By Babatunde Abdulrahman
They say politics is not a game for gentlemen; that politics is as dangerous as it is deadly; as devious as it is treacherous. It is a zero-sum game where there is no mark for efforts. But there is a man that is proving bookmakers wrong by all standards.
At 10:05am on Saturday 6th October, 2018, on the commencement of the Gubernatorial Primaries of the All Progressives Congress in Kwara State, a strange and sudden announcement was made on a federal radio station in Ilorin to the effect that a leading gubernatorial aspirant had been ‘disqualified’ from contesting the elections.
That candidate was Saliu Mustapha, arguably one of the top three contenders bookmakers had predicted would carry the day at the primaries. The other two were a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Shuaib Oba Abdulraheem and a member of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Alhaji Shuiab Yaman Abdullahi.
While the duo of Oba and Abdullahi came second and third respectively at the primaries as predicted, Saliu Mustapha was left in the cold, smarting bitterly from a ‘coup’ mischievously orchestrated against him by some unnamed powers-that-be in the middle of a contest he was all but billed to win.
By the time the dust would settle over the confusion generated by the radio announcement, the primary had been concluded and won.
It was therefore no surprise when the National Working Committee of the party apologized to Mallam Mustapha over the unauthorized announcement of his purported disqualification. The apology letter said Mallam Mustapha was cleared by the National Working Committee appointed screening panel as a governorship aspirant to contest for the primary election, but his disqualification was erroneously announced by “unknown source” when voting was midway.
The party said it regretted the embarrassing mischief directed at the governorship aspirant during the primary election by a faceless individual, adding that it regarded Mallam Mustapha as an outstanding and loyal stakeholder and leader in its resolve to unify and strengthen the party, particularly in Kwara state.
In the wake of the crisis, all eyes were set on Mallam Mustapha as political watchers and party faithful were uncertain about the politician’s next move. Many opined that he would jump ship and work for the then ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State, while some said he would remain in the party without significant contribution to its success in the general elections. In fact, an Ilorin-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria had offered a free legal consultation to Mustapha to sue the APC for what he described as an ‘unprecedented act of injustice’ meted against him at the polls.
However, Mustapha would shock many shortly after the controversial primary when he donated his campaign office in support of the party’s flagbearer, Abdulrahman AbdulRazaq, thus re-affirming his commitment to the Otoge Revolution that would later sweep through Kwara in the general elections.
As if not enough, Mustapha mobilised several millions of Naira in personal till and from vastly rich network of friends across the country in support of virtually all the candidates of the APC that contested the 2019 elecrions in Kwara state. He subsequently apologized to all his aggrieved supporters to take solace and work for the victory of the party.
It was therefore no surprise that he played a major role in the victory of the APC in the last elections in the state.
When some pundits opine that politics is not for gentlemen, they perhaps hadn’t heard of Mallam Mustapha whose conducts at the time many applauded as an epitome of loyalty to party and uncommon political maturity.
Mustapha’s progressive ideology dates back to his years as a principled opposition politician in Kwara State, one who withstood all entreaties by the ruling elites in the state to draw him into their camp when it was not fashionable to be in the opposition.
A successful businessman in his own right, Mustapha has always aligned with progressive-minded politicians since his school days. He cut his political teeth first under Chief Alexis Aniello, and later under Chief Olu Falae and Alhaji Balarabe Musa. He would finally settle with President Muhammadu Buhari at a time the latter was settling into civil life.
Between 2001 – 2002, Saliu Mustapha was the National Publicity Secretary of the Progressive Liberation Party (PLP) under the leadership of Dr. Ezekiel Ezeogwu. A little further in 2003, Mustapha and other likeminds came together to register and form the Progressive Action Congress (PAC), where he was returned again as a National Publicity Secretary, an impressive feat for his age and clout at that time.
Mustapha was an influential member of the All Peoples Party (APP), which later metamorphosed to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He would, together with the the kitchen Cabinet of Buhari, later register the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) where he served as the Deputy National Chairman.
Working together with other sincere, committed and patriotic Nigerians, he was at the vanguard of the promotion of the candidacy of then candidate Muhammadu Buhari in 2007 in the ANPP, and later in 2011 on the platform of CPC.
In 2013, he joined forces with likeminded politicians across the country to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), working strategically with others to secure the APC presidential ticket for then General Muhammadu Buhari.
Apart from being a consistent progressive politician, Mustapha is easily the only scandal-free politician among the bigwigs vying for the position of the APC National Chairman in its forthcoming convention.
Mustapha’s most important strength is perhaps his connection with the grassroots and passion for community development as a catalyst for national development.
Although most of his community engagements and human resource development initiatives are done behind the cameras, they haven’t gone unnoticed in recent years culminating in his ultimate recognition as the Turaki of Ilorin by the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu Gambari.
When he was pronounced the Turaki of Ilorin last month amid pomp and pageantry, many wondered why so much positive remarks were being said of the man at the time despite being behind-the-scene for so long. But those who knew him said he has always preferred to operate from behind the scene, allowing his works and impact in community, state and national development to speak for him.
Through the Saliu Mustapha Foundation, Mallam Mustapha has recorded so much impact in the lives of young people, women and children in Ilorin and environs, giving them opportunities to live better lives. His acceptance among the masses irrespective of political affiliation is a testimony to his enigmatic persona.
Although the Nigerian political space is replete with cases of violence, mudslinging, oppression and related intra and inter-party shenanigans, Mustapha has shown in words and deeds that he represents a breath of fresh air.
As the Special Guest of honour at the NUJ Pressweek in Ilorin in May, the question of what a ‘gentleman’ like him was doing in the murky waters of politics in Nigeria popped up. In his soft-spoken manner, he noted that politics, like most other arts, has its formula and as long as the formula is known, mastered and adopted, the paths to a successful political participation is all but smooth.
“Politics, as complicated as it might appear, can be quite simple, if approached tactically. It has its language and dynamics. In a way, it is like mathematics, with its own formula. Knowing the right formula is