By Mustapha Ahmed
Kwara State shares one basic feature with some states ahead of the 2011 general elections. The states include Borno, Kano, Ogun and Osun, where the incumbent governors are not eligible for re-election in the forthcoming general elections.Â By the time the new elected public officials will be assuming office in May 2011, they would have exhausted the maximum of two terms of eight years the constitution allows them in office.
By implication, new helmsmen will come into the saddle in the said sates. The scenario has invariably thrown open the race for succession. At least, if the incumbent governors will not be vying in the states, the situation has widened the political space for the contest. Unless the outgoing governors have anointed their successors in favour of whom the incumbent factor will be deployed, many of the aspirants will have same chances.
Political watchers say developments in Kwara have never been witnessed on a scale as the one that is currently going on. They know it is the product of political peace that has pervaded the state for several years now. Yet, this is a state that would have been classified alongside Borno, Kano, Osun and Ogun in terms of political crisis, had this rating been done during the period, 1999 â€“ 2003. That was the period Alhaji Lawal held sway in the state as governor and Kwara became practically ungovernable. So easy it was to locate the source of that timeâ€™s conflict, yet so difficult it was to find solution.
It all started in 1999 when the patriarch of Saraki family, Abubakar Olusola Saraki, fondly called the strong man of Kwara politics because he is unarguably the biggest politician ever to come from that state, helped to install Lawal in office. The agreement was that the elder Saraki would have a say in the governance of the state for the benefit of the people. But no sooner than the governor assumed office than he reneged on the pact.
He became a â€œrepository of knowledgeâ€ that needed no input from â€œhis godfatherâ€ on how the state should be run. No sooner did things began to go wrong in all facets of governance as the people were denied the dividends of democracy. The elder Saraki protested. Lawal would hear none of it, the battle line was drawn. In the end, the little that Lawal should have done to put smiles on the faces of the people of Kwara was frittered away on the altar of the squabbles with the elder Saraki.
By 2003, the re-election time, it was decision time for Saraki. And the decision: Lawal must go! But this brought with it its own problem: who does the cap fit to succeed Lawal? Indeed, the name of Bukola Saraki came up. But the elder Saraki, not wanting to be seen to be cornering power for his family, initially resisted, buckling under pressure later to field his son for Kwara governorship. After all, it wasnâ€™t as if the son was not eminently qualified for the high office. The story of Kwara in the seven years of governance by the banker politician has shown that those who put forward his name have a vision.
The story of Kwara under Bukola is one of unprecedented transformations that could only have been achieved under a peaceful atmosphere. The father set the stage for the atmosphere of peace and the son tapped into it. Now, we are at the twilight of that era, and people are asking, should this not be reenacted in Kwara, with the attendant gains?
â€œThe answer obviously lies with the elder Saraki. As far as many people can recollect, the destiny of Kwara has been in the hands of the patriarch of the Saraki family. People attribute his influence in Kwara to his use of his immense wealth for the benefit of the people and societal development. Even before the second republic when he was Senate Leader through other eras when he aspired to become the president, he has been the one giving political direction in Kwara.
In 1979, at the outset of the second republic, Kwara followed him to the NPN, only in 1983 to do his bidding when he asked the people to go with the UPN. In 1999, his APP produced the governor before â€œanointingâ€ his son for governorship in 2003 to become the PDP flag bearer. Now, all eyes are on Saraki to give Kwara politics a direction again ahead of the 2011 gubernatorial election.
Many contenders are already in the race cutting across the various political parties. They include Alhaji Fatai Ahmed, currently a commissioner in the state; Isa Bio-Ibrahim, a minister; Alhaji Saka Onimago, a former secretary to the state government, SSG; Professor Shuaib Oba Abdulraheem, a former Vice Chancellor of UNILORIN and currently, chairman, Federal Character Commissioner; Senator Ahmed; Alhaji Shaaba Lafiagi, a former governor of the state and member, BOT of the PDP; Senator Simeon Ajibola; AbdulraufÂ Kola Shittu; Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the AC spokesman; Col Theophilus Bamigboye (rtd); Mr. Gbenga Olawepo, former deputy national publicity secretary of the PDP and Senator Ajadi.
The daughter of the elder Saraki, Senator Gbemisola Saraki â€“ Fafowora, is also in the race.
The array of seasoned politicians eminently qualified for the office of governor provides credible options from which the elder Saraki could choose. Yet, the question remains, how much of each of the aspirants does he know that will match the qualities his son, Bukola, has deployed in changing the face of Kwara?
More poignant is the peace that has reigned in the state resulting from the father/son collaboration to give Kwara the best. Most prominent and applauded about Bukola Sarakiâ€™s good policies is the agricultural revolution in the state as seen through the mechanized farming of the Zimbabwe farmers. Should the era of peaceÂ and development continue in the post â€“ Bukola Saraki era, or should the elder Saraki engage in a gambit that may see the Lawal era of political squabbles returning?