SARAKI DYNASTY AND QUEST FOR FEMALE GOVERNOR
Suddenly, the Nigerian political landscape is buzzing. Politicians are revving the engine of their political machineries in readiness for their parties' primaries. This follows the announcement of the timetable for the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Going by the electoral umpire's submission, next year's election will now take place in January, although pressure is being mounted to shift the exercise to April in view of the congestion in the timetable.
Each of the states has its own political dynamics. It is this dynamism that will decide the political direction and the fate of aspirants come next year. In Kwara State, former Senate Leader and political heavyweight, Dr. Olusola Saraki has endorsed Senator Gbemisola Rukayyah Saraki as the preferred candidate for the Government House in Ilorin. Although, Senator Gbemisola Saraki is the daughter of Dr. Saraki, her endorsement followed clamour by a large segment of the state for her to replace her brother, Governor Bukola Saraki as the number one citizen at the Ilorin Government House.
Indeed, it will be an understatement to say that various groups, including women and youths have been clamouring and calling on the senator to join the governorship race. These groups in drumming support for Senator Gbemisola came up with various slogans such as 'We are proud of you, Gbemisola Hope 2011'; '1st female governor in Nigeria'; 'A call to serve!' 'Here we stand: Join us to produce Nigeria's first female governor'; 'Yes we can'; and 'Who says a woman cannot do better?' among others.
The endorsement, which took place at the Great Hall in the Olorunsogo area of Ilorin, was attended by a large crowd of party supporters. Speaking at the occasion, the former senate leader said he was only responding to the wishes of the people by the endorsement, even as he noted that with the level of development attained in the state in the last seven and half years, a capable hand is needed to propel the state further it its quest for further development.
'I want so say that Governor Saraki has laid a solid foundation across the three senatorial districts of Kwara State that needed to be sustained by a capable and committed politician in person of Senator Gbemisola Saraki,' he said.
Emphasizing the need for continuity in the state, Dr. Saraki told the mammoth gathering that the senator who is currently representing Kwara Central Senatorial District in the Senate is in a better position to continue with some of the good work and policies of the current government headed by her elder brother.
He also allayed the fears of other contenders to the coveted position, claiming that the endorsement is not an automatic ticket for his daughter as a level playing ground would be provided for all the aspirants. He said: 'I want to say that the endorsement of Senator Saraki should not be seen as caging any governorship aspirant that wants to vie for the governorship position of the state come 2011 elections. We shall meet at the field during the elections.'
However, the endorsement did not go unchallenged as the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) kicked against the idea.
The party, in a statement signed by its State Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Isiaka Danmaironu said the party leadership was not privy to the move. 'Some aspirants have picked forms and they are doing that in their own right as bonafide party members while at a later date, all the aspirants would go to primaries that would produce the most popular candidate for the elections. No part of the guidelines empowers any individual or group of people except the party, which would in accordance with the guidelines, conduct the primaries which would produce the flag bearer of the party for the elections,' Danmaironu said.
Although, Danmaironu said that the party intends to provide a level playing ground for all aspirants with a view to ensuring that the best and most popular candidate emerge for the election, his position was countered by the Chairman of the party, Alhaji Yusuf Ayedun who, while speaking through Assistant Publicity Secretary, Hajia Aishat Ibrahim maintained that the endorsement is in line with the wishes of majority of members of the party in the state.
'We observed with great delight and satisfaction that the endorsement of GRS was not only witnessed by a mammoth crowd of PDP party faithfuls, gentlemen of the press, party stalwarts and elders .Other attendees include two members of (BOT) of our party, two distinguished senators, the Board of Trustees members of the Federal House of Representatives, eighteen members of the Kwara State House of Assembly, fourteen local government council chairmen, Traditional rulers, religious leaders, various political associations, youth organisations and students body.
'The party wishes to restate that the endorsement of Senator Gbemisola Rukayyay Saraki by his Eminence does not in any way preclude or foreclose party members' right to contest against the endorsement of his Eminence,' the party said. Observers of Kwara politics will agree that in the state today, Senator Saraki is the person to beat. Her grassroots brand of politics has endeared her to a large number of people not only in her senatorial district, but across the state. Save for opposition from a small group of elites in the state and some religious bigots who base their own opposition on non existent Islamic doctrine, majority of the people in the state are in support of Senator Saraki becoming the first woman to be governor of a state.
This can be seen in the area of constituency projects, scholarship to students, employment opportunities, empowerment and philanthropic gestures, religious sponsorships among others. The senator's constituency projects executed between 2003 to date includes the sinking of 29 wells, motorized and hand pump boreholes, construction of blocks of classrooms, VIP toilets, supply of furniture, textbooks and writing materials and the supply of medical equipment among others.
In the same vein, she has through the 'HAVE FOUNDATION' which she registered to reach out to the poor, empowered many people in her constituency. HAVE, which means Hope and Vision for Ilorin Emirate has been giving financial support to the needy. She has also purchased tractors with implements to assist rural farmers in land cultivation. The empowerment programme has benefited 33 people. Her scorecard in other areas is also stimulating.
Gbemi Saraki's pedigree as a banker with the knowledge of how the private sector works and a federal lawmaker is an unbeatable record in the quest for a new helmsman in Kwara State come 2011.
Having been in politics for a while and interacting with the people on a constant basis, she knows that Nigerians need a lift in terms of governance. And being a woman, Gbemi Saraki is worth being used as an experiment to open a floodgate for other women in the quest to find the quality leadership needed to transform the country.
It will also be wrong to see her adoption as an extension of the Saraki political dynasty.
The basic question should be not who she is, but whether she has the requisite qualification to vie for the office. True, her father has been the dominant political figure in the state since the second republic, but the fact remains that this would not have been so if the elder statesman has failed the people. Before anointing his son as the governor in 2003, Dr. Saraki had supported and single handedly installed all the past governors in the state. Critics owe it a duty to assess the performance of these governors and Governor Bukola Saraki in arriving at whether the choice made in 2003 was in the right direction.
Again, what is happening in Kwara State is not an isolated case. In India, there was the rule of the Ghandis, starting with Mahatma Nehru. In the United States, there was the Bush political dynasty, which began with Prescott Bush (1895-1972), who served as a US Senator from Connecticut. The family also produced two state governors, George W. Bush, the 46th governor of Texas and Jeb Bush, the 43rd governor of Florida.
The family also produced two presidents of the United States; George H.W. Bush, the 41st president and also a vice president and George W. Bush, the 43rd president. And these are advanced democracies and a world described as civilised and advanced. Here, the key word is what the candidate has on offer and not who he is or where he is coming from and Nigeria needs to learn from such advanced thinking in order to purge ourselves of very dangerous and archaic primordial mindset.
In all, the choice of who leads Kwara in 2011 is that of the people of the state and in democracy the people have the last say.
Isman Abubakar, contributed this piecefrom Abuja