Big Ideas: Saliu Mustapha’s comment embarrassingly cynical, Bolaji Abdullahi says in open letter to opponent

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for Kwara Central Senatorial District, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi has reacted to the comment of his All Progressives Congress (APC) contender, Mallam Saliu Mustapha, over his remarks that he has surpassed the stage of ideas but now making ‘impacts’.

Abdullahi said the open letter dated 1st January, 2023 was a way of filling the gap for the conversation that he believe remains necessary to cross fertilize ideas that will guide electorates’ decision, since Mustapha have not been able to avail himself of the few opportunities that they have had to engage in an open debate in the build up to this election.

The letter reads in part, “Let me start by wishing you a happy new year. I pray that the Almighty Allah continue to keep you in good health and in good spirit.

“I have chosen to write you this letter for three reasons. The first is my belief that although we are political opponents, we are not enemies. We must therefore not lose the capacity to communicate with each other and engage in honest conversations. We were brothers and friends before this contest; and I hope and pray that we shall remain so after the elections, regardless of the outcome.

“The second reason is my understanding that electioneering contest, such as is currently between you and me, should also be an opportunity for candidates to openly canvass and cross-fertilise ideas. When this happens, the people would have been enriched and assisted to make up their minds based on issues they consider most important to them. This is why debates or any of its variants have become a mainstay of democratic elections all over the world.

“Unfortunately, you have not been able to avail yourself of the few opportunities that we have had to engage in an open debate in the build up to this election. Writing you this letter is therefore a way of filling the gap for the conversation that I believe remains necessary; especially given that the senate position that you and I aspire to, operates mainly through such conversations and engagements.

“The third and the most compelling reason that I am writing you this letter is to respond to the debate that you yourself appeared to have kick-started. A few days ago, my attention was drawn to a video in which you attempted to draw a comparison between my concept of “Big Ideas” and what you claim as “impacts.” You went on to say that you have passed the stage of ideas and you were now at the level of “impacts”.

“I have struggled since then to understand what you might possibly mean by this statement. I understand that people may have different ideas, or may accept or reject other people’s ideas. But I have never heard anyone say he no longer has a need for ideas; that he has passed the level of ideas. I find that quite strange indeed. My first reaction was to ignore it; perplexed by how one might begin to engage with such pedestrian and embarrassingly cynical no-thinking!

“Dear Turaki, contrary to your belief, most problems in life cannot be solved by throwing money around. It is ideas that move and rule the world. The entire human civilization advances and is sustained by constant production of ideas. Japan was almost wiped off the face of the earth in 1945. Without any meaningful natural resources, it had to rely solely on the power of ideas nurtured by heavy investment in education and health to resurrect itself from the ruins of the Second World War. Now, Japan is one of the most developed countries on the planet. This is why Barack Obama said that the greatest ‘natural’ resource that a country needs is what lies in the brains of its people, rather than in the ground under their feet.

“Nigeria first discovered oil in 1956, two years ahead of the United Arab Emirates. Now, look where Nigeria is, and look where UAE is? By one estimate, Nigeria has earned about $116 trillion from its oil, UAE has earned much less. You know the difference sir? At the time that a Nigerian head of state was declaring that money was not our problem but how to spend it, the leaders of UAE were spending their money to lay the foundation for what was to become one of the most developed countries on earth. That’s the power of big ideas. If you add Singapore to this list of countries where the visionary ideas of leaders catapulted a country from third world to the first within a generation, the profile should be complete.

“From what you said in your video, you appear to think that charity is a development strategy or that philanthropy can take the place of well-thought-out government policies. This is quite unfortunate, and I regret to say that one would expect a broader perspective than this from someone contesting to be a local government councilor, not to talk of someone aspiring for the highest legislative institution of the biggest black nation on earth. My dear Turaki, no country ever develops through the generousity of individuals, and no country will ever do.

