That Kwara State has become a political furnace of sorts for political parties is no longer news. As the country awaits the rescheduled general elections, the battle for the soul of the state is generating huge interest, both from federal gladiators and the average residents and indigenes. There are many sides to the brewing contest.
For the first time in decades, for instance, the political dynasty of incumbent Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has been tasked and stressed beyond the ordinary. One aspect of the battle for him is how to retain the political and governance structures. This has made the battle much more demanding, fiercer and difficult for the acclaimed strong man of Kwara politics.
Moreover, Saraki is battling to retain his Kwara Central Senatorial seat, as well as the governorship, which the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) is desperate to take from his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The O to ge mantra of opposition APC semantically implies ‘enough is enough’. Politically, it is a metaphor rejecting the monopolistic political leadership of the Saraki dynasty in the state.
Conversely, the O tun ya mantra of PDP in the staple means continuity and, it politically implies sustaining the hegemonic leadership of the Saraki dynasty. The state’s three senatorial districts are divided along these tendencies.
Battle for the Senate
Saraki, who represents Kwara Central Senatorial District in the Senate, is employing all known political strategies at his disposal to retain the seat, while the opposition APC’s Yahaya Oloriegbe is warming up with the popular O to ge mantra. Oloriegebe is also depending on the combined support of the federal forces through Lai Mohammed and Adams Oshiomole to dislodge the incumbent Saraki.
On this, Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media and Publicity Matters, Mr. Yussuf Olaniyonu, told The Guardian that the opposition candidate, Oloriegbe, is a product of the Saraki dynasty, and could not match the generosity, political structure and wide acceptability of the former governor of Kwara State, who, as Olaniyonu claimed, had developed not only the state but also the people and many politicians.He argued that the opposition party’s claim that Saraki’s leadership is enough has not got a viable alternative to his boss’ leadership, because they have not explained what they would do to develop the state and his people.
Kwara Central Senatorial District, going by the usual patterns, has the largest voting strength in the state. It is made up of Ilorin West, East, South and Asa local government areas. Of these four local governments, Ilorin-West has the largest voting strength, followed by Ilorin-East. In these two, Saraki holds sway politically. Saraki, like his father and the late Lamidi Adedibu of Oyo State, has adopted a strategy that maintains an army of economically impoverished but politically mobilised aged women and men, who would go the extra mile to vote for him.
Olaniyonu claimed that those clamouring for the continuity of Saraki leadership have a point in the empowerment of the downtrodden in and out of the political seasons, saying Saraki’s opponent is an opportunist riding on the wing of envy.Views of some elite who are conversant with the political terrain support the possibility of a return of Saraki to the Senate on the ground of well-oiled voting machinery in place at the senatorial level. However, the opposition candidate is optimistic that the popular mantra of ‘enough is enough’ would automatically work against the incumbent, and that the federal support would coast him home to victory.
The gubernatorial front
THE real and most fierce battle, which is the soul of the state, is the gubernatorial election. The mantra of rejection is very vibrant in Kwara South Senatorial District. The district compromises seven local government areas of Offa, Oyun, Irepodun, Ifelodun, Oke-ero, and Ekiti. These are core Yoruba-speaking areas, which have felt marginalised in the scheme of politics for several years.
Historically, Offa people have always been in opposition at the state level. And this time, coupled with the bitterness of the controversial but bloody Offa robbery in early 2018, the voice of opposition has become very loud and clear.
In the Kwara Central, which covers mainly the metropolis and its suburbs, a great number of non-indigenes, residents and Christians are in the forefront of the O to ge mantra, which they pursue with gusto.In Kwara North, with five local governments of Moro, Edu, Patigi, Kaiama and Barutin, which are mainly Muslim ethnic minorities of Tapa people and Baruba, the political influence of the Sarakis is dramatically waning. The infrastructures in the agrarian communities are scanty and deplorable, with a build up of feelings of marginalisation.For the governorship, Kwara South and North Senatorial Districts appear to be on the same page, strongly desiring a change from Saraki’s lordship.
However, as confirmed to journalists by the PDP governorship candidate, Atunwa, Saraki’s strategy of winning Kwara North to his side includes an accord to shift the governorship slot to the district by 2023, implying that Atunwa would spend only one term in office and the district would produce the governor by then. Will this accord ensure victory, and if it does, will it go as agreed? Time will tell.
The taciturn APC candidate, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, has federal might behind his ambition as the federal forces seem determined to uproot Saraki’s leadership in the state. This comes off as a three-sided political battle that involves the people, the Sarakis/their supporters and the federal forces. And it is becoming complicated and fiercer.
While explaining the genesis of the O to ge movement, media aid to the APC candidate, Mr. Rafiu Ajakaye, said the mantra is self-explanatory for anyone who has followed the socioeconomic and political trajectory of Kwara State. He said: “The state has consistently regressed in human capital and physical development while the discredited political dynasty has sought to violently suppress any voice that rejects the lamentable status quo.
“While there is hardly any new development across the state, the few physical infrastructure that existed before 2003 when the current Leviathan came on board has collapsed while any new projects funded from the public till have been converted to private ownership in very dubious manner.’’Thousands of youths, he said, have become drug addicts and political thugs as a result of the current system, adding that ‘’those who resisted being used as pawns are deliberately being schemed out of relevance. Kwara civil servants are being enslaved. Protests against their ill-treatment attracts dismissal or severe punishment.
“Things have never been so bad and our people have never been so tired of the discredited dynasty. They are saying they have had enough, hence the term O to ge, which means ‘enough is enough’.”
Battle for the presidency
The presidential contest in the state will most likely go along the same pattern as the senatorial and governorship elections. But with the political atmospherics in the state and national dynamics, it is becoming unpredictable.The Igbo community in the state would most likely vote for PDP, while the voices representing the change mantra would line up behind APC. Some Nigerians say they are tired of APC leadership on the grounds of extreme poverty in the country, insecurity and increasing army of unemployed people.While the battle rages between the two major political parties for the presidential, National Assembly, gubernatorial and state assembly seats, analysts say it is difficult to predict a winner, if it is not going to be a pyrrhic victory.