At 49, Bolaji Abdullahi has done well for himself. He has also represented the young people well. He has shown that if given a chance, the youth can perform well. For someone, who started his career as a Journalist and then went into public service and then into full-blown politics, he has given a good account of himself.
Now, he wants to be the next governor of Kwara State. And he is serious about it. He plans to declare his intention in a few days in Ilorin. He believes he has paid his dues. Starting from 2003, he had the unique privilege of serving the state in various capacities. First, it was as Special Assistant (Communications & Strategy) in 2003; as Chairman, Budget Monitoring and Implementation in 2004; as Special Adviser (Policy & Strategy) in 2005 and; as Honourable Commissioner (Education) in 2007. “In those positions, I was directly involved in policy formulation,
communication and, implementation he told Citypeople last week in Abuja. “I travelled to all the nooks and crannies of the State. I engaged the people at all levels-policy actors and elite stakeholders; the urban and rural poor; children and young; politicians and bureaucrats. I familiarised myself with the key challenges and the daily struggles of our people in their sheer diversity.
In 2011, I was appointed as Federal Minister of Youth Development and later; Honourable Minister and Chairman, National Sports Commission. These positions exposed me to the huge challenges faced by the Nigerian youth, which constitute more than half of our national population. They also enabled me to appreciate the massive opportunities that abound in the youth sector; deriving from my close interaction with hugely-talented young actors in the music and entertainment industries, the ICT sub-sector, and, of course, Sports. I have also been a National Officer of the ruling party, APC before I left. That has further broadened my horizon and deepened my understanding of party politics and how politics could be put to the service of the people. It has also enabled me to build an extensive network of relationships and contacts with key political actors across the length and breadth of our country.
Beyond anything else, the last one-and-half decade has been for me, a long journey of learning and preparation. I believe that the time is ripe to put to the service of our great state all that I have learnt in the past 21 years as a journalist and public affairs analyst; as a civil society activist; as a development
practitioner; as a public servant and as a politician. My strategic goal is for the development of our state, which I entitled, Agenda for Youth Empowerment and Investment in People”. If nothing else, I have learnt, over the years, that People should be at the very centre of government development agenda. If the government invests in the people and empowers them, they will be able to take charge of their lives and become productive actors for even more so for your potential, which remains the greatest asset. Genuine empowerment for the youth, which develops their capabilities, will not only be great dividends today; but will set us on the path to sustainable development in the future.
Bolaji seeks to run Kwara State, which in many respects, has come a long way, since its creation in 1967. “In its half-a-century existence, the State has made noteworthy progress in several areas, but especially in Infrastructure development, he explained. “However, like the rest of the country, major indices of human, economic and social development lay bare the challenges ahead as the state’s journeys towards its centennial journey.” Kwara State has an estimated population of 3,192,900, occupying 36,000 square kilometers of a landmass. This population is believed to increase at the rate of 3.49% each year, which is above the national average of 2.6% per year. If the current increase rate is maintained, Kwara’s population would be close to 5 million by 2029. Current demographic patterns indicate that 61 % of Kwara’s population is of the age of 0-19. This severe population bulge of children and young adults makes the present and future challenges grimly clear. Analysis of the State’s demography also indicates that about 30% of the population is in the 20-49 age category. As those in the upper end of the 0-19 join this category, the youth unemployment challenge would get even bigger and government would face even more severe pressure to provide jobs for close to a million of its population. A recent survey conducted in Kwara State by SB Morgen Intelligence indicates that about 40% of the working population polled earns N18,000 or less in a month; while another 48% earns between N18,000-N30,000 in a month. Going by the 2017 World Bank’s adjusted definition of extreme poverty at below $1.90, it is very likely that up to 86% of our population lives in the extreme poverty zone. According to Abdullahi, government must, therefore, reflect a critical awareness of this condition of our people. Our priorities must be targeted at reducing the poverty burden in the short term even as we invest in human capital to prepare our people for a better life in the future. As settlements grow into towns and towns into cities, urbanisation will bring increased pressure on infrastructure, housing, and sanitation; with waste management becoming a serious challenge as the population density grows. Our state capital, Ilorin has continued to attract people, not only from across the state but also from different parts of the country. Currently, 37% of the State’s population lives in the state capital with a landmass of just a little over 2%. As our young population transits into adulthood and starts their own families, these associated problems of urbanisation are likely to get even worse. Government must, therefore, continue to expand existing infrastructure, provide affordable housing and replan the city for the future. But more importantly, regional and integrated rural development become more imperative than ever as the government must provide opportunities for quality livelihood outside the capital, especially in areas of infrastructure, employment, education, and healthcare.”
