I AM writing this week’s piece in Ilorin, Kwara State. In recent weeks, I have travelled back and forth between the three cities I live in: Abuja, Kaduna and Ilorin. These cities elicit contrasting emotions for me. As I have always argued, there is a soul-less character to Abuja, and an impersonality that is underlined at weekends or public holidays, when it empties as people travel to other parts of Nigeria.
It is the city of power, but it is still to definitively carve an imprimatur on our subconscious, as other towns and cities. The soul and being of Abuja are very much reflective of the contending paradigms of nation building as well as the imperfections associated with the character and attitude of the nation’s ruling elite.
There is an idiosyncratic disequilibrium in Abuja that tails the coterie in power and which seems to give way, soon as another group inherits the stage. Abuja will take much more time to settle in as an abode, despite its post-modern architectural wonders and well-paved highways.
Kaduna is a more humane place. It has a familiarity and assuredness that embraces. And even the years of incompetent and thieving governance of the past couple of years have not dimmed the halo around our dear Kaduna. But since May 29th, 2015, our city and state literally got a shot in the arm, with the installation of the Nasir El-Rufai administration.
Schools feeding programme
It was clear to all of us who reside there, that we are in for a most pleasant phase of development in city and state. And Nasir has not disappointed us! Last week, Kaduna embarked on the much-anticipated schools feeding programme. Of course, other states have done same, like Borno, Osun and Yobe, but the fact that Kaduna has joined with a very well thought out process makes it remarkable, in the austere times we are in today.
The feeding programme is part of a package of free basic education in Kaduna that has seen a 64% jump in primary school enrolment and 60% in the secondary schools. The new feeding programme in the state intends to feed between 1.5million and 1.8million children; and from Mondays to Thursdays, the pupils get served proper meals, while on Fridays, they get a snack of biscuits with yoghurt, milk or fruit juice.
The Kaduna state government inherited the unfortunate legacy of 700, 000 pupils who sit on bare floors to learn, while 40% of teachers are unqualified. So a massive programme of schools rehabilitation is underway, to ensure that schools at least have windows, doors, roofs, water and toilets.
They have procured 300, 000 items of furniture waiting to be installed in the schools, and the NOUN, NTI and ABU are being commissioned to train teachers. By next year, Kaduna will construct multi-storey classrooms to reduce congestion and as a short-term measure, they are thinking of introducing morning and afternoon classes to cope with the heightened enrolment in schools. To ensure that the feeding programme succeeds, the government first recruited food sellers around the schools, before reaching out to others.
Then about 17, 000 women were organised into cooperative societies for the project, and they went through training in hygiene and cooking standards, weeks before commencement of the programme.
By last week’s commencement of the programme, the 4, 000 primary schools in Kaduna became part of a “big bang” process of feeding, with plans to continue to fine tune the programme as they go along.
And by 10 am, once a week, every commissioner, Adviser and Assistant, is expected to pay unscheduled visits to schools to taste the food and report back. The budget for the programme in 2016, is N16billion, which is clearly money well spent, by a government obviously dedicated to the very best for the people of our dear Kaduna state.
The third leg of my nomadic triangle of existence is Ilorin. This is my hometown, and one that I love with a passionate intensity. This city gave me life and has cultured me from childhood, and because I know it intimately, and understand the currents of its history, I have no doubts in my mind, that Ilorin and Kwara state, literally, entered a “ONE CHANCE” taxi, since the group in power came unto the scene in 2003.
It is very easy to track developments here, despite the best efforts of the “continuity administration” to obfuscate issues, because they always remind us that Abdulfatai Ahmed’sadministration is a continuation of the Bukola Saraki government, from 2003 to 2011.
As a matter of fact, we have had almost the same set of personnel, despite incompetent tweaking, ruling the roost here in Kwara. From 2003 till the end of 2014, this group has collected on behalf of all Kwarans, over N640billion, from the Federation Account. But any perceptive observer can see that most of that money was not put to productive use in the state.
Today, teachers are owed five months salary; those in tertiary education about eight months; local government staff about four months. Teachers have been on strike; those of the tertiary school system have also been on strike for months.
