Will Kwara have credible opposition in 2019? By Mumini Abdulkareem
At the beginning of political "hostilities" for the 2015 election period, the obvious hymn in the political circles in the state was the enormous challenge that the ruling structure now under the All Progressives Congress (APC) might face in the months ahead.
There were insinuations in high quarters that the electoral contest this time around might be one of the most intensely contested in the history of the state.
The ground for such belief, according to pundits, had been prepared by the opposition, which formed an alliance at the beginning of the 2015 electioneering campaign to challenge the Bukola Saraki-led political leadership in the state.
No election has generated more frenzy since the 2003 election in the state when late Governor Muhammed Lawal decided to challenge the grip of the strongman of Kwara politics, late Olusola Saraki, who had supported him to be the governor, like the last exercise pundits opined.
Apart from the fact that the dynasty forfeited the backing of the central government, which was in the kitty of the opposition, unlike the scenario in the past, it is widely believed that the last general polls generated more intensity for many reasons.
Recounting how the Saraki-Lawal challenge had gone, an anonymous female actor of that era who "fought" on the side of the dynasty, said it was a period that was very challenging indeed for late Olusola Saraki.
"After the victory, I couldn't believe it that we have won and remained glued to my bed in apprehension of what might come after. I had to send one of my emissaries to go to Great Hall and confirm the situation before I was lured out of bed to face the opposition who dominated my area.
"At Ile Arugbo, when Baba Saraki was addressing the women and other party supporters, Baba was shedding tears and that to us was instructive enough on how intense the "battle" had been and to appreciate the victory that had come with it", she added.
Away from history, many analysts described the 2015 exercise as one of the elections in the state that reportedly witnessed the largest convergence of opposition politicians, who had dined and wined with the ruling structure in the past and was even bolstered by new entrants into the politics of the state.
Cloaked in the slogan of "Freedom for Kwara", many opposition politicians in the state assembled in the PDP with the promise of providing a better alternative if eventually the party gets to power.
The spectrum that comprised former army and foot soldiers of the Saraki dynasty included Simeon Ajibola, Suleiman Ajadi, Shuaib Oba Abdulraheem, Iyiola Oyedepo, Chief Rex Olawoye, Bio Ibrahim, Lola Ashiru, Kunle Sulyman, LAK Jimoh, Chief Joel Ogundeji, Alhaji Ayinla Folorunso and Yinka Aluko, among others. There were also rich and emerging "politicians" who cued into the "Freedom for Kwara" analysis that the PDP baited the electorates with the likes of Hajia Muinat Bola Shagaya, Jani Ibrahim, Abdurrahman Abdulrazaq and a royal blood in Hajia Bilikisu Gambari.
Moreover, the PDP fishnet this time around even included two of the biggest casualties in the 2011 electoral victory of the incumbent Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, who both had "strong and brilliant" performances during the last exercise in Dele Belgore (ACN) and Senator Gbemisola Saraki (ACPN), a sibling of the head of the dynasty.
However, at the end of the exercise, the song in the air had changed from uncertainty in the next political leadership in the state to that of consolidation by the ruling APC and the possible loss of political relevance by the opposition. The APC not only dominated the election, the party went ahead to produced a stunning result to deliver a crushing defeat to the opposition by winning all the elective seats all its candidates contested.
While many analysts described the loss of the PDP to parochial interest and inordinate ambitions of the key players in that struggle that forced people like Gbemisola and Gambari out of the party at the twilight of the elections, the APC victory nevertheless raises another political puzzle in the state regarding the place of opposition politicking.
It was no other personality than Senator Bukola Saraki that stirred the hornet nest to this regard when reacting to the allegation by Iyiola Oyedepo that Gbemisola and some of her loyalists had been moles in the party all along.
According to Bukola Saraki, apart from the fact that Gbemisola is his biological sister, none of the PDP gladiators in the freedom arena rose to prominence independently.
"When you look at the political family and remove the biological aspect of it, tell me who is in PDP that is not a family member or started from this place (dynasty). If they say she (Gbemi) was implanted, then all of them were taken there for implantation. Is it Bio, Oba, Ajibola, Yinka Aluko, tell me any one of them that is not from this house or has risen independently from this house, apart from Dele Belgore.
While pundits observed that Dele Belgore will probably not be able to provide the needed opposition alone, especially from his narration in the last exercise, vibes coming from the camps of the opposition in the state are not encouraging to say the least.
Up till now, the PDP both at the national and state levels has not been able to give the party direction after the defeat and the Labour Party cannot be said to have come out stronger from it either. Pundits are even of the opinion that the state chapter of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) that would have been seen to provide a more robust platform is said to be busy mapping out strategies to allegedly work out a unity government with the ruling party raising the dust of whither the opposition in Kwara politics.
Commenting on the issue, the gubernatorial candidate of Labour Party in the last elections, Dr Mike Omotosho, said credible opposition or not, it is getting the government to deliver service to the people
According to him, "well the issue to me is not about having a credible opposition, but about ensuring government is able to do what it is meant to do. Whether there will be credible opposition or not might be too early to say. But for me, the pertinent fact is to be able to get government to be on the side of the people and come up with programmes that can be implemented to be able to make life better for the people and alleviate their suffering".
However, a former PDP House of Representatives aspirant, Bashir Idris, though expressed optimism, raised the issue of whether there can be enough funds to drive the process.
"In Kwara, 80 percent APC members were formerly PDP, by the time the parties take off based on certain ideological principles, you will start seeing true colours of politics the way it's supposed to be. People are still moving round based on what they believe they can get. There will definitely be some level of opposition but the issue is whether there will be fund to sustain it at the level that we may want. It is going to take some time for the opposition to get stronger", he added.
Also commenting in the debate, the Spokesman for the PDP in the state, Chief Rex Olawoye, noted that the party will not only constitute itself into a credible opposition, it will put the government on its toes in the process for the benefit of the people.
"Even before the election, didn't we have a credible opposition? How many people have left us? Those that left were ordinarily here to swell the number and act a script. As far as we are concern, we will have credible opposition. How can you say a party that scored 39 percent of the total votes cast in the presidential election will not provide a credible opposition platform?
Not only will we provide credible opposition, we have people of integrity who will put this government on their toes to give the people the best of service. We are not going to constitute ourselves to nuisance or block head opposition who will just criticise for the sake of it. We will be offering them credible opposition and expose them wherever necessary and ask for the peoples' right", he added.
On his part, the former Coordinator of Goodluck/Sambo Democratic Foundation (GSDF) in the state, Elder Kuti Kayode, said PDP is the only opposition that can tackle APC in the state, adding that such process would enable the state to move forward.
"If there is opposition, the ruling party will move forward because you criticise to help the ruling party to adjust. But unfortunately, the PDP is now in crisis and there are factions that must first be dissolved". While the argument as to the place of opposition politicking continue to generate dust, it however remain to be seen how the gladiators on the left side of the divide will respond to the issue.
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