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Gov AbdulRazaq and the 2024 budget

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By Ahmed Folorunsho

Kwara State Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq presented the budget estimate for the 2024 fiscal year named ‘Budget of Economic Expansion and Collective Prosperity’ to the State House of Assembly a few days ago. After reading the budget last night, I commend the governor for the projects he highlighted, as they are the most needed for the state at a time like this. For the benefit of those who may not have come across the projects, I would like to mention a few of them. The establishment of Kwara State University Teaching Hospital, Kwara State University of Education, expansion of 13 hospitals across the state, works on sports facilities statewide, and construction of CBT centres across the three senatorial districts. The projects also include the rehabilitation of Ilesha Baruba Waterworks and others in the state, wholesale curriculum revitalisation and training under KwaraLearn, construction of 250 housing units under the proposed mass housing scheme of the State Government, building of new wards and expansion of maternity units at Civil Service Clinic, and rehabilitation of Pampo waterworks and extension of pipes, among others. All these achievable projects presented by Governor AbdulRazaq further his undiluted commitment to make Kwara great again and comfort its great people. However, members of the main opposition party in the state have been running their mouths like a faulty Tiger generator, as usual. A discerning person does not need to hire a detective to know that these guys are unrepentant haters of Kwara’s progress. All their gimmicks to take Kwara and Kwarans back to the bad old days, which comforted them, have not yielded. Therefore, any good news about the state breaks their hearts and opens their mouths to yarn dust. Unfortunately for them and their political orphan called leader, Kwarans are wiser and would not buy their lies and propaganda no matter how they package it.

