A Dynasty in Trouble


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Newswatch (Lagos)

March 31, 2003
Posted to the web March 31, 2003

Favour Ojiabor

Emergence of Bukola and Gbemisola, two of Olusola Saraki's children as governorship and senatorial candidates pitches the family against PDP chieftain in the state

Bukola Saraki, first son of Olusola Saraki and gubernatorial candidate under the platform of People's Democratic Party, PDP, in Kwara State is finding his journey to Government House in Ilorin , an uphill task. A number of PDP leaders in the state are angry with him and are working for his defeat at the polls.

The rival party, ANPP, is also in deep rivalry with the PDP candidate. Mohammed Lawal, its governorship candidate has been engaged in a political battle with the Saraki family. The political feud has escalated and has become a notorious political war zone. The Bukola Saraki's problem started with the manner of his emergence as candidate of PDP. Six out of the seven gubernatorial aspirants who lost to him in the primaries as well as stakeholders of the party refused to endorse his election , alleging that he was imposed on them. . Abdulkareem Adisa, a retired general and one of the pillars of PDP in Kwara, described the idea of Saraki winning the April gubernatorial election as a tall dream. "How do you expect an imposed candidate to win the election. You see, I'm a soldier. I must say the truth. Highest, they expel me from the party. Bukola was imposed on us by his father and with help from Abuja . The whole thing was manipulated as the authentic candidates were not allowed to vote during the primaries," Adisa said. He criticised the role plalyed by what he called " Abuja king-makers of PDP with the exception of Audu Ogbeh," alleging that the PDP leaders in Abuja sacrificed the authentic PDP members in the state to please Saraki who, is not even a member of the party. The retired general told Newswatch that the people of Kwara were against Bukola becoming the next governor of the state because it would amount to enthroning the Saraki dynasty in the state. Explaining further, he said the people of Kwara would not be happy to vote for the two children of Olusola Saraki Bukola as governor, and Gbemisola into Senate, after serving their father for more than 36 years. "Are they the only people in Kwara?" Adisa queried.

A top official of the party who does not want his name mentioned told Newswatch in Ilorin , capital of the state, last week, that although PDP secured 33 percent of the total votes cast in the 1999 gubernatorial election, it would find it difficult to secure five percent now. He confirmed that it was true that the national leadership of PDP aligned with Saraki to manipulate the state primary elections and party machinery in favour of Saraki. He summed up his grievances thus: "Irrespective of my position in the Party, I don't even know what is going on in the party. In July last year, Saraki joined the party and we were happy because we considered him an asset. But now he has destabilised the party by imposing candidates and running parallel executive in the state."

Newswatch was told that there are two factions of PDP in Kwara State . One is referred to as Baba Gunu faction and, consists of those who formed PDP in the state before Saraki joined them. The second is Saraki's faction made up of those who came with him from ANPP. As a prelude to the imposition of his son on the party, Saraki was said to have influenced the removal of the chairman and all key party executives and later installed his candidates as replacements. The displaced members were said to have petitioned the national leadership of the party which worsened the matter by accepting Saraki's candidates as the authentic state party executives.

Newswatch learnt that PDP executive members from the Baba Gunu's faction had long been driven out of the state party secretariat. When Newswatch met some of them in Ilorin , they were holding a secret meeting in one of the gubernatorial aspirant's house where new structures were being put in place to serve as their new office.

Decrying the negative impact this might have on the party in the coming elections, the official who spoke to Newswatch said they had earlier perfected plans to field a consensus candidate in the person of John Dara from Kwara South with L.A.K. Jimoh from the north as his running mate. The strategy was meant, to get the two senatorial districts sympathy and thus vote for PDP. Both Saraki and Lawal are from Kwara central senatorial district. The North and the South senatorial districts are aggrieved and ready to vote for candidates from their zone.

Newswatch investigation showed that the aggrieved party members, especially the gubernatorial and senatorial aspirants, have already teamed up and were secretly working against Bukola's victory at the polls. The aggrieved party gubernatorial aspirants include Shaaba Lafiagi, L.A.K Jimoh, Yerima Abdullahi, John Dara and Ayinla Folorunsho and many party chieftains who formed PDP in 1999 and their supporters were said to have gone into serious negotiation with both Lawal and Lai Mohammed, the Alliance for Democracy, AD, gubernatorial candidate. Kunle Suleiman, a lawyer and first PDP state chairman, vowed to engage in anti-party activities, including spending his money to ensure that PDP lost Kwara State . Sulieman, who lost Kwara central senatorial district to Gbemisola Saraki, Olusola's daughter, said he spent one million naira to purchase PDP's senatorial nomination ticket.

