FROM ADELEKE GBENGA
An internal crisis is currently rocking the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Kwara State. The political party just took over the mantle of leadership from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and in the process, dismantled the long standing Olusola Saraki’s dynasty in the state. And if the internal crisis is allowed to fester and not well managed, it might finally tear the party apart and send the members to their previous different political groups, where they were before coming together to form APC, the platform they used to dislodge the Saraki’s dynasty.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the immediate past information and culture minister’s leadership of the party in the state is currently threatened, particularly by the Ilorin indigenes, who perceived that his overbearing influence within the party and the state is a threat to their control of the state.
Mohammed, as a former minister, who is most likely going to retain his post, was the most prominent indigene of the state at the federal level under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. But the people of Ilorin Emirate comprising Ilorin West, Ilorin East, Ilorin South and Asa Local Government Areas felt that he has not been representing the interests of the state very well, especially the interests of the Emirate. They are therefore seriously lobbying at the right quarters to prevent his re-appointment as minister to represent the state in President Buhari’s new cabinet. They felt somebody from the Emirate would represent Kwara better.
As such, members of the party, who appeared cohesive before the general elections, now look like strange bell fellows immediately after its gubernatorial candidate, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq won. The governor is from Ilorin West. The crisis engulfing the party is as a result of the struggle by different tendencies to control its soul.
Members now align with different ethnic groups to get something from the party or from the newly inaugurated government.
The different old tendencies within the party to which members have gone back to, due to this internal crisis and for strategic reason, according to a source in the party, who spoke with The Nigerian Xpress are; Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. This was Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s former political party to which prominent members of APC like Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, Lai Mohammed and Alhaji Bashiru Omolaja Bolarinwa, the party’s state chairman belong. Other prominent members of the APC that belong to ACN are Architect Lola Ashiru, Dr. Rex Olaoye, Alhaji Yekini Alajagusi, Femi Yusuf and Saidi Popoola among others.
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The other tendencies that fused to form APC was the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, of President Buhari, to which the newly inaugurated governor belonged before he crossed to the faction of the PDP, different from the Bukola Saraki’s groups. That was before Saraki and his groups abandoned PDP during the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure to join APC.
Other old tendencies in APC were the aggrieved members of the PDP and former Saraki’s prominent loyalists like Mashood Mustapha, Ganiyu Cook Olododo, Raheem Adedoyin and Senator Rukayat Gbemisola Saraki.
We also have former PDP members, who were not disposed to Saraki’s brand of politics, like Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe, the senator-elect, who defeated the senate president in Kwara Central Senatorial District and Professor Oba Abubakar, the immediate past chairman of the Federal Character Commission and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin and Lukuman Mustapha, the proprietor of Sobi FM Station, which was deployed to mobilise Kwarans against the administration of former Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed and Senator Saraki. The list also includes a prominent political figure in Ilorin, Alhaji LAK Jimoh, who is a mortal foe of the Saraki’s dynasty and the youth leader, Comrade Musibau Esinrogunjo among others.
These different Ilorin elements within the party, according to The Nigerian Xpress source, have regrouped under ethnic banner to hijack and control the governor ahead of the constitution of a cabinet for the new government.
Some members of these groups from the Ilorin Emirate have been lobbying Aso Rock not to re-appoint Alhaji Mohammed as minister to represent the state. Senator Rukayat Gbemisola Saraki was reported to be the arrowhead of these groups.
Surprisingly last week, a political group from Kwara South, the senatorial district of the former minister, which described itself as “APC Kwara South Elders’ Forum”, launched a media attack on Alhaji Lai Mohammed, condemning his leadership of the party in the state. The group accused Alhaji Mohammed of being selfish and self-centred, who ignored the feelings of members. It alleged that the former minister diverted funds meant for the party in the state for his private use.
The group said: “How many indigenes of the state did he help to get employment at the federal level or helped in one way or the other when he was a minister? It then called on President Buhari not to re-appoint him as a minister, saying he could not represent Kwara well.
In fact, it has long been expected that a war was looming between the Igbomina, the minister’s ethnic group and the Ilorin Emirate. And to put paid to this fear, an ethnic group that described itself as “Egbe Omo Ibile Igbomina” attacked the APC Kwara South Elders’ Forum and alleged that it was being sponsored by a prominent Ilorin politician.
Its spokesperson, Comrade Ola Martin denounced the APC Kwara South Forum and dissociated the APC Kwara South and the entire Kwara South and Igbomina from the activity of the Elders’ Forum.
It pledged the support and loyalty of the APC in Kwara South and the Igbomina to the leadership of Alhaji Mohammed, even as he listed numerous assistance the former minister gave to members of the party in Kwara South, the Igbominaland and Kwara State.
