NEW GODFATHER IN KWARA: WHO HOLDS THE ACE?

Results of the 2019 general elections have thrown up several scenarios across the country. Many Goliaths have fallen in the arena of politics, defeated by hitherto unknown little Davids. In Kwara State, for the first time, the Saraki political dynasty, which participated in the election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) suffered its worst defeat in its 40 years of existence as the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) cleared every seat in contest on the popular slogan of O To Ge. But who will now lead the people? BIODUN OYELEYE examines the issues.

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The summation of the results in the just conluded elections is to the effect that the political leadership of Kwara State has been wrenched from the hands of Dr. Bukola Saraki, the incumbent President of Senate. Saraki took over the leadership effectively from 2011 when he faced his father, the late Dr. Olusola Saraki, in an epic battle and instead of supporting the installation of his sister, Senator Gbemisola as governor, he ensured the sceptre went to Alhaji AbdulFattah Ahmed, who will complete his eight year tenure on May 29th this year.

But the APC victory has also thrown up the issue of who leads the state’s political system. While the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed is the most senior political office holder from the state, discussions with several layers of the party’s membership indicated that his emerging as the leader of the party in the state has not been totally welcomed by some stakeholders in the party.

The trending idea in the party, according to sources, is actually to retain the pre-election leadership structure which was based more on regional importance than a central system. The APC that performed the political miracle in Kwara State was actually an amalgamation of many interests which united with one major purpose: to ensure that what the Information Minister described as the Berlin Wall of the state’s politics, fell and after that pick up the pieces and set a new system of politicking and administration in the state. Prominent members of the building blocks of the collation include the Minister himself, Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, Professor Shuaib AbdulRaheem, Alhaji Moshood Mustapha, Alhaji Lukman Mustapha, Alhaji Yahman Abdullahi, Alhaji Musbau Esinrongujo.

There were also socio-political organisations such as Kwara Must Change (KMC), Aro Meta, Kwara Liberation Movement (KLM) which created veritable platforms for the propagation of the O To Ge movement and the eventual victory. The diversity of interests was strategically exploited during the campaigns by the party. For instance, instead of having a centralised campaign council with a Director General as is common to all parties, the APC in Kwara state ran a decentralized system: it had a 293-member Campaign Advisory Council, headed by the then governorship candidate, Alhaji AbdulRazaq AbdulRahman himself. Other members of the council included Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Alhaji Lanre Onilu, the national spokesman of the party, state chairman of the party, all governorship aspirants, former governorship candidate, Mohammed Dele Belgore, Architect Kayode Abogunrin, all senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly candidates as well as state leaders of the party, women leaders and youth leaders.

The party also set up a 199-member Elders Consultative Forum headed by the Minister. Members included Dr. Amuda Aluko, Professor Saka Nuhu, Professor Rasheed Ijaodola, Alhaji LAK Jimoh, Senator Simeon Ajibola, Senator Mohammed Ahmed, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, Senator Suleiman Ajadi, former governor, Cornelius Adebayo, former Minister, Alhaji Bio Ibrahim. Alhaji M.T Mamman and Hajia Zainab Ibrahim. Who among the lot will lead the party? The leadership structure is currently built around regional rings of leaders, each holding the forte in his respective community or zone.

In Kwara south, there is the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed whose burden it has been to foster relationship between the party and the presidency since he assumed office. He has a working knowledge of the APC, having being its mouthpiece when it was still in opposition.

He has a working relationship with the national Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whom he once served as Chief of Staff while the latter was governor of Lagos State. Currently Tinubu is said to be literally head over heels in admiration of the Minister for his role in the liberation of Kwara state. Alhaji Kunle Sulyman, a staunch APC member from the central had at the wake of the parry’s victory in the November 2018 bye-election in the state visited the Minister and reminded the latter of how the Minister’s Igbomina stock used to lead the people of Ilorin until things changed and the leadership position was reversed. According to him, he grew up knowing the Igbominas as leaders of the Ilorins but wondered how Saraki suddenly hoodwinked them into a second place. The leadership, he argued, must be reversed. If his theory is accepted, then the Minister will be the right choice for the state.

