Who Governs Kwara?
By Oluwasegun Abifarin
"I am a soldier, Bukola Saraki is the General and the Commander of the troop. As a soldier, I must simply obey my General wherever he directs me or whatever he directs me to do." This was Ahmed in 2009, then the State Commissioner for Finance answering a reporter's question in his GRA house in Ilorin on the allegation of being anointed by the then Governor, Bukola Saraki for the gubernatorial race.
When the whistle was finally blown for the People's Democratic Party's gubernatorial primary election in November 2010, Ahmed simply obeyed his Commander. He not only joined the race, he emerged as the only fighter in the ring, courtesy of Saraki who had allegedly intimidated other contestants to drop their gloves.
In the build-up to the primary election, Isa Bio, then a Minister of Sport, had, on the prodding of Saraki, resigned from his job, having been assured of the PDP ticket. Shuaib Abdulraheem Oba, a Professor and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, also riding on the assurance from Saraki, joined the race. The same assurance was given to Razak Atunwa, the then Commissioner for Works, who eventually emerged as the Speaker of the House of Assembly in 2011.
Twenty hours before the primaries, Saraki summoned an emergency meeting of PDP stakeholders, including the aspirants. After hours of waiting for him, he drove into the venue and announced to party chieftains who had surged forward to welcome him that "we have agreed to field Ahmed, and whoever is aggrieved can go to the primaries." Meeting ended, and nobody was courageous to challenge the "Commander", not even Oba, a Professor of Literary Criticism. The aftermath was fatal for Bio, who developed complications that led to stroke and he is yet to recover. Ahmed later carried the PDP flag and coasted to victory in the April 26, 2011 gubernatorial election, even against the wish of the Late Olusola Saraki, Bukola's father and godfather, who wanted Gbemisola, Bukola's sister, who carried the flag of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN, floated by the elder Saraki.
Since Ahmed became governor two years ago, the magazine's investigation revealed that he has remained a ‘committed and loyal soldier to his commander.' Opposition elements insist that the governor was just in office for the past 24 months, but not in power. They cite instances of the governor rushing to the Ilorin airport to wait anytime the Senator is coming to town. They also alleged federal allocation to the state cannot be disbursed until the Senator arrives to give approval. The only time the governor made disbursement in his absence, the magazine learnt, almost led to a crisis. The disbursement order was reversed allegedly on the order of the former governor. Council officials across the State who spoke to the magazine lament the delay and the irrational disbursement.
The era of former Governor Lawal, they said, was glorious for local councils, when, even with little allocation, they can execute project without resort to the governor. "It is very sad indeed. To him he has a mandate to lead Kwara, but it has been in trust for Bukola. This is shameful. He is a King on mat while the man with the crown sits on the throne. He is the custodian of the treasury but the key is with his lord. He has the pen but must be instructed when and where to append his signature. The governor is not a king, but a king's servant," the Late Biodun Kolawole, a democracy activist and Secretary, Kwara Freedom Network, wrote in a press statement late last year.
In March last year, pensioners in the State jumped for joy when the State radio announced that the government was ready to pay the money deducted from their pension and gratuity by the Saraki's administration. The joy was short-lived when the government reversed the decision allegedly on the order of the former governor.
The pensioners had gone to court to challenge the decision of the government to deduct 50 per cent of their pension arrears, which is about N1.68 billion, for what Saraki's government called "development project." The State High Court ruled in favour of the government, but the aggrieved pensioners, under the aegis of Kwara State Concerned Pensioners, re-filed the suit at the Federal High Court, Ilorin and got a favourable judgement. Saraki's government appealed the judgement, but lost at the Appellate Court. Dissatisfied, the government went to the Supreme Court, where the case has since been stuck.
Counsel to the pensioners, Tos Gbadeyan, accused Governor Ahmed of using delay tactics to obstruct justice to his clients. According to Abraham Aransiola, the Chairman of the Concerned Pensioners, the former governor deducted their money without their consent. He appealed to President Jonathan and the Chief Justice of the Federation to prevailed on Governor Ahmed to release the money.
A source in Kwara state government house also revealed that early in the life of Ahmed's regime, some foreign investors came to Ilorin to meet the governor. After being ushered in to the governor's office, for Ahmed to receive them, the investors caused a mild drama, when they insisted that Ahmed was not the governor they wanted to meet. They stood their ground until one of the governor's aides suggested they should be taken to Saraki at the Presidential lodge, also inside the government house. "We know the governor....this is not the governor...the governor is one Dr...," the source quoted them as saying.
"A fair assessment of this administration so far only confirms the fear of our people that Bukola's choice of Ahmed was meant to achieve a third term through the backdoor," Olayinka Erubu, a Youth leader in the State and Financial Secretary Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF told the magazine in Ilorin. Erubu points to the character of Ahmed's cabinet to buttress his point, saying that almost all the Commissioners and principal officers were picked by the former governor. The magazine learnt authoritatively that only three slots were given to the governor. His Chief of Staff, Toyin Sanusi, was the Personal Assistant to the elder Saraki for many years.