“Charity has its place in every society. As a community of believers, charity is enjoined on all of us; in fact, it is a key cornerstone of our religion. People in our position have a duty to help the less privileged among us. That is a duty, for which we should expect no reward whatsoever, because it is our only way of saying ‘thank you’, to the Almighty Allah who in his mercy has chosen to bless us more than the people around us. Unfortunately, it is the same acts of charity that you now convert to a credential, on the basis of which you want people to vote for you.

We all do it. Within what the Almighty Allah blessed me with, I have also paid school fees of countless children that I never met and that I would probably never meet. I have paid hospital bills, paid for surgical operations, bought wheel chairs, sank boreholes, repair roads, supported orphans, rebuilt classrooms, fix people’s houses, bought working tools for artisans, and gave people money who just wanted to eat. I do this all the time, whether in government or out of it, and regardless of party or politics. And I pray to Allah to enable me to continue to help. Up till her death, my late mother prayed for me that I would be a tree under whose shade people can seek comfort. This why you will never hear me bandy these things around for political benefits, despite immense pressure to do otherwise by associates.

“I know many people who also do the same, who never aspire to any political offices: lawyers who have built hospitals, civil servants who build houses for people, ordinary businessmen who do acts of charity on a daily basis without making a song and dance of it. Therefore, philanthropy cannot be a qualification for leadership.

“At this juncture, I will like to thank you for the health center you “built” in my ward, the Ubandawaki ward. Rather than embarrass me, I actually thank you for it on behalf of my people, and pray that the Almighty Allah reward you according to your intentions.

However, I will need to make a quick clarification on that issue. One, the structure was originally one of the video viewing centers embarked upon by a previous administration in the state in all the 193 wards, which was never completed. If you were told anything to the contrary, then you have been misinformed. Some may argue that it was wrong to convert it to a party office. Fair enough. But this depends on where you stand in the argument of whether it is better to put it to any use at all and salvage some of the money spent on it, or to just allow it to waste away. The people felt they should rather convert it to a party office. And when another party came into power and expelled them from the place, they did not hesitate to move. It is the same building that you have now renovated, believing that you can score a cheap political point by claiming that you have built a hospital in Bolaji’s ward. Thank you very much sir.

“This brings me to your idea of ‘impact,’ which I believe also requires a little interrogation. In the video, I heard you mention the “hospital” you claimed to have built in Ubandawaki as an example of your impacts. Well, let me inform you that about 5 minutes’ walk from your ‘Ubandawaki hospital, we have the Pakata Health Centre, which has served our people for generations. The problem with that Health Centre today is that it does not have even a single doctor and it is run mostly by a few auxiliary health workers. The structures are there, but it is no longer able to deliver any meaningful medical services, just like many of its kind across the state. Oh, by the way, while we appreciate your interest in Ubandawaki Ward, can you please try to find the time to also visit the Balogun Gambari Health Centre in your own ward? I understand they seriously need your attention. Afterall, charity, they say, should begin at home.

“The point here is that every capital expenditure has its recurrent implications. A building is not a hospital until it is able to deliver medical services. And the only way it would be able to do this is if it has a complement of medical staff, doctors and nurses, as well as equipment. Indeed, it is only when people are able to walk into that building and get medical service that you can speak of impact. If not, what you did was, at best, an ‘input.’ You can only claim ‘impact’ when people are getting treatment in the hospital. After that you may then speak of ‘outcome’, which may be measured in terms of reduction in the number of mortality recorded, or morbidity suffered, relative to the period before the hospital was built. Development, my dear Turaki, is serious business.

“The position that you and I seek requires critical thinking and big ideas more than anything else. The issues that would be brought before us as senators would require us to think creatively and take decisions based on hard evidence. And it will not always be pretty. Senators don’t contribute money to solve problems; they contribute ideas instead. Unfortunately, it is this same ‘ideas’ that you have proudly relegated and announced that you no longer have a need for.

