Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki is the Executive Governor of Kwara State and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum. He has won several leadership awards, both national and international. In 2004, he won the ThisDay Newspapers award for Best Governor of the Year. In 2004 and 2005, he won the City People Magazine award for Best Governor in North Central Zone, as well as for Best Governor in Nigeria. In 2006 he won the Kenneth Kaunda Foundation award for Best Governor in Africa. In the year 2009, he won the ThisDay Newspapers award for Best Governor in Food Security.

Many people are familiar with the name of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki. What people are less familiar with are his ideas. In fact, it is the quality of his thinking, and soundness of his ideas, which above other things have won him the approbation and respect of his contemporaries. Dr. Bukola Saraki is a man, who is deeply concerned with development and economic growth. He has thought hard, read much, consulted widely, and spoken often about these issues. The impact of his ideas can be seen in his conduct of his administration of Kwara State. Indeed his ideas on the development and economic growth have national and continental relevance.

Investing in Areas of Strategic Competitive Advantage
One of Dr. Bukola Saraki’s core beliefs is that the countries of Africa must invest massively in areas of strategic competitive advantage if they are to grow economically and develop sustainably. His strong interest in economic growth lies in his belief that economic growth can serve as a major tool for driving development. It is no secret that Dr. Bukola Saraki considers agriculture to be Africa’s area of strategic competitive advantage. This view can be traced to his work as the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Non-Oil Revenue Generation (2000 – 2001). Indeed in his in his 2005 paper “BEYOND NATURAL RESOURCES: DEVELOPING AFRICA’S COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE” delivered at the Harvard Business School, he stated:

“While working as Special Assistant to the President on Budget Matters in 2001, I was chairman of a committee requested to devise strategies that would shore up Nigeria's non-oil earnings by $1 billion annually. One key experience that I took away from that committee was that no other sector holds so much promise for economic growth, especially that which integrates a large number of our people into the core productive sector, like agriculture sector, which employs more than 70% of Nigeria, and indeed, Africa's population…”

Under his administration, the Kwara State Government has invested heavily in commercial agriculture. This decision of the Kwara State Government to invest in commercial agriculture was not taken arbitrarily. It can be traced directly to Dr. Bukola Saraki’s belief that economic growth is be driven by massive investment in areas of strategic competitive advantage. The decision to invest in commercial agriculture not based merely on a love of agriculture. It was based on the potential of the sector to bring about economic growth, it being an area of strategic competitive advantage. This is the true motivation, and underlying foundation of the Kwara State commercial agriculture project.

Indeed the administration of Dr. Bukola Saraki has been characterized by a focus on strategic mega-projects, based on the belief that they stand the greatest chance of moving the state forward. His administration has been defined by a rejection of short term gratifications in favor of long term benefits. Instances of mega projects undertaken by his administration, which represent vital economic assets for his state, include the Ganmo Power Substation, the Cargo Terminal at the Ilorin International Airport, The Kwara College of Aviation, The Kwara State University, and the Ilorin-Kosubosu-Benin border road.

The Role of Government
Another core idea of Dr. Bukola Saraki is that economic growth must be private sector led. There is no doubting the fact that economic growth needs to be driven by organizations that are efficient, responsive and innovative. The role that he believes government should play is that of a facilitator of business. Specific roles, which he believes government can perform include:
  • Investing in physical infrastructure
  • Ensuring the civil service is responsive and efficient
  • Provision of targeted incentives to grow the private sector
The influence of these ideas can be clearly seen in Kwara State. Under his administration, most ventures of the Kwara State Government have been designed as private-public partnerships. Such partnerships include the Shonga Farm Holdings, the Kwara College of Aviation, and Kwara Ethnix Design. In the same vein the Kwara State Government under Dr. Bukola Saraki has invested heavily in infrastructure designed to make the state attractive to investors. Such infrastructure includes roads, the cargo terminal at the Ilorin International Airport, the Ganmo Power Substation. In addition, he has championed the institution of various investor-friendly policies and wide-ranging civil service reforms.

One area Dr. Bukola Saraki is passionate about is education. It is one of his core ideas that economic growth on the scale that can lead to significant development is only possible by significant investment in education. The belief of Dr. Bukola Saraki in the importance of education to development and economic growth can be seen as the basis for his administration’s focus on primary education. This also would account for the establishment of the Kwara State University under his administration. There is a direct line between these developments and his belief in the crucial role of education.

Political Stability
Dr. Bukola Saraki is a great believer in political stability because of the link, which he sees between political stability and the twin issues of development and economic growth. In his 2005 paper “BEYOND NATURAL RESOURCES: DEVELOPING AFRICA’S COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE” he said:

“There is no doubt political development, represented by genuine democracy and the rule of law is a basic sine qua non for economic development, especially as it relates to attracting the right investments for growth.”
In his 2009 paper “VISION 2020 AND THE CHALLENGE OF REBRANDING NIGERIA” he stated:

“Politics is the Achilles heel of many countries and emerging democracies like ours. The nature of politics is central to any economic and development plans. Many years of economic gains can be undermined by a few weeks of mindless politics. This is so crucial that many have argued that unless we get our politics right, we may achieve little or no economic progress at all in the years ahead”

Speaking in an interview on May 29, 2010 on the role of the Nigeria Governors Forum, of which he is the chairman, he said:

“I believe that there is a role we are playing. I will assure Nigerians that we are responsible stakeholders, and we will continue to play our role to ensure that democracy is sustainable and the polity is stable.”

If there is a recurring theme in Dr. Bukola Saraki’s discussion of politics, it is political stability. Apparently, this is not unconnected with his keen appreciation of the necessity of political stability to development and economic growth.

While these ideas are by no means exhaustive. They do serve to illustrate that Dr. Bukola Saraki is a man who works from a solid framework of ideas – ideas, which are topical, and pertinent for Nigeria today, and Africa as a whole.

1. Saraki, A.B (2005), Beyond Natural Resources: Developing Africa’s Competitive Advantage
2. Saraki, A.B (2009), Vision 2020 and the Challenge of Rebranding Nigeria

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