OPINION: Saraki: Going, going... By Olufemi Kayode
As the political clock ticks and the march towards the 2015 general elections intensify, politicians have begun repositioning themselves through alliances, defections and secret deals in order to be relevant in the next regime. Promises are being made, promises are being broken, just as campaign structures and funds to prosecute the electioneering are being readied. Yes, the election cycle is almost here again.
But one man who has his work cut out for him is Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki. A former governor and serving Senator representing Kwara Central. Saraki was the undisputed leader, if you like godfather, of Kwara politics. In 2011, he was the sitting governor of the state who almost single-handedly installed all the elected officials from Kwara as well nominating the political appointees from the state.
From governor to members of the House of Representatives, from Minister to members of the House of Assembly, no one from Kwara got a high-end political job without kowtowing to the who holds the traditional title of the Turaki of Ilorin.
He was also the Chairman of the then powerful Nigerian Governors’ Forum. Posh and charismatic, Saraki was the go-to person if you want to deliver the political goods in Kwara. But that was then, four long years ago. Today, the influence of the Senator is apparently waning fast and the next election cycle may drive the nail into his political coffin.
In 2011, Bukola Saraki was the PDP leader in Kwara as well as the governor. About this time, he and his father, Oloye Olusola Saraki, parted ways over who would succeed him as governor. Oloye wanted his daughter and Bukola’s sister, Gbemisola Rukayyat Saraki to take over the baton from him. But Governor Bukola Saraki did not want this and backed the current Governor of the state, Abdulfatah Ahmed.
The political differences between father and son could not be resolved and both tested their popularity at the polls. It was an epic battle that was won by Team Bukola, which defeated an array of new and old politicians, sadly, including Bukola’s own father.
With the victories of the 2011 election, Bukola Saraki’s star was on the rise and his hegemony appeared sealed. And as if to confirm that, his father Oloye, who was the undisputed political leader of Kwara State for several decades passed on. Thus Bukola’s position as the number one political leader and fixer from Kwara State was never in doubt, such that some political analysts had begun to compare him to his father, thinking he was going to lead the state politically for the next decades. Sai Buky!
However, a number of political actions taken by Bukola, coupled with some factors beyond his control appear to have weakened his political control and his hegemony seem to be heading for the rocks even before it is in full flight.
Probably, the most important of these factors has to do with governor Abdulfatah Ahmed. Fatah Ahmed was a commissioner of Finance and ex staff of Saraki’s bank Societe Generale Bank, who had little political clout of his own when he was anointed to be governor. Although, on paper he is the governor of the state, his impact as a politician and chief executive of the state is almost zero.
His performance has been roundly condemned by many who point out that not much is happening in the state in terms of infrastructural development. This has provided canon fodder for opposition politicians and genuine stakeholders who crave development of the state.
Mohammed Abdulrafiu, a political analyst from Ilorin, rated the governor very poor. “The performance of the governor is appalling. I cannot really point at any meaningful development projects in the state initiated and completed by this governor. He is incompetent in every way.”
Opposition politicians such as the rival PDP also smell blood and have stepped up their criticisms of the governor, especially his penchant for taking bonds. Dele Belgore (SAN), a former gubernatorial candidate and leading PDP member said of the Fatah Ahmed administration: “what you see is that the state has been driven close to bankruptcy. As you could recall, some time ago, Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) said that Kwara was unbankable. That cannot surely be evidence of transformation or development. Kwara is a first generation state that was created in 1967. Today, it is economically backward and does not rank among any of the first generation states. It, indeed, ranks with some third generation states. That cannot be favourably an evidence of good leadership. Kwara State people deserve better.”
The governor is said to be unpopular with the youths too, especially those from the Ilorin Emirate. Some analysts say the rising concern over issues such as youth delinquency and drug use in Ilorin can be linked with the non-performance of the government and its lack of engagement of the youth.
“Ilorin is becoming like some areas in Lagos where there is widespread drug use and youth restiveness in the form of area boys,” said Abdulrafiu. “That’s because many of our young people don’t have jobs and are not engaged in any way.”
And what should be particularly troubling for Bukola’s All Progressive Congress (APC) is the fact that the people of Ilorin are clamouring for a governor from the zone. Abdulfatah is from Kwara South. Of the three zones in Kwara, Ilorin is the most populated and the votes from the zone are usually the deciders in gubernatorial elections.
The PDP with an eye on the precious prize ensured its new Chairman Iyiola Oyedepo is from the South, freeing it to field a candidate from Kwara Central and thus, leverage on the yearnings of the people from the Emirate. This strategy may prove difficult to beat since the governor may not be able to boast of his performance to woo people of the other zones or leverage on ethnic sentiments to get the Ilorin votes. This is reason why some analysts consider Kwara as one of the states the PDP is likely to regain of the five states they lost last year when the governors defected to the APC.
But while one may not blame the non-performance of Abdulfatah on Bukola, there are a number of actions the senator himself took which have helped erode his influence. The most commonly known is that he left the PDP and with that forfeited all the state support he might have enjoyed during elections. But beyond this, it was gathered that the former governor has not been servicing his political structure, as he ought to. Many of his former acolytes and associates have since moved over to the PDP or sitting delicately on the fence.
Staunch grassroots politicians such as Yinka Aluko, a former security adviser to both Saraki and Abdulfatah; Gani Olododo, a former Chief of Staff and Secretary to the State Government during Saraki’s tenure, and Alhaja Musilamat Ibrahim, the former women leader of the APC, amongst many others. Madam Ibrahim is said to be so angry with the way she was yanked off the party position at the last minute and replaced with Sarat Adebayo, her staunch rival.
Olododo, we gathered, had complained bitterly that Saraki used and dumped him, while Aluko quit the APC for the rival PDP, after many years of complaining of Saraki’s neglect.
Analysts believe this portend grave danger for the political future of Bukola Saraki as everything seems to be conspiring to cut short his reign as the political leader of the state. His fate as a politician of note is tied to the performance of his party in the next elections, especially the gubernatorial election. If his party loses the gubernatorial election as many analysts think they would, it may cut short the reign of the Turaki of Ilorin as the political godfather of Kwara.
The PDP would no doubt be the obvious beneficiary of whatever misfortune befalls the ruling APC. Already, the party is on the ascendancy in the state. It recently held its congress, which produced Iyiola Oyedepo, a noted Bukola Saraki critic, as chairman. Other political forces that are against Saraki have found a common platform in the PDP: Dele Belgore, the former gubernatorial candidate of the ACN; Gbemi Saraki, a former senator and ex-gubernatorial candidate of the ACPN; Bunmi Olusona, interim chairman of APC in the state and Bilikis Gambari-Edewor, Senatorial candidate of the CPC in Kwara central, amongst many others.
Original PDP members who did not quit the party with the earlier defectors such as Prof. Abdulraheem Oba, Chairman of the Federal Character commission, and Ibrahim Bio, a former Minister of Sports, are working hard to ensure victory for the PDP in the next elections and free themselves from the clutches of the Bukola Saraki hegemony.
With all the factors working against the godfather, Kwara may be getting set for the end of one hegemony and the beginning of another one.
Olufemi Kayode can be reached from Kayodeolufemi78@yahoo.com
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