By Kayode Abdulazeez
By records, one of the most quoted definitions for democracy was the one offered by Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America. Obviously, this is because the definition puts the people at the centre.
Lincoln defined democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people. Apparently, it presupposes that democratic govenments are about the development of the people.
Inarguably, Nigeria is a democratic nation and as a federation, has many sub-national units, one of which is Kwara State. Kwara is one of the first-generation states, created in 1967 with Ilorin as the capital city. Ilorin is geographically located in Central Senatorial District of the state. Besides this, Kwara has many other towns, such as Offa, Omu-Aran, (Kwara South) and Kaiama, Lafiagi (Kwara North) with several other communities across sixteen local government areas.
Based on political structure, every community is situated in a particular ward, local government area, federal constituency, and senatorial district state with elective representatives in government.
These representatives are expected to join hand with the executive arms at various tiers of government for development projects and policies.
It is saddened, however, that 56 years after the creation of Kwara state, there are still many communities in the state with little or no traces of government presence in terms of the provision of basic amenities such as portable water supply healthcare centres, electricity, and schools.
One of such communities is Pandoro in the Offa local government area of Kwara South Senatorial District. Pandoro is an ancient community that has suffered protracted neglected by the successive state and local governments.
Speaking with the community head, Alfa Abdulyekeen Sulu recounts, “our major problem in Pandoro is water. Before now, we used to drink from the stream not until a particular man who was only passing through the community saw a herd of cows, drinking water from the same source with the residents.
“He asked some questions, which eventually, pioneering the motorised borehole at the centre spot of four villages to serves us. This is the water we have been using since then.
“Nevertheless, our wives and children queue for hours everyday before they are able to fetch water due to the number of people coming for water.
“Although some people once visited us, said to be representatives of the government, and promised to give us a motorised borehole, but we have not heard or seen them again over more than a year now.
“Yes, politicians, do come here to canvass for a vote during the electioneering period, and number one on our request from any party that visits is water.
“Our hope now lies on your visit as a journalist, maybe the government can think of us after your report.” Alfa Abdulyekeen said this pathetically.
Pandoro is not in this alone, as a visit to the Gbale Asun Community in the Asa local government area of Kwara Central senatorial district revealed that the residents also drink from the same stream source with cows.
According to the District Head of Gbale Asun, who gave his name as Fatai Habeeb, but popularly known as ‘Baba Ayetoto’, “we are a community of over 300 people and always participate in every election but, unfortunately, some of the people that do come to canvass for vote don’t always come back to fulfill promises of given us drinkable water, healthcare center and electricity. We don’t have any basic amenities in our community.
“Although, some people who told us that they were representatives of the government came to visit last year, and after seeing our condition they promised to come back and give us Borehole water but we have not seen them again.
“More importantly, drinkable water is our problem, we also care for healthcare centers, and solar power lights too.”
Similarly, a visit to the Yanbwan community, with over two hundred residents, Under *Kenu/Taberu Ward of Okuta District* of Baruten local government area of Kwara North Senatorial District shows another worrisome situation.
A resident of the community, Kazeem Yanbwan said “We used to have a motorized solar borehole given to our community by the National Boundaries Commission but stopped functioning long ago with nobody to assist in repairing it and the cost is a little bit much for us to contribute.
Also, “the only school we have was built by community effort using mud, but has now fallen off and children study while been exposed, the school is in dire need of repair, it also lacks teachers, we only have one teacher that attends to the pupils.
“Yes, Politicians do come to canvass for a vote and we always lay out our complaints which they usually promise to work on but it’s always the same fake promises.
“We keep praying and hoping that they will remember us one day here, as you can see we are just separated by the River from Benin Republic Saoro town, so we just go there to seek some basic needs like water and healthcare, especially during the dry season but in the rainy season it’s usually very tough and risky because we have to cross with boats.”
Recall that in the year 2021 team of BBC journalists did a documentary on how some group of women in Onila and Agidingbi communities in Irepodun local government area of Kwara state built school with their hard-earned money as part of efforts to give their wards western education.
The state Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq later refunded these women and rebuilt the school to standard after the story caught his attention.
