LEGIREPORTS NG – It was a rousing welcome, fit only for a king. Formore than one hour, that Saturday at the Airport Expressway, Ilorin,it was all about giving a befitting welcome to Senator Bukola Saraki,Senate Committee chairman on Environment and former governor of Kwara State. Women, young and old; men of all walks of life, filled the highway blocking vehicular traffic.
They sang and chanted as the senator and scion of the Olusola Saraki, late strongman of Ilorin politics, made a trip into town from the airport.Â Maybe not in name, but Saraki is king as far as Kwara State politics is concerned. But before the end of his brief visit to Ilorin that weekend, Saraki learnt, to his utmost chagrin that his kingdom is under threat as political frenzy which he kick started by his defection from the ruling party at the center to the main opposition party.In what many consider as landmark political event, the senator, alongwith political officers such as the five governors of Kano, Sokoto, Adamawa, Rivers and his own state, Kwara, moved to All Progressives Congress, APC, from the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP. Event had a sweeping effect in Kwara, too.
Not only did Ahmed Abdulfatah, Kwara State governor join up with Saraki, his political godfather, but also, political office holders joined in the defection festival. But as event has begun to unfold before him, Saraki may have come to the realization that things are fast changing as 2015 general election approaches.Right from the airport, Saraki was confronted with the reality of another defection away from him by his former loyalists. Along the highway were testimonies of a previously held and successful procession like the one he was having that Saturday afternoon.
The earlier one was during the PDP rally in Ilorin that had President Goodluck Jonathan in attendance. It featured bigger crowd and mammoth convoys and earthshaking coverage by the media.But that afternoon, evidence that Saraki may well be alone in his recent political foray manifested in posters and billboards of his former acolytes still identifying PDP and welcoming the president.
There was that of Bio Ibrahim, former minister from the state; then there was that of Oba Abdulraheem, chairman, Federal Character Commission, FCC, whomJonathan reappointed into office despite Saraki’s attempt to block it at the Senate; and of course, Gbemisola Saraki, younger sister of Bukola. She had her own rash of posters slapped on every available lamp post and walls along the highway welcoming Mr President.The first indication that there was trouble may well be the incident at Ikokoro, a homestead in Oke Aluko, where Saraki had gone to pay a condolence visit to Yinka Aluko, his former security adviser, who lost his father recently. Having served in that capacity in the state for over 10 years, Aluko was believed to be a Saraki loyalist.
But his refusal to defect with the former governor to APC along with Abdulfatah, governor of Kwara and almost all political office holders in the state, sent shock waves through the political firmament in Ilorin.Saraki’s visit to Aluko, on Sunday of last week, demonstrated just how much of his political fiefdom may way have gone with Aluko. Youths, believed to be hirelings of PDP in the area came out to jeer at the senator’s convoy.Â Strategically positioned at the entry and exit of the area, the mob used the avenue to register anger at what they believe is Saraki’s in defecting.
It took the intervention of Aluko, as gathered, to douse tension by pleading that Saraki be accorded respect as a former governor of state, Senator and scion of the late political sage of Kwara.Were the incident isolated, Saraki may not have worried much. Earlier, as also gathered, Shaba Lafiagi, also a senator from Kwara and a Saraki loyalist who also defected to APC had to endure the humiliation of being pelted with objects by sloganeering youths in Lafiagi, his home town in Kwara.
But what may be more disturbing for Saraki and indeed APC his new party is the purported delegation of some Islamic clerics to the Emir of Ilorin, Zulu Gabari, few days after the visit of President Goodluck Jonathan to Ilorin for a political rally. As gathered, the Muslim clerics had gone to the traditional ruler to register fears over the forthcoming 2015 general election and how tension has been building in the state. Issues were made out of seeming political division in Kwara State in the wake of political defection.
Though not speaking in favour of any party, the clerics asked the emir to prevail on Saraki to manage the situation well so that the legacy of his father could remain intact.The cleric also expressed worries that the political differences between Gbemisola, Saraki’s sister, and the senator, if unresolved may affect the state in terms of attracting federal presence and appointment.
It was learnt that the recent sack of Bolaji Abdullahi, former Minister for Sports, despite his glowing achievements in the ministry was made a case in point at the parley with the emir. It is not clear if the Emir had spoken to Bukola Saraki on the matter.However, keen watchers of the politics of Kwara link the outburst of Saraki earlier in the week to this development. At news conference in Kwara, the Senator had dismissed the recent show of PDP during the rally as nothing.
