Kwara State was amongst one of the first-generation states that were created in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For a state that was created more than 50 years ago, it is disheartening to see how far Kwara has developed in terms of infrastructural development, economic development, and social development. If you do a critical assessment of the 3 areas of development mentioned, you will realise that Kwara is still far behind where it should be after 50 years. This piece is not to criticise any administration, but it is to point out some of the lapses observed from an independent point of view.
Setting priorities right is very important in achieving significant development in any human formation. You will find out that development in Kwara State has been of stunted growth, at some point we witness fast growth and then at some point it always seems like we are regressing. Before the independence of Nigeria, Kwara state was a major location under the colonialist rulers with Jebba being one of the major spots for the colonialists.
Kwara State is known for its arable land for agricultural purposes, its educational standard, and tourist attractions. These are resources that can turn the whole state around positively, yet we are still far behind when it comes to development. Sometimes it always seems to be a big challenge when you are trying to achieve significant development in a state. It is but only a challenge it is not impossible, as human beings we are bound to face challenges every day of our lives. We can only move forward by overcoming those challenges, if you shy away from the challenges then you find out that you are losing out gradually.
The Agricultural sector in Kwara State
Kwara State is blessed with a vast arable land across its 16 Local Government Areas, but only a little has been done to utilize the available lands to the benefit of the state. Not to say the past administrations and current administration are not doing anything, but this piece is just to point out that their efforts are not enough. Shonga farm as an example was a good initiative and it’s benefiting the locals of that vicinity and the state revenue to an extent. Having one Shonga farm in Kwara state is not enough, by now we should have at least one major commercial farm owned by the government across all the 16 LGAs that will create jobs for locals and bring in revenue for the state. It is a very good thing to see private investors striving to develop the agricultural sector in Kwara, with the coming of the BUA sugar refinery and the existence of firms like OLAM. They are things to commend, but these are private initiatives that have created jobs for people, but the question is what the government is doing to develop this sector? I do not think the 10-years agricultural transformation plan that the current administration introduced is concrete enough. The plan should not only be for Kwara to be food sufficient, but it is also supposed to involve plans on how to commercialise agriculture in a way that will generate sufficient funds for the state, and how Kwara will be a major exporting hub for agricultural produce to the rest of West Africa and the world.
Although different areas in the state have what is peculiar to them, for example, you find in Offa that sweet potatoes grow well, you find that soya beans grow well in Kaiama, Rice grows very well in the Northern part of the state, so as yam and other cash crops. Why can’t the government look beyond their initiative of supporting local farmers with funds and tools. Not to say that is not good, but those farmers are not employers of labour, most of whom just farm on a medium-sized piece of land to feed their families and sell at the market.
The government has access to loans and grants that can help in developing the state, but the question is do the people at the helms of affairs have the will to go through the actual rigours of seeing the state develop. Since I was a child, the excuse for our stagnant growth has always been that “the state is broke” yet till today that excuse is still being used. Travelling outside Nigeria has exposed me to a lot of things, and I concluded that the development of a state is not based on money but rather it is based on whether the leaders have the will to see things done. I believe no justification or excuse should be accepted for the lack of significant development in Kwara State. The state government needs to go back to their drawing board and brainstorm on how they can commercialise agriculture in Kwara State rather than just beating around the bush by pushing for initiatives that will just benefit a few, they need to look at it from an angle of agriculture creating jobs for people and agriculture as a major source of revenue for the state, not just the farmers alone. The government needs to create a conducive environment for investors to come and invest in the state’s agricultural sector. For a state that has been existing for more than 50 years with arable land, it is sad that we are not a leading force in the agricultural sector globally. Agriculture can create enough jobs for people in Kwara, and it will also bring significant development to Kwara State.
Our Poor Infrastructure
The state of infrastructure in Kwara state is nothing to write home about. Hence, this is one of the factors hindering the development of Kwara State. A state would only be attractive to investors when they have access to needed infrastructure such as good roads, good drainage systems and effective means of transportation in and out of the state.
We have 16 LGAs in Kwara state, yet our road network is next to nothing. How can a state that once produced a second in command to a military head of state, and a president of the Nigerian senate still be in this bad condition? I believe we have misplaced priorities in Kwara state. Our leaders have failed to recognise that good road networks attract investors. For instance, a poultry farmer transporting his eggs from Ilorin to Omu-Aran must use the bad roads and it is not guaranteed that 20% out of the 100% of the eggs will get to Omu-Aran unbroken. This is a loss to someone who has invested his money into a business and is expecting returns. This farmer pays his tax, yet he does not get the benefit of paying tax to the government, he would rather use that money to do something beneficial for himself.
