Despite having roots from Ilorin Emirate, travelling through the 52 wards of Kwara Central was never on my bucket list. However, I started my 2023 embarking on that journey, experiencing the saying, “the best journeys are the unplanned ones.” so, I am glad I did.
As the build-up for political campaigning started, I was made the Head of Media team for Mallam Saliu Mustapha’s candidacy for Kwara Central Senatorial District under the All-Progressives Congress (APC).
My duty was to document and publicise his campaign, manifesto and vision for the people of the senatorial district.
Being a practicing journalist, challenges faced in different parts of Nigeria were no news to me. However, touring the nook and crannies of the senatorial district, the largest in the state, gave me a new perspective much more than any news report could have.
Starting from Asa, we had the opportunity of visiting the 52 wards on the campaign trail. On this journey I experienced the people in a different light while simultaneously gaining first-hand experience which gave me a change of perspective on politics, development and social justice in Nigeria.
It is not tiding that the aim of a campaign is to register the candidate in the hearts of the people. Our journey was no different, we left our homes with the intention of achieving the aim of registering the then Senatorial candidate, Saliu Mustapha in the hearts of the people. Besides the aim, we had the objective of gathering information from locals on matters that influence their lives, this is to familiarise our candidate more on the plight of the people.
We gradually made our way across the senatorial district of four local governments — Asa, Ilorin West, Ilorin South, and Ilorin East and we were astonished by encounters with individuals of various social groups, economic brackets, faiths and ages.
It epitomises Mallam Mustapha’s pursuit of inclusion: “Kwarans will enjoy more inclusiveness in governance and policy that will enhance effective implementation of more sustainable empowerment programmes,” he promised during the tour of Asa local government.
For a region that has leaders representing them in different government capacities, realities on ground were far from appealing. One of the first things that struck me during our trip was the seeming lack of government presence in some of the wards we visited. I saw first-hand their struggle for a better life. Some villages in the region lack even the most basic social amenities like healthcare facilities for the sick or an education system for the ever growing population.
When Mallam Mustapha poured out his ambition and aspiration for the communities, there was notable delight on the faces of the populace akin to those associated with a family receiving the news of the birth of a baby. The hope of the people was rekindled This was obvious from the loud chants the people rained for every promise he made.
In Asa, Mallam Mustapha communicated his intent to cultivate the untapped agricultural potential of the community. Asa is home for agricultural products like rice, maize, cassava and vegetables. “The communities we visited yearn for more federal presence and zonal constituency projects to complement the efforts of the current state government,” he mentioned.
We witnessed the damage caused by thuggery and other sorts of violence. This is not far from the fact that any community that lacks basic human needs resort to violence and other morally challenged ways to survive such as the jungle rule of biological beings – survival of the fittest. It was perplexing to see youth living at the expense of their kinsmen for the reason that it was the only perceived viable source of income.
Mallam Mustapha recognised this need to lead development schemes among Kwara’s young population when he said, “my journey to the 10th senate is further enriched by the meaningful conversations I had with the younger generations, even those who have not yet attained voting age but are as politically aware as the older generation.”
Amazingly, it appears that many traditional rulers regard boreholes and uncompleted worship centres as their community’s pressing needs. These were unexpected especially after seeing dilapidated school structures, erratic electricity and ineffective primary health care systems littered across the district.
Though their hopes might have been dashed from recurring and unfulfilled campaign promises hence, they talk only about what they feel is within reach and deem imperative; boreholes and mosques. I would say it is time for locals to recognise the need for more comprehensive social amenities that may enhance the quality of their lives and those of their children.
While political representatives are responsible for addressing the problems of the communities they serve, long-term development is only achievable when private businesses contribute to the construction of sustainable social amenities in the areas in which they operate, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) it is called.
The Fulani and other minority communities were also one of our stops. They suffered the same fate as the majority (lack of basic amenities) and cried out for intervention of necessary authority. It is crucial that the government take charge of ensuring the welfare of all citizens irrespective of tribe and religion.
The agenda of local governments autonomy has been pushed in the Nigerian government sphere for a while now. Following our visit to the wards, I couldn’t agree more. The local government authorities are more in touch with the general public and it was evident that they lack control. Therefore, they are unable to meet the needs of the people. Higher authority should solve this puzzle by passing into law a legislation that gives local governments greater power than the one they currently wield.
On a more general note, I applaud the administration of Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq who oversaw the development of local roads, prompt payment of salaries, refurbishment of schools and hospitals among others but a tree can’t make a forest. Despite best efforts, more has to be done in terms of infrastructural developments and job creations to increase the standard of living of Kwarans.
Mallam Saliu Mustapha emerging as Kwara Central’s Senator-elect is a sign of hope for the people of Kwara Central. Democracy is government of the people, for the people and by the people, therefore, as someone who is passionate about social justice, it was encouraging to see Kwara Central’s Senator-elect show genuine concern for the quality of life of the people in the district. The concern is an indicator of the yardstick he will use to govern the people.
As a son of the soil, this journey has left me intrigued, educated and passionate. My interactions with the locals and their traditional rulers have improved my grasp of our democracy at the grassroots and given me useful political skills in campaign planning and branding. I was so amazed how the traditional rulers, the youth leaders and the people poured encomiums on the humility, simplicity and kindness of Mallam Saliu Mustapha.
It was therefore not surprising when on the election day the electorates massively voted Mallam Saliu Mustapha to emerge the Senator-elect for Kwara Central. He secured 109,823 to defeat his close rival and former Youth and Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi who got 69,202 votes.
As I recall the tour, the lovely people, beautiful landscapes and the great potentials of not only the senatorial district but Kwara State, I realise that through party politics the dreams of the people can be actualised. Probably, someday I can also join politics.
Shuaib, a media and communications specialist, is the convener of the Campus Journalism Awards.