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Odd victory, reverse history in Kwara by-election


[FILE PHOTO] Voting in Progress

It was an election billed to end in bitter-sweet experience. The outcome of November 17 bye-election in Kwara State may have come and gone, but it has left a code of reverse history and odd victory.

The election was keenly contested, but while it left the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in euphoria, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in a mournful mood.

That was indeed the first time in recent history of the state’s politics that the political party of choice of the scion of the state’s political structure, Bukola Saraki, would lose an election to the opposing group.

Keeping true to its character as a ‘State of Harmony’, the election was adjudged to be peaceful. 

One observable feature in the build up to the electoral duel was the magnitude of the cooperation among major opposition members against Saraki and pockets of those sympathetic to his continued dominance. 

The development rubbished many a political pundit, with the history of Kwara politics being re-written. Succinctly put, one third of the political enclave of the 51 year-old state is no longer under the firm grip of Saraki and students of his school of bandwagon politics. 

The candidate of APC, Raheem Olawuyi, was declared winner of the Ekiti/Irepodun/Isin/Oke-Ero Federal Constituency by-election held across the four councils of the state.

The Chief Returning Officer, Prof. Abimbola Adesoji, while declaring the result at the Irepodun Local Government Secretariat, Omu-Aran, said Olawuyi polled 21, 236 to defeat his closest rival, Saheed Damilare of PDP, who polled 18, 095.

Adesoji, a staff of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, said Olawuyi, having scored the highest number of votes, was declared winner in the election that involved other contestants such as, Femi Ona-Ara of Labour Party (LP), Ajadi Olayemi of Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN) as well as Olaniyan Ayorinde of Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).

While indicating that the total number of registered voters was 168, 707, Adesoji said the number of accredited voters was 41,185, total valid votes 39,599, with 1, 331 as total number of rejected votes, just as total number of votes cast was 40,930.

The result played out a melodrama in Saraki’s camp, as the leadership hierarchy of the political dynasty could not come to terms with it until about 24 hours after the pronouncement.

The state chairman of PDP, Mr. Mauroof Kola Shittu, mustered the courage to address a press conference at his Ilorin GRA residence, where he condemned the outcome of the poll as unfair and fraudulent. 

Showing visible signs of worry, Shittu, who was supported by the state Publicity Secretary, Mr. Ashaolu, said 20 of their stalwarts were disenfranchised by some security personnel on trumped up allegations and were arrested and detained.

The two PDP state officials canvassed the outright cancellation of the results of the polls just as they threatened legal action to pursue their claims. 

However, state chairman of APC, Bashiru Bolarinwa Omolaja, promptly carpeted the PDP leaders as daydreaming politicians, who are purportedly suffering from delirious ailment called “terrible defeat.”

Similarly, the state APC Publicity Secretary, Aro Tajudeen Folaranmi, likened PDP’s claims to a kissing of the canvass by a former boxing champion, who rather than make an attempt to get up inside the ring, was looking for his lost shin guard prompting a knock out decision against him. 

What political observers in the state found baffling was a claim contained in a statement by a media aide to Saraki, Alhaji Abdullahi Olesin, alleging the support of 15 political parties for Saraki a few hours to the election. 

The statement had said: “15 political parties under the aegis of Congress of Nigeria’s Political Parties (CNPP) on Friday (November 16 2018) announced their resolve to support and work for the candidate of the PDP, Mr. Saheed Alatise, in Saturday’s bye-election into Ekiti/Irepodun/Isin/Oke-Ero Federal Constituency.

“The parties made their intention known at a press conference attended by their chairmen and secretaries in Ilorin, the Kwara state capital.

The parties included, Action Alliance, Progressive Peoples Alliance, United Progressive Party, Green Party of Nigeria, African Peoples Alliance, Alliance for Democracy, Nigerian Elements Progressive Party, Movement for Restoration and Defence of Democracy, Action Peoples Party, Change Advocacy Party, All Progressives Grand Alliance, African Congress of Democrats, Nigeria Peoples Congress, and Reform and Advancement Party.

