Bolaji Abdullahi, a former Commissioner in Kwara, former Minister of Youth Development and former spokesperson of the All Progressives Congress has left no one in doubt that his place has always been in the realm of ideas. Take his case as Commissioner of Education in Kwara state as an example. At a time when public education in Kwara state was in dire straits, his ministry came up with a multi-level solution that would redefine and indeed revolutionise the education landscape. His Every Child Counts initiative is one that was designed to combine all the learning methods- teacher-centred, learner-centred, content-focused and participatory.
A major component of this design was to determine the capacity of teachers to impart knowledge on their pupils. When therefore a test, based on grade 4 curriculum was administered to the primary school teachers in the public schools it was reported that majority of the teachers failed the test. The aftermath was the massive training held for all the teachers while teaching manuals were developed to subsequently guide them. The system also created a benchmark to measure the progress of children in public schools. Such was the impact he brought to governance.
He has moved on from there to serve in higher capacities at the national level. His worst-kept secret on what his interest is, as he told us at this interview is that he believes he has been particularly opportune to have the kind of experiences that have combined to make him feel that he has the antidotes to take Kwara State to a higher level, for as he said, all is not well with the state for now. He speaks here with the duo of Midlandpost’s Gbolahan Balogun and Abu Abubakar
Of recent, we have seen activities gathering momentum around your party, the PDP in Kwara State. One sees that the party has been gathering in a kind of frenzy to stage a comeback, and so soon. How do you want to do this given the way you were booted out by Kwarans through the O to ge force. Do you think something has changed and how do you think this is possible?
Let me first of all say that Kwara is in a very difficult situation today. I don’t think at any point in the history of this state we have found ourselves in this kind of dilemma. You’ll recall what happened in 2019 when our political group lost the election to the wave of O to ge. I will call it uprising against the statusquo. But that uprising was also based on the expectations that the people had; that what they were being promised was going to be an improvement of what they‘ve had in the past. For us, when we lost the elections; our political space, it came to us a shock to our system and since then, we have gathered to ask ourselves why and how did this happen. And I think two and a half years going to three years now, we have a better clarity why what happened, happened.
And lessons learnt?
Yes, of course, a lot of lessons learnt. But for the people who championed the O to ge uprising, I think they have also learnt their own lessons because many of the people who were at the forefront of that movement are today looking back and asking themselves: is this what we worked for and fought for? What has it all been about? Is this all that we bargained for? Is this why we fought our friends? Is this why we fought our siblings, brothers and sisters because we thought that we were going to enthrone a system that would bring improvement to the lives of the people but, here we go.
Today it is palpable that there is hardly any government in Kwara that we can speak of. Definitely the people who championed that struggle did not bargain for that. Apart from the internal situation that had led to the exclusion of the majority of them from the centre of political activities in the state, many of them have become what they call the IDPs- the Internal Displaced Politicians, within their own party. But we are even talking about the general performance of the Governor.
So, I think all these combined to present to us a situation of optimism that 2023 would be completely different from what happened in 2019 because people are looking for something completely different.
And how easy do you think this could be?
No political struggle is ever easy. That’s number one. Number two, you’re also challenging an incumbent. You don’t expect that it’s going to be a walk in the park. But it is left for us to be able to convince the people that whatever we are bringing is going to be a departure from what is happening at the moment.
Look, there are so many people you encountered that said, oh we didn’t expect that things would be like these and there are some who were frank enough to confess that the whole thing had been a disaster and disappointment. There are some, who for pride, would not want to be that expressive in saying that this has been an unmitigated disaster; who continue to say, ‘well, let’s wait and see’, and all that, who will be diplomatic in the way they frame or define what is going on at the moment. But what I can see is that I went round Ilorin today and I saw heaps and heaps of rubbish everywhere. Ilorin is looking like one big wasteland. That could never have happened in the past. So, you just have a feeling as if there is no government. I know people within the civil service, within the bureaucracy of the state. I don’t think the civil service has ever felt alienated the way they feel today, you know, for a state that is largely dependent on the civil service.
What do you think your party would do anew that would gladden the minds of Kwarans?
I think the point is this: It is the responsibility of our party to convince the people that we can do something different, because if we don’t, God forbid, what I see is that the people are going to be apathetic. What you can see, and this is not only in Kwara, but in the whole of Nigeria is that the entire political elite, is fast losing credibility. People are beginning to look for something new; something different. I believe that the PDP is still capable of providing that leadership that Kwarans want, because we’ve been there longer. We have greater experience. We have stronger institution; we have checks and balances system and, we are more organically connected with the community and society than the current arrangement.
