By Rafiu Ajakaye
Change was never going to be rosy or flamboyantly flowery the way we knew it. Things weren’t going to remain the same. There isn’t going to be free money to throw around. And there definitely wouldn’t be a chance for anyone to throw their weight around to oppress fellow human beings in the name of serving in government. Government house bazaar of old can no longer hold. But there was going to be some pushback. Humans are mostly averse to change. But that is what Otoge means: change. Or did people ever think those chants of Otoge were just sloganeering? Did a whole lot of people actually think that the defeat of the old order birthed a new one where the only difference are just the persona? No, this is certainly not a perception shared by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq.
The administration, given the prudent orientation of its head, has definitely stabilised, considering the economic and COVID-19 turbulence of the past few months. This is particularly true when one considers the low turnover of appointees so far. Coming from diverse professional careers and various socioeconomic backgrounds, the appointees are weathering the storm. Much as everyone desires a good life, the ethos of this Administration is service first. Given the Kwara journey, many expected the appointees to own new houses and fleet of expensive cars by now. But so frugal is the administration that the only set of vehicles the government has procured thus far are those used for service delivery to the people especially in the civil service. No appointee has received government funds to purchase personal cars. None has got public funds to procure houses. In the years past, appointees got as high as N16m each of public funds to buy themselves good cars. How do you demand for such a luxury under an administration headed by a man who drives a car he bought with his own money? While it is not a crime or abnormal for government to make its appointees comfortable, the thinking of the Governor is that the people have for too long been deprived of things as basic as water. He thinks they deserve a better deal this time in fulfillment of his promise to them, thus rewarding their choice of a new political direction.
But the truth is that this was not the norm in Kwara. Surrounded and constantly derided by some persons, probably even some in the family, whose expectations and perception of public office were shaped by the old order where sudden wealth was the hallmark of public office and where public appointees paid the exorbitant tuition of their children in foreign schools or lavishly funded the wedding of their children and so on, it is natural for some persons to feel deflated following a man whose conception of Otoge is for things to be done differently.
Faced with the prospect of ‘our people’ saying they risk coming out of government poorer and without status cars in their garage, it will not be unusual to see some appointees taking a walk. The noise of ‘enugbe’ in the political and social circles of Kwara sums up this thinking. Enugbe does not mean that the government is not performing. Everyone agrees the Governor is doing excellently well, particularly at the level of infrastructural development and promptly providing basic amenities of life to the underserved segment of the society. Even the opposition grudgingly agrees that he is making unprecedented socio-economic impacts in the state — regardless of their occasional tantrums. That is expected.
Whatever the shock, pain or grumbling that is happening to and in the new administration is perfectly normal. That is akin to the pangs of childbirth, the birth of a new Kwara. The new order may seem a tad stormy at the beginning as the people and various actors gradually adjust to the new normal. It happens everywhere a change has just occurred. Those insinuating a lack of direction miss the point. There is nothing in the economic outlook of the state that suggests a lack of direction. Kwara has just posted one of the lowest unemployment figures. It recently recorded Nigeria’s lowest inflation rate. That did not just happen. It happened because the administration worked for it. The state has had one of the finest showings in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its social spendings in time of economic downturn were one of the best in Nigeria today, with locally sourced palliatives shared to the underprivileged, hundreds of thousands of face masks produced for the people and by local artisans. Add all of those to its prompt payment of salaries even when civil servants have been asked to work from home to limit human contacts and flatten the curve of the pandemic, provision of financial support to thousands of people hard hit by the lockdown, waivers on tax payment, and a strategic decision not to totally shut down industrial production. When the country initially went into full-scale lockdown, Kwara exempted the agriculture sub-sector and a few others. That kept the economy moving even if at reduced capacity.
At the end of the day the pace and punch of the Administration will regrettably come with casualties as this race to birth a new Kwara is for the strong and the inspired; not for the weak nor the meek. We cannot all resign to our fate or circumstances; we must take the fate of Kwara in our hands to bring positive change. The expectations of public servants and political appointees in the new Kwara can no longer be self-aggrandizement; they would have to align with the Otoge philosophy of a man who carries his own bag, often personally drives his own car, and lives under his own roof. The emerging system would not be near perfect but it would be closer to that ideal public service we all desire: one where public officials truly serve the people.
Ajakaye is the Chief Press Secretary to the Kwara Governor.