Kwara State at 50


There are divergent views about the progress recorded so far since the 12 states were created by the military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon 50 years ago. There are the pessimists who hold that states (now 36 in number) have not achieved the desired goals of development. In some extreme cases there have been strident calls for the abolition of states with nostalgia for the old three regions. On the other hand there are the optimists and enthusiasts who see states, as success stories. Lagos, Kano and Rivers states are commendably up beat with all inclusive anniversary programmes. Lagos under the leadership of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode makes state creation alluring with a year long creative mass participatory anniversary activities. But in a sense both “for” and “against” positions on states creation are valid. The truth is that most States have recorded some achievements but far from the expectations at the beginning 50 years ago.

As a guest speaker at two non-official anniversary lectures in Ilorin at the weekend, I bear witness that despair had replaced hope 50 years after Kwara state came into being. Three of the original 4 states, which still retain their identities, are Kwara, Lagos, Rivers and Kano. Last Wednesday, 17th May 2017 my brother and Secretary to the Kwara State Government, Alhaji Isiaka Gold singled out unity, peace and development as the greatest achievements. Other listed achievements include the Federal, State and private universities, industries, an emerging aviation hub, advanced health facilities, modern recreational facilities, and comparatively good infrastructure.
The question however is that if so much had been achieved, why the so-called low-key “in consonance with the mood of the country”? We must learn to celebrate statehood and nation building with good spirit and innovative all inclusive ideas and activities as Lagos has commendably done. Excuses cannot be substitute to good governance. Statesmen (and stateswomen too) who often block public roads and airspace to mark their birthdays and weddings of their sons and daughters have no excuse to do less for the states and public space they occupy. The promise of governance is security and welfare of citizens. Public officers must use every day to account for how far they have met this singular constitutional expectation.

The official government logo and theme of the anniversary is “Celebrating Harmony, Shaping the Future”. Undoubtedly Kwara state has a lot to showcase for peace and harmony compared to mini “wars of attrition” in the North-east and East. The challenge is to consolidate on the legacy of peaceful co-existence. In shaping the future, the truth is that the state’s peace dividends are being undermined by increasing mass poverty and exclusiveness as opposed to inclusive growth.

Kwara from May 27, 1976 started, as Central West State but later became known as “Kwara”, a name derived from the local name of River Niger among the people who constitute the state. Under Ibrahim Babangida military dictatorship Borgu LGA (New Bussa) was taken away on Aug. 27, 1991 and merged with Niger State. No demand whatsoever from the Borgu people to leave Kwara State neither by way of petition, referendum nor protest. Based on the projected population figures in the 1980s, the state had an average of 4.8 million people with an area of about 73,000 square kilometers (making it the 5th largest state in the Federation as at August 26, 1991). But Kwara State had since 1967 reduced considerably in size as a result of further serial state creation exercises in Nigeria.

On 13 February 1976, the Idah/Dekina part of the state was carved out and merged with a part of the then Benue/Plateau State to form Benue State. Again On 27 August 1991, five local government areas, namely Oyi, Yagba, Okene, Okehi and Kogi were also excised to form part of the new Kogi State, while a sixth, Borgu Local Government Area, was merged with Niger State.

As of 2006, the population of Kwara was 2.37 million, half of what it was in 1980s based on the 2006 Census figures. This population size constitutes about 1.69% of the Nation’s total population. Today the state occupies 30th position in the league of states compared to its 5th position before. Its land mass is now 36, 825 km compared to 73,000 square kilometers. Who speaks for the sanctity of Kwara state sovereignty in the next 50 years?

In its 50 years of existence, Kwara State has been governed by 19 Military administrators and Governors to date. This is an average of two-year tenure per governor. Frequency of governors, especially military governors had undermined the state’s development.

Most of the military governors between 1985 and 1999 actually underdeveloped Kwara State! The hope is that NEVER again should unelected gunmen rule Nigeria. Elected governors and legislators must stop “lording” it over their peoples like discredited military rulers. They should encourage dissents and alternative views. Freedom promotes development while dictatorship of various hues perpetuate under-development. Kwarans must reclaim their shrinking political space by de-personalizing governance in the coming years.

Regardless of the frustrations with the present democratic process, the challenge is to deepen democracy not to doubt it. Indeed, as we have seen in some states including Kwara, insufficient democracy, monopoly politics, lack of accountability is responsible for the recent rot, corruption, de-industrialization, mass unemployment and mass poverty. It’s time for inclusive governance and development in Kwara. Interestingly no woman ever governed the state, not even as deputies and in recent times since, 1999. Deputy governors are almost by design far older than the governors. It’s time to encourage youth participation in governance. The other 3 original states, namely Rivers, Kano and Lagos are among the top 10 high GDP states. Kwara ranks 28th on the ranking of states by GDP beaten to it by even newest states like, Imo, Edo and Oyo.

At creation, Kwara was the fastest growing state with bold Development Plan through Kwara State First Development Plan (1970-75) in May 1970 (within the context of the country’s second National Development Plan (1970-1975) and Second Kwara State Development Plan (1975-1980).

The plans laid solid foundations for accelerated economic growth, increased productivity in agriculture providing favourable climate for industrial development and improving the quality of life of the people through the provision of necessary infrastructure. Kwara must return to development planning. Paradoxically, Kwara assumes national and international importance with Shonga commercial Farms Holding Nigeria Limited. But at 50 the farm is not celebrated as a state asset. Who owns the farm? If it is an independent entity of its own, separate from the state government, who are the shareholders? How much did the Kwara state invest? What guarantee did Kwara government provide for the billions of Naira loans to the company? How much is the state paying as a state? What is the rate of return? Are the farms’ commercial crops such as maize, rice, cassava, ginger, and soya bean, milk and poultry meat available for Kwarans? At anniversary, Kwara State must be ambitious in state building. The state must re- invent legacy public community schools that once provided the human capital for the old northern region.

• Comrade Aremu is a Member of the National Institute (mni)