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SARAKI DYNASTY: BEGINNING OF THE END?

By NBF News

Kwara is one of the numerous states where the incumbent governor is not eligible for re-election in the impending 2011 polls. By May next year, Governor Bukola Saraki would have exhausted the maximum two terms of eight years the constitution allows him in office. He shares that position with several other governors.

However, unlike other states, Kwara politics is radically different. It is highly regulated and regimented. Kwara is in the firm grip of Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki, the Waziri of Ilorin and father of the incumbent governor.

Since his entry into the politics of the middle belt state, Olusola Saraki, popularly called 'Oloye' by his admirers has bestrode the politics of the state like a colossus.

Those in the know of the political history of the state would readily tell you that Kwara was initially not in the firm grip of Oloye and that the development is a modern day thing. Indeed, they will readily remind you of the crushing defeat Oloye suffered in the hands of one Babatunde Alanamu in the 1965 election, when he first ventured into Kwara politics from his base in Lagos. Like a rain-soaked chicken, he was said to have gone back to his medical practice in Lagos, only to resurface in 1976 and capitalized on the prevailing poverty and low literacy level in the state. He succeeded in grabbing the Kwara Central senatorial ticket in 1979, and at the national assembly, emerged as the senate leader.

Presently in Kwara, Oloye dictates who gets what and when. He has also used his vintage position to enhance the political fortunes of members of his immediate family as evident in Bukola, his son ruling Kwara for eight years, while his daughter, Gbemi, has also spent close to 12 years at the national assembly.

However, ahead of the 2011 poll, Saraki's authority is seriously being challenged.

Kwara's politics and cry of marginalization
With the 2011 election beckoning, the cry of marginalization from people of Kwara South is suddenly becoming deafening. Proponents of the agitation claim that the senatorial district that has seven out of the 16 local councils in the state is not accorded the political respect it deserves. They argue that in the history of the state, politicians from that zone have ruled for just three months, while their brothers from Kwara Central have ruled for over 12 years.

The case of Kwara South is a bit pathetic. Cornelius Adebayo, who was of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria was allowed to rule for just three months before the military truncated the second republic, while Alhaji Sha'aba Lafiagi from Kwara North ruled for more than two years before the late Gen. Sani Abacha ended the third republic.

Since the restart of civil rule in 1999, it has been Kwara Central all the way with Mohammed Lawal ruling from 1999 to 2003 and Bukola Saraki from 2003 to 2011. One of the gubernatorial aspirants under the PDP,

Theophilus Bamigboye, contends that the agitation by the people of Kwara South is justified: 'I will think it is only normal that a zone that has done it for 11 years should allow the seat to go to either Kwara South or Kwara North. The case of Kwara North was better because they did it for over two years but Kwara South did it for just three months.' But Ben Duntoye, the state Commissioner for Information insists there was 'no time when the people of the zone met to complain that they are being marginalized'. He is also from Kwara South.

One curious thing about Kwara politics is the interesting scenario of when four local governments lord it over 12 councils. A breakdown of the voting population in the state reveals that there are more voters in the four local governments that make up Kwara Central than those in the other 12 local governments areas that make up Kwara South and Kwara North senatorial districts.

Kwara Central, according to figures from INEC, contributes close to 55 percent of the entire voting population of the state. Not even Kwara South that prides itself of having seven local governments could stand its brother from Central in terms of voters' population. Those conversant with the politics of the midland state claim that this factor has often assisted politicians from Kwara Central to have upper hand when it comes to distribution of political perks.

Although many believe the strange voters population could be traced down to connivance between political figures in Kwara Central and some corrupt INEC officials, a more objective assessor insists that, beside the issue of electoral manipulation, the migrant nature of the people of Kwara South also plays a huge role. The analyst, who prefers anonymity, revealed that people of Kwara South populated one of the local governments in Kwara Central, regretting that several indigenes of the zone are also outside the state pursuing their trade.

