Kola Shittu did not match the picture the reporter expected to see. It was the second day of the new year and the Kwara State chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was calm and all smiles as he ushered party officials into and out of his office in his expansive home in the old GRA, Ilorin.
Could Mr Shittu be unaware of the higher-than-usual excitement in the state over the coming general elections, driven by the resurgence of the opposition in the state? At street junctions and on almost every wall in Ilorin, even around Mr Shittu’s house, bright billboards and posters screamed the message: Oto Ge! meaning “Enough is Enough” in Yoruba.
It is the battle cry of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and it is echoing even in the most unexpected places in Ilorin and other parts of Kwara. It refers to the long dominance of the politics of the 51-year-old state by the Saraki family.
“Place a table by the roadside anywhere in Ilorin, shout Oto Ge! and see the reaction of people,” Iyiola Oyedepo told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Oyedepo was the state chairman of the PDP until last July when he fled to the APC to avoid sharing the same camp with Bukola Saraki, the Senate president.
Mr Saraki, the current “leader” of the Saraki political family, had that month made a grand return to the PDP from the APC, followed by the state governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, and all the elected office holders from the state.
When Mr Saraki moved from the PDP in a similar fashion in 2014, he flipped the state to the APC, which went on to win every election there in 2015. But Mr Oyedepo said the tide has turned.
“The people are resolute that enough is enough and you can feel it in the air everywhere in Kwara,” he said.
Ilorin on knife’s edge
Two recent events in the state give an indication of a changing political canvass.
Usually on Christmas Day, the predominantly Muslim indigenes gathered under their umbrella, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union at the palace of their revered emir. At the gathering, they would raise fund for the development of the emirate and review public issues that affect the people within and outside Kwara. It was a key event in the socio-political calendar of the people and everyone turned up gaily dressed. In 2017, the Senate President as the chief donor announced a donation of N10 million.
At the event, however, last December, the unusual happened. As Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, the APC governorship candidate, was called to the podium, a band of rednecks sprang to their feet chanting “Sai Bukky,” the slogan of supporters of the Senate President in the state. They were immediately countered with chants of “Oto Ge!”
The ensuing commotion overwhelmed the organisers who called an end to the event after the emir, Sulu-Gambari, hurried out of the scene in embarrassment. The next day, the president of the IEDPU announced his resignation.
The PDP supporters accused the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, of orchestrating the tumult at the event, alleging it was the reason he had the NTA broadcast the event live.
Mr Mohammed, an indigene of Oro about 100 kilometres away in the southern senatorial district of the state, denied the allegation. He said he had no foreknowledge of the event and could not have arranged its coverage by national television. Still, it was significant that a group would stand toe to toe against Mr Saraki’s supporters at such a grand event in the very heart of Ilorin, his hometown.
The Sarakis control the politics of Kwara from their political fortress in Ilorin and buttress their hold by using it for negotiation at the federal level. This means that they not only control the resources of the state, but also those accruing from Abuja, including political and public service appointments.
The emirate, covering the entirety of Kwara Central Senatorial District and a small part of Kwara North, has about 55 per cent of the voting population of the state.
Because the Sarakis have always enjoyed solid support in Ilorin, other parts of the state consider it politically suicidal to stand against them in the Nigerian winner takes all politics where 50.01 percent is equal to 100 percent. Thus, any support the Sarakis draw from outside their home fortress has been based on the pragmatism of the giver. A substantial erosion of the support in Ilorin is thus nunc dimitis to the hegemony.
But in the last eight years, Mr Saraki has faced a rising opposition in Ilorin, indicated especially by the desertion of key allies. Some of these include Gani Cook-Olododo, Yinka Aluko and Moshood Mustapha who served him either as chief of staff, commissioner or special adviser when he was governor and were commanders of the foot soldiers at elections.
Abdulraheem Oba, a professor and former vice chancellor of the University of Ilorin, is also an influential indigene of Ilorin who has deserted the Saraki camp. Other young Turks never beholden to the Sarakis are also emerging and marking out turfs across the emirate. The fact is that Mr Saraki has not managed to win the adulation his father enjoyed among the Ilorin people.
In other parts of Kwara too, many old allies have jumped ship. Many of these are in Kwara South, but there are prominent cases like Ibrahim Bio, a former member of the House of Representatives, speaker of the State House of Assembly and minister; and Ahmed Ahmed, a former senator from Kwara North.