He further accused the PDP led government of neglecting Kwara State in the scheme of thing.But the worries of the clerics may well be founded, at least on the matter of growing polarization of the body politics in Kwara since Bukola’s defection from the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Rather than have his followers join him in APC, the former governor has had to watched with consternation as the once formidable political structure inherited from his father disintegrate into political factions down to his home front. Gbemisola, the senator’s sister, has since returned to PDP from her brief stay with All Progressives Congress of Nigeria, APCN, under which she contested the governorship election in 2011 and lost.Dele Belgore, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, governorship candidatein the last governorship election, defected to PDP, too, after differences between him and APC, the party ACN fused into, broke down.Also, leading political heavyweights in the state, before now believed to be acolytes of Bukola Saraki’s father, chose to stay back in PDP.
Together, the coalition is now poised to wrest political power from Bukola Saraki’s grasp come 2015.Though not certain if the Emir of Ilorin had made any overtures to the former governor, it was, however gathered that the senator and his estranged sister have met a couple of times at his GRA Residence in Ilorin last week.
Though details of the meetings were not disclosed but knowledgeable sources argue that the Sarakis may be ready to mend fences so that the family can remain intact.But what is not in doubt for others is that Saraki Senior may well be looking out for how best to get out of tight corner. According to this thinking, the recent PDP rally in Kwara attended by President Godluck Jonathan and top PDP big wigs further accentuated the political rift in the state.
The ‘Unity/Freedom Rally,’ as the political convention was tagged andheld at the Metropolitan Square, Asa Dam, Ilorin, shocked opposition elements in the state given the turnout of crowd at the event.According to PDP, Kwara State branch, the state government now under APC with the defection of Abdulfatah, had put up counter measures to ensure that there was big turnout in the rally.Â For instance, as alleged, screening exercise for civil servants in the state coincided with the time of the rally and staff ordered to stay put in the office; APC members were directed to remain in their wards to await largesse from the party.Even Abdulfatah was set to give out a number of taxicabs to road transport workers inside Government House at the time of the rally.
Despite the alleged gimmicks, the rally achieved a massive turnout.What these portend for some analyst is that Saraki would need to touch base more often if he hopes to win the supremacy battle that lies ahead come 2015 general elections.Born with silver spoon and having to inherit a well oiled political machinery built from the scratch by his father, the time for Saraki to prove his mettle as deserving of leading the party machinery is now.
Though some argue that the senator proved his mettle in 2011 when, against his father’s wish that Gbemisola succeeds him as governor, installed the current governor, others pooh-pooh this account as purely a contrived incident meant to give the impression that the senator defeated his own father to wrest political power from him.But in the last one week, the senator is believed to have settled into the actual business of politicking.
After his visit to Aluko, the senator met with several stakeholders in the state One of the groups that Saraki met were the Kwara G32. These are former candidates of the legacy parties that fused into APC. By its composition, two each from each local government areas in Kwara State, the group is believe to be grassroots politicians.The G32 met Saraki over a number of issues.
As learnt, the defection of Dele Begore, governorship candidate of thedefunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN in 2011, had left much of themin confusion. Explaining this Abdulfatai Yakub, Asa Local Government chairmanship aspirant under ACN last year, said that members of the G32 boycotted the local council polls last year in deference to their parties’ directives.
PDP swept the polls as result of this. But with the recent defection of Saraki, Ahmed Abdulfatah, state governor and Saraki’s successor and a large number of political office holders in the state into APC, the G32 members feel shortchanged because, as they fear, the officers would stand better chance of re-emerging as candidates in any future election.”We welcome Saraki and the governor but we also wanted to know our fate in this matter,” said Yakub. The group got assurance from Saraki and now says that they will remain in APC.In Ilorin, the slogan in both PDP and APC is all about change.
Before the near whole sale defection into APC, the opposition party chanted the need to wrest power from the Saraki family, believed to have a strangle hold on the politics of the state.Â Even with Saraki and Abdulfatah’s defection, the slogan is still about change. In PDP, change for the ruling party at the center is about dislodging Saraki dynasty in Kwara politics.
This permutation does not however factor in Gbemisola, who according to indications from the Presidency may soon be appointed as minister.Invariably, whichever way the pendulum swings come 2015, a Saraki will still be at helms of political leadership, whether in PDP or in APC.
This report was prepared by our Political Editor.