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Opinion

Gbadegesin Drives Bold Initiatives at LAWMA

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Bolaji Israel

Lagos, the bustling metropolis of Nigeria, is home to over 20 million people. With such a massive population, managing waste and maintaining a hygienic environment become a daunting task. However, one man has risen to the challenge, not only making significant impacts in that regard but also creating excellent models for neighbouring states of the nation to emulate or replicate.Dr. Muyiwa Gbadegesin, the visionary managing director/CEO of the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), has been a key force, spearheading innovative and bold ideas that are transforming the way the city handles its waste and sustains the environment, in line with multiple direct 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – clean water and sanitation (SDG 6); sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11); and responsible consumption and production (SDG 12).As a cosmopolitan technocrat widely travelled across the globe, well equipped with world class education and quite conversant with how mega cities seamlessly coordinate waste and environment, Gbadegesin couldn’t have offered anything less.On a broader level though, the overall environmental scope of the SDGs also covers natural resource management, climate change, water-related and marine issues, as well as biodiversity and ecosystem.But LAWMA, within the ambit of its vision and mission focus, has given a good account of its stewardship under the guidance of successive leaders over the years, especially the current Governor, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu. Operating under the supervision of the state’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, it has with renewed commitment, fueled by the dynamic leadership of Mr. Tokubo Wahab, carved a niche for itself, as a lead agency for environmental concerns. This is propelled by Gbadegesin’s new thinking, leadership, grit and gravitas, and consolidating on the agency’s operation and growth, since its establishment in 1977,formerly as the Lagos State Refuse Disposal Board (LSRDB).Over the years, the agency metamorphosed into the Lagos State Waste Disposal Board (LSWDB), due to added responsibilities for industrial-commercial waste collection and disposal, drain clearing and disposal of derelict and scrapped vehicles. And now, the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), backed by a 2006 law, which granted it powers to carry out activities outside Lagos State, as a consultant on waste management matters to other states of the federation. LAWMA has indeed evolved and properly guided to the right path, for optimal performance under its current leadership.Dr. Gbadegesin, an environmental scientist and waste management expert, as the Managing Director/CEO, has continually injected fresh perspective and wealth of experience into the organisation. With over 20 years of cognate experience in development policy, he has led and supported various initiatives and projects that aim to improve the quality of life and environment.Armed with a doctorate degree in Neuroscience from Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Science degree with distinction from Howard University in Washington, DC, his strong academic background, public service experience and extensive practical knowledge, have been instrumental in driving sustainable waste management strategies in Lagos State.Under his leadership, LAWMA has embarked on several ambitious initiatives, aimed at driving growth and sustainability in waste management. One such idea implemented under his guidance includes segregation and recycling programmes. Dr. Gbadegesin recognises the importance of waste segregation and recycling in reducing the environmental impact of waste. He has introduced comprehensive segregation and recycling programs across the state, encouraging residents and businesses to separate their waste into recyclable and non-recyclable categories. This initiative has not only reduced the volume of waste going to landfills, it has also created opportunities for recycling businesses and job creation.Furthermore, public awareness and education on waste management has gained more traction under his leadership. To ensure the success of the waste management initiatives, the LAWMA boss prioritises public awareness, advocacy and education. The agency organises periodic workshops, seminars, and campaigns to educate the public about the importance of waste management and sustainable practices. By fostering a sense of responsibility and ownership among the citizens, he is creating a culture of sustainability in Lagos. He has also effectively used LAWMA Academy, the educational arm of the Authority, as a veritable tool to educate and orientate school children on best waste management practices. As part of the academy’s school advocacy drive, over 10,000 pupils across 55 primary schools in the state had been sensitised on proper waste management.Enforcement efforts to deter unrepentant residents from unlawful practices such as dumping refuse in drainages and street littering as well as clearing shanties and pedestrian bridges of hoodlums, have also yielded tangible results. Since the enforcement against indiscriminate dumping began, over 500 environmental offenders had been arrested at various locations in the state, while 420 of them have been sentenced to community service by the magistrate’s court, serving as a deterrent to others. As part of this holistic enforcement campaign, various plazas and corporate entities have been shut for flagrant disregard of the state’s environmental laws. The ban on cart pushing across the metropolis has also been enforced, with arrest of recalcitrant cart-pushers and seizure of their carts.Moreover, Dr. Gbadegesin understands the role of technology and innovation in modern waste management. Under his leadership, LAWMA has embraced cutting-edge technologies such as waste-to-energy systems, smart waste bins, and GPS tracking for waste collection vehicles. These technological approaches have improved efficiency, reduced costs, and minimized the environmental impact of waste management operations.Recognising that waste management is a collective responsibility, Dr. Gbadegesin has also fostered collaborations and partnerships with various stakeholders, including government agencies, NGOs, and private enterprises. By leveraging these partnerships, LAWMA has been able to optimise resources, share knowledge and expertise, and develop innovative solutions to complex waste management challenges.Under his watch, the agency has stepped up its state-wide operations to clear noticeable black spots across the cityscape, with about 106 of such spots cleared so far, and a sustainable system put in place to prevent a recurrence. The authority has also intensified operations to rid water bodies in the state of waste debris, through the activities of its Marine Waste Unit. The street sweeping scheme is also not left out, as the authority has continued to organise regular training for sanitation workers, ensuring they have the necessary skills to carry out their duty of keeping the environment clean. He also prioritised their welfare.With a strong belief in the power of waste management as a tool for economic growth and poverty alleviation, LAWMA has implemented sweepers’ programmes to empower local communities and create employment opportunities in waste management. By training and employing local residents in waste collection, environmental cleaning, recycling, and related activities, LAWMA is not only addressing the waste management needs but also contributing to the socio-economic development of Lagos State.In conclusion, Dr. Muyiwa Gbadegesin’s bold ideas and visionary approach have significantly impacted waste management policies and efforts in Lagos State and by extension, other states. Through his leadership, LAWMA has achieved remarkable progress in driving growth and sustainability. His emphasis on waste segregation, recycling, public awareness, technology adoption, collaboration, and job creation, has set a new standard for waste management practices across the country.