“I will like to mention one or two issues that are likely to be at the top of the next legislative agenda. All the presidential candidates have promised restructuring in one form or the other. The implication of this is that whoever emerges as the next president is likely to pursue the issue of restructuring. This immediately puts the National Assembly at the heart of a major constitutional undertaking that would most likely transform our country forever. The issues that will come up would certainly require everyone involved to reach for their thinking caps rather than their money wallets.

“More specifically, conversation about restructuring is also going to be a major negotiation and bargaining platform for the different peoples of this country. What this means is that what happens to Kwara State, and to Kwara Central from the restructuring debate will depend on the capacity of those representing us at the National Assembly. This is why we must ensure that those who are going to speak for us have a clear understanding of our historical affinities and the kind of alignments and realignments that will best serve the interest of our people today and into the future.

“I will take one more issue, the issue of ASUU strike. You would agree with me that this should be a source of embarrassment to anyone in government today. And our children cry out to us to find a permanent solution that will bring this disgraceful occurrence to an end. So, what do we do? As aspiring representative of our people in the Senate, our people should want to know what ideas we have for solving this seemingly intractable problem. We certainly cannot throw money at it and make it disappear, can we?

“The primary job of a legislator is all about canvassing ideas to solve the many problems that confront our people. And giving the failure of successive governments to make any remarkable dents on some of these problems over the years, it means we would need more than a business as usual approach going forward, if we must make a difference. Especially at a time the nation would be facing severe revenue shortfall. Let’s take the issue of poverty, which is biggest issue for our people today and zoom in on our senatorial district.

“Kwara Central has an estimated population of 1, 361, 000 people. By one report, more than 80 percent of this number, that is about 1, 89, 000 live below the official poverty line of less than N1, 300 per day (about N39, 000) in a month. If you disaggregate the total population by age, you would find that about 61 percent of us are below the age of 19, which means that more than half of our population are dependent on the remaining half who are already very poor. The situation is similar across the country, and no wonder that Nigeria, with the largest economy on the African continent is also home to the highest number of poor people in the world. Yet, there are peculiar factors that drive poverty in Kwara Central. In fact, the drivers of poverty in Asa are not necessarily the same as in Ilorin West. We need all the

innovative thinking and creative ideas that we can muster to solve this problem now, before the poor begin to eat the rich or even the perceived rich for dinner. We all saw what happened during the COVID-19 riot. But that was only a yellow card.

“Like I said earlier, the problems that confront our people cannot be solved by isolated acts of charity, no matter how well-intentioned. Priding ourselves as alaanu mekunu may make us feel good with ourselves, but the right thing to do is to commit to reducing the number of mekunu that depends on our mercy. We are not God. And we must never give the impression to our people that largesse from people like you or me can bail them out of their condition. Our youths who are unemployed don’t want to beg their way out of poverty. They want a job so that they can also live a life of dignity and fulfilment. This is the generational burden that people like us must carry, if we truly aspire for leadership.

“I know this is a rather long letter. I therefore thank you for your patience. It is my hope that I have been able to demonstrate to you that only with Big Ideas can we confront the many challenges faced by our people and move our country forward on the path of progress”,  he conclude while assuring Mustapha his highest regards.


Ibrahim Sheriff is the Editor of Fresh Insight and former Special Assistant on Media to the Speaker, Kwara state House of Assembly. Although a management science researcher by training, he has over five years experience of practice in Journalism, Public Relations and Communication Strategy. Sheriff holds a Masters Degree in Finance and Bachelors Degree in Banking and Finance from Kwara state University, Malete. He has Certificates in Digital Journalism, Enterprise Creation and Skill Acquisition (ECSA) and Basic Econometrics Data Analysis, as well as Bank of Industry (BoI) Certificate in Business Management. He is also a holder of Diploma in Cooperative Studies from Kwara state Polytechnic, Ilorin.

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