It also passed a vote of confidence on Mohammed, insisting that he has represented Kwara State very well before it appealed to the President to re-appoint him.
That same week, Femi Yusuf, a strong member of the Otoge movement and APC member from Kwara South came on Royal FM to denounce the APC Kwara South Elders’ Forum, describing them as renegades not known in their constituencies. He also reiterated the support and loyalty of the APC in Kwara South and Kwara State to the leadership of Alhaji Mohammed.
But, to members of the party from Ilorin, Alhaji Mohammed is an opportunist, who wanted to reap where he did not sow. They believed he is a Lagos based politician, who has not invested in Igbomina politics, let alone the entire Kwara State.
A prominent member of the party from Ilorin, who was a contender in the last governorship primary and a Saraki’s former loyalist and aide said: “Can you compare his leadership with that of the Sarakis? Can Alhaji Lai Mohammed provide the kind of rallying point the Sarakis, in spite of their errors and mistakes provided for the PDP or APC when they were in APC or any political party in which they find themselves? “This is leadership with loyal members across the state irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations. I am no longer a member of the group.
“‘But please give it to the leader, Senator Bukola Saraki in spite of his weaknesses for which Kwarans punished him and his groups, he was able to provide effective leadership with cohesive members who are loyal to the system. Saraki has strong political organisation that is like movement.
“There is no community in the sixteen local governments in Kwara State where the Sarakis don’t have loyal and committed members. Does Alhaji Lai Mohammed have a similar movement or even political organisation that cuts across ethnic or religious groups? If he doesn’t, why is he parading himself as APC leader in Kwara? In the absence of a central leadership, the kind the Sarakis provided, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq remains the APC leader in Kwara State.”
The source, who did not want his name mentioned said Alhaji Mohammed was not popular in his Oro community and Kwara South given the past voting records of the area, saying he only wanted to assume the APC leadership by virtue of being a minister.
But the 12th Annual Ramadan lecture sponsored by Alhaji Mohammed at his Oro country home on May18 disputed this, with the crowd of people from Oro and other communities in Kwara South that attended the event. The religious event that turned to political gathering was colorful with prominent members of the party from that axis of the state in attendance.
Many prominent members of the party from Kwara Central (Ilorin) and Kwara North, however did not attend, including Governor Abdulrasaq whom this reporter learnt, was specially invited and with assurances from him to grace the occasion. This was with the exception of Alhaji LAK Jimoh and Professor Oba Abubakar from Ilorin who attended the occasion.
“This shows the popularity of Alhaji Lai Mohammed in his immediate community and Kwara South. And this has put to rest the wrong perceptions of these few Ilorin politicians that Alhaji Lai Mohammed is not popular in Kwara South,” a senior staff of the Industrial Training Fund, ITF, in the state, who did not want his name to be mentioned because he is a civil servant told The Nigerian Xpress
The question now on the lips of many party members and residents of the state is; who between Governor Abdulrasaq and Alhaji Mohammed is the defacto leader of the party in the state?
And invariably, who will nominate candidates for federal appointments for the state?
Although, Alhaji Bolarinwa is the official and dejure leader, but given the political arrangement in Nigeria under the current dispensation since 1999, there has always been some influential figures, short of godfathers, who pull the strings from the backgrounds. They control the levers of the party, while they leave governance to their cronies.
For example, this kind of political arrangements recently played out in Lagos State where Tinubu, the godfather of Lagos politics, influenced the party machinery to deny the former governor, Akinwumi Ambode the APC ticket for second term.
It also occurred in Kwara State under the immediate past dispensation where Senator Bukola Saraki, used the party’s machinery to deny the former Governor Ahmed the party’s ticket to the Senate.
In the recent past in the state, Senator Saraki was the political leader, although, that position should automatically be filled by the governor.
Things may, however, be apparently different under Governor Abdulrasaq because at the moment, he does not appear to have godfathers. His emergence as the candidate of the APC before going on to win the election was devoid of any string backing from powerful individuals. He was thrown up by forces bent on dismantling the Saraki’s dynasty.
This is the reason he may not submit to any political control or demands from any personality no matter how influential such personality is, according to one of his media aides who did not want his name mentioned.
“After he emerged as the APC governorship candidate for instance, there was pressure from a prominent party member who is an indigene of Kwara State and a minister who believed he played a major role in his emergence, to choose a certain prominent politician as his running mate.
“Obviously, this politician is this minister’s candidate but Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq felt that the said politician is too controversial for his liking. More so he may be too difficult to control because he is a prominent and influential politician from Kwara South.