There are no easy answers to these problems. However, government in the State must demonstrate a keen awareness of these priorities and be fully prepared to tackle them head-on. Therefore, the governor we need in 2019 is one who has a deep understanding of these issues, and the sophistication to manoeuver his ways through the challenges in a manner that inspires public confidence.
Kwara State must demonstrate the willingness and capacity to deliver on both national and global development vision. The attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), especially in Health,
Education and Youth development must, therefore, be the driving force of the State government’s political and social agenda. However, in view of declining resources available to the state, Kwara needs a governor like him that is not only prudent in the management of available resources but one who is also able to open new revenue channels and mobilize the right support from development partners. 2019 straddles both the end of the first 50 years and the very beginning of the second 50 years for Kwara State. Therefore, the generation that would come into governance at this period would bear the historic responsibility to set the State on course towards its first centenary, Therefore, the governor must have a deep knowledge of the development efforts of the past years understand and share the vision the drove those efforts; and possess the ability to consolidate on the gains and continue on the path of progress.” Abdullahi says Senate President, Bukola Saraki, laid the foundation for the state when he ran Kwara from 2003-2011. he was the one who laid a strong foundation for a modern Kwara State.
According to Abdullahi, the first real attempt at integrated development in the state started in that period. The dominant agenda at the time was to open up the state to greater private sector investments and expand job opportunities beyond government employment. That era witnessed unprecedented development in transport infrastructure, including aviation; investments in commercial agriculture with the flagship Shonga Farms project, it was also a period of strong commitment to education reform; expansion of higher education facilities with the establishment of Kwara State University; and the development of low-cost healthcare systems with the launch of the first community-based health insurance scheme in sub-Saharan Africa. All these combined to lay a strong foundation for a modern state.
And as for Gov. Abdulfatah Ahmed, he drove Kwara towards financial sustainability. “The dominant agenda of this period (2011-2019) has been to consolidate on the groundbreaking initiatives of the preceding 8 years. While sustaining the flagship commercial agriculture project of the previous era; through the introduction of the Off-takers Driven Agriculture (ODA) initiatives as a strategy of incentive-driven agriculture which attracted more smallholders into the sector. Thereby, it has further underlined agriculture as the mainstay of the State’s economy. Although this period was inhibited by a severe economic recession in the
country, it is quite remarkable that it was also a period of innovative strategies in revenue generation as well as creative approaches to infrastructure funding. This has allowed for further investments in higher
education, skills development, health, as well as road infrastructure. A 2016 State Viability Index (ASVI) rates Kwara State in 5th position among the country’s 36 states with an IGR to FAAC ratio of 35 percent. No other state with a similar economic profile ranked higher. Bolaji Abdullahi says his plan is to focus on empowering the youth and investing in people.
My mandate will be defined by its commitment to Youth Development, as well as its focus on Healthcare, Education and Social Protection, especially for the poor and the vulnerable. The priority will reflect the principle that the bulk of our resources should be invested in our population-the children and the youth. My government will pursue an economic and social agenda that priorities youth empowerment through skills and capacity development, job creation and entrepreneurship.
– Seye Kehinde