By Basheer Luqman Olarewaju
Apart from journeying through the frontal gate of the Kwara State Polytechnic (Main Campus), Ilorin, the first time I would step into that one of the most sought-after Polytechnics in the country was on securing admission, National Diploma, to study Science Laboratory Technology, fondly called SLT, in the year 2012. At the citadel of learning, one of the touching and heartburning experiences I had was seeing a big spacious moribund edifice almost behind the Rector’s Office. Why would such a building be abandoned? Painfully, I was schooled by one HND colleague that the proposed Auditorium was the initiative of Late Muhammed Alabi Lawal, ex-Governor of Kwara State.
Rear Admiral Muhammed Alabi Lawal, naval officer, former Ogun state military administrator and first democratically elected son of Ilorin as civilian governor of Kwara state: It is saddening seeing, after about fifteen years, his political associates and traducers buying opportunities to recall his selflessness, humility, patriotism and contributions to Kwara’s development.
The late Governor Muhammed Lawal belonged to that generation of Ilorin elites born during the 1940s; they were the first set that really had a university education and therefore was the link between the older generation and the much younger. They helped the community to finally appreciate the importance of tertiary education. That generation was also unique because many of them were outstanding students, and unarguably, Muhammed Lawal was also one of the best of his generation.
They went into professions and would be outstanding in their various fields. Muhammed Lawal studied engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, before joining the Nigerian Navy, where he rose to become an admiral. When he retired, it came as no surprise that he would join politics; and it was also remarkable that he became civilian governor at a point when the Ilorin community had reached a consensus, that one of its children should become governor, for the first time since the creation of Kwara state in 1967. Muhammed Lawal took to the job like a duck to water and made a tremendous effort at rehabilitating many projects that had decayed over the decades of military dictatorship.
He went on a roads rehabilitation and construction spree; health centres were rehabilitated; he supported the state education sector with on time salary and building facilities; a new presidential lodge was constructed and Muhammed Lawal renovated Kwara Hotel and government quarters all over the GRA were given a facelift. Above all, he consciously chose to empower local contractors and so a lot of money circulating within the economy of the state.
Kwarans, especially Ilorites, were set to see Alabi Lawal as a traitor who planned to uproot Alimi Legacy and to install his ‘Laderins’ as the ruler of the Emirate – he became estranged. Those directly involved did everything to set Muhammed Lawal against Kwarans. Nobody would wish to re-witness what happened just before the 2003 elections and the backdrop of the deep political division, which had developed in the Ilorin Emirate — the feeling that Governor Muhammed Lawal had designed against the Emir of Ilorin and the Emirate structure, and how another public figure was positioned as the defender of our community’s values; sadly, a tactical alliance was built against Governor Muhammed Lawal.
His traducers positioned themselves as Messiah-figures, yet exploited feelings and manipulated emotions about our historical values to open access for their own scion to seize the reigns of power and unfortunately, people couldn’t foresee that we were embarking on a journey to perdition: the dynasty ascendancy turned out to be the worst plague that our community has ever or can ever suffer!
Kwarans was beclouded with the colouration of Messiah-figure who played the lead role as defender of the values of the community at a time that Muhammed Lawal was increasingly becoming profiled as antagonistic to the Emir of Ilorin and the structures of the value of the community. It was a battle that he could not win since the newly cherished dynasty had entered the ruling PDP; federal might was called upon, after then Vice President, Atiku Abubakar had imposed the dynasty’s young star as PDP’s governorship candidate, despite protestations of original members of the party in the state. Muhammed Lawal was defeated in the 2003 elections, and people in our community and state rejoiced. What we could not foresee in 2003, was that, for the next sixteen years, we were about to enter into the worst possible period in our history.
For sixteen years, governance in Kwara resembled an elaborate project of deceit, fakery and patent fraud. It was like entering a “Pharaoh’s Cage”, and in the name of Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP), Kwara state was systematically fleeced while its resources ditto a lady that fell into the hands of serial rapists. That was the lie that governance has desperately continued to attempt to hide before the emergence of masses-loving governor AbdulRazaq led-administration and it’s the reason that Kwara state lies prostrate while kleptocracy became firmly entrenched as the fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy. Our people were in acute despair because governance was a fraud, which did not touch their lives positively.
Close to two decades Rear Admiral Muhammed Alabi Lawal left power, and following his tragic death, we now know better — there has come a newer understanding of Governor Muhammed Lawal’s years in our state as well as a greater appreciation of the man himself. Everyone can now appreciate a kind-hearted man who was really a genuine lover of our community and its ethos. Muhammed Lawal worked devotedly as governor and he never attempted to alienate the properties of government, nor sold them to cronies. It is no wonder that people are reappraising the Muhammed Lawal legacy in Ilorin in particular and Kwara state in general.
Muhammed Lawal was a genuine patriot who loved our community and worked for its genuine development and the empowerment of our people. He did not manipulate an irresponsible House of Assembly to approve for himself an immoral pension package and did not treat Kwara as a private estate. That came after he left power and the state became the hegemony of a single-family and eventually the wallet of an individual.
Kwarans need to appreciate His Excellency, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq for not joining the odd ways of the past — neglecting Alabi’s projects — but bringing his legacy alive. Rear Admiral Muhammed Alabi Lawal would be rejoicing not only for having him named after the auditorium but also for the coming to reality of one of his visions for Kwara State. While the late Governor Muhammed Lawal is now fondly remembered in Kwara state. May Allah forgive Governor Muhammed Lawal and grant him Aljanna. Amin.