vehemently disagree with the position of some category of Kwara youths who think Bolaji Abdullahi has been in and around government for too long and should therefore not be considered for the governorship position in 2019.

While it is true that Bolaji Abdullahi is not the only one in Kwara State who deserves to hold political offices, we must also remind ourselves that governorship position, in the emerging new Nigeria and in this season of great economic challenge, is not also what we can over-politicized to the point of throwing the ticket to just anyone. Already, the challenge of governance is demystifying the brilliance of even those we hitherto considered as geniuses. As governors across party lines struggle to pay salaries and meet the basic obligations of government; it is more than obvious that the position of a governor demands not just our best candidate but the overall best. Bolaji Abdullahi may not have been the only qualified Kwaran worthy of a governorship position in 2019, but he remains one of the best and proven hands we have got. No doubt about that.

Not too long ago, the founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew died amidst global ovation. At death, he left behind a legacy of spearheading the transition of Singapore from a third world country to a first world country. Lee had served as Prime Minister of Singapore for 31 years. Instead of asking Lee to quit the political scene, Singaporeans rewarded his ingenuity with yet another position -Senior Minister of Singapore. Lee was senior Minister for 14 years, after which he again served as Minister Mentor for 10 years. In total, Lee held a successive Ministerial position for 56 years and continued to serve as a Member of Parliament until his death. Like Bolaji, Lee was not the only intelligent man in Singapore. But Singaporeans looked beyond the shallow and pedestrian view of “he has been there long enough”. OK, if the argument is that Lee was rewarded for being the founding father of modern Singapore, what of his son (Lee Hsien Loong) who has also been elected Prime Minister since 2004.

Examples abound of enlightened and highly competitive societies were performing public officials served for a long period of time. Until January 13, 2015, Carl Levin served in the U.S government as an elected Senator for 36 years. Same for Richard Lugar. In the case of Robert Bryd, he served for 51 years. The famous British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill served Britain for 61 years, 332 days. And even when he retired at the age of 80, he continued to serve his country as a Member of Parliament. These people were not the only ones in their countries, but they served that long because their countries believe that hard work and commitment to service should be rewarded and encouraged. Bolaji has proven, with his record of performance in all the previous positions he has held, that he is a very hard working man who is well committed to the progress of Kwara and Nigeria.

Dr. BUKOLA Saraki, one of the front line leaders of APC, confirmed the quality and character of Bolaji Abdullahi when he submitted: “It is disappointing that in the interest of politics we have compromised competence, and invariably denied our nation the progress it deserves…
Monumental achievements made under (Bolaji as Commissioner of Education) are still being built
upon today. It (is) difficult to write off the incredible performance of Abdullahi (who has recorded) several
milestones at state and national levels. His laudable achievements as Minister of Sports, which include Nigeria’s victory at the last Africa Nations Cup, performance at the Olympics, FIFA World Cup has endeared him to sport lovers”. Who else should know better?

Indeed, those claiming that Bolaji Abdullahi has been in government long enough and should therefore quit missed the point entirely. Among those elected into office in the 2015 elections were Bolaji’s contemporaries who came into government the same time with him. And while many of them were appointed Commissioners when they started out, Bolaji came in as a Special Assistant, working his way through the ropes. Of the total 13 years Bolaji has spent in government, only 7 were spent in positions that enable him to take decisions (4 years as Commissioner and 3 years as Minister). The remaining years have been spent largely in advisory capacity or, if you like, ” in merely assisting the executives”.

Therefore, just as Senator Bukola Saraki admonished, Kwarans must never succumb to the temptation of “compromising competence in the interest of politics”. It is said that the highest possible calling for a man of honour is public service. For Bolaji, a man who depicted honour and loyalty by siding with his benefactor when it mattered most, the reward for serving well should be a chance to continue to serve. If after more than 56 years in active public service, Singapore  was not prepared to let Lee Kuan Yew go, if after more than 61 years of service, Britain was reluctant to allow Winston Churchill go, Kwara should not allow reform-minded individuals like Bolaji Abdullahi go. Not now, not in this era when true transformation of our beloved State beckons.

Muhammed Abdullahi is the mid-week “The Advocate” columnist of The Discourse. He can be reached on Email: muhammed@thediscourseng.com, twitter:@mfabdullahi

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