“They therefore directed their members and supporters in the four local government areas that made up the constituency to cast their votes for the PDP. The Spokesman of the parties, Alhaji Adebayo Lawal, hinged their decision to back PDP on the purposeful leadership the President of the Senate, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, was offering the state.

“Lawal noted with delight the monumental transformation that the state has witnessed between 2003 and now during the period of Saraki as governor of the state as well as the administration of the incumbent Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed.”

He warned Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against giving room for rigging and manipulation of election results in favour of any political party in the poll.

A former PDP chairman in the state, who was among those that cross-carpeted to APC, citing his inability to belong to the same political camp as Saraki, Chief Iyiola Oyedepo, had described the claim of support of some members of opposition for Saraki as “a drop in the ocean.” 

Also, an APC chieftain and Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has attributed the party’s victory in the state as coming from God through the collective will of the people desirous of a change in the political leadership structure of the state. 

Mohammed told The Guardian in a chat at his Oro in Irepodun Local Government Area (LGA) of the state that all APC members should work harder ahead of the 2019 general election. The minister described the victory at the by-election as the sensor for where the pendulum of victory would swing to after next year’s polls. 

But Alhaji Suleiman Maja Yusuf, one of the associates of Saraki, opined differently, noting that the gap of victory in the by-election was minimal for the APC to lay claims of superiority over PDP in the state. 

Besides, Yusuf told The Guardian at the venue of the Saturday’s polls that the difference mathematically was not up to one third of the entire population of voters in the state. 

He added, “I stand by the decision of my party on the election. But is there any basis yet for APC to celebrate? Let us test our might and popularity across the state then the opposition party will realise their unpopularity with the electorate.”

Some leaders of thought in the state believe that it should be the turn of the people of Kwara North Senatorial District to produce the next governor because since the advent of the fourth republic 19 years ago, only two of the three Senatorial districts in the state, Kwara Central and Kwara South, had been producing the governor for the state. 

Nonetheless, the two leading political parties in the state (PDP and APC) had equally looked beyond the people of Kwara North for their governorship candidates ahead of the general election. Both had settled for candidates within the Central (AbdulRasak Atunwa, PDP) and AbdulRahaman AbdulRasak, APC.

It is safe to argue that APC may still reenact their newfound superiority in the 2019 polls in the South, comprising seven LGAs out of the existing 16 in the state. Incumbent governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, is from the southern district.

It is not likely that such would generate controversies if the votes in the Central are shared by the two parties. Already, leadership of the two main parties are allegedly planning “to spend and be spent” at the district. Saraki, who is from Central, might no doubt have a herculean task beating APC Senatorial candidate, Dr. Yahaya Oloriegbe, to the sole ticket. 

What could be in contest is the question of which of the two political parties would control the majority of the people of Kwara North during the polls. This is so because, with four LGAs, the zone might eventually hold the ace for the next governor.

This is one game Saraki may use all the weapons at his disposal to fight as any slip in the district may spell doom for his political career. 

A loss of the governorship by the Saraki dynasty may lead to the end of the political empire built by his late father, Dr. Olusola Saraki, about four decades ago. 

But the question is, would this translate to the emergence of another political colossus or a college of leaders groping in the dark for a towering and effective leader like Saraki? 

A chieftain of APC, Dr. Rex Olawoye, said: “What the people want is change. They are tired of one style of politicking that has not lifted them out of poverty and retrogression over the years.”

He said the question of who will step into Saraki’s shoe should not arise at all, stressing, “We are not running a monarchical system, but a democratic one. The people must rule themselves and not powerful individuals lording it over others. We are getting closer to that era here in Kwara by the grace of God.”

However, former press secretary to Saraki during his governorship, Masud Adebimpe, noted,  “We should not forget the importance of having a great political leader in Kwara. He must command the respect of many other leaders across the nation. I am yet to see one like that today outside Saraki.”

On his part, Oyedepo maintained, “PDP should begin packing its load from Government House now. The people are tired of them and their clueless governance. Enough is enough.”

Unlike the previous elections in the state dogged by docility, there is every indication that 2019 general election would be ‘fight to finish.’

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