Change is constant. This truism best describes the political situation in Kwara, a state gradually shedding its political image as the Sarakis’ fiefdom. Until the 2011 general elections when they nearly lost the governorship seat, the Sarakis were the lone voice in the state politics, dictating the way of life.
Opposition parties, their candidates, most time disenchanted lackeys of the Saraki political clan, would contest election, lose and disappear. They would resurface in four years, weakened and discredited. That would leave the Sarakis holding the yam and the knife, caring little about human capital or even infrastructural development and waiting to manipulate their way back to government in future polls.
Today the Sarakis no longer have a field day in Kwara State, their extremism and disregard for public sentiments now being exposed by a consistent, strong and credible opposition led by the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, whose governorship candidate in the 2011 poll, Mohammed Dele Belgore (SAN), has remained a strong (and alternative) voice in the state politics. Kwarans now have opposing views on how their state is run – the absence of which was largely responsible for the way the Sarakis had run the state like a fiefdom over the years.
Evidences abound that Kwarans, including many in the government, are happy about this and are latching onto the bravery and outspokenness of the ACN to let out what was clearly a pent-up anger at what they call misrule, oppression and corruption of the past years.
The emergent culture of protest outside and within the state civil service – historically unheard of because of the fear of silent suppression, impunities and arbitrary sack from work as in the case of some level 14 civil servants who former Governor Bukola Saraki reportedly asked to sign their letter of resignation before their promotion or cases of court or tribunal rulings that were never respected as in the case of the former governor refusing to honour the ruling of election tribunal and Appeal Court rulings that sacked some PDP lawmakers from Offa and declared the opposition candidates duly elected – underscores the changing political environment in Kwara State.
It is now commonplace to see hitherto shy Kwarans storm the street to protest the impunities of their government: fuel subsidy protest, looting and destruction of PDP secretariat in Ilorin, the motorcyclists’ protest and attack on a top government figure, Bibiire Ajape, the IEDPU’s well-coordinated open opposition to the government’s land policy and open protest by Malete communities of the government’s land policy, are a few examples.
The people are no longer intimidated by the powers and influence of the Sarakis because attention is now easily turned on them – thanks to the opposition and the social media.
This is not to say that they have been defeated. No. But the days of barefaced impunities seem gone. For instance, it is no longer easy (it was the norm before) to lay claim to some blanket achievements. On May 28 when the state government claimed to have tarred over 600kilometres road in one year and were even bold enough to list some of them, the opposition quickly rushed to the media in a detailed advertorial to expose the lies with incontrovertible facts.
It was the same thing on twitter, where young Kwarans spent days dismantling what they call the edifice of lie by the state government.
This ultimately leads to the question of 2015. It is interesting that even the Sarakis are now forced to acknowledge the existence of political opposition in Kwara, despite the initial denials. They now blame everything on the opposition.
It is not certain who will win the crown. What is certain, however, is that the Sarakis would go to the 2015 election more fragmented, more discredited and therefore less powerful to orchestrate the sort of rigging that marred the 2011 general elections.
Contrary to the claims made in commissioned newspaper articles and manipulated video clips on television screens, Kwarans still cannot feel the impact of governance. They are annoyed even the more by bogus claims in the media. It is like committing two grievous sins: the sin of poor performance and the sin of lying against the people.
The opposition has also raised many instances of corruption, controversial loans and poor governance. Unfortunately for the Sarakis, their support base (the uneducated, old and dying, but large men and women voting public) is waning by the day and the ‘money power’, long relied upon to sway poor voters, may no longer save them because the youths, now forming the largest voting bloc, have learnt to collect money and still vote against them.
Ahmed and Saraki Jnr might have parted ways after all. The denials notwithstanding, two main camps have already emerged within the PDP: loyalists of Saraki Jnr and those grumbling about the new godfather’s arrogance and poor leadership. The latter believes Ahmed should assert himself. Who wins is a matter of strategy.
The cold war between Ahmed and Assembly Speaker Razaq Atunwa is a symptom of this rivalry. Another group is emerging on the sidelines of the two above: those routing for the former PDP National Chairman, Kawu Baraje, as the next governor in 2015, an ambition riding on bona fide Ilorin indigene’s sentiment sure to truncate in its embryonic stage the Saraki Jnr’s emergence as the new godfather.
In case Saraki Jnr used the PDP structure to sideline Ahmed in the 2015 race, and that is likely if the infighting continues, that would combine with Ahmed’s poor showing to make Kwara South a no-go area for the PDP. So far the expectations of the Kwara South elite, especially those of Igbomina stock, who ditched their traditional opposition to bad governance and alleged Saraki’s oppression, have not been met and they could use the 2015 to retrace their steps.
The coming together of the Sarakis after the 2011 poll is not in any way an added strength for them. It is for many Kwarans, including many top former Sarakite politicians who went to ACPN, a confirmation of deceit and conspiracy to sustain the Saraki political dynasty.
Many of them with integrity may seek to take their pound of flesh as seen in the recent defection to ACN of the influential Chief Ayeni faction of ACPN. The so-called Saraki/Idi Ape reconciliation is at best a fluke. It has not, will not and cannot address the core issues of the dispute.