What you see is that the APC as a political party is unravelling – not just at the state level, but even at the national level. APC is not really a political party in the sense of it. I was once the spokesperson of that party. Our hope was that we were going to be able to build a party out of the conglomeration of assorted interests that came together in 2015 for the purpose of winning the election. That opportunity has not happened and that is why you see the kind of manifestation that is happening now, where they have two national executives and even parallel executives at the state level.
We observe that your house has become a beehive of activities of recent. We also see people gravitating towards you. We want to know your plan politically in Kwara
It is probably the worst-kept secret what my interest is. But what I can tell you is that I’ve been particularly opportune to have the kind of experience that I have. That experience is what has combined to make me feel that I can contribute to improving the fortune of our people. Look, what is the situation of our state today? Look around you. We the politicians can be saying things, but if you go to the heart of Ilorin, where I come from- I am from Anifowose quarters in Madawaki Ward- I see people who are younger to me, who are looking like my grandfather, because of the level of poverty that they experienced. How many times have you seen women who died at the point of giving birth? How many times have you seen people die of avoidable death because they cannot afford to buy basic drugs that can keep them alive?
Someone told me of a chap, whose blood pressure shot up to a crazy level and they asked him: “Don’t you know that you have blood pressure? He said he knows. “And you didn’t go to the hospital? He said he went. “And you’re not taking your drugs?” He put his hand in his pocket and brought out a piece of paper; the prescription. They looked at him and asked again: “How much does this drug cost?” He said less than 500 Naira. But he added that, yes, if you have 500 Naira today, you’ll choose whether to eat or to buy the drugs.
No society should allow its people to get to that level. Today, we are talking about N30,000 minimum wage, or something like that. Even if you have N100,000 today, how can you survive? If you have only two children with N1000,000 how do you survive?
But what is clear to me- and this is getting back to your question- is that when you look at our people, what do they spend money on most? Health and education of their children. So, what I’m saying is that anyone, who plays politics, at whatever level in a country like Nigeria with 70 percent poverty level, if you are not investing on health and education, then you are not doing anything.
So, for people like me in politics, I am aspiring to leadership position because I know and I believe that In sha Allah I can improve the quality of life of our people by improving the standard of their health and the standard of their education. If you are able to do that, then you would have taken away the major drainer of our people’s income and they would be able to use that money to do something else. So, for me, that is the essential part. There are other things but I don’t want to start campaigning to you now, it would come at the right time.
Perhaps we should go back to our earlier question. How would your party want to convince Kwarans that you are actually back for good?
By presenting to them options that are very, very credible. And I am not talking of just the governorship level, I mean at every level of the election- Governorship, State Assembly, Senate, House of Representatives. It is by presenting the people with credible candidates that the people really want, and the people believe in and that at least can give them hope because the most important thing that our people need at this point is hope. So, who can give them hope? For me that is the thing
You were once an Honourable Commissioner for Education in Kwara State and a former Minister of Sports and Youth Development. You even have an NGO today that caters to youth mentorship and development. Just recently we heard the very sad incidence of the killing of Silvester Oromini, the little boy who was being forced to join a secret cult. Looking at it from the national perspective, what would be your reaction?
Well, let me first say it was a tragic development. I have a 13 year old boy myself and I can’t even imagine what kind of experience that poor boy’s parent would be going through at the moment. Whatever it is, it is condemnable. I think it is a failure of parenting at all levels; failure of parenting on the sides of the children who bullied him and I think the parent of the poor boy themselves. I think there were opportunities when they should have seen a red flag. What I have read and seen of what they’ve said in the media, I think there were enough red flags for them to raise alarm and to step in and I think they didn’t do that, sadly, so.
I think it is a challenge for us parents. I think we trust the schools too much to the extent that sometimes you find that as parents, we abdicate our parental responsibilities or outsource our parental responsibilities to the schools. The schools cannot take the place of parents neither can the parents take the place of schools. So, I think the important lesson that is here for everyone, while we are hoping that justice would be done is that parents need to be more vigilant in monitoring their children and being interested in what experiences they are going through in schools. But as regard the school itself, I think it is also a failure of the system because any school whose system can accommodate that kind of gangsterism at that juvenile level, I think that school can be considered to have failed. I think the Lagos State government has taken the right decision by locking up the school. That is the first right step to take while other decisions and actions are going on.
It is unfortunate that this has happened but this dastardly act is going on at different levels even as we speak, in different circumstances, contexts and different formats. I think it is left to us as administrators and managers of the system to be more vigilant.