NATIONAL PILOT weekly newspaper, owned by Bukola Saraki, on its frontpage this week, led with a story that “KWARA LGS’ SALARY CRISIS DEEPENS”. It then had a bullet point, that “SARAKI INTERVENES IN NULGE, NUT STRIKE”.
What we are not told is that the crisis in education, local government and other sectors in the state, are DIRECTLY traceable to the manner that the same Bukola Saraki has husbanded our resources since the commencement of his hegemony in 2003.
Why have they been unable to pay salaries? They argue that it is because of the drop in Federal Allocations. Yes, allocations have dropped; but what did they do with the state’s resources when allocations were very high? The teachers even suggested that government should cut the allowances of top government officials and the security vote.
They probably forgot to add that the government ought to STOP the immoral pension that Bukola Saraki worked out for himself, which the government continues to pay him, even when it is clearly unsustainable for a state that cannot pay teachers and local government workers.
So while they are locked in a crisis of unpaid salaries and the people do not enjoy the values of governance; the government is desperate to take another N20billion loan, arguing that there is an infrastructure deficit of over N200billion in the state. They however did not link that deficit to the more N640billion they have collected since they came to power in 2003! If they had wisely spent that money sincerely, Kwara will not be the mess their “continuity administration”, from 2003, has put it in!
The issues are clear. Yobe, Osun, Borno and Kaduna are also APC-controlled states. They feed children in their schools. But in Kwara state, schools have not only deteriorated, even the pittance that teachers earn cannot be paid by the “continuity administration” in power since 2003. Kwara’s children cannot be fed in schools because they are NOT a priority of the state government!
Similarly, those who work as teachers, workers in the local government system or parastatals don’t matter. But Bukola Saraki’s pension is of utmost importance! Their excuse is shopworn: Federal Allocations have dropped!
The allocations also dropped in Borno and Kaduna, but because there is a genuine commitment to the people’s welfare, the administrations in those states, think and solve problems. Kwara state exists today just to protect one man’s hegemony.
And because corruption and kleptocracy were instituted as Directive Principles of State Policy in Kwara since 2003, it is difficult, almost impossible, to work for the people. In Kaduna and Kwara, we can see the contrasting faces of APC governance in Nigeria!
Please don’t cancel Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State
I HAVE read several advertorials in newspapers alleging plans by Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, to cancel the Maritime University, located in Okerenkoko, in Delta State.
Amaechi was quoted to have said: “We are not going ahead with the university project proposed by NIMASA because we have an institution in Oron, we have Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology, Zaria, and we have the Nigerian College of Aviation in Zaria, which we could upgrade to a university status and NIMASA is proposing to build a new one”. He was further quoted as asking that: “Who will attend the University? How many parents will allow their children to go to such place where it propose [SIC] to site the university”? The advertorials then carried pictures of the various facilities already under construction on the site of the proposed Maritime University.
I honestly don’t have a complete understanding of the controversy around that university. But I do hope that the government can do everything to resolve them and eliminate the incongruities to be able to allow the university to come on stream.
The truth is that Nigeria will not suffer by having a specialised maritime university; on the contrary, it will play its own role in the development of manpower for our country that must become a maritime power into the future.
If we need to upgrade the institutions in Oron and Zaria, that Rotimi Amaechi mentioned, please do so, without positing them against the proposed Maritime University at Okerenkoko. It won’t be proper to kill the dream and hope of people who have been led to believe that such a university is coming to their community. Besides, it was argued that the university was envisioned as part of the post-amnesty development plan for the Niger Delta. And because the university will be located at the heart of Nigeria’s oil production platforms, it would certainly impact on the communities and people who have for long made tremendous sacrifices in terms of environmental impact, for the overall development of our country.
There might be some local political issues informing the minister’s stance; while there have been revelations in recent weeks about the reckless manner that NIMASA was run as an elaborate kleptocracy.
Please deal with the local politics; while criminal activities are unacceptable and they should be completely unraveled and those responsible must be made to face justice.
But we can definitely separate grains from chaff and find the best international practices for the implementation of the Maritime University. That is what should be done! President Muhammadu Buhari ought to take personal interest in ensuring that the Maritime University is constructed and delivered as one of the flag ship projects of his administration.
It will gladden the hearts of our compatriots in the Niger Delta Region. They deserve to have their hopes fulfilled as part of a national development agenda. Please don’t cancel the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State!