Saraki, Lawal Fall Apart

Date: 2003-01-14

Olusola Saraki, godfather of Kwara State politics for decades, falls out with Governor Lawal. Violence tears Ilorin apart.

Mohammed Lawal, Kwara State governor and Olusola Saraki, Turakin Ilorin, both chieftains of the All People's Party, APP, in Kwara State are now on a war path. Late last month, Saraki declared the governor a non-performer and assured journalists in Ilorin that he would come up with a suitable successor in four months' time.

"Lawal's days are numbered in the state. We thought he was a man of honour, we thought he was a man of integrity. That was why we gave him the mantle of governor. Lawal has deceived us. My next governor will make things better. We gave him a blueprint for Kwara development. He did not implement it. I will ensure that someone who would implement our blueprint for Kwara development comes on board. Lawal has disappointed us. In the next four months, I will come up with his successor," he said.

Since that Saraki declaration, peace eluded the state, especially Ilorin township. Essential public utilities such as the state water corporation and vehicles given to people on loan by government are being attacked and burnt reportedly by Saraki supporters.

Lawal reacted to the spate of violence in Kwara State last week and publicly denounced Saraki as his political mentor. "I have been avoiding the situation where I would have to denounce Saraki's political leadership. But I am disappointed to find out that he is the brain behind current political violence in Ilorin. I can no longer associate myself with a destroyer of wealth and good legacies. In the last 30 years of his political leadership, people have not felt his impact, he didn't create any industry, rather, he is only interested in legacies of other people. I cannot associate myself with his leadership any longer. As from today, I denounce him as my political mentor. The time has come for me to make this decision and declaration in view of recent political events in the state," Lawal said.

Lawal dismissed as false the popular belief in the state that Saraki made him governor in 1991. "He didn't support me. God supported me to be governor. He told me point-blank that he didn't want a soldierman to be governor of Kwara State. That didn't bother me. I went on with my campaign. When the election was conducted, I won. Not many people knew that he didn't want me, but God wanted me. He went about during the campaign, saying the governor was in his pocket. And when I go on my own campaign, I usually tell people that I know that the governor is in Dr. Saraki's pocket and that whenever he takes it out it would be Mohammed Lawal that would come out of it. He had a different agenda. He thought I was very gentle and that I could be manoeuvred easily. I held him very high. I thought he was my godfather. It later became clear that he didn't want me, but God wanted me," he told Newswatch last week.

Lawal said Saraki did not present him with any blueprint when he became governor in 1999. "Saraki has no blueprint anywhere in the interest of this state. I was part and parcel of the formation of APP, anytime we negotiate, he has never said what is in the interest ofKwara State but what is in the interest of himself," Lawal said.

Saraki said in a recent interview that the main problem between the two of them was distrust. Lawal disagreed. "There is nothing like that. On the second term issue, there was a time I heard that his son, Bukola, wanted to be governor. I phoned his son and asked him about it, he evaded the question. I phoned the father and asked him about it, he too evaded the question. Then, I saw the handwriting on the wall. It appeared as if the entire Kwara State is meant for the Saraki family. It appeared as if the entire Kwara Statemust be ruled by Saraki and his son. He wants his son to come up here. His son is a grown-up man, he is equally entitled to be elected governor, but we are saying he should follow the normal course," Lawal said.

He said Saraki has stalled all reconciliatory moves made by distinguished Nigerians. "We have gone to the emir's palace for settlement. In the palace, you wouldn't believe me, I knelt down and asked him to forgive me. When he got home, he sent words to me that if I want forgiveness, I should first pack out of government house. A lot of people have called us. The governor of Kogi State , Abubakar Audu, has invited both of us to Lokoja over this issue. At all meetings, he would say okay. But when I see him next time, he would ask me, 'have you packed out already?' He has blocked all reconciliatory moves," he said.

Saraki's new grouse with Lawal was that he went to Mecca this year without telling him. "I am sure, if you ask him about this, he will lie that he phoned to tell me. And the next thing he will do is that he will bring out Qur'an. I am sure his Qur'an is not complete," he said recently.