But there are stakeholders who feel it is not practicable to have the Minister lead the party when the bulk of votes that gave them victory came from the central zone. “The Minister? Yes, he is a leader but you must understand that many of us see him as a ladder we needed to get to the presidency and so we had to work with him”, a party stalwart from the central told this newspaper during the week. From the same Kwara south there is also Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo; the man many would refer to as engine room of the O To Ge Movement. Oyedepo, a former member of the House of Assembly, had parted ways with Saraki since 2002 and remain so till date. He it was who launched the first series of radio programmes that became the platform for engaging the public and exposing the government of the day.

Oyedepo who was chairman of the PDP before crossing over to the APC, has a large following across the state. Even though he is a man of little means, he has been able to win the hearts of many by the expositions that come from his weekly radio programme which is a must listen-to for thousands of residents every Thursday. But Oyedepo is considered by many in the party’s leadership caucus as unbendable thus creating the fear that he could be beyond control if he emerges the leader in the state. In Kwara north, Alhaji Yahman Abdullahi has emerged as the obvious leader of his zone.

Born in Shonga, Edu Local Government Area of Kwara State, Yahman is considered a strong force in the party. He has a rich political experience that has seen him appointed as member of Minerals and Metals National Technical Working Group for Vision 20:2020 in 2009 with a mandate to chart the course for the minerals and mines sector towards the achievement of the vision 20:2020 goals. He has also been a member of the Nigerian Railway Board, (2004-2007) and Chairman, Railway Reform Implementation Committee (2006 – 2007which investigated the problems of the nation’s railway network and recommended the best approach to its improvement with innovative solutions targeted at propelling it into the 21st century. He also served as member, Nigerian Railway Board from 2008 -2011. Abdullahi also served as member, National Sugar Development Council, 1992-1994 and a member, Technical Committee on Sugar Development, 1993-1994.

Implementation Committee on Sugar Policy for Nigeria, 1991-1992. The bulk of possible leaders in the party is concentrated in the Central senatorial district, specifically in Ilorin. The list from here include Professor Oba, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin and former chairman of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), Alhaji Moshood Mustapha, a former federal legislator with rich political experience who many consider as bold, strategic and result-oriented. There is also his younger brother, Lukman, a banker who founded Sobi FM in Ilorin and literally released it as a platform for the propagation of the O To Ge Movement. There is also the seemingly ageless Alhaji LAK Jimoh, the man who propounded the O To Ge concept and who, like Akogun Oyedepo has been consistent in standing against the Saraki dynasty for more than two decades.

However, among the lot, Moshood Mustapha seems to have a brighter chance; given his wealth and sacrifice he has made for the party. One of his aides, told this newspaper that in any configuration coming up within the party, his boss ought to be specially considered because if he had gone to court to fight his illegal disqualification from the party’s primaries, APC in Kwara will be facing the same problem the party is contending with today in Rivers state. But generally, many stakeholders are wary of anointing a ‘leader’ openly for now, given the need to ensure there is no replication of what led them away from the Saraki structure.

Kayode Oyin Zubair, a Deputy Director (field Operations) for the Buhari/Osinbajo campaign council in the state said the issue of who becomes the leader should not be at the forefront of Kwara discourse for now. According to him, the governor-elect has a good grasp of human resources management and would strategically use it in the coming days as he did during the campaigns.

He said: “You recollect he had a unique campaign structure, which was have not practiced before whereby each senatorial district had a Director General and other officials down the line. That was because of his grasp of the requirements of the time as someone who understands human resources management. He gave each leader in the zone their place of honour and recognition”. Zubair canvassed that any struggle for leadership should not entertained in the party for now given the enormity of the challenges before the governor-elect.

“I think the issues we should be talking about is how to ensure this coming government succeeds”, he said, adding: “the expectations of the people who came together from various platforms to elect the governor is so high that he will need to hit the ground running as they say. Since he derived his victory from the people he will need to focus on them and not disappoint them. And another area where he will need to focus immediate attention is in providing financial engineering for the state economy because the outgoing government has been lamenting that they didn’t perform because they didn’t have enough money. Our governor would have to work seriously around that and make things happen.

