Okunland Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

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The topic that we will discuss this morning was imposed on me by the National President of Okun Development Association (ODA), Barr. Femi Mokikan. It was imposed on me on Tuesday 20th November, 2018 at 7:00pm. If I was to discuss the issue at 10:00am on 22ndNovember, 2018, I thought that the best thing was to start thinking of what to do instead of attempting to reframe the topic. I think the theme offers us an opportunity to examine ourselves as a community of people, how we have fared or unfared, how we have progressed or regressed or even stagnant over the years. It is therefore necessary to ask ourselves whether we have moved forward or backward overtime. Either way, the responsible factors should be interrogated for us to be able to handle them to achieve positive results. To me and I believe many others, that is the only way to keep track of developments around us. It may not be totally wrong to see Okunland as a microcosm of Nigeria reflecting what has happened to the country over the years. If the country has become “jagajaga”, is it possible to turn Okunland to a Dubai or an Eldorado, can we create an island of development in Okunland surrounded by a sea of under development and poverty?
Therefore given the many constraints with which I have to contest in writing this speech, permit me to examine three issues that are very important to the Okun people. These are education, governance and politics.
A Background
Nigeria is a plural society where there are many religious, ethnic groups, and therefore many and varied attitudes to life. The country is divided into many states. Okunland is domiciled in Kogi State which was created on August 27th, 1991. Before this Okunland had been under the defunct Northern Region of Nigeria.After the region was divided into six states, Okunland was carved with the old Kwara State. In all these situations, Okun People have had to live with others almost always as a minority ethnic group. It was only in Kwara that Okunland belonged to the majority group. In the defunct Northern Nigeria, it was an absolute minority and in Kogi State it has been a relative minority.
In this type of plural setting, life is the survival of the fittest. To survive, each group must fight not in the physical sense but it must be alert to its responsibilities. Such group must have a weapon to shield itself from the predatory instinct of its neighbours. Thus what has been the strong point for the Okun People that they have been using to fight their way all along? What has made it impossible for others to suppress them in Nigeria?
Without any fear of contradiction, education has been the major weapon for them to cut their way in the jungle that Nigeria is in. In the old Northern Nigeria, Okun people were educationally ahead of almost all other groups there. They were everywhere in the civil service. At a time then, Chiefs S.B Awoniyi, S.B Daniyan, S. Ade John, J.D Bejide, E.O Otitoju and others were holding strategic civil service positions in the government of northern Nigeria. When Kwara State was created, the same thing happened; Okun people held sway in the state’s bureaucracy. In academics, up till today, Okun people still hold the flag not only in Kogi State but even beyond. Okun people’s head start in education has been an asset, a weapon, they have used quite impressively to protect themselves against the blazing sun of Nigeria’s socio-political life.
However, an examination of the state of education in Okunland leaves one in shock. The school buildings are caricatures of what they used to be. But more than that, these schools lack equipments for learning; they lack libraries, laboratories, and other facilities. Most of them are understaffed and the staff that are there are poorly paid with their salaries and pensions paid irregularly. Extremely few of these schools can produce products that can compete with the products of standard schools. The worry here is that this is the sector of our life that produces those who will replace those who are presently shaping Okunlands affairs. Our future is as good as the present conditions of our education system. Any community that is interested in its future must be interested in the present condition of its education system.
Here governance is taken to mean the allocation of resources using the prevailing political authority. If resources are utilized in such a way that the quality of life of the people is improved, then governance is good. It is bad if resources are used in such a way that the people are worse off. Political authorities here are the local, the state and the federal governments. Overtime, governance has deteriorated from good to something else.
To the extent that governance is based on resource allocation, and development is a reflection of the pattern if resource allocation in a particular geo-political territory, in this case Okunland, the area will develop to the extent that resource allocation is done to promote development and make life easier for the people in the area. Therefore if we are aspiring for the development of Okunland, there is nothing else to do other than ensure that whatever resources that are available in the area are utilized to promote the socio-economic development of its people by political authorities. These political authorities include elected and appointed men and women.
In Okunland there are five Local Government Areas and their Councils which together on monthly basis, receive revenues from federal allocation and generate revenues in hundreds of millions of naira. To what extent have these financial resources impacted positively on the socio-economic life of the people? If we look around us, and observe the answers to the preceding question is very clear. The faults and blames are on the doorstep of political authorities.
One major challenge to governance in Okunland is that the people have for long lost control over the governance process. In the distribution and allocation of resources, the people do not count in the area. The people are not informed of what the revenues of the monthly allocation and internally generated revenue are used for. Hardly are they consulted about what the available resources will be used for and they are almost completely incapacitated and demobilized to be able to ask questions about the end to which their commonwealth will be utilized.
To change the above scenario is the reason why the ODA has herded all of us under the roof of this event centre. The challenge facing the elected and appointed is to change the above narrative positively, for if it is not changed, this Okun community cannot develop.
By training I am not a political scientist but rather a political economist. Out of many definitions of politics, the one that I am attracted to is the one that says that politics is the authoritative allocation of value. Politics in Okunland as much as in Nigeria is about resource allocations, extraction and retraction. Since man developed beyond the state of nature which was nasty and brutish, the management of communal affairs has always been by a select few. These few are selected by hereditary or popular methods. Nigeria was coupled together and has been electing its leaders and representatives at different levels of government. Okun politics has been about the type of manipulations bending over backward that will be done to select or elect those who will preside over the way the resources of the area will be used. Two features of Okun politics should be of interest to us here. One is the loss of control over the political process by the people in Okunland and the disconnect between the representatives and the Okun people.
Loss of Control
In the past up till the early years of the millennium, the people used to determine who would lead them. Cases abound where powerful ones attempted to impose whoever they wanted over the people but with the resistance of the people such elements failed. It was then that Okun politics had pattern, was predictable and was orderly. Then the communal arrangement of rotational among the components units of the Okun community was operational, smooth and clear. It was the resolution of the people themselves that determined whom they would vote for.
However, this has changed. Outside influence has come to take over the determination of who becomes the leader of the people of Okun land. In 2011, 2015 ad 2018, Okunland was rented by ambitions that were not legitimate in the sense that they were contrary to political behavior of Okun people. Even in the on-going electioneering, the accepted norm of rotation among the Okun people has not been allowed to prevail in the determination of who would stand for election to represent them in the legislative arm of government. However, what one may observe is that communal and political leadership at Okun level has not played a sufficiently active role. For example, if there is a compelling reason why there has to be an exception to the rule, the leaders at different levels may get together and amicably resolve the issue because there will always be a tomorrow.
In effect, individuals have become more powerful than the community and their socio-political organizations. How do we return the political parties to their members? How do we ensure due process, the rule of law and transparency.
The Disconnect
Another feature of Okun politics which is also a challenge is the disconnect between the people and their representatives. This has been decried to no end. Manifesting this feature is the fact that these representatives do not sit down with the people they are supposed to be representing to plan and act together on issues affecting them. My very recent pamphlet titled “Overcoming the Pitfalls in Okun Politics” has adequately treated this challenge.
In conclusion, the future of Okunland is critically dependent on how the challenges in education, governance and politics are tackled. It is a good thing that the ODA has thought it fit to organize this interactive session with those of our sons and daughters who are courageous enough to put themselves forward for service. It is important for us to bear in mind that other communities are moving ahead; and that we can only move if the representatives of the people play their roles very well, hoping that this session will produce the expected positive result.
– Chief Jibril O. Yusuf.
21st November, 2018.

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