Most of the roads in Ilorin metropolis are due for expansion, yet the government is not doing anything about it. They all blame their lack of investing in effective projects on the fact that they must service the salaries of civil servants. That is not a good excuse because we see them wanting to start projects that are not needed like a fly-over bridge in Tanke Ilorin, where an ordinary road expansion would solve the traffic problem in that area. It is sad that in Kwara state today, most areas even in Ilorin which is the state capital do not have working streetlights which is the least. Having streetlights that work would help the state security-wise, but they fail to see it from that perspective. Even in the Government residential areas, you cannot drive 4KM without getting into a pothole.
We have a supposed international airport here in Kwara, yet we only have 4 airlines operating only to Lagos and Abuja. This is only because investors do not see potentials in Kwara state, they see no reason to come and invest here which is understandable because we do not have in place the amenities that would attract investors due to the ineffectiveness of our governments. There is a cargo terminal in Ilorin, yet it is of no use because we do not export anything, the building is becoming dilapidated because there is no continuity in the administrative running of the state all because of political rivalry. We should learn from what they did in Akwa Ibom by investing in aviation which in turn brings in revenue for the state and creates employment. By now Kwara state should be talking about making our airport international not just international by name, we should help by diverting the air traffic of the Lagos airport which will also, in turn, open the state up to people.
Kwara state has been blessed by mother nature, we have a lot of beautiful natural sites such as waterfalls, hills, museums, rivers and even a beach on the Jebba coast. Yet we have failed woefully to develop our tourism sector which is a multibillion-dollar industry. Dubai will not be where they are today if their leaders did not think outside the box. They could have relaxed and enjoyed the proceeds of their oil but instead, they thought of other ways to create revenue for themselves and at the same time develop their country. Today most of our leaders would prefer to go spend their holidays in Dubai than to spend it here in Nigeria. Yet we have been blessed by natural things that we can enjoy here in Nigeria but the lack of vision and will is what is killing us. We take loans worth billions of dollars, and we have nothing to show for it.
I call on the government to focus more on genuine projects that will bring developments to the state rather than channelling funds to projects that are not needed just to make political statements. Building bridges where simple road expansions would solve the traffic problems is not wise.
Our declining Education Sector
Before now in the whole of Nigeria, indigenes of Kwara state use to be well known in the academic world for their excellence but now we are falling behind too fast. Our literacy rate has declined drastically, we have a high rate of out-of-school children, the learning and teaching standard has fallen. Our public schools do not have any standards again, compared to private schools. An average Primary 3 student in a public school can barely read a sentence. This is not their fault; the blame goes to the government who has failed to prioritise education.
In Kwara state today, 85% of the public primary and secondary schools are under-funded, unequipped to standard and possess poor facilities. The teachers are not trained to deliver quality education, they just go to the schools and send the students on personal errands which are not supposed to be. There is a need for the government to declare an emergency on the education sector and put in more effort to restore the educational sector to its bloom.
We are very far from achieving the Kwara of our dream. Education is very important because it is the bedrock of a prosperous society. The government needs to invest heavily in training teachers, building standards and conducive learning facilities for students, and making sure that every child is enrolled in school. It is not enough when you say you are renovating a block of classrooms, we need a more comprehensive intervention in this sector. Both Arabic and western education are very important as they are widely sought after in the state. The Ministry of Education should engage stakeholders and design a world standard syllabus for the state and engage institutions in the training of teachers to deliver quality education. The rapid decline in Kwara state educational standard is evident in the performance of public-school students in their senior certificate examinations.
This is not the Kwara state we dream of. We dream of a Kwara that is prosperous, a Kwara that is a pride for its indigene, a Kwara where people can conduct business and know for certain that they will get their returns. We want a state that works for everybody, a state that will be the pride of our nation. But for us to achieve all of these, our leaders need to sit-tight and focus on the most important things rather than being political with their developmental plans. I want to urge Kwarans to be vigilante and assess the developments of the state as time goes, we ourselves should compare our growth to the growths of progressive states and see how far we have gone or how far behind we are. We should not be patronised to buy into the empty promises of politicians, once they fail to deliver on their promises in their first 4 years in office, we should never reinstate failure. 2 years is enough to tell whether a leader is on track to develop a state or whether they are just going to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.
Farid Abdulrazzaq Sholagberu (LLB, LLM)