As Nigerians go to the now postponed polls, observers in and outside Kwara State are particularly interested in knowing what becomes the political fate of Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
A scion of the Saraki dynasty, Mr Saraki is contesting the Kwara Central Senatorial seat on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the state.
His closest rival is Ibrahim Oloriegbe of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
Although there are other determining factors, analysts have opined that the biggest intrigue playing out in the senatorial district emanates from the renewed anti-Saraki dynasty revolt in Ilorin and other parts of the state.
The revolt, captured in the street lingo “O to ge!”––translated loosely as ‘Enough is Enough’–– is believed to have emanated from Kwara South but has since taken a life of its own even in the heart of Ilorin.
A keenly competitive race
In 2015, observers in and around Kwara Central were surprised that Mr Saraki’s campaign posters did not surface at strategic places in the district despite being on the ballot.
Months before that general election, he led party stalwarts and other political loyalists in Kwara, including the state governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, from the PDP into the APC.
Confident of winning the senatorial seat and delivering the state for then-candidate Muhammadu Buhari of the APC, the Senate president campaign handlers had very few posters of the politician pasted across the district.
He won that election convincingly.
“That is not the situation of things right now in 2019, as you can see,” Aliyu, a cab driver told PREMIUM TIMES Friday afternoon as he drove past huge campaign posters with images of the Senate President erected around Unity Road through Challenge, all the way to the Government House. “This is the most competitive election in Kwara history; this ‘O to ge’ campaign is like revolution,” he added in Yoruba.
Mr Saraki is the son of Olusola Saraki, a second republic influential politician and lawmaker. He died in 2012, about a year after he lost a major political battle to his son, Bukola, in 2011.
Upon serving two terms as governor between 2003 and 2011, Mr Saraki (Bukola) threw his weight behind Mr Ahmed of the PDP, contrary to his father’s wish to have him replaced with his sister, Gbemisola Saraki.
The younger Bukola would come out victorious as Mr Ahmed emerged winner of that deeply rancorous guber election.
Since the death of the older Saraki, Mr (Bukola) Saraki has become the new face of the Saraki dynasty.
While the renewed ‘O to ge’ revolt reflective of the battle for the gubernatorial position in the state, observers opine that this targets Mr Saraki.
The Kwara Central Senatorial District has four major divisions: Asa, Ilorin East, Ilorin South and Ilorin West. While Asa is believed to be important because of its size, Ilorin is considered the battleground in the district. Besides, candidates of the major parties in the contest hail from Ilorin.
Some residents of the town want the senate president to continue and have made this known through their counter-revolt lingo called “O tun ya!”––translated loosely as “Let’s do it once more”.
When PREMIUM TIMES did a random check at the Agbaji quarters of Ilorin on Thursday, many residents told our reporter that the Senate president would return to power.
“We love him, and he is our beloved son,” said Ibrahim Kabir, a voter.
On the other hand, however, there are folks who want an end to the dynastic reign of Mr Saraki, especially in places outside of the district and beyond.
Many factors would determine the survival or otherwise of the Senate president next Saturday.
Oloriegbe and the gains of ‘O to ge’ revolt
APC’s Mr Oloriegbe, Senate President Saraki’s closest rival, is not a new face in the politics of Kwara.
A former Majority Leader in the Kwara State House of Assembly, he is relatively known among the electorates in the district. But his candidature has received a boost because of the ‘O to ge’ revolt.
Although some residents said the governorship slot remains the actual target of those behind the ‘O to ge’ revolt, it is believed that the effect could upturn the dynamics of other elections.
Prominent among those at the forefront of the revolt is the governorship candidate of the APC, Abdulrahman AbdulRazak; the minister of Information, Lai Muhammed; and other notable politicians from the Southern district.
Gbemisola Saraki, Mr Bukola’s younger sister, and Dele Belgore, a one-time candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria in the State, are also believed to be supporting the movement although they have barely been reported to be as fanatic toward the cause as others.
Besides, analysts believe that the position of Mr Saraki is under threat because some of his former aides have also joined the ‘o to ge’ camp.
They cite the ‘electoral strength’ of Mr Oloriegbe in the heart of Ilorin and other parts of the constituency.
They include Yinka Aluko, the former security aide to Mr Saraki during the latter’s tenure as governor of Kwara State.
Mr Aluko left his former boss before the 2015 general elections to become a running mate to then PDP candidate, Simeon Ajibola but has now defected into the APC.
Similarly, a former chief of staff and secretary to the State Government, AbdulGaniyu Cook Olododo and ex-Special Adviser on Inter-Parliamentary Affairs, Protocol and Special Duties on National Assembly Matters, Moshood Mustapha have also joined the ‘O to ge’ revolt.
“These three people are considered the political strategists and backbone of Saraki,” an Ilorin resident who declined to have his name in print, told PREMIUM TIMES Friday.
“Their exit remains why Saraki supporters are scared things may go wrong.”
Ahmed, Buhari as albatrosses
For both Messrs Saraki and Oloriegbe, the performance of both Messrs Buhari and Ahmed could be an albatross.
While Mr Buhari is believed to have deepened poverty by his handling of the economy, Mr Ahmed’s numerous battles with civil servants and other public officials could work against the Senate President.
Almost eight years after he left office, Kwara electorate still links the successes and failures of the incumbent to Mr Saraki.
Already, the result of the November 17 by-election for the Ekiti/Irepodun/Isin/Oke-Ero federal constituency has dealt a big blow on the Senate President and his political camp.
Analysts opine that the Kwara South Senatorial District may be won by the APC, given its strength in the region.
There are reports of discontent in the Kwara North district, especially among the youth in the region.
All of these are said to paint pictures of what is to come for Mr Saraki.
Many residents opine that the election will only ‘shake’ his political structure to its root ”but would not consume him”.
“It will be a tight race, but I think Bukola Saraki will win in Kwara Central,” Kayode Ali, a student of the University of Ilorin, told PREMIUM TIMES Thursday evening. “It will be the most rigorous and keenly contested election for the Senate president since he has been in power.”