KWARA: WHY THE ODDS FAVOUR GBEMI
The April 16 gubernatorial election in Kwara State promises to be a four-way battle. The four parties warming up to slug it out with one another are the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Democratic Peoples Party (DPP). The candidates flying the parties flags in the poll are Ahmed Fatai (PDP), Senator Gbemisola Saraki (ACPN), Mr. Dele Belgore, and Mr. Gbenga Olawepo (DPP). Ahead of the elections, the parties and their candidates have embarked on campaigns to sell themselves to the electorate, leaving nothing to chances. The campaigns have also exposed the do-or-die disposition of the parties to the election such that many are beginning to wonder if their true intention is to serve the people.
For instance, the ruling PDP has been accused of intimidating the other parties, especially the ACPN, the motive being to give it (the PDP) an edge in the poll. When President Goodluck Jonathan visited to campaign the other time, not only did the PDP allegedly masterminded the removal of the other parties campaign billboards from the streets of Ilorin, the state capital, some ACPN leaders in the state were brutally attacked by people believed to be PDP members in the state. Only a few days ago, reports also indicated that the PDP has stepped up its intimidation of the ACPN with the indiscriminate arrest of its members on flimsy excuses forcing them to go into hiding. Meanwhile, the gubernatorial election is barely two weeks away, thus making it imperative to analyse how the parties and their candidates stand in Kwara. In other words, were the gubernatorial election in the state to be held today, who is likely to carry the day? Definitely it is one of the candidates of the four visible parties in the state viz: the PDP, the ACPN, the ACN and the PDP. The PDP is fielding Ahmed Fatai. Being the candidate of the ruling party in Kwara makes him a strong contender in this election. As a member of the state cabinet, he was the finance commissioner until a couple of months ago when he entered the gubernatorial fray. He fits perfectly into the thinking in some circles that Governor Saraki being succeeded by an “insider” is a plus for continuity in governance in Kwara.
Being from the south senatorial district, his candidacy, to some people, amounts to an attempt to entrench power shift in Kwara. And to crown it all, the ruling party is always interested in an election of this nature. A ruling party cannot be indifferent to the emergence of the government that will succeed it, if only for the reason of installing a successor that will hide its dark secrets, especially in a country where corruption is a rule rather than the exception, a government will always be interested in its successor for policy continuty. The ruling PDP in Kwara will do everything to attempt to install one of its own as governor via the April polls. That is on the flip side of the PDP candidate. The odds weigh heavily against him on the other side. The mere fact that he is at the centre of the crisis between Governor Saraki and his father, Dr. Olusola Saraki, is a big minus for this candidate.
The crisis had started when the governor insisted that the PDP candidate was going to emerge without his father’s input. Before then, the junior Saraki had schemed to take the PDP machinery in the state from the former senate leader. Analysts say the governor is possibly blinded by the power that he has enjoyed in the past eight years to believe that he is now omniscient in Kwara politics but forgetting clearly that the power that brought him to office way back in 2003 still resides with the father, fondly called oloye. The analysts believe the governor is mistaken if he thinks he can make Ahmed Fatai his successor without his father’s input. The truth of the matter is that, given this backdrop, the PDP gubernatorial candidature in Kwara has apparently run into a hitch. Besides, people say the candidate is a colourless politician who has no clout required for the office of governor.
In the estimation of the vast majority of Kwarans, the governor wants to foist Fatai Ahmed on the people because, being an insider in his government, he (Fatai) would be in the position to cover his (governor) tracks when he leaves office. And by foisting the PDP candidate on the people, Governor Saraki wants to become some kind of godfather of Kwara politics, even when the man generally seen as the real godfather is still on his feet. The PDP candidate in the Kwara gubernatorial election, according to many analysts, is doomed to fail. For the ACPN candidate, Gbemi Saraki, at least two things will work in her favour: her solid antecedents and support from “oloye”. Analysts credit her with the requisite experience in politics to speak for her in the gubernatorial election. Having been in parliament for 12 years is enough experience in politics and government to give her the edge over other contenders. Before Gbemi’s current stint in the Senate, she had represented her people of Kwara central robustly in the House of Representatives.
Analysts who cite Gbemi’s legislative experience as a good credential for her gubernatorial aspiration note that many of those who became the President of the United States (US) where Nigeria copied the presidential system of government received their tutelage from parliament. Also in Gbemi’s favour is her philanthropic activities since the period preceding her entry into politics, and through which she has built an army of loyalists. This must be pay back time. Those whom she has empowered through Gbemi Saraki Foundation, including students, market men and women, Christians and Muslims whom she helped to go on pilgrimage, form the bulk of the electorate. Some people argue that Kwara is not ready for a woman governor because of its peculiarity as a Muslim state, using some clerics to voice out this position. Analysts response is that this position is primordial and that the state is moving on with modern times that have no place for discrimination on the basis of gender. Besides, the analysts say the Nigeria constitution does not recognize any form of discrimination on the basis of sex.
The gender claim against Gbemi also flies in the face of the emergence of women leaders in many Islamic countries around the world including Pakistan. And to balance the ticket, the ACPN candidate’s deputy is a Christian from Kwara South. The candidate herself a Muslim is from the central. But the biggest factor that puts the odds in Gbemi’s favour is the support of “oloye”, the irrepressible politician who has proved over time that he has the magic to electoral victory in Kwara. The magic is “oloye’s” identification with the masses which has empowered him to install virtually all the civilian governors in the state including the incumbent. From Adamu Attah to Shaaba Lafiaji, Muhammed Lawal and Governor Saraki, he installed them. Even when they rebelled against him, with their power of incumbency, he removed them. Now that the incumbent is supporting a candidate not approved by “oloye”, the situation will not be different. At least that is what analysts believe. The analysts contend that ‘oloye’s’ approval of Gbemi’s gubernatorial aspiration has cleared the way for her. And ‘oloye’ is leaving nothing to chances in this battle. Old age and ill-health are not sufficient reasons for him to stay out of the campaigns. He is in Gbemi’s campaign train as it traverses the state. Belgore and Olawepo, the gubernatorial candidates of the CAN and DPP respectively in the state, do not have the prominence of Ahmed Fatai and Gbemi Saraki. CAN and DPP are not strong platforms in the Kwara gubernatorial race as to win the election for the candidates. The current rating of the candidates, according to analysts, put Gbemi ahead of Fatai, followed by Belgore and Olawepo. To be sure, Belgore and Olawepo are said to belong to the elitist group in Kwara who never identified with the people in any way whatsoever only to come around ahead of elections to sermonize that the people are subservient to the politicians who have always stood by the people.
Written by Rahman Abdulahi.