Newswatch learnt in Ilorin that because Lawal failed to brief him on this year's Mecca programme, Saraki asked his followers through the state radio to turn down any pilgrimage offer by the state government. He disallowed his followers from going to Mecca this year as Kwara delegates. He flew his group to Mecca, using Abuja route.

Supporters of Saraki argued that Lawal did not deserve the national media award he won for urban planning and development. Saraki himself had described Lawal's road project as a mirage. "All what you are seeing are mirage. He painted roads with coaters and told the world that he has built roads," he said.

Water supply to Ilorin township was disrupted recently when the electrical panels that supply electricity to the water pumping machines at the state water corporation was removed and destroyed by people whom the governor believed were working for Saraki. That singular act of sabotage stopped water supply to Ilorin township and nearby communities.

Ahmed Adebayo Ayodele, the state commissioner for water resources valued the equipment vandalised at the state water works at N5 million.

Two weeks earlier, vital equipment were reportedly removed and destroyed at the state water corporation in Offa township. Recently, some vehicles given to people on loan under the state transport scheme for poverty alleviation were attacked and burnt by people said to be working for Saraki. More than 20 vehicles belonging to supporters of the governor have also been vandalised in organised violence in the state.

"It was a planned series of sabotage, beginning with the Offa water works. The people went and vandalised Offa water works, knowing that people cannot do without water. They also vandalised Ilorin water works. The two acts of sabotage were planned. As we were getting out of that, they went to town, burning vehicles with "Up Lawal" inscriptions, destroying wealth which they did not create. We are trying to empower people, they are trying to disempower people. Their next plan of action is press war against me," Lawal said.

The two factions clashed between March 30 and April 3, vandalising valuable properties and causing grievous hurt to themselves. The cause of the clash was traced to the vandalisation of the wooden billboard having the pictures of President Olusegun Obasanjo and Lawal.

The billboard, created last January to welcome the president to the state, was allegedly vandalised and pulled down, March 26, by a group led by two persons, identified as Suraju Akaje and Kasim Babalola. They were said to be thugs of Saraki. Initially, members of the group reportedly operated in "Up Lawal" vests and concealed their true factional identity.

Saka Aleshinioye, the Baba Isale of Ilorin , told Newswatch in his palace last week that the group masterminded the mayhem unleashed in places such as Isale Ojo, Agaka, Idiape, Gambari, Okelele, Akalambi and Sobi. "The group went to these places, vandalising parked vehicles and burning down houses and telling people that they were sent by Governor Lawal. They came here and attacked people and inflicted injuries on them," he said.

Lawal described members of the group as devils. They reportedly made use of charms, cutlasses, cudgels, guns and carried about jerrycans of petrol to burn down houses of innocent people. "They went into town in vests written "Up Lawal," smashing everywhere. At the end of their escapade, it turned out that the houses of my family, houses of my commissioners, houses of my supporters, vehicles with "Up Lawal" inscriptions were actual targets. I don't fear Saraki. He can't face me in the polls any more, so he has chosen violent means to get at me. He has failed," he said.

Angered by the violent activities of this group, people loyal to Lawal quickly grouped to retaliate. Names of people injured in the resultant clashes were given as Yunusa Ajadi, Raimi Raji, Ganiyu Jimoh, Abdullahi Baba Gogo, Abdulrasheed Muyideen, Oba Mamudu, Zakariyah Ibrahim, Saka Musa, Mamudu Ibrahim, Sadiqu Yusuf, Amuda Mohammed, Kadiri Sadiq, Oba Salman, Saidu Yinusa, Labaeka Olayinka, Salimata Yekeen, a pregnant woman.

Fighting continued April 2, when Lawal supporters reportedly went to uproot the billboard having Saraki's picture in the heart of the town. Policemen arrested more than 10 persons and the state police command issued stern warnings to the rampaging vandals.

Detachments of mobile policemen arrived Ilorin on April 2 and made several arrests. Raheem Jimoh, a Lawal supporter, told Newswatch that Saraki enlisted the services of mobile policemen to deplete their group. He said Saraki had openly expressed grave reservations about the ability of the state commissioner of police to ensure security of lives and properties in the state. Jimoh said Saraki recently promised to report the state commissioner of police to the inspector-general of police.

