In the just concluded 2015 elections, I wrote a lot in support of youth aspirants, not minding the political parties they belong to. As a youth advocate, I never allowed the love for any political party to hinder my ability to raise my voice in support of young candidates who had the boldness to come forward to seek elective positions. And I did make it clear to all who got my support that it was simply because of their youthfulness and brilliance and audacity. Nothing more. For me, it is always about the youths and, more specifically, about my generation.
However, it is imperative to state that I have never been and would not be someone who will push for ‘space negotiations’ at the detriment of competence. While I definitely want young people to occupy positions of leadership, I will never suggest that age alone should be the criteria for leadership recruitment in Nigeria. In fact, this conviction is the reason why I will wear the toga of “competency advocate” in this piece and vehemently disagree with the position of fellow youths who think Bolaji Abdullahi has served as a Minister before, and should therefore not be nominated again to serve in the government of President- elect, General Muhammadu Buhari.
In case the reader missed the debate, there has been a lot of noise among young Kwarans on Facebook on the likely person to emerge as a Ministerial nominee from Kwara State. While some obviously thought Bolaji should be the ideal person, having performed meritoriously well the last time he represented the State in the Federal Executive Council (FEC), some are of the view that another person should be given the chance. One of the online debaters who goes by the name Daud Elefo conveyed this sentiment when he remarked: “Is Bolaji the only one in Kwara State?”.
While it is true that Bolaji Abdullahi is not the only one in Kwara State who deserves to be Minister, we must also remind ourselves that Ministerial position, in the emerging new Nigeria and in this season of CHANGE, is not also what we can over-politicized to the point of nominating just anyone. Bolaji Abdullahi may not have been the only qualified Kwaran worthy of a Ministerial nomination, but he remains one of the best and proven hands we have got. No doubt about that.
Recently, the founding father of Singapore, Lee Juan Yew died amidst global ovation. At death, he left behind a legacy of spearheading the transition of Singapore from a third world country to a first world country. Lee had served as Prime Minister of Singapore for 31 years. Instead of asking Lee to quit the political scene, Singaporeans rewarded his ingenuity with yet another position -Senior Minister of Singapore. Lee was senior Minister for 14 years, after which he again served as Minister Mentor for 10 years. In total, Lee held a successive Ministerial position for 56 years and continued to serve as a Member of Parliament until his death recently. Like Bolaji, Lee was not the only intelligent man in Singapore. But Singaporeans looked beyond the shallow and pedestrian view of “he has been there long enough”. OK, if the argument is that Lee was rewarded for being the founding father of modern Singapore, what of his son (Lee Hsien Loong) who has also been elected Prime Minister since 2004.
Examples abound of enlightened and highly competitive societies were performing public officials served for a long period of time. Until January 13, 2015, Carl Levin served in the U.S government as an elected Senator for 36 years. Same for Richard Lugar. In the case of Robert Bryd, he served for 51 years. The famous British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill served Britain for 61 years, 332 days. And even when he retired at the age of 80, he continued to serve his country as a Member of Parliament. These people were not the only ones in their countries, but they served that long because their countries believe that hard word and commitment to service should be rewarded and encouraged. Bolaji, as a Minister, was a very hard working man who was well committed to the progress of Nigeria.
Dr. BUKOLA Saraki, one of the front line leaders of APC, confirmed the quality and character of Bolaji Abdullahi when he submitted: “It is disappointing that in the interest of politics we (should) compromise competence, and invariably denied our nation the progress it deserves…Monumental achievements made under (Bolaji as Commissioner of Education) are still being built upon today. It (is) difficult to write off the incredible performance of Abdullahi (who has recorded) several milestones at state and national levels. His laudable achievements as Minister of Sports, which include Nigeria’s victory at the last Africa Nations Cup, performance at the Olympics, FIFA World Cup has endeared him to sport lovers”. I do not think there are many people out there who can lay claim to knowing Bolaji more than the distinguished Senator Saraki. For someone who was Bolaji’s direct boss for eight years, he sure knows the stuff the man is made of, much more than the rest of us.
Indeed, those claiming that Bolaji Abdullahi has been in government long enough and should therefore quit missed the point entirely. Among those elected into office in the just concluded elections are Bolaji’s contemporaries who came into government the same time with him. And while many of them came into government as Commissioners, Bolaji came in as a Special Assistant, working his way through the ropes. Of the total 10 years Bolaji has spent in government, only 7 were spent in positions that enable him to take decisions (4 years as Commissioner and 3 years as Minister). The remaining years have been spent in advisory capacity or, if you like, “merely assisting the executive”.
Again, one thing Kwara should consider in arriving at a decision as to who qualifies to be nominated is the sort of Cabinet Buhari may likely have. For me, I think we may likely have a star-studded cabinet in which Kwara may not afford to have an untested representative. Already, Bolaji has worked with many who may likely constitute the expected Buhari cabinet during the campaigns. As Deputy Director of Policy and Strategy of the APC Campaign Council, Bolaji Abdullahi has reinforced the belief of many APC leaders in his competence and prowess. Therefore, Just as Senator Bukola Saraki admonished, Kwara must never succumb to the temptation of “compromising competence in the interest of politics”.
Finally, it is said that the highest possible calling for a man of honour is public service. For Bolaji, a man who depicted honour and loyalty by siding with his benefactor when it mattered most, the reward for serving well should be a chance to continue to serve. If after more than 56 years in active public service, Singapore was not prepared to let Lee Kuan Yew go, if after more than 61 years of service, Britain was reluctant to allow Winston Churchill go, Nigeria and Kwara should not allow reform-minded individuals like Bolaji Abdullahi go for now. At least, not now when we need capable and tested hands to lead us into the era of change and true transformation that beckons.
Abdullahi writes from Abuja.