He said, 'today, you will see our people all over the country in places like Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Kano and Minna. In Lagos, for instance, the population of our people is very high in at least three local governments, and so anyone in Lagos thinking of winning will have to factor us in his calculation. But that is where the advantage ends because back at home, the void they left has unfortunately handed our brothers from Kwara Central the advantage in terms of voters population.

The issue is if your people are not at home when registration is on, there is nothing you can do when it is time for election. The man that has the advantage will always have it. Remember this is democracy where the majority will always have its way while the minority will have its say.' He also blamed poor political awareness and disunity among the people of the district as another reason.

Bigotry and woman governor
Although no one is yet to openly admit it, the rumour mill is awash with insinuation that the political godfather (Oloye) is determined to enthrone his daughter, Senator Gbemi Fowora-Saraki, as the next governor of Kwara after Bukola might have had his fill in 2011.Baba Saraki is said to be scared that any of the politicians currently jostling to take over from Bukola might subject him to the maltreatment that the late former governor, Mohammed Lawal, handed out to him, in which his political authority was challenged and openly questioned. He is said to hold the view that his continued relevance in Kwara for the last eight years was because his biological son was in power.

Indeed, the Oloye endured torrid times under the administration of the former Ogun military governor. Saraki, had to deploy all the political arsenal in his armoury to oust the retired navy captain in 2003.

The source said it was to prevent a repeat of this scenario that he is now rooting for Gbemi to be the governor in Kwara. The plan is, however, said to be facing stiff resistance from a variety of opinion leaders in the state, including the incumbent governor, who is said to be discontented with the prospect of his sibling taking over from him. Islamic leaders and the intelligentsia in the state are also said to be opposed to the plan.

The governor is said to be so pissed off with the plan that he is believed to have sent several emissaries to his father, trying to convince him of the futility of the plan. But the father is resolute, and impeccable sources in the state swore that Oloye 'is determined to ensure the success of the Gbemi Project'. The source hinted that 'he won't stop at anything because he has set up a parallel group working for him on the project and they are determined to even pull out of the PDP if Gbemi is denied the ticket.'

The source said Oloye and his people could join any of the opposition parties with either the AC or the LP top on the shopping list. Indeed, an AC source conformed that 'Oloye' actually made the overture to his party but a powerful AC chieftain from one of the southwest states allegedly scuttled the plan.

Unhappy with the plot, the governor was said to have made it a point of duty of duty to axe any of his aides found to be sympathetic to the Gbemi-for-Governor idea. Ben Duntoye, however, denied that such plan was afoot and that the alleged plot has not created any crack between the governor and his father. To him, 'politics can never cause a division between father and son. The Waziri of Ilorin and the governor are still best of friends and they respect each other.'

But another school of thought insists the governor was not against the idea and that he was just pretending. They point at an executive bill presently before the state assembly seeking to outlaw all forms of inciting preaching by both Islamic and Christian clerics in the state as a proof that the governor was just playing politics. According to Ganiyu Olakobaju, 'how do you juxtapose the idea that the governor is against it to the bill sent to the house? If they pass that law, it becomes an offence for any preacher in Kwara to incite his followers against any public policy. The question you need to ask is how did the edict get to the house? Who sanctioned it if the governor was against his sister becoming governor?'

An Islamic scholar who voiced the feelings of Ulamas in the state and the implication of the plan to install Gbemi as the next governor of Kwara said, ' I hope this is not going to be a self-inflicted injury on the Oloye because I don't see how the Ulamas here would accept a woman governor. It is not because of gender but Kwara is both politically and religiously immature for such development.'

The state Council of Ulamas and Imams, in a press statement has already warned that they would not subscribe to the idea of a woman governor in the state that is predominantly Muslim. They claim such idea is un-Islamic.

A dependable source disclosed that the both the Emirate and the Ulamas are also not comfortable with the prospect of Kwara having the first elected female governor in Nigeria and are already said to be shopping for a candidate outside the PDP.

Opposition to the Saraki dynasty
But there is a growing awareness on the part of Kwarans to end the overlordship of the Saraki dynasty. Informed sources in the state claim that the opposition is in six-fold, and cuts across the three senatorial districts, but thickly rooted in Kwara Central.

