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2019 polls: Saraki dynasty in the eye of the storm

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Adeleke Solomon, Ilorin

This is certainly a challenging time for the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki as he grapples to retain his Kwara State stronghold. His opponents in the State of Harmony appear determined to stop his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and all his candidates in the 2019 general elections.

The whiff of quest for change throughout the state could be felt in the air. One could feel and even touch it. It is like a general rebellion against the system people of the state once held in awe.  Senator Bukola Saraki, as the heir to the Saraki political dynasty in the last 16 years, tightly holds the state in his pocket as family heirloom as his late father, the strongman of Kwara politics, Dr. Olusola Saraki, did for more than four decades.

But the resounding cry of “O to ge” (enough is enough) is reverberating across the length and breadth of the state. That cry is on the lips of Kwarans, both young and old, men and women, the educated and the illiterates.

For Bukola, the Senator representing Kwara Central Senatorial District at the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly and a few of his loyalists, especially his old foot soldiers, who still remain in the camp, the general atmosphere of rebellion in the state and in Ilorin, his home town in particular, especially among politicians, could be described as an act of ingratitude by members of the elite, who climbed to the top through the ladder of the Saraki political dynasty and, therefore, want to destroy the ladder.

But for Saraki’s political opponents, most of whom are members of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and other political parties and the general public, the changing time and atmosphere is an indication of a crumbling kingdom and its beneficiaries, which has held the state in the jugular for more than forty years.

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Of course, treachery and cold-blooded political disloyalty and outright war are not strange to the dynasty, as the older Saraki, the late Waziri of Ilorin, had his fair share of these, over which he triumphed on several occasions. He defeated the late Governor Mohammed Alabi Lawal’s bid for second term in 2003 and replaced him with his son, Bukola.

He installed Lawal as the governor in 1999, but when he became a turncoat and stopped following his instructions, Saraki aborted his ambition for another term.

A similar thing happened during the Second Republic in 1983 when he stopped the late Alhaji Adamu Attah’s quest for another term in office. Attah was the governor of the old Kwara State between 1979 and 1983 at the instance of the older Saraki.

Senator Bukola Saraki has also had his share, especially in 2011 when he installed Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, as governor against the wish of his father and that of the entire Saraki’s political family, which rooted for Senator Rukayat Gbemisola Saraki, his younger sister. This plunged Ilorin and the entire state into tension, dividing the residents into camps.

Bukola, of course, had the upper hand, as he defeated his father, deploying the state’s resources to his advantage. The same scenario played out in 2015 when he backed Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed for second term, against the wishes of many in the state.

Saraki presently, however, is facing the toughest political battle of his life, as the 2019 general elections draw closer, going by the groundswell of opposition that is rising to challenge his leadership.

Ilorin, his home base, appears to be where he is facing the toughest opposition as virtually all famous families in the ancient city seem to gang up with one purpose; to wrest power from him. For example, the emergence of Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, as the governorship candidate of the APC, who will square up against Senator Saraki’s anointed candidate, Rasaq Atunwa, reopens power tussle between the Abdulrazaq and Saraki dynasties.

Alhaji Abdulrazaq Ganiyu Folorunsho, SAN, the first lawyer in the whole of Northern region and the father of the APC candidate, was a mortal foe of the late old Saraki, as they belonged to different political parties during their time. Even when they were in the same party like during the Second Republic when they both belonged to the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, they still found themselves in the rival Salake and Saraki camps.

The older Abdulrazaq, who is now in his 90s, saw the late Waziri of Ilorin, as an upstart, who came all the way from Lagos in 1979 to snatch Kwara from him. Abdulrazaq was among the leading political leaders in this part of the old Northern Region with the late Josiah Olawoyin of Offa and Alhaji Suleman Maito of the Ilorin Talakaparapo. While Olawoyin and Suleman Maito belonged to the defunct Action Group, AG, of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Abdulrazaq belonged to the defunct Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, of the Sardauna of Sokoto. Thus he dined and wined with Northern politicians, who saw him as leader of the old Kwara, while Saraki was not even on the radar as far as politics was concerned at the time. But Dr. Saraki upstaged him and others and took over the leadership of the state for a very long time until his demise.

This hostility came to play in 1992, when one of Abdulrasaq’s sons, Dr. Alimi Abdulrasaq, wanted to contest for the governorship of the state. The late Olusola Saraki supported Alhaji Shaaba Lafiagi, a Nupe man from Edu Local Government Area against a son of the Ilorin Emirate like himself. And this further deepened the hostility between the two families as well as between Saraki and other Ilorin elite.

What especially irks most elite in the state is that nobody can aspire to become anything as far as political and public offices are concerned whether at federal, state or local government levels without the approval or endorsement of the Sarakis. As a result of this, many tall ambitions have ended in the cemetry of Saraki’s political empire. One of them was Alhaji Bio Ibrahim, a former Speaker of the state House of Assembly. As an acolyte of the Sarakis, he would have easily emerged as the PDP governorship candidate in 2011, having been in a comfortable lead in the primary election, but was asked to step down by Bukola for the incumbent. This created a gulf between Saraki and Bio Ibrahim.