These are our focus and not the struggle for leadership”. The Coordinator of Kwara-based Civil Society Organisation, Elites Network for Sustainable Development (ENetSuD), Dr. Alagbonsi Abdullateef, also argued against the creation of another political godfarther in the state, saying political actors should run away from emulating what has been fiercely fought by the populace. He said: “in my opinion Kwara politics should be devoid of a godfather and this is because of the fact that godfatherism is one of the major things that has made Kwara to be as backwards as it is presently.

The Saraki dynasty has been the one in control of Kwara state and it is a known fact that up till the present moment the state has not witnessed significant improvement as expected when you compare it with other state formed around the same period and there are even other states that were formed after Kwara that have done far better than Kwara.

“Godfattherism is a phenomenon that is inimical to the growth and progress of a society so the emerging Kwara should be one where the politics is devoid of godfather, where a single person will not be determining the fate of the state, how our resources are used because when you have a godfather that is enthroning a particular leader the meaning is that he who pays the piper dictates the tune so the godafhrter the aftermath is that he will determine the governance of the state. So our politics should be devoid of gofahther. I am totally against the concept. People should be allowed to choose who leads them.

By that the youths can have the hope of becoming somebody without having to hero worship someone. Let people be given the equal opportunity. Now that we don’t have godfather again the meaning is that power is coming back to the people.” The leader of another social political group, Cultural and Societal Values for Development Initiative (CSVDI), Professor Samuel Ibiyemi, said there was need for the incoming administration to create a platform of engagement with key stakeholders before inauguration. Such a retreat, he argued, is needed to lay a workable foundation for pragmatic governance in view of an absence of existing reliable backgrounds to build upon.

A statement earlier signed by Ibiyemi and Secretary of his group, Gabriel Olaoye had noted that such a retreat “will facilitate a collective and locked arms structure given the diverse groups in the party that united to win the landslide electoral victories of February 23rdand March 9th respectively.” The group also called on all stakeholders in the party to join hands together with the new administration, laying less emphasis on immediate rewards for their labour and sacrifice which would surely come to them.

It said further: “the Governorelect should immediately convene a meeting or retreat for major stakeholders in the O To Ge Movement which was the vehicle that the party rode upon to get into office. This retreat should cut across men and women who are leaders in the various groups and sub groups that fought the battle and won the victory. “At such a retreat critical issues connected with the implementation of the party’s manifesto as well as pragmatic solutions to issues within the various zones in the state should be mapped out and agreed upon as a working paper and a bond between the government and the other political leaders who will also sell same to the people.”

The governor-elect appears ready to listen to the people as he has asked them to joing hands with him to restore the glory of Kwara. According to Abdulrasheed Akogun, Director, Media and Publicity of Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq Campaign Organisation, the governor-elect sees the resounding victory at the polls as testament to the determination of the electorates to take full charge of their destiny henceforth.

Akogun while commending the resilience of the electorates who against all odds stood their ground and fought the outgoing hegemony to a standstill at the detriment of their lives and livelihood, however stressed that the journey has just begun, adding that for the government to succeed, it needs the support and collaboration of all and sundry. His words: “The overwhelming victory of the APC where we were massively voted for in all the 35 available elective positions as against the entrenched hegemony is a clear testimony to the fact that not again would Kwarans be taken for granted by the ruling class. “Winning the election is just like acquiring an expanse of land, not until a beautiful edifice is erected, the land remains useless.

We implore us all to see the incoming government as our son, we must guide and guard it jealously in other to guarantee success. “The days ahead would definitely not be full of smiles, as rebuilding requires huge sacrifices from us all. It must thus be noted that the actions and inactions of the incoming government under Alh. Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq would operate with human face, it’ll be a compassionate government, that’ll always place the interest of the masses over and above sectional and other pecuniary interests. “It is on this note, we appreciate all those who openly and silently contributed in no small measure to this historic victory, generations yet unborn will be treated to the folklore of our bravery,