AbdulRazaq’s legacy of inclusion in Kwara
Kwara made a very significant history on Monday, September 4, but it got buried in the deluge of media reportage that expectedly attended the swearing in of the cabinet members. Not many people paid attention to the swearing of two persons living with disabilities (PLWD) — Ayanwale Peter Kayode and Abdullahi Wahab Kayode — as Permanent Secretaries by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq.
It was another first in the state, according to recent institutional memories. Also, on that day, the Governor consolidated the place of Kwara as the state with the most gender-diverse government in Nigeria —a trophy it first won in 2019. Nine in the 18 cabinet members are women, representing 50% of the pick. He had earlier initiated and signed a legislation that requires at least 35% gender balance in government appointments.
The Governor is also known for his socially responsible policies with huge impacts on the community he governs. He recently approved for female civil servants to have optional six-month maternity leave, which is designed to encourage exclusive breastfeeding. Kwara is about the third state in Nigeria to have this policy. The UNICEF has identified six-month exclusive breastfeeding as a major incentive for raising healthy children, improved mother-child bonding, and better prospects for a stronger economy and happier society.
The policy on exclusive breastfeeding ranks in the same category as other programmes, pronouncements, and appointments that intentionally support disadvantaged people such as the aged, poor, children, women, and persons living with disabilities.
The significance of these developments is not necessarily in the number of persons covered, appointed or the portfolios they hold. The significance is in their far-reaching consequences for human capital development, power relations, social mobility of the affected demographics, and cohesion and harmony in the society.
Among other things that people hold it to, government has a duty to give hope (of security and better tomorrow) to every member of the community it governs — be they powerful, weak, rich, poor, or underserved. Author of the Policy Paradox, Rebecca Stone, put this role of the government in a stronger perspective in the following words: “When Thomas Jefferson (third US President) declared that ‘all men are created equal’, he meant morally equal, not physically, mentally, or financially equal. A well-designed government should counteract these nonmoral differences in order to render moral equality real to enable every person to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Democratic theories differ, of course, in what they identify as the weak and strong interests and in the means they assign to government for protecting the weak. But they share these two key assumptions: that some important, good interests are too weak to flourish on their own, and that one important function of government is to foster these types of interests.”
In a world clearly skewed in favour of men, a policy instrument that bolsters equitable representation for either gender is necessary. This is what the Governor has done with a legal instrument and personal examples of his government. The decision to elevate a visually impaired civil servant and another one confined to the wheelchair by fate is a loud testament to how AbdulRazaq has given voice to people living with disabilities (PLWDs) — a critical segment of the underserved population.
This does more than just fostering inclusion and a sense of fulfilment in the affected persons. Beyond that, it gives practical hope to thousands of little children or persons who have been dealt a painful blow by fate of accidents or diseases. It shows them how to never give up on their dreams and that, like these new Permanent Secretaries, they can get to the height of their career if they work hard, work smart, and tick other boxes of ethical practices.
The same holds true for the legislation that concretises the Governor’s gender inclusion policy. It serves to encourage little girls that the only barrier to the attainment of their lofty dreams is no longer an unfavourable political environment. If that is a legacy the Governor bequeathes to this community, it is significant enough for writers of history to note.
• Ajakaye is Chief Press Secretary to the Governor