Also, members and principal officers of the State House of Assembly were all loyalists of the former governor. The Speaker, Razak Atunwa was Saraki's Commissioner for Works and was enthroned to put Ahmed in check. Other members of the House like Nimota Ibrahim, Ebun Owolabi, Moshood Bakare and Segilola Abdulkadir are also personal aides of the former governor.
Prince Sunday Fagbemi, Deputy Governorship candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC in the 2011 election insists that Ahmed's regime is a third term of Bukola Saraki's administration. He added that his emergence as governor was to cover the scandal of the previous regime. " Fatah Ahmed is an offshoot of Saraki fraudulent government. They stole Kwara money together, as you can see, there is no project going on anywhere," he told the magazine in Ilorin. Fagbemi, a former Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN State Chairman, added that Ahmed was chosen as a cover up for the former regime, insisting that Ahmed is never a governor and that Saraki is the defacto governor.
Also, while governors in other States are scheming for 2015, Ahmed dares not. The magazine learnt that before he finally got the party's ticket, Ahmed, who hails from Share in Kwara South, agreed with Saraki not to seek re-election. Sources within the State PDP hinted the magazine that the former governor has zoned the 2015 ticket to Kwara North.
The choice of Ahmed, the magazine gathered, was largely informed by Saraki's bid to cover the tracks of his eight year administration. Ahmed was a key figure in the regime, first as Finance Commissioner and later as Planning and Economic Development Commissioner. Not a few people believed the regime was corrupt and series of petition were sent to the anti-graft agencies. One of such petitions was written to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in November 2011, by Kwara Freedom Network, KFN.
In the petition signed by the group's Chairman, Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, the KFN alleged that the eight years of Governor Bukola Saraki witnessed an unprecedented network of corruption in the history of Kwara State. "We at KFN, are not deceived as we know that the reason in the first place to make Abdul-Fatah Ahmed, the current governor, the successor to Dr. Bukola is simply to make the new government cover all the tracks leading to possible uncovering of the history of Bukola's stealing. Our conviction is more reinforced by the fact that Fatai Ahmed has a long time worker-master relationship with Bukola Saraki dating back to Societe Generale Bank Plc jointly ruined by the duo," the group said.
KFN alleged further that between May 2004 to May 2011, the State Government operated what is referred to as Kwara State Local Government Joint Project Account with Intercontinental Bank, PLC (now Access Bank) 24, Wahab Folawiyo Road, Ilorin. All the 16 Local Governments were made to undertake commitment to pay certain percentage of their allocation to the account, with the understanding that the state government will also pay certain percentage of its revenue to this account. While all the Local Government were faithful in their payments, the State Government was not. KFN said the amount deducted from the councils for this purpose in the 84 months is estimated at N8,389,539,14 Eight Billion, Three Hundred and (Eighty Nine Million, Five Hundred and Thirty Nine Thousand, and Fourteen Naira).
The opposition also alleged that as part of the legacy of corruption, Kwarans are still in the dark with regards to the content and in fact the status of the controversial pension package which the last House of Assembly gave Bukola. "It is on record that the so-called obnoxious pension bill was not publicly signed following the public outcry that trailed it. We support our people's demand to know the status of this bill, and we are in fact requesting the Ahmed administration to confirm to our people whether the multibillion Naira mansion under construction at the tip of the Ahmadu Bello Way in Ilorin is among Bukola's pension package," the State ACN said at a press conference last year.
Many Kwarans are at loss as to why the anti-graft agencies refuse to act upon the petition against the former governor. "Bukola has no right walking about a free man, since he has no immunity again. The anti-graft agencies have enough document to prosecute him. Even though Ahmed has immunity, it does stop him being a prosecution witness. The governor is only immuned against being prosecuted, he can be invited to court to give testimony," Fagbemi said.
Wahab Oba, Chief Press Secretary to the governor debunked all allegations against his boss. He insisted Ahmed is too intelligent to be pushed around by anybody whatsoever. He maintained that the governor is a very passionate and committed administrator who rose to the present position as a result of his diligence and brilliant performance in the previous administration. "The opposition elements are just looking for cheap popularity, the governor has been doing excellently in terms of his promises to the people in the areas of education, employment, infrastructure and health care. Ahmed is the only one holding the mandate of the people of Kwara and he is the only one to be held accountable," Oba told the magazine.
Apart from Oba, many Kwarans also lambast the opposition for playing to the gallery. They blame the ACN particularly, for fielding Dele Belgore, perceived to be a wrong candidate, that led to the party's loss at the 2011 election. They described Belgore as an inexperienced politician who lacks focus, commitment and sagacity to wrestle power from a strong political force like the Sarakis.
Yemi Afolayan, the State PDP Secretary told the magazine that "Kwara is one big family, and Senator Bukola Saraki is the leader. We are contented with the political structure under the leadership of Bukola Saraki."
Akintoba Fatiregun, Saraki's Media Assistant described the allegations against his boss as very incredible. "Everybody has his cross to carry, Bukola Saraki has his mandate to represent Kwara Central in the Senate, and he has been delivering on his mandate. He is not interfering in Kwara politics at all," he said.
He equally dismissed the allegation of corruption against Saraki as a worn out thesis that lack substance.
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