Intrigues, cross-alliances hold Kwara State in electoral suspense
Political calculations in Kwara State seem to be in a state of flux, as the major gladiators appear tentative, quite unsure how and when to call the first shot. On their part, the people are edgy, expectant, and yearning for action in a New Year and the countdown to the general elections continues.
Shortly before Christmas, a few overzealous persons in Ilorin metropolis had exhibited some acts of intolerance, first of all by disrupting the yearly gathering of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union, when they turned the arena to a campaign ground much to the discomfiture of the emir, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu Gambari.
After the show of shame, they proceeded, under the cover of night, to vandalize billboards of the gubernatorial candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, a development seen as an act of intolerance and widely condemned by all well-meaning citizens of the state.
The 'State of Harmony' has, prior to the approach of the election season, enjoyed relative peace, even as the contest for political power promises to be very fierce. Those who have played the opposition and are sidelined in the distribution of perks and opportunities are now restive and agitated.
On the flip side, those who have monopolised power in the last 16 years are becoming desperate, confronted by the possibility of 'power shift' and the dismantling of an elite group that has been holding the state by the jugular for a long time.
The emergence of Abdulrazaq as APC candidate is a mixture of sweet and sour, because being a self-effacing politician of silent mien and solid background, his candidature has been the butt of jokes by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). They deride him as a weakling after his emergence from the gubernatorial primary election, but the APC flag bearer has come from behind the mask with the stomach-rumbling slogan, 'o to ge!'
This is one innocuous message with punch, deep nuance and nerve-racking indictment of rapacious governance. Translated as 'enough is enough', the slogan seems to suggest that the people have reached the crossroads and would take care before going further.
Kwara is at a junction, and waiting to choose between continuity and change. The electorate is waiting as the candidates roll their sleeves, preparing to kick off campaigns.
Questions abound though. What will they sell to Kwara's 1.2 million voters? How will APC and PDP persuade the electorate when both are yet to unveil their manifestoes?
It seems a trove of goodwill awaits APC to tap, because Abdulrazaq, the gubernatorial standard bearer, comes from a well-known family in Ilorin Emirate, the family of Alhaji Abdulganiyu Folorunsho Abdulrazaq, who is a well-respected community leader and first legal practitioner in northern Nigeria.
Abdulrazaq describes himself as a hard working businessman and a politician, stressing, "I did a lot of trading. I went into oil and gas trading with NNPC and started exporting petroleum products and crude oil. I was the first Nigerian to export petroleum products and crude oil."
He stated that as an 'original' Ilorin man, he had his basic education in the city, where he attended the Demonstration School, in Magaji NGeri, Ilorin. Despite his success in the business world, the APC candidate disagrees that he had a silver spoon as a child, pointing out that alongside his siblings, "We attended the normal school everybody went to."
He identified poverty and youth unemployment as two evils plaguing Kwara owing to what he called a visionless dynasty politics, noting, "We have a dynasty that has no sense of where Kwara should be going. Each of us in our families in Kwara has become a local government onto himself, because you have to provide healthcare, water and all other services for yourself and the extended family."
But while many APC stalwarts in the state are worried by the seeming delay in getting the campaign to full throttle, the governorship hopeful expressed the belief that "collective leadership” is necessary to rout the opposition.
He stated: "The way APC is structured is such that every local government has a strong leader, therefore we are all putting hands together; it is a collective leadership."
Abdulrasaq, however, expressed optimism that he would win the electorate to his side, especially with the resolve of many Kwarans to try a new leadership.
His words: "We are very optimistic about winning the next election. Everywhere we go today, it is O to ge, O to ge. O to ge! The crowd mob us; we can't even do the door-to-door campaign, because they won’t allow us; the people are excited, the people are tired of 16 years of inactivity, 16 years of waste, 16 years of a dynasty that has no idea. So, we are very confident we will win the next election."
He disclosed that top on his agenda for Kwara State are youth and women empowerment, agriculture and industrialization, stressing, "My vision is to see a state where we are no longer dependent on statutory allocations from Abuja, where we use our enterprise to generate enough funds to run the state.
"Where we reduce unemployment, where our women have free maternal care, where our women are empowered to achieve what they want to do. Where students have a good environment to study and can pursue what they want with government’s assistance either through scholarship or free education."
Abdulrasaq said he envisions for Kwara real State of Harmony, where everybody is happy, noting: "We have lined up honest programmes to uplift our people. We are launching our manifesto next week, which will lay out our plans for Kwara and our plans to succeed, because we do not intend to disappoint the people."