He said, he had been declared winner and even congratulated in the presence of INEC, SSS, party agents and police after the primary election but was dropped in favour of Saraki's daughter. "I was shocked to hear Gbemisola's name announced as having been returned unopposed. My annoyance is that they were not decent about the whole thing. They would have scored me one vote and Gbemisola two million votes than say that she was returned unopposed. Does it mean I am insignificant? And what about my one million naira?" In an emotion- laden voice, he told Newswatch that it was saddening to see the mess perpetrated in PDP, which prominent Kwara politicians laboured in 1999 and won 33 percent of the total votes cast in the gubernatorial election in the state. Saraki, then in ANPP teamed up with Lawal to win 48 percent while AD got 17 percent. A comprehensive result of 1998/1999 gubernatorial election in Kwara State in possession of Newswatch showed that PDP scored 194,977, ANPP 293,136, and AD 110,227 of the total votes cast.

But Abubarka Belgore, director-general of Bukola Campaign Organisation, refuted all the allegations against Saraki by the aggrieved members of PDP. He told Newswatch that Saraki did not impose his son on PDP. He stated that "the fact that Saraki has been on ground for awhile was responsible for the electorate preference of his son to the others. You know he is our leader and people will always identify with him irrespective of which party he joins." Belgore referred to the aggrieved party members as disgruntled elements who are just out to whip up sentiment, adding that, "it was the elders of the party that begged Oloye, popular title for Olusola Saraki to release his son for gubernatorial election in the first place." He said it was this type of allegation that made the national secretariat of PDP to conduct the primaries twice and Bukola won in both . He also debunked the allegation that delegates were not allowed to vote during the primaries. Belgore insisted that there was no manipulation and pointed out that Yekini Alabi, one of the gubernatorial aspirants, would not have been at the fund-raising dinner for Bukola if the election were manipulated in favour of Bukola. He said he was optimistic that Bukola would win the April polls. Belgore also defended the choice of Saraki's daughter as candidate for the Senate. He said that Gbemisola's laudable contributions as a member of the House of Representatives made Kwara people to ask her to go for Senate. He likened the situation to the situation in USA where George and Jeb Bush, president and governor, respectively are from the same parents, arguing that it is a proof that Saraki brought up his children very well.

The ugly development in PDP, has brightened the chances of either Governor Lawal or Mohammed winning the state. Since the crack in PDP blew open, opinions are swinging in favour of the other parties. Cornellius Adebayo, former governor of the state, believes that "PDP cannot be the choice in Kwara State as presently constituted." He said "the PDP we have now is not PDP as conceived." Adebayo described Kwara State PDP as one half of the ANPP, which is ruling. According to him, those who were in PDP before Saraki joined "have been screened out of the place. So it is one disgruntled half of ANPP that has turned into PDP in Kwara State and cannot make a difference."

A businessman and an indigene of the state who does not want his name mentioned thinks that the spate of animosity in PDP has rather increased Governor Lawal's chances of clinching power to 60 percent while AD has 40 percent chance . According to him, PDP cannot win because "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

Many supporters of the governor are seeing the current problem in PDP as a welcome development. Jonathan Aguiyi, secretary to NGO in the state, said Governor Lawal "performed incredibly well and deserves a second term. When PDP was strategising how to clinch power I felt for Lawal because they would have conveniently done that if not for the crisis." He is optimistic that the joint efforts of the aggrieved members of PDP who were now negotiating with the governor put together with his numerous supporters would give him easy ride to victory at the polls. Suleiman corroborated Aguiyi when asked to assess the governor by saying, "I cannot assess the governor because he might even be the one I will vote for."

For Abdulrasaq Jimoh, president of Educated Youths in Kwara Politics, which cuts across all the zones in the state, it is either Lawal or no other. He told Newswatch that they are supporting Lawal because of the changes he brought to Kwara during his tenure, contributions he brought since inception of office. Calling Lawal a liberator, he said "Kwara people were in economic and political oppression for 36 years until Lawal. You know Kwara was created when we had 12 states in Nigeria and yet without any significant development. I did not know there was money in Kwara." Jimoh and members of his group are into grassroots campaign for Lawal, sensitising the people on why they should not vote for Bukola. He alleged that Bukola, who had never lived in Kwara could not identify with the sufferings of the ordinary people and as such could not be their governor.

Many political analysts of Kwara politics believe that the main battle is going to be between Lawal and Mohammed. The AD candidate is being rated high because he has large following from the rural people. Adebayo said he is supporting Mohammed because "he is not a career politician but a man with a feeling for the people. Besides, he was born of lowly background and grew up with the rural people which makes him to always identify with their feelings and needs."

Newswatch investigation showed that victory for either, ANPP or AD will depend on whichever wins over the aggrieved members of PDP. As Kwara people are getting ready to go to poll the battle for the soul of Kwara is raging between Governor Lawal and Bukola Saraki. Flexing of muscle between the two have resulted to many attacks and killings in the state. Last year, National Pilot newspaper belonging to Bukola was bombed. In February, his Abuja residence was attacked. Just recently, a team of PDP members who were going for President Olusegun Obasanjo's flag-off campaign in Makurdi was attacked at Ajasse-Ipo and one of them killed. Saraki's camp pointed accusing fingers at Lawal's government and called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the state. But Lawal on the other hand accused Saraki of sponsoring the bombing. The governor, who alleged that there was a plot to assassinate him, believes that the call for state of emergency was uncalled for.

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