A source identified the state council of Islamic clerics, who he claimed had swore never to back the idea of a woman governor, as was being proposed by the Waziri of Ilorin as one major group. The Ulamas are said to be worried about the prospect of the Chief Imam of the state having to pay homage to a female governor after every Islamic festival as is customary in the state.

Another group is the Kwara elites who are tired of being overshadowed by the larger than life image of the Waziri. Although Kwara parades prominent individuals like the former chairman of the ICPC, Justice Mustapha Akanbi, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Belgore, and several heavyweights and captains of industry and the armed forces, they are never accorded much respect at home because no one can influence anything in Kwara if Oloye does not approve of it.

Another group baying for blood in 2011 is the Kwara Professionals. This group comprises of people who, although they can hold their own against their colleagues, are still uncomfortable as they are continually taunted as 'Slaves of Saraki'. They are anxiously waiting for 2011 to tear that toga once and for all.

Kwara women are the other group unhappy with the position of the womenfolk in Kwara. An analyst explains, 'this group is not happy that women in Kwara are being reduced to beggars by Baba Saraki who is in the habit of handling out peanuts to them on Fridays. They believe that this must stop and 2011 is the time they feel that change can be made.'

The other group is the youth group, which believes that the manner political offices in Kwara are being distributed, is far from democratic. This group is also unhappy that they must kowtow and lobby for them to get anything in their state.

Disunited opposition
The opposition in Kwara is also threatening to upstage the PDP. However, this won't be the first time they will be gathering for that purpose. In 2007, they formed a common front under the leadership of former Minister of Communication, Cornelius Adebayo. At the end of the day they failed to achieve their aim. With the 2011 election fast approaching, opposition groups have commenced another move with the aim of ousting the Sarakis and to a large extent, the PDP from power. They are coming together under The Kwara Patriots (TKP) and Kwara State Stakeholders Forum (KSSF). While the TKP seems to be making some headway in welding the opposition, the KSSF is not.

During a recent meeting, the KSSF vowed to form a common front to end PDP rule in Kwara. Coordinator of the group, Dr. Amuda Aluko, said it is time for a change and the opposition parties would work together to achieve this stated objective in the forthcoming elections.

Aluko also lamented that lack of unity has been the bane of the opposition in Kwara, adding that the only way out is to present just one list of candidates for the election. He has a company with the TKP boss, Hon. Wole Oke.

However, when the KSSF convened a meeting to deliberate on their choice of candidate, the meeting was reportedly deadlocked. Those who attended could not agree on the platform to use or how the candidates would be fielded.

Sources at the meeting said agreement broke down when the AC asked that the party should be adopted for the onslaught. That did not go down well with ANPP members who said that since their party is the largest opposition party in Nigeria today, it should be allowed to produce the governorship candidate for that election.

The development, according to sources, led to heated arguments among the people that were in attendance and at the end of the day they failed to reach a consensus.

State chairman of the ANPP, Femi Agbaje, said the party would not fuse with any political party during the 2011 elections. He said the party does not need to go into alliance to contest and win elections in Kwara. Agbaje also praised the administration of Governor Saraki, saying it has performed well and all efforts should be geared towards supporting the government and the party that brought him to power in order to move the state forward.

Oke was, however, optimistic that an agreement would be reached and the opposition would adopt a single platform and a single list of candidates for the 2011 elections.

Political permutations
Although the agitation for a politician from Kwara South to be the next governor is very strong, political tacticians hold that the time for that aspiration might not be ripe, given the voting population in the state. One of those plotting the direction of politics in 2011 said the wise thing to do was to field a candidate from Kwara Central and then talk of the issue of Kwara South later. He said that it would be very difficult to beat any candidate from Kwara Central because the people of Kwara North consisting of the Nupes, the Baribas and the Barutens, are always suspicious of the intentions of Kwara South and so always follow Kwara Central when it comes to voting.