Speaking on the strategy the state is deploying in providing basic amenities to rural communities, the General Manager, of Kwara State Community and Social Development Agency, Engr. Mrs. Haruna Amamat Oluwatoyin, said, “We are providing support for the poor and vulnerable communities by using community driving development approach which is a bottom-top approach whereby the community will express their intention by writing us a letter of expression of interest on a particular priority project they need.
“Such community would be directed to go and open a bank account and pay ten percent of the total cost of the proposed project, and bring a payment slip. This is designed to assess their level of readiness and more importantly, let them have a full sense of ownership of such a project.
“For the closed year, the agency has supported 248 communities across the 16 local government areas in the state with different projects such as water, electricity, healthcare, education, and social economy, all based on what the community asked for.
The support is co-sponsored by the Kwara State Government and the World Bank.
“The state government is getting this fund by paying counterpart funds of N50 million naira annually which in return gives them access to a sum of 4 million dollars for rural community development and can even get more depending on how fast the state is on implementation.
“But, presently the agency is running the NG-Care program, offering the same services, and has reduced the community counterpart payment to five percent of the total cost of the project instead of ten before now. 449 communities have submitted a letter of expression of interest and they will be attended to as soon as possible.
“Yes, we don’t have data on all communities in the state. We only have data of those who have expressed interest to the agency for support towards the provision of amenities to their community.”
She also made known that a philanthropist or private organization can assist vulnerable communities with the payment of five percent.
Also in his expertise views, a community development practitioner, and University lecturer, Lawal Olohungbebe, said “When you talk about data, it may not be accurate, but I can tell you that the government parastatal has data of rural areas, communities, and their tentative population. Especially the primary healthcare because of their intervention programs, such as mosquito net sharing and others. They take that advantage to have data on every community. They know the existence of every community/village.
“Talking about how to take development to deprived communities, there is no miracle that can turn their condition around for good. It has to be strategic, and multifaceted and it will take time. More importantly, it has to be deliberate, development does not come accidentally, and it has to be planned with deliberate implementation to get the required result.
“One of the ways through which rural communities can change from whatever they are now is through what we call ‘Asset Based Community Development’ (ABCD) it’s an approach that is used by rural areas to ensure they change positively. When you talk about ABCD, every community has its Assets, In some communities, we know what they grow, and in some, we know what they sell, and what they produce.
“What they know them for can be used to attract development to them, that is the way to have sustainable development in those areas. Do not push on them what they lack, but use what they have to achieve what they lack, for instance, in a community that produces shear-butter, shear-butter is enough to attract other amenities to that community. Imagine having a small-scale company in that community, this would automatically attract development and give opportunity for the provision of basic amenities in that area. That is one of the ways to attract development.
“Looking at it from the government level, there is something we call integrated rural development, yes, the present administration in Kwara promises they are going to do a Bureau for integrated rural development, if that promise comes into reality, there will be collaboration among and between different government parastatals, coming together because of few communities to ensure they have all-encompassing intervention, integrated development. We talk about Agriculture, it takes along with health and education.
“If those three are taken care of, definitely there will be a development, that is integrated development, so if you use ABCD, and at the same time you use integrated rural development, the combination of these two and other approaches through which rural area can achieve their aims, there will be development. Has said, that it has to be a deliberate, strategic, and ongoing process, no development has its end.
“Imagine having local government and community development ministry sitting down with the Ministry of Agriculture, sitting down with the ministry of education, sitting down with the ministry of health. These major four coming together because of rural areas and if the Bureau of Integrated Development also comes into reality, if all of them come together to strategize and do something together, they can get the fortune of many communities and villages in rural areas with people to live comfortably with few basic if not all amenities.”
Apart from visited communities, there are also several communities suffering from basic amenities and lacking influencers’ personalities and opportunities for media attention to assist in reaching out to government, organizations, and individuals that may be of help to their pathetic situation.
It’s time for the state, local government, and all the elective representatives at various levels of government to re-visit their strategies on how to change the lives of people living in rural communities provide them with necessary basic amenities, and give them a sense of belonging to good governance like every other citizen living in the urban areas.
Kayode Abdulazeez is a journalist, writes from Kwara State.