A similar scenario occurred last year during PDP’s primary to pick the candidate for the 2019 governorship election. Mallam Bolaji Abdulahi and others were put under pressure to leave the stage for Atunwa, the anointed candidate of the Senate president.

Although Governor Ahmed has not openly shown any act of disloyalty against his boss for stopping his senatorial ambition after his tenure expires on May 29, feelers from the governor’s political supporters revealed that he was not happy with the development. The ticket to the Senate for the Kwara South was taken away from the governor by political leaders in the state, following the loss of Ekiti, Oke Ero, Irepodun Federal Constituency election to the APC late last year.

This caused a lot of psychological pain for the PDP and, therefore, Governor Ahmed had to be punished, as the loss indicated he had not done much for his people in Kwara South. The ticket was given to Rafiu Ibrahim, the incumbent senator, representing the senatorial district. Ibrahim is a diehard Saraki loyalist.

As things stand today, many of the popular foot soldiers of Saraki are now in the opposition.  They include Moshood Mustapha, a former legislative aide of the Senate president and member, House of Representatives and two-time commissioner in the state; Alhaji Ganiyu Olodo, former chief of staff in Government House when Saraki was governor and two-time commissioner; Alhaji Abdulraheem Adedoyin, a two-time commissioner under Bukola, as governor and also former media aide to Governor Ahmed; Chief Joel Ogundeji, former deputy governor under the senate president as well as Mr. Ben Duntoye and Dr. Bola Olaosebikan, who were commissioners under Saraki, among others.

However, Saraki’s supporters are not taking it kindly with the growing opposition against their leader. They have been doing everything possible to maintain the status quo and keep the dynasty intact.

But, this is generating tension across the state. Palpable fear currently envelopes Ilorin, with the recent attack by hoodlums suspected to be supporters of the APC, on the Agbaji ancestral home of the Senate president. This was believed to be a reprisal attack, as supporters of the PDP had allegedly attacked APC’s Abdulrazaq earlier.

Abdulrazaq had stormed Ilorin early last week with a large crowd of supporters to kickstart his campaign. The campaign train snaked through the heartbeats of Ilorin, such as Oja Oba, Pakata, Ode Afanda, Omoda, Alore, Oke Kura, Agbaji, among others. But PDP supporters, especially loyalists of the Senate president felt that the APC went too far by taking the campaign train to Agbaji, which they believed should be exclusively controlled by Saraki, being his ancestral home. Thus they attacked the campaign train at Ode Afanda.

Saraki’s supporters, especially residents of Agbaji, felt affronted by the posters of Abdulrazaq, adorning the Aiyelabegan’s compound, one of the compounds within the expansive Agbaji Quarter. They attacked and barricaded the compound, preventing both residents and visitors from going out and coming in.

In an interview with The Nigerian Xpress, the Magaji of Aiyelabegan compound, Alhaji Umar Oba Aiyelabegan, said it was his fundamental rights to support any political party of his choice, even as he appealed to the state Police Command and the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari to call Saraki’s supporters to order.

Alhaji Aiyelabegan is believed to be a supporter of APC and its governorship candidate. This was apparently the reason his compound was attacked.

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The attack on Agbaji Quarter was allegedly carried out by about 500 hoodlums. They reportedly shot indiscriminately into the air. Twenty-four persons were allegedly injured and 58 vehicles damaged in the attack. The victims of the attack were taken to the Ilorin General Hospital.

The attackers were APC supporters, according to the National President of Agbaji Development Association, Alhaji Musa Olanrewaju Yusuf, who alleged in a chat with The Nigerian Xpress that the caps and APC logos and symbols they put on gave them away, adding that they were also chanting ‘O to ge’ (It’s enough).

Corroborating him, the Chief Imam of Agbaji, Sheikh Aminulahi Tantolohun, who described what the APC supporters did as a sacrilege, said they took politics too far.

“Anyway, if they think it is by attacking one of the sacred quarters of Islam in Ilorin that will win the hearts of the residents of Agbaji or even that of the entire Ilorin for their party, I want to tell them they are mistaken. Nobody can take Agbaji from Saraki and nobody should bring any other party except the one endorsed by Bukola Saraki into Agbaji. We are going to resist any encroachment into the domains that exclusively belongs to Saraki,” he said.

The Senate president was on a campaign tour in Erin-Ile when he was alerted that Agbaji had been attacked.

Earlier in the week, he raised the alarm that his life and that of his immediate families and supporters were in danger.

Presently, street rallies have been banned by the state government.

APC has, however, rejected the ban, saying the governor did not have theconstitutional power to ban street rallies. They asserted further that the action of the governor violated citizens’ fundamental human rights while the state Police Command through its Public Relations Officer, Ajayi Okasanmi, a deputy superintendent of police, DSP, said it had become mandatory for political parties to apply for police permit 48 hours before any public campaign or rally could be embarked upon.

Political parties have also signed a peace accord with the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, to enthrone peace and order.

How the 2019 elections, especially the governorship election will eventually turn out in Kwara is not yet clear given the fact that politics is very difficult to predict, even despite the prevailing atmosphere of quest for change. It is, however, crystal clear that the Saraki political dynasty in Kwara is in the eye of the storm