By Dr. Bashir Ibrahim Olaitan
I have taken time to follow the politics of Kwara especially regarding the crisis within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and concerns that the sterling pro-people performance of Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq may not fetch him a second term. As a political observer, I do not think those making such claims have sat down to look at the map as things stand today.
I admit that who wins in 2023 could be more about political calculations and sentiments than the performance of anyone. However, even if viewed from this prism, it does not appear that the Governor is as vulnerable as some ‘wannabe’ analysts are making it look like. The Sarakis, especially Senator Bukola Saraki, will play an important role in the politics of 2023. Many people in Kwara State will pitch their tents based on a question they would be faced with: do we want the Sarakis to come back? Regardless of whatever they feel towards the current situation, people will ask themselves if they want Bukola Saraki back as controller of their political destiny. And as what? He cannot contest for Governor again. He may want to go back to the senate. I do not know if calculations will favour his comeback as Senate President. If not, does Bukola Saraki have the decorum of David Mark to return to the Red Chamber as an ordinary floor member? I do not think so. So, if he does not contest for Governor, won’t anyone he supports, including possibly a Bolaji Abdullahi or Ali Ahmad, Rasak Atunwa, or anyone from the North senatorial district, be viewed as a prospective errand boy? Do people really want that again? This sentiment will play out. The Abdulfattah Ahmed experience does not favour any candidate that Saraki may want to support. I call that a plus for the incumbent Governor if he plans to run again. So far he has proven to be his own man. It is a plus for him that despite his alleged support for many candidates in the 2019 poll, there is nothing to suggest that he is making them his errand boys to the extent we saw pre-2019 under Saraki.
Beneath the noise about party control is a Governor with increasingly strong support base. Do not misunderstand it. Nine in 10 of those fighting him in the APC today never really supported him in the run up to the polls. His emergence was treated like the PDP giving Senator Simeon Ajibola its ticket in 2015. He was written off from when he emerged. So, the current fight really has not depleted the Governor’s political base as he never really enjoyed the support of these gladiators from day one as a candidate. Many of them became inactive after the primaries, discomforted that they lost the ticket to the ‘dark horse’. So, nothing has changed. This does not mean the Governor should not make overtures to get more friends from their ranks.
For me, I feel the Governor is stronger politically now compared to 2019. Perhaps because of his noninterference, over 95 percent of elected public officers in Kwara State are obviously with him. Just recently, the three senators, five out of six House of Representatives members, and 22 of the 24 members of the Kwara State House of Assembly announced what amounted to a vote of confidence in him by electing to back Abdullahi Sanmari as the new party chairman. This says a lot. Add that to the overwhelming support he enjoys from his colleague Governors who appear to have come through for him as some vocal few in the Kwara APC recently sought to edge him out of relevance. It is a case if they (the Governors) can take what is being served to their colleague in Kwara! APC power brokers must remember that the governors have learnt a few things from the Akinwunmi Ambode imbroglio in Lagos. They displayed that skill most viciously in the handling of the Edo debacle. The rest is history. The hawks in the APC, especially those from the western flank of the country, also appeared to have learnt to eat the humble pie as we recently saw in Ondo. My argument basically is that no Governor is a pushover anymore.
The happenings in Kwara State APC are not about party supremacy or good governance. It is about politicians wanting to control the party structure to suit their own 2023 calculations. So efforts being dissipated on painting one person as the aggressor and another as the victim are baseless, dubious, and fruitless. All the gladiators are fighting for their own political future.
Back to the argument on the strength of the Governor. It is interesting to note that the former governorship aspirants who are fighting the Governor do not necessarily command better followings than those backing him. The snag with those fighting him is that they have lesser resources even as their goodwill is daily being deflated on account of their choice of language in their public engagements. The vocal Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo is a case study. Arguably three in five persons who listen to his newly launched radio station are convinced he is not the ‘progressive’ he wanted them to believe he is. He is proving he is there for what is in it for him. The questions that attend his programme say so much. So a lot of them are already wasting their political capital in a bid to fight dirty and win public sympathy. Strangely, majority of the vocal ones are radio generals. The real political generals have not really deserted the Governor. Top former governorship aspirants with solid presence in the state like Moshood Mustapha, Mohammed Dele Belgore (SAN), youthful Yahya Seriki and industrialist Jani Ibrahim are with the Governor, possibly because of their beliefs that only one person can serve as a Governor at one time. The political machines of Belgore and Mustapha are particularly strong. Besides, they appear to have more moral justifications to want to fight the Governor than any other aspirant. The Belgore camp has been on ground since 2011 when the post-Lawal era struggle really picked up. He possibly has reasons to feel entitled than many of those warring against the Governor. But the top lawyer is not known to do so. Moshood Mustapha, for his part, was controversially disqualified on the eve of the governorship primaries. MM, as he is fondly called, could claim to have enthroned the erstwhile chairman BOB. While Belgore’s men and allies are seen with the Governor, Mustapha has openly declared support for and commended the Governor for appointing his men into government offices. Ibrahim, an influential stakeholder that was the chairman of the APC Strategy Group, is also standing with the Governor.
The above, to be sure, does not mean the Governor should not reach out to his foes within the party. What the above means is that he is not as vulnerable as some pundits may want us to believe. There is something that is not being said yet. It is that the whole noise is about some persons either wanting to pocket the Governor or seeking a power sharing arrangement in a most predatory, arrogant, and daring manner. They have not hidden this in their radio and social media commentaries. If what we knew of the pre-2019 poll is a guide, including glaring sabotage of the campaign, very few of those staking claims to the victory should be taken serious. Minister Lai Mohammed is rumoured to want to become a godfather to whom the Governor must defer. This is a desire Nigerians are most weary of, especially in Kwara with a bitter experience of godfatherism.
Head or tail, the Kwara Governor remains the man to watch in the political development of the state. So far, the battle for the soul of the party looks certain to end in a victory for him and his backers who include overwhelming majority of elected officials as well as party elders who would not concede to a Lai Mohammed becoming their leader. The most important asset in this whole issue is the fact that the Governor is known to have performed within the Kwara realities. For clarity, he truly does need to widen his support base; but the situation now does not suggest a man without enough arsenals to crush his adversaries if he so wills.
•Dr Olaitan is the HOD, Dept. of History, University of Ilorin.