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Opinion

Kwara Hotel: Another moment of Seward’s folly By Rafiu Ajakaye

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In 1867, a former US Secretary of State William Seward committed $7.2m of taxpayers’ money to seal a deal that bought Alaska from Russia, triggering a flurry of reactions that culminated in the media historically dubbing the development ‘Seward’s folly’ and calling it an outright waste of public resources. Poor Seward would become a hero a few years after. In 1869, US netted a huge gold deposit in Alaska. A few years later, Alaska yielded a humongous oil find for the United States, making the $7.2m totally inconsequential. That speaks to vision — or luck? Closer home, and more consequential for Kwara, a certain Sheikh Rashid Ibn Saeed el-Makhtoum laid the foundation for the greatness and beauty called Dubai. At the height of his investments in the desert city, he was repeatedly called out and derided in unprintable terms. People wondered if he had gone nut. “If you build it, *they* will come” was a quote erroneously attributed to him, even though the often wrongly quoted words fit perfectly into the dream that is now Dubai. el-Makhtoum built and also followed it up — thanks to his equally visionary successors who carried on his dreams to the admiration of the rest of the world. Enter Kwara Hotel. Over the past few days, the iconic facility has grabbed news headlines as the state government announced a bold attempt to remodel and rebuild the 172-room Kwara hotel in the most comprehensive way ever since it was built in 1975 by the Brig-Gen David Bamigboye regime. The step, as with all major government decisions, has split the commentariats down the middle. Outside of those who agree entirely with the government on account of their own belief that the administration is patriotic enough to make the right decision, three other schools have emerged: those who want it done, but are skeptical about the cost vis-a-vis the return on investment; those who feel Kwara does not need such a facility and the money should instead be spread on monthly salaries and allowances of workers or some other things; and those who feel the government should rebuild it but should give the job to another firm, Crystal Group of Companies, which they said had committed to fix the hotel for N3bn under a concessioning agreement that allows it to run the facility for some 15 years. To the latter, the government erred as two contracts now exist on the same project. The differing opinions, a core pillar of democracy, go to show how much people follow government’s activities and programmes. It is welcome. But the argument about the concessioning is mostly incorrect and partisan. There are no two contracts on the project. While the state executive council did indeed approve a concessioning to Crystal, the approval was glaringly conditional upon the House of Assembly backing it. No legislative approval was communicated for the concession; hence, no contract was sealed. This is confirmed by the June 2, 2022 document of Harmony Holdings sent to the Crystal in the wake of the conditional approval by the council. Besides, the Crystal’s N3bn arrangement was never a wholesale remodelling and renovation of the Kwara Hotel. It was a piecemeal, wing-by-wing, or incremental renovation deal, which then allows Crystal to also manage it for 15 years. The comparison of a piecemeal renovation with complete remodelling, upgrades, and reconstruction that replaces everything in the hotel, except the carcass, is far-fetched. No basis for it. Next is the argument about due process and transparency. This argument — apologies to lawyers — is deemed ‘abandoned’ as it was not supported by any facts. Government twice advertised the job with all the requirements: first on August 18, 2023; and, again, on October 18, 2023, both in the printed versions of Nigerian Tribune and the Herald newspapers. Three firms applied and went through a competitive process, and one, Craneburg, was picked based on its capacity to fund and execute the huge project. Crystal did not apply. Neither did the Kwara PDP and its allies, who bellyache about which firm got the job. The government has a job to do, and it is its responsibility to ensure that only a firm deemed competent and financially viable is picked. In this job, the contractor brings the money — to be repaid in a structured way over a period of time. This saves everyone the burden of slow job delivery or perennial demand for variation where government directly funds a project. Why didn’t this one go through the House like the botched process involving Crystal? That is because no concession is involved. All the contractor does is to rebuild and furnish Kwara Hotel to required five-star specifications and hand it over to the state for further decisions on its management. With an increasingly busy airport and major tourism sites and potentials, a state as strategically positioned as Kwara should not be without first-class hospitality facilities. Having none stunts its socioeconomic growth and limits its potentials to host not just important events but to also harvest the opportunities that come with them. The Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) 2023 attracted at least 35,000 delegates and 1,600 exhibitors from across 75 countries, with $43bn worth of trade and investment deals. Cairo, the city in its fourth stage of development, hosted it at its International Exhibition Centre where the first edition of the IATF had also taken place in 2018. Try to imagine the reverberating effects of 35,000 valued guests entering a city for seven days: hotel reservations, visits to the Egyptian mummies, the Pyramids, camel rides, the cruise on the Nile, and hundreds of thousands of gigs along different value chains. That is what comes with such a crowd. But Egypt intentionally created the infrastructure to accommodate high-valued crowd in the first place, including Presidents, Governors, and Ministers, regardless of its own challenges. Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation, said Zig Ziglar.Tens of thousands of people visit Dubai’s Museum of the Future and other iconic facilities that make the city a tourist delight. That is billions of dollars in revenue. But Dubai did not start today. The dream that birthed one of the most visited places on earth started with a man a few decades ago. And he was criticised for wasting tax payers’ money. He was condemned for building castles in the air. Now we know better. el-Makhtoum is no more, but his dream has turned Dubai to the most visited place in the Middle East after Makkah, the birth place of Islam’s most celebrated Prophet. Who says that this peaceful and serene Kwara, or its prized capital city, cannot place itself in a pole position for conferencing and resort? Let’s give Governor AbdulRazaq a chance as he re-engineers the Kwara economy towards enterprise, agribusiness, innovation, tourism and hospitality with projects such as garment factory, international conference centre, innovation hub, visual arts centre, sugar film factory, tax house, Shea butter factory, industrial park, special agroprocessing zone, among others. The road to greatness is mostly paved with huge investments and great efforts — mostly scoffed at in the beginning, by opposition and those who may not see the vision from the start. One more thing: why can’t the government channel the resources elsewhere, some have quipped. Rebuilding the Kwara Hotel and doing other developmental projects aren’t mutually exclusive. It is not a zero-sum game. On the day the government announced the Kwara Hotel project, it announced several road projects across the state and the establishment of the Kwara State University Teaching Hospital. Development is not a destination; it is an unending process.N17bn ($14.4m), some critics said, appears a huge amount! But is it truly huge compared to the financial requirement of building a five-star hotel in an economy where a dollar equals N1,200? In 2018, five years ago when dollar was worth 200 naira, Transcorp Hotels budgeted N40bn ($32.8m) to upgrade its facilities. The Lagos Continental Hotel was built for a total sum of N99.6bn, or $81.1m. Recently, the Lagos Oriental Hotel was valued at N300bn ($250m). While the size and location of these facilities may vary, the point is that premium hospitality facilities like the soon-to-be-rebuilt Kwara Hotel never come cheap. Not here, not anywhere in the world. If you doubt this, check out how much went into building the Burj-al-Khalifa (N1.8trillion), Emirates Palace (N3.6tr), Wynn Palace (N5.04tr), or Abraj Al-Bait (N19.2tr). Yes, these are admittedly very exclusive facilities in choice corners of the world, but they have a long value chain extending to the poorest in their societies. Kwara Hotel, even if not exactly like the ones above, isn’t much different if we truly want it to stand out.• Ajakaye is Chief Press Secretary to the Governor