I remember a situation when I was a Commissioner for Education in Kwara State here. I think it was IGS-the Ilorin Grammar School when a teacher punished a student for coming late, I think. The teacher asked the student to kneel down and crawl, or so. Then, the student went back home and I think she lived in the army barracks. She complained to one of the soldiers and the soldier followed her to the school and he beat up the teacher. I remember I went to the school. Apart from putting the student on indefinite suspension, I made sure that the soldier that went to IGS was decommissioned. He was locked up for several weeks and was punished, because if teachers are no longer safe and confident within the confine of the four walls of their classrooms, what are we doing as administrators. But today, what do we find? You hear students beating up teachers; students injuring teachers, students ganging up to intimidate teachers, and all sorts. These shouldn’t be happening. This speak to the situation we have found ourselves today.
Let’s talk about your legacy in Kwara, I mean a kind of your assessment of the legacy PDP left behind and what we are seeing today. The present governor has been everywhere in his little time in office and his handlers are talking about his impact and the rots your party left behind. What would be your stocktaking of PDP tenure in Kwara?
I think Kwara State was heading somewhere in terms of development trajectory from 2003 when we came in. If you look back to pre-2003 to say 2007-2008, you would have seen the efforts that were put into bringing development to the state. Almost everything that you can speak of today were things that happened in that era.
You want to be specific about these things?
You probably heard the noise generated on the use of the stadium for a rally recently. The main bowl of that stadium was done in that era when Dr. Saraki was governor here. In those days when you heard the aircraft landing it was either the Airforce doing their training or people going for Haj or a private jet landing. But today, I want to go to Abuja tomorrow but I couldn’t get a ticket, in spite of the fact that four aircrafts are plying Ilorin route. I remember that when we started and we invited Overland to come and be plying Ilorin route and for several months we were paying the empty seats because there were no enough passengers to fill the plane, people were saying how was that the priority of government.
But today we have four aircrafts and you can’t even get a ticket if you don’t book in advance. That is progress. Now, you have the Diagnostic Centre that there no is kind of diagnosis that you cannot do in Kwara State. The Kwara State University is there. The College of Aviation is there, and so many others, not talking about the revolutionary steps that we took in education during that period. So, what I’m saying is that the development trajectory that Kwara State was moving as at that time, regrettably has derailed. Ilorin as the State capital as that time, was considered as the second cleanest state in Nigeria after Calabar. But look at Ilorin today, it is like a one big rubbish dump. It has shown that the system that brought that cleanliness has definitely collapsed. All you hear government saying is that they met nothing, they met nothing. I think it is a ridiculous thing to say but the people know better. So, for me what we need to do is to allow for a system that can restore that pattern of development that we started with also consolidate to build on it. So, I think Kwara State has been quite unlucky to have ended with the kind of government that we see.
Your party and especially you, were against Governor Abdulrahman government on taking loans. You even did a piece on your position. One remembers that your party and your principal too did, so why are you against the governor?
I just mentioned some projects the loan went into. Borrowing money is not the issue. How do governments survive without borrowing? It is either you borrow or you make your money through other means.
Why then are you kicking?
The question is not whether they are borrowing or not. The question is what they want to use the money for. The one they borrowed and borrowing now are ridiculous in all intents and purposes. The last thing I heard is that government wants to use the money to build an overhead bridge in Tanke. Overhead bridge in Tanke now, given what is going on? I think it is a misplaced priority and a big waste of resources. There are one thousand and one things that government can do with money that is directly relevant to the lives of the people. I don’t want to start mentioning them but I can tell you that I will not take that kind of money and say I’m going to build an overhead bridge. I think there are so many things that can impact directly on the lives of the people.
So, for now, I think government could invest differently. Government could invest in regenerative ventures. Look at the agriculture for example. If you go to Kwara North for example, Patigi is a large rice producing area. What is the biggest challenges they have? Of course I know their challenges. So is Kaiama and Baruten axis.
So, I am not strictly against taking of loans, it is what loans are being used for that matter. I don’t see this government using the loans they are taking for meaningful projects. I don’t think that this is the priority. It is outrageous if you compare loans of over N50 billion to the internally generated revenue. I think it is excessive. The government is borrowing the state into bankruptcy. I think it is unconscionable thing to do. You don’t just take money because you can take money. I think you take money only when you need to take money for reasons and purposes that can impact on the quality of lives of the people. I don’t think it is fair on the people of Kwara State for anybody to take that kind of money as loan on their behalf and use it that way, without thinking on how it is going to affect about three million population of the state.
When you are taking that king of loan in the name of every man, every woman, every child in Kwara State, I think it should be invested in projects that will impact positively on the lives of everyone in the state.