2023: AbdulRazaq, Saraki battle for soul of Kwara

TUNDE OYEKOLA writes on the run-up to the 2023 General Election in Kwara State, revisiting memories of two political strongholds as they wrestle again under the banner of the two major political parties, APC and PDP

Politics has returned in Kwara State, as it has to the other 35 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory. Since the advent of democracy in 1999, election period is always tense between old political foes in the state as old political gladiators engage in grandstanding.

A kind of political coup d’etat happened in Kwara State in 2003 when political elites banded to dethrone Dr. Olusola Saraki, a former Senate Leader, who has held the state in his grip until his demise in December 2012, leaving his scion, Dr. Bukola Saraki, a two-term governor in the state and the immediate past Senate President, to continue to maintain the family control of political power.

However, what will make the 2023 elections in the state different is that things have fallen apart in the camp of the progressives, who staged the famous coup, tagged ‘O to ge’ to wrest power from the Sarakis in 2019 on the platform of the All Progressives Congress. They (the O to ge warriors) are today scattered among the five leading political parties in the state, and one interesting thing is that the gubernatorial candidates of the five political parties were all members of APC until recently.

They include the incumbent governor, Mallam Abdulrahman AbdulRazaq, who is seeking re-election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress; Alhaji Yaman Abdullah of the Peoples Democratic Party; Professor Shuaib Abdulraheem of the New Nigeria Peoples Party; Mallam Yakub Gobir of the Young Progressives Party; and Alhaji Hakeem Lawal.

Though some of the aforementioned political parties are making waves in various parts of the state, the political rivalry between the APC and the PDP, the state’s major opposition party, is the fiercest.

Some of the political issues manifesting in the state and which will determine the trend of politics in Kwara State include corruption, the welfare of civil servants, the performance of the ruling party, infrastructural development, and the conduct of local government elections in the state.

Bukola Saraki, a national leader of the PDP, had been away from the state since March 2019 after his party was defeated but returned in December 2020 to mark the 8th anniversary of the death of his father, Dr Olusola Saraki.

Dissatisfied with how the past two PDP administrations mismanaged the affairs of Kwara State, the ruling APC government revoked the land at Ile Arugbo and set up an administrative panel of inquiry that unveiled how politicians and government officials in the state shared the landed property belonging to the state in Abuja, Lagos, and Ilorin, the state capital.

In July of this year, the governor also received an audit report that revealed the previous administration’s mismanagement of the N11.9bn state fund. It also included the N2bn allegedly withdrawn from the coffers of the state government a few weeks before the 2019 general elections. The government also alleged the embezzlement of the N1.4bn fund allegedly released by the Universal Basic Education Commission for the building of classrooms in the state’s basic schools to the immediate past administration, while counterpart funds meant for the improvement of health care facilities by the United Nations donor agencies were not paid.

Speaking on his achievements in the last three and a half years, Governor AbdulRazaq said he had concentrated more on the workers’ welfare, including the approval of the minimum wage and regular payment of salaries to all categories of workers, unlike what obtained under the previous administration when the workers’ salaries were paid in percentages.

The governor said the past administration, headed by Abdulfattah Ahmed owed the SUBEB teachers and local government workers over N11bn, which accrued as a result of the payment of salaries in percentage.

AbdulRazaq also said his administration had promoted 9,175 civil servants between 2019 and 2021, while the 2022 promotion exercise is also ongoing with an examination for 2,096 civil servants in the state.

AbdulRazaq said, “There are solid footprints of our administration in every part of the state, whether in education, road infrastructure, water, health, employment, gender inclusion, youth engagement, safety nets for the poor, or economic projects designed to grow the state.

“No part of the state is without the projects or beneficiaries of various programmes of our administration, whether in roads, potable water, healthcare, or social investment for the vulnerable.

“Residents of every part of the state can attest to the projects and programmes. The impacts are felt and are without any propaganda.”

Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Rafiu Ajakaye, while attesting to what the governor said, stated that the government under the present administration had renovated over 600 schools, adding that all 193 electoral wards in the state had benefitted from one project or more.

Speaking in the same vein, Special Adviser on Political Communication, Alhaji Bashiru Adigun, said the government has in the last three years achieved more than what the past PDP  administrations did in 16 years in the state.

He said, “After decades of neglect, government spending has had far-reaching impacts on basic healthcare facilities, water, rural roads, schools, and safety nets for the underprivileged across the state within two years.”

He said the governor, apart from empowering those whose businesses were destroyed during the #EndSARS protest to go back to their businesses, has also created a lot of business opportunities for youth in the state. The government under Governor AbdulRazaq has employed over 4,700 teachers, many health workers, and renovated many health facilities across the state as well as roads, among other achievements.

He has also recently unveiled some signature projects, including the Ilorin Visual Arts Centre and the Innovation Hub.

Notwithstanding the achievements reeled out by AbdulRazaq, the former Senate President and a two-term governor of the state, Saraki said he was disappointed that Governor AbdulRazaq had not invited President Buhari or any of the bigwigs in the ruling APC to commission a single project completed by his administration in three and a half years.

“It is disgraceful that a performing governor has not invited the President to commission a single project in the past three years of his administration,” Saraki said of the state’s current governor, AbdulRazaq.

Saraki said the ‘O to ge’ campaign slogan employed by the ruling APC in Kwara State to win the election that ousted his party, the PDP, from the government in 2019 was full of lies and deceit to deceive the people of the state and win elections in the state.

It was propaganda and tissues of lies used to deceive Kwarans and send us packing.

“A lot of the youth were given the wrong impression and unkept promises, and they have seen that it’s time to go to a government that will support and care for them. We have said the APC has nothing to offer the youth and Nigerians, and that is what is being reiterated here today.

“But Kwarans have learnt their lessons in a bitter way now. I am confident that PDP will send APC away from the Government House in 2023 by the grace of God,” he said.

Also, the Chairman of the PDP in the state, Hon. Babatunde Mohammed, who maintained that the APC government in the state was a failure, said that all the projects that the governor had done were one-kilometre roads, interlocking culverts, and drainages, which fell on the schedule of local government councils.

He said the PDP, which ruled the state for 16 years, spent the funds of the state to change Kwara for the better, adding, “We have numerous 5-star hotels and hospitality businesses in the state. We have the Cargo Terminal at the Airport; we have the Metropolitan Square, which is a replica of Eagle Square in Abuja, the Overhead Bridge and Kwara State University, Malete; there is also massive road construction across the state; there is an overhead bridge at the General Post Office, Ilorin; and there is also the Aviation College, a replica of what is in South Africa.

“Also, some essential projects, which included road infrastructure, health facilities, including the diagnostic centre, and the overhead bridge at Gerin-Alimi, were other achievements. All these have attracted many people and businesses to the state. These have boosted the state’s economy unlike what is happening now, where the present administration is constructing a one-kilometre road and calling it a state project.”

Mohammed said the government had refused to conduct local government elections since he came to power because of the alleged diversion of local government funds, adding that one of the commissioners in the state cabinet resigned in 2021 because of the alleged N300 million allegedly removed illegally from the local government funds.

He said the PDP in the state is adopting the campaign slogan ‘Osuwa’ (we are tired) because the governor refused to allow people who helped him win elections to contribute their quotas to the development of the state.

Mohammed said the PDP would win elections in all 193 wards in the state, and “with the leeway the APC government has given us, we will win the governorship, the three Senate seats, the six House of Representatives seats, and the 24 House of Assembly seats.

However, Prince Sunday Fagbemi, the state chairman of APC, said, “We will win the 2023 elections by a greater margin. Opposition parties in this state are in the minority; they will have their say while our own party will have its way. They can no longer pull the wool over the eyes of the people. By and large, I believe that they can’t have their way because Kwara people will not like to go back to the era of underdevelopment,” Fagbemi said.

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