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Opinion

Media and Nigeria’s soft power conundrum By Rafiu Ajakaye

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I thank you for the honour of asking me to keynote this event. I also thank you for the rare privilege of asking me to speak to any issue of my choice as long as it touches on this noble profession. I have chosen to share with you my thoughts on ‘the media and the Nigerian soft power conundrum’. The title looks a bit complicated. But I’m in the midst of very experienced media professionals and so there is no point in me defining what the media is — including the fact that the term has taken on wider meanings within the context of the internet age. My use of the ‘media’ shall, in this discussion, include all shades of meanings that the media has assumed in the 21st century. In other words, the media will refer to the conventional print, broadcast or multimedia platforms, as it does to all variants of the new media that were birthed by the internet: Facebook, X (Twitter), instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, LinkedIn, TikTok, and all others.

All of these platforms serve to send messages to wider audiences in nanoseconds. In the process, media stakeholders determine what people read or see, shape opinions, and influence how people perceive or relate with any particular phenomenon. In all of these, the media can determine the fate of individuals, brands, nations, and the world.

Throughout history, different civilisations have developed the art of using the media to shape how they are seen by outsiders through strategic image laundering. This is in the realisation of the global race for scarce resources. From the East to the West, countries have also been intentional in determining what is available to their populations through the media. Most of the sleek videos we see about cutting-edge technology in China or elsewhere are excellent image laundering projects, perfected to constantly give certain impression of their society, thereby attracting capital investments, talents, and quality traffic to their tourist centres. Similar efforts are made to reduce to the barest minimum, or gloss over, what outsiders see of the imperfections of their society.

Today, how we see nations or brands have deftly determined our relationships with or perceptions of them. Such perceptions dictate many decisions we make everyday. Some countries have succeeded in projecting themselves as tourist havens, tax haven, bastion of democracy and human rights, destination for world-class education, friendliest business place, humanitarian support, the hub of technology, entertainment, beautiful culture and arts, best place for talent grooming, military prowess, or invincible security network. This outlook, or how we perceive them, has helped them to shape global opinion around them and anything concerning them. With it they get things done. Because of it, we are persuaded to act in a particular way towards them without any military force or threat. This, ladies and gentlemen, is called soft power.

The term soft power was coined in the 1980s by political scientist Joseph Nye Jr., who defined it as the ability of a country to ‘influence others without resorting to coercive pressure’. The Foreign Policy , a publication based in the United States, says soft ‘power usually originates outside government in places like schools, religious institutions, and charitable groups. It is also formed through music, sports, media, and major industries like Silicon Valley and Hollywood’.

Soft power could well be the alternative to brute force. It is, in fact, the opposite of raw military power. In between the two is what is called smart power, which is a combination of both. However, soft power is said to be more effective for nations to achieve their national interest on the global scene, rather than military force, which most times backfires and instigates hostilities against the invading force and their countries. Many examples attest to this.

