Nine years after his death, followers of the late fourth executive governor of Kwara State, Rear Admiral Mohammed Lawal still pay glowing tributes to him, writes Shola Oyeyipo
During his days as the Governor of Kwara State, slogans such as 'Up Kwara,' 'Up Lawal,' were common with the late Rear Admiral Mohammed Lawal, who was the fourth executive governor of Kwara State between 1999 and 2003.
Wherever the late governor went even outside the state, he enjoyed the accolade because it was the only way the ordinary people of the state could show their appreciation for his relentlessness in positively impacting their lives in one way or the other.
His reign brought about an unprecedented growth in terms of infrastructure and human development as much as empowerment. The uniqueness of his government was that his administration was primarily centered on the common man and the grassroots. Every nook and cranny of the state had one thing or the other to relate to via benefits.
The 193 wards in the state got three boreholes each, a cottage and a viewing center while he reconstructed the palace of all the first class traditional rulers in the state. He also increased their salaries by 1000 per cent and purchased various state-of-the-art vehicles for traditional rulers and religious leaders of all classes.
To empower people at the grassroots, he bought about 200 brand new Toyota Hiaces, about 120 Toyota Tercels for township taxi and over 1000 motor cycles were distributed to the people. Beneficiaries of these items were selected from all the 193 wards in the state.
The items were to be used for commercial transportation across the state. It was sold to them at 50 per cent discount and the period of payment for the vehicle was spread over three years with six months moratorium. That was what gave birth to the popular 'Up Lawal' Transport Service, now Ilorin Emirate Transport Services.
His government gave quarterly loan of N50,000 for 10 people in each ward for small scale trading. There were several constructions of township and rural roads across the three senatorial districts; improvement of water supply in the capital and the rural areas was given a priority attention.
This gave rise to the construction of 'Up Kwara' overhead water storage tanks in strategic places in the state capital to complement the boreholes and meet the water needs of the populace. His administration constructed and renovated classrooms in all the primary and secondary schools in the state through SUBEB and bursary and also extended scholarship to the indigenous students on a regular basis.
Nine years on, his followers have not forgotten him. Each time there was an opportunity to recall his era, the people always pay glowing tributes to him for his leadership style. So, it was not surprising getting to Admiralty Villa home of the late former governor on Sunday, November 15, 2015 and seeing the huge crowd that trooped out to witness the ninth year remembrance prayer for the former governor. It was indicative of the fact that he was a friend of the masses when alive.
A consensus amongst his loyalists was that Kwara State is yet to witness another people-oriented government like that of Lawal in the 48 years of the state. This reverberated in the sermon of the clerics that anchored the prayer at the remembrance ceremony. Their sermon brought back the memories of the good old days.
A popular Ilorin-based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Suleiman Danboronu, charged the people of Kwara State to emulate and sustain the good legacies of the former governor. The cleric, who is also the Grand Mukadam of Ilorin gave the charge during the remembrance prayer of the deceased held at the his Admiralty Villa residence, Ilorin, emphasising that Lawal was a bosom friend of the downtrodden while in office and till his death.
He said the former governor had at various fora revealed his philosophy of life and the type of legacy he loved to remain with him on earth and hereafter.
"Late Lawal had repeatedly said there are two types of uniform for man; one can be voluntarily removed by self or death; the other would remain with one for eternity. I can voluntarily retire as a soldier or death removes the uniform from my shoulders; but being friend of the poor and empowering the downtrodden is permanent dress that would see me to paradise", Lawal was quoted as usually saying.
Danboronu said the late Lawal demonstrated this as governor in 1999 and 2003 and till his death by empowering people, especially the voiceless across nook and cranny of Kwara State. He said Lawal would be long remembered for elevating Ilorin Emirate, upgrading and making social infrastructure functional in the state throughout his four years tenure.
The cleric therefore charged all beneficiaries of Lawal's good deeds not to desert his children in order to continue to move the state forward.
Also, the Imam Imole of Ilorin, Alhaji AbdulHamid, who led the Fidau prayer urged leaders to rule with the fear of God at all times. He said whoever allows himself to be guided by the fear of God would surely leave behind the kind of good works like Lawal.
He therefore prayed the Almighty Allah to grant the late Admiral's soul eternal rest, Aljanat fridaous and to be the everlasting guardian of members of his family.
Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari was represented by the Mogaji Aare of Ilorin, Alhaji Aremu Zubair at the occasion. The event marked with Quran recitation and prayers attracted dignitaries and many political associates of the former governor from far and near in the state and in Nigeria.
One of the political associates of Lawal, Alhaji Oba Wankasi, also of blessed memory was once quote as saying, "All through his political career, he had not seen million naira before, let alone owning it, but Lawal did not just give them fish but also taught them how to fish". The man died not as a pauper but as a rich man even after the demise of Lawal.
Like Sheikh Danborono said earlier, Lawal was once quoted in the Herald of Wednesday, November 7, 2001 as saying "As a matter of deliberate policy, we have committed substantial resources to people-centered sustainable human development. We made poverty eradication the cornerstone of these people-centered policies and programmes.
"We have shown both in our words and in very concrete actions that democracy is not just about governance but rather about service to the people. Improving their access to basic needs and more importantly empowering them through enhancing their capacity to a sustainable livelihood".
With all the testimonies, it could be concluded that the late Lawal lived his life for his people and the people are not ready to forget him in a hurry. That would have accounted for the kind of crowd that usually attends his annual remembrance prayers.
In another quote in the Anchor Newspaper of Wednesday, May 29, 2002, Lawal said: "I would like the good people of Kwara State to remember me as the governor, who fulfilled his own part of the social contract with his people by delivering the dividends of democracy. I would like to see myself as a governor, who lived up to the expectations of his people."
Considering how the people still remember him with fond memories, it is easy to conclude that he fulfilled his obligation to the people of the state and the people too have been acknowledging his sacrifice for them by annually paying tribute to him.
Signaling that Lawal's legacies will not die with him, the eldest son of the former governor, Hakeem Lawal is now the rallying point for his father's associates and the people as he has been involved in the politics of the state.
With all the testimonies, it could be concluded that the late Lawal lived his life for his people and the people are not ready to forget him in a hurry. That would have accounted for the kind of crowd that usually attends his annual remembrance prayers