He said, 'I know this opinion won't be popular, but the truth is if you have not killed a bush meat, you can't divide it. The reality on the ground is not one that favours a governor coming from Kwara South. I am from Kwara South, but I love saying the truth. I know that the people of Kwara Central will always vote for their own people and they have the voters population and curiously, the people of Kwara North are always suspicious of their brothers from Kwara South, they always want to go with Kwara Central.

I will advise that we pick someone from Kwara Central and after we have won the governorship for the opposition, we can then talk of Kwara South.'

With the current discordant tunes and disunity that is prevalent in the camp of the opposition ahead of 2011, analysts believe that the coming together of the group to oust the PDP might be very difficult, unless correct tactical approach is deployed.

The aspirants
Senator Gbemi Fowora-Saraki
Senator Fowora-Saraki is in PDP from Kwara Central. She is the kingmaker's daughter. However, the gender factor is already working against her as some Muslim groups, including the Supreme Council for Shariah in the state had condemned her rumoured interest in the state governorship. The Islamic group contended that though women have a noble role to play in the society; it was against the religion to encourage the ascendancy of a woman as the governor.

Also, the issue of morality, though less cogent perhaps because of its absence in Nigerian politics, has been bandied as another factor that might not work in her favour. Sources argue that with her elder brother relinquishing the governorship position in 2011, it would create a moral dilemma for the family to field his younger sister who had been at the national assembly for 12 years, for the post.

Theophilus Bamigboye
Bamigboye is a former military administrator of Bauchi and Osun states. He is from the stable of the PDP but from Omu-Aran town in Kwara South. He left the PDP in 2007 to contest the governorship position on the platform of the ACCORD party.

Bamigboye, known for his pragmatic approach to issues, has since returned to the PDP and is interested in the position currently held by Bukola Saraki. Although he has done everything needed to gain the confidence of the powers that be in Kwara, observers claims he might not get his target as the powers that be in PDP might not have actually forgiven him for the manner he left the party in 2007.

Dele Belgore,SAN
Dele Belgore, a lawyer is also said to be interested in the governorship of the state. He is planning to run on the platform of the AC. He is from the famous Belgore family of Ilorin, Kwara Central.

Although he is yet to make his interest public, it is believed that he has already commenced wide consultations and had received the nod of several interest groups including the Emirate. He is also said to have the backing of many Kwara Professionals who want a repeat of what is happening in Lagos where a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is in the saddle.

Lola Ashiru
Architect Lola Ashiru is of the AC and hails from Kwara South. The multi -millionaire businessman believes the time is ripe for him to take Kwara by storm as he felt he has all it takes to hand Kwara people the dividends of democracy.

Ashiru, who understands Kwara politics, believes his philanthropy and openness will eventually sway the people to him. The architect has the funds to oil his campaign machine and has the experience of 2007 to fall back on.

Kale Belgore
Kale Belgore is also of the AC and hails from the famous Belgore family in Kwara central. Unlike his brother, Dele, he has not masked his ambition and has even been putting in place structures to enhance his aspiration.

Kale was very close to Governor Bukola Saraki until recently when they strangely fell apart. The manner he left the cabinet of Kwara raised not a few eyebrows, fuelling insinuations that he might have been sent to the AC to do a hatchet job, while some even believes he is in AC as Bukola Saraki's fallback position should he lose out in PDP. That suspicion is not doing his aspiration any good and he is doing very little to deny it either.

Alhaji AbdulFatai Ahmed
AbdulFatai Ahmed is the State Commissioner for Finance and Economic Development. He is believed to be the anointed candidate of the governor. He is from Saare town, Kwara South, and is going to use the platform of the PDP for his aspiration. He is averse to the internal workings of the government and is seen as a very loyal person to the governor.

Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio
Ibrahim Isa Bio is the current Minister of Sports. He was at the Transport ministry during the administration of the late president Umaru Yar'Adua. Bio, from Kwara North, is also of the PDP. He is believed to be the 'Plan B' of the Waziri of Ilorin should the idea of enthroning Gbemi fail to receive the blessing of Kwarans. It was even said that he could have lost out in the present Jonathan dispensation but for the special interest of the Kwara political grandmaster that allegedly interceded on his behalf.