But soft power is not built overnight; it takes conscious efforts and campaigns to get, and is achieved through national branding, which is a collective effort of everyone, especially the media. In a world driven by fierce competition for scarce resources, human and material, nations arm themselves with the right tools to be the top investment destinations. National branding comes in here. What do we want our country to be known for? How do we want outsiders to perceive our country? Let us be clear: there is no society that is free of violent crime, corruption, and other social vices. However, what nations do is to manage their reputations and embark on aggressive country brand to gain global relevance. Nations create a perception about themselves. This is not the exclusive duty of a government. Indeed, as has been mentioned above, soft power is better projected through the third party, especially the media. A nation is not the property of a government; it belongs to everyone living within its space.

Over the last two decades, and even since time immemorial, we have seen different nations of the world embarking on nation branding in different forms. The Incredible India campaign is an example. While it was launched in 2002 by the government of India, we have seen how Indians, irrespective of their beliefs and affiliations, have helped to carry the message to every corner of the world. Our television screen is blessed with different positive portrayals of India. And this has paid off as India has emerged from the ashes of poor reputations of its past. Essential Costa Rica is another great example of nation branding, as is Enterprise Estonia.

“The effect of a nation’s brand on its economy cannot be understated. While a nation’s brand certainly affects its tourism industry, the brand also has powerful effects on the value and volume of the nation’s products and foreign direct investment, which have a direct effect on the nation’s GDP,” David Reibstein said in a publication titled ‘Improving Economic Prosperity through nation branding’. Perception, which is a product of branding, means a lot in how a people are treated. It is immaterial that perception is not always the reality.

Esteemed colleagues, I am urging all of us to take ownership of the Nigerian brand. Our population is surging every day; yet we have limited resources to get everything we need, especially human capital and foreign investments in our economy. But we cannot attract the right investments and human capital if we do not project Nigeria as safe and right for all. If all we do is to record the vilest videos of unsavoury development and splash same on the internet or make it the banner headline that everyone sees across the world, we will be telling the world that our country is not safe. We can tell ourselves about our problems and work together to solve them or make scapegoats of the culprits. What we should stop doing is to put constant spotlight on the downsides of our society. No other nation does that.

Distinguished colleagues, deaths linked to violent crimes in Nigeria stood at 15,245 in 2022. In 2021, deaths associated with gun violence alone in the United States stood at 48,830, a 23% rise since 2019. But while Nigeria is often portrayed as a scary place to be, the United States is seen as a paradise where all is well 24/7. The difference is in the narratives that come with these statistics. While the US media establishments are quick to explain away the violence in their own country, sometimes calling it the acts of lone wolves or depression, the narrative here is often that this is happening because this is a failed system, ran aground by failed and corrupt governments.

The image we carve for our country is what sticks to it. If we call it a failed state because of its imperfections and crises of nation building, which are hardly exclusive to it, the result we get is what we call it. All of the nations we call the bastion of democracy or glamorise with every positives have or have had their own failings or down moments — perhaps worse than ours — which they paper over with nice narratives and excuses in their pursuits of national branding. British author Otto English aptly said this in his work titled Fake History: “The truth is that history is a contested space, and it always has been. It is a battleground of ideas, a place where different interpretations of the past jostle for supremacy.”

Now, I am neither asking the media to abandon its noble roles of being the watchdog of our society nor saying it should renege its duty as the fourth estate of the realm. But I am asking that we strike a deliberate balance between being journalists who report developments and being patriotic citizens and stakeholders who, along with our generations unborn, are also affected by whatever happens to Nigeria. If many cable networks in the ‘democratic’ west deliberately do not convey to the international audience everything that goes wrong in their society or frame such in manners that do not damage their national brand, I appeal that we also de-emphasise negative profiling of our country. I ask that we filter out to the global audience every little downsides of our society. As the Yoruba say, bi onigba ba se pe igba e, la o baa pe. Bi o nigba ba pe igba e ni akufo, a o pe ni akikara.

Esteemed colleagues, editors, and media stakeholders, what we call ourselves is how and what others will call us. Please let us endeavour to give ourselves and our country good names at all times. We owe it a duty and responsibility to ourselves and our children to stand by this country that has given us so much.

Thank you.

•Rafiu Ajakaye, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Kwara State, gave this keynote address at the Annual Press Week of the Correspondents’ Chapel (NUJ, Kwara State Council) in Ilorin on November 29, 2023

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