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How Kwara by-election would be won and lost

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By Dare Alade

ON Saturday November 17, a couple of by-elections to fill vacant parliamentary seats will hold across some Nigerian states.

That includes Kwara State which recently lost a member of the House of Representatives representing Oke-Ero/Isin/Ekiti/Irepodun Federal Constituency, Funke Adedoyin who was elected as a first-time lawmaker on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 2015 amid allegations of rigging. In line with the relevant laws, however, an election to fill her seat is scheduled to hold this Saturday.

President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed

Notwithstanding Nigeria’s plethora political parties, analysts have said that the election is basically a two-horse race between the state’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the mega opposition party All Progressives Congress, APC.

While the PDP is fielding Saheed Alatise, a businessman, for the election, the APC is putting forward Abdulraheem Tunji Olawuyi (Ajulo), another businessman. Both men are incidentally from Omu-Aran, a hugely populated town in Irepodun local government area of the state.

But this election would neither be determined by votes from Omu-Aran alone nor by just the calibre of the candidates — even though these two factors will amply come into play too. All factors considered, APC seems to hold the ace in an election that means so much for the two political parties.

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For one, locals said Ajulo has become a household name in that axis of the state, especially in Omu-Aran, having been on the ballot papers for at least twice since he joined party politics in 2011. As candidate of the defunct ACN, he came second in the House of Assembly race. He has remained in the party since then, gradually building political machinery in the area. In what attests to his popularity, Ajulo is incidentally the candidate of the APC in the 2019 House of Representatives ballot in the area — the ticket he had clinched before the sudden death of Ms Adedoyin.

The same cannot be said of Alatise who party insiders said has just joined politics late 2017. Besides, Alatise is considered a stop-gap candidate meant to split the Omu-Aran votes because the PDP is fielding another candidate for the same House of Representatives poll in the 2019 poll. Records from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) indicated that the PDP’s candidate for the February poll is Dare Bankole who is from Arandun, another town in Irepodun.

Hurriedly picked by the Bukola Saraki-led PDP, the choice of Alatise is strategic as it is meant to split the votes from Omu-Aran and Irepodun as a whole. And the reasons are not far-fetched. The Saraki brand is not popular in the other three local government areas of Isin, Ekiti and Oke Ero which, together with Irepodun, form the federal constituency. The party lost in Isin, Ekiti and Oke-Ero in the 2015 election and there is nothing to suggest that the ratings of the political dynasty have improved — especially after the anti-Saraki sentiments that followed the recent Offa armed robbery in which over 30 innocent citizens were murdered in cold blood.

Even though Alatise comes from a town with a very good voting strength, just like his rival Ajulo, his major albatross might be the perception that he represents the Saraki political dynasty that analysts say is becoming increasingly unpopular with the masses there.

That perception is not helped by the fact that his own people do not see his candidature as ‘genuine’ since the town had earlier lost the main ticket to Arandun. It may be natural for the people of Omu-Aran to consider a victory for Ajulo as a sure bet to retain the seat in 2019 since the same person would be flying the ticket of the APC. This is because the tenure of whoever wins this poll lapses next year June when a new National Assembly will be inaugurated.

But that is not all. Governor Abdulfatahi Ahmed has been leading the campaign for Alatise. It remains to be seen whether this will be a boost for the candidate, given the perception in most parts of Kwara South — genuine or otherwise — that their eight years in Kwara Government House was a near waste of their slot.

Those who hold this view insist that Ahmed’s tenure brought nothing significantly good to the people of Kwara South. Perhaps nothing confirms this belief more than the fact that most of the Igbomina top shots who backed Ahmed’s candidature and grudgingly joined the Saraki dynasty on the ground that it was their turn to govern Kwara have since left the camp. A good example here is the Cornelius Adebayo’s camp and Engineer Wole Oke’s group who had championed the Ahmed’s candidature.

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Another factor that would determine the outcome of this election is the state of the APC in Kwara. So far, the party is rock solid in Kwara South where all the gladiators and tendencies have long queued behind the candidature of AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, the governorship candidate of the party. This unity would no doubt embolden the APC to attempt to crush the Saraki’s machine in the election because it is clearly a litmus test for both the APC coalition and the Saraki-led PDP.

Now, there is no underestimating the role money will play in this crucial poll. Notwithstanding the efforts by the INEC and security agencies to curb vote-buying, money will definitely play a role in a standalone election like the one under consideration. So the outcome might favour the party that spends more.

Sarakites may have the edge here since they control government machineries at the state level but there is no telling how far the APC — which is the ruling party at the centre — will go to want to decimate the Saraki political machine once and for all. So much has been said about clipping the wing of Bukola Saraki. The outcome of this crucial ballot may well tell if the APC establishment and Kwara opposition truly means business. May the best man emerge as the winner.

*Alade writes from Omu-Aran, Kwara State.

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