“To avoid a situation in which we will have two bosses in a vehicle that will serve as distraction to His Excellency, Alhaji Abdulrasaq simply rejected this minister’s choice and chose somebody he felt he could work with. That was the reason he didn’t choose a politician but rather chose a businessman, Mr. Kayode Alabi like himself,” the media aide said.
The Nigerian Xpress also gathered through a senior aide to Alhaji Mohammed that Governor Abdulrasaq has been keeping the former minister at arm’s length since his emergence as governor despite the latter’s contribution to his success at the poll. This, perhaps, explains the reason the governor didn’t grace the Ramadan lecture, even when he had given his words that he would attend.
He disclosed further that the former minister was informed that immediately Governor Abdulrasaq defeated his opponent, Abdulrasaq Atunwa of the PDP, the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, convened a meeting at his palace where he settled the rift between the then governor-elect and Professor Oba Abubakar, who also contested for the APC’s ticket.
Professor Abubakar, who displayed his anger at the APC leadership in the state by staying away from all the party’s campaign rallies was placated by the traditional ruler and the Ilorin Emirate Council to work with the governor-elect to protect the Emirate’s interests in the new government, which they felt was under a threat from the Igbomina’s ascendancy in the APC.
Another reason the Ilorin Emirate seems not to be too comfortable with the Lai Mohammed’s leadership and their lack of trust in him is the face-off between the former minister and the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, Mallam Isaq Modobbo Kawu, an Emirate indigene, over payment for digital switch over contracts.
It was alleged that Alhaji Mohammed was working for the removal of Mallam Modibbo Kawu to pave way for Mr. Dele Alake, a protégé of Tinubu, who was said to be originally penciled down for the job before it fell on Kawu’s lap.
Dele Alake was a commissioner under Tinubu when he was Lagos State Governor, while Alhaji Mohammed was his Chief of Staff.
Another allegation levelled against the former minister by the Ilorin interests is that he actually worked against the emergence of an Ilorin man during APC primary. Alhaji Abdulrasaq’s emergence, according to some people, was only an act of fate. This conviction consequently deepened the animosity of the Ilorin people against the former minister, believing he couldn’t sincerely and fairly represent the Emirate’s and the state’s interests at the federal level.
The aide to the former minister confirmed to The Nigerian Xpress that Alhaji Mohammed indeed worked for the emergence of a candidate from Kwara North for the governorship ticket to ensure fairness and equity as that zone has suffered neglect for many years.
The former minister, according to the aide felt, that it will be unfair and against equity for Kwara Central (Ilorin Emirate) to produce another governor so soon, having produced two governors in late Mohammed Alabi Lawal and Senator Bukola Saraki between 1999-2007, while Abdulfatah Ahmed from Kwara South just finished his second term, with Kwara North having produced none.
But Ilorin indigenes believed they have the winning vote because of their numerical strength, and therefore should always call the shot.
Another incidence that is exposing the absence of central leadership or lack of it in the party is the silence over which of the three senatorial districts should produce the Speaker of the state House of Assembly.
Kwara Central produced the governor, while the deputy governor is the South. Therefore, for equity and fairness and in line with the rotational principle of the party, the north should produce the speaker.
However, a few members of the House would have none of this. One of them is Hon. Saidi Popoola from Ojomu-Esa in Kwara South, who is the longest serving member of the House and who also has thrown his hat into the ring to contest for the Speakership.
Popoola claimed that his decision was in line with the long standing tradition and rules of the House that reserves the post for the longest serving members.
And, the north is also mobilising stakeholders within the party to prevent the post from being hijacked from them, setting the stage for an interesting contest.
Political analysts, who spoke to The Nigerian Xpress, said the emerging crisis between the Igbomina and Ilorin is a reflection of the old conflict between the two ethnic groups.
“It is about the struggle for the soul of the state between the two ethnic groups. There is so much at stake in the conflict. As the events unfold in the days ahead, many things will come out to determine the direction in which Kwara State is headed. This is expected if you look at the crisis from the larger context.
“Nigeria has not been this divided along ethnic and religious lines in its history until under the current dispensation. Everybody needs one form of identity or the other to get something done or to be protected in Nigeria.
“You should also remember that these people, the Ilorins and the Igbominas belong to different political traditions. It was only the circumstances beyond their control that brought them together. This is what is currently playing out in Kwara. It happens everywhere in Nigeria,” one of them said.
With the assumption of office by Governor Abdulrasaq as the 8th governor of the state, party faithful are waiting to see whether he will eventually assert himself as the authentic leader and how Alhaji Mohammed will receive this or whether he will allow the former minister to have his way.
The days ahead will reveal the direction the party will take.