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Saraki, Lai Mohammed in battle for the soul of Kwara

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Nigeria’s minister of Information Lai Mohammed AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

Ahead of the 2019 general election, a political supremacy battle is looming in Kwara State, ostensibly between forces loyal to the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki and supporters of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

Although it appears as a mismatch, Mohammed wants to distance himself, preferring to situate the contest as a strict duel between Saraki and the people, who are allegedly yearning for a review of the hegemony of the Senate President in the state’s polity.

It was in the year 2003 that the minister made his foray into Kwara politics, when he contested the gubernatorial election on the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD).

Mohammed, who hails from Oro in Irepodun local government council of the state, concentrated his search for votes on Kwara north senatorial district, despite being from the south senatorial district.

His pitch was mostly on infrastructure development, opening up some of the notorious road networks in the northern part of the state.

He graded Baruten/Kiama federal road making same passable for some time.

His argument had been that good road network remained the most essential need of the agrarian population of the state, stressing that such type of intervention would be the harbinger of accelerated social, political and economic developments of the state and her people.

He had then stood no chance against some of his co contestants, including Saraki who used the political structure of his father’s dynasty and the then incumbent Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Alabi Lawal.

While Saraki had emerged victorious in the election, Mohammed did not go down without a fight.

The minister who is a former Chief of Staff to the then Lagos State Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu refused to go into political oblivion as he joined the defunct Alliance Congress (AC), lending overt support to all its successive gubernatorial candidates in the state.

He contested and won the position of the National Publicity Secretary of the party, which had, at this stage, changed its nomenclature to All Progressives Congress (APC). This was the position he held before his appointment as the minister.

One major weapon Mohammed had explored over the years to his advantage is the sustenance of his annual Islamic programe at his Oro country home.

Tagged: Ramadan Annual Lecture, the minister had attracted through the ‘Itsarf’ (breaking of fasting) aspect of the event, political dignitaries to the state, giving enlightened and thought provoking lectures on political issues affecting the state and her people.

However, despite Mohammed’s modest contributions to the political sagacity of the state created some 51 years ago, he stands no chance against the political machinery of Saraki.

The Senate President who ruled the state as Governor for eight years (2003-2011) and facilitated the emergence of his successor Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, who would by next year be rounding off his eight years in office as well, has unarguably maintained the toga of the political ‘leader’ of the state.

Until the recent defection of Saraki to the main oppistion People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the minister had enjoyed the political platform of Saraki in the state by putting at bay any serious opposition to the then ruling party in it, the APC.

Saraki, apart from sponsoring the incumbent governor Ahmed, bankrolled the elections of the other two senators from the state, Alhaji Sha’aba Lafiagi and Rafiu Adebayo.

He extended the same gesture to all the six members of the House of Representatives from the state just as he produced the entire 16 council chairmen in Kwara.

Besides, this political colossus facilitated the emergence of all the 24 members of the House of Assembly.

At present, only a member of the House of Assembly, Saheed Popoola Ojomu Constituency of Offa shunned the entities by Saraki to decamp with him to the PDP, giving excuses that he would have to consult with members of his constituency.

However, checks by The Guardian in Ilorin showed that some aggrieved members of the dynasty; apparently those unhappy due to their failure grabbing political appointments under the present political dispensation had subtly drifted away from ‘Ile Loke’ the political square of Saraki.

Besides, many of the visible critics of Saraki’s political style of welfarism especially to the women and aged population of potential voters don’t usually turn out in their numbers to exercise their franchise during vital polls.

Just as Saraki may have lost some of his followers to the defection saga, he had equally gained some especially the about 20 per cent of the PDP members who failed to join the mass movement of members of the party to the APC following Saraki’s return to the party.

In Ilorin, the dominant pre election refrain is to threaten not to vote for some of Saraki’s candidates.

But after the elections the results are usually antithetical to the initial threats.

Alhaji Suleiman Maja Yusuf, a loyalist of Saraki explained the rationale for this to The Guardian thus: “Those threatening not to vote for us before the election are those that are yet to get their own special benefits of the democracy.

As you are aware the resources are limited hence the need to ration them.

So those who thought they would not get theirs before the election, would eventually get their own before it.

“It is not material things alone as being touted in some quarters.

Our leader is used to empower people especially those who have the acumen to work and urge them to improve on whatever is given them.

To others, he links them up with people who can give them gainful employment.

He settles hospital bills and gives succour to the orphans, widows and the destitutes.

On weekly basis the aged ones are catered for by him.

Besides, unlike many other so called politicians in the state, Saraki is always around his people before, during and even after the elections.

He is truly loved by his people, this is just the conclusion.”

However in a chat with The Guardian in Ilorin, the minister said, “Frankly speaking there is nothing like a struggle between Lai Mohammed and Bukola Saraki.

It is purely a battle between Saraki and the people of the state who had vowed to take their destinies into their hands.

This is the thinking line of anyone who can guage well the present political pulse of Kwarans.

“They believe that no single person should hold Kwara to ransom, everybody along think thinking line is determined to see an end to the hegemony of the Sarakis in Kwara.

I am just lucky to be the most senior person in government.

We will therefore not fold our hands and allow our party (APC) to fail in the state.

I forsaw this during the congresses of our dear party hence the main reason for forming and organising our own congress separate from theirs.

“I am not alone in the struggle. Saraki and his party will not win in Kwara in the 2019 elections.

I am highly impressed by the level of sincerity being put by all the stakeholders into the struggle.

We have all agreed that none should play up any self ego.

The target is that Bukola should be defeated before we can all be said to have won. That is what is driving the people in Kwara today.

“We have heard people telling us not to bother ourselves coming to campaign to them in their areas. They told us that they are tired of Saraki.

In my office today (Monday August 13 this year) i received four delegations of the loyalists of this struggle.

We are really encouraged by the kind of supports people are giving us on the issue.”

Speaking on the development, the factional spokesman of the state’s chapter of the APC Sulyman Tunji Buhari described Mohammed as a commedian who has allegedly lost touch with the present realities of political events in the state.

Buhari, an aide of Saraki told The Guardian in Ilorin that the political structure laid by Saraki was too solid for any politician in the state to dismantle, adding: “who is Lai Mohammed where Saraki is politically?”

He added, “it is a laughable statement to start comparing Saraki with Lai Mohammed.

Who is Mohammed in Kwaran politics? Can he even win an election in his political polling booth or ward?

So why is the comparison coming from? I am not even sure if he has Kwaran permanent voters card.

Lai Mohammed is a paperweight politician. Any attempt to draw a comparison between him and our leader (Saraki) is just too ridiculous.”

The fire works no doubt have commenced between the ruling power and the opposition group ahead of the struggles for the soul of Kwara, the eligible voters will be the final arbiter after the much touted polls.


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