The Saraki group also resented the arrest of some of their members by mobile policemen, saying the governor brought in the mobile men. They later on vented their anger on the governor's family and some prominent members of his cabinet such as Razak Lawal, the state commissioner for special duties and Oba Wankasi, a staunch supporter of the governor.

The governor's family compound at Idi-ape area ofIlorin township was invaded by the youths. Following further threats to the lives of the governor's parents and members of his family, he evacuated his father, Alabi Lawal, his mother Rakayat, and other members of his immediate family from their family compound at Idiape area of Ilorin.

The trial of the arrested 51 persons started last week.Ilorin chief magistrate's court in the vast high court premises witnessed a tumultuous gathering of families whose relations were standing trial for allegedly unleashing violence on Ilorin communities between March 30 and April 3. They all defied the early morning rain.

"I am here to see my children picked and arraigned last Wednesday. They know nothing about what the police have accused them of," Afusat Ibrahim, the aged mother of two of the arraigned suspects told Newswatch in the court premises last week.

She almost collapsed for not seeing her sons among the 24 accused persons whose trial began last Monday. "They have killed them. They have killed me. My world has ended," she shouted from a good distance away.

Ibrahim was later told by people around her that the trial of the suspects would go in two phases and that her children would be in the second group.

Twenty-four suspects are facing trial in the first phase for six different criminal offences. The charges preferred against this group of suspects led by Olorangbe Ayinla, the chief driver of Ibrahim Sulu Gambari, emir of Ilorin, included criminal conspiracy, mischief, causing grievous hurt, rioting and armed with dangerous weapons, charms, cutlasses and expended catridge. These charges, according to Lawrence Ajulo, a police sergeant and prosecutor, were contrary to sections 97, 348, 322, 247, 107 and 113 of the penal code.

Two charges were preferred against the 27 others. They were charged with alleged criminal conspiracy and disturbance of public peace, contrary to sections 97 and 113 of the penal code.

All the suspects individually pleaded not guilty to the various charges brought against them by the prosecutor who further alleged that police arrested the suspects on April 2 at about 1.30 p.m. while attacking people and destroying property at Isale Oja, Gambari and Adekanbi areas of Ilorin township. He said police investigation was going on. He therefore pleaded that the suspects be remanded in prison, pending the outcome of police investigations.

Abimbola Isau, leading seven other lawyers in defence of the suspects, asked the court to grant his clients bail, arguing that "the fundamental principle of our law says every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty of that offence." He dismissed all allegations brought against the suspects as "speculations." In ruling last week, Tunde Garba, the chief magistrate, granted all the accused bail in the sum of N50,000 each and two sureties in like sum.

The high chiefs in Ilorin emirate council, made up of five local government areas, are divided over the recent administrative committee which government set up to look into the crisis and assess the extent of damage caused by the disturbances. The Ilorin emirate chief forum, comprising 42 Magajis in the council rejected the committee. In a statement signed by Imoru Salihu, the Magaji Nda of Ilorin who is the secretary of the forum, the chiefs said that the forum had no confidence in an administrative committee set up by the government. The forum advised that instead, the government should set up a judicial committee , headed by a judicial officer to look into the crisis. The forum condemned the political violence, saying that "the city of Ilorin , renowned for peace and tranquillity, was turned into a battle field, leaving many people injured and economic activities adversely affected."

But Aleshinioye dismissed their positions on the committee as insignificant. "I am one of the chiefs, we didn't reject the committee. Only insignificant chiefs would reject such a fact-finding committee," he told Newswatch.

Prominent Kwara indigenes have condemned the political violence in the state. Abdulkarim Adisa, former works and housing minister, said the clashes were unprecedented in the political history of Ilorincommunity. He urged leaders of the warring factions to find lasting solutions to the problem.

Abdullahi Atanda, national president, Ilorin Descendants Progressive Union, IDPU, condemned the violent crisis with its attendant destruction of life and property. He alleged that some youths were sponsored to disrupt peaceful co-existence in the state capital.

"We appeal to the youth and their collaborators and sponsors to stop acts of violence and maintain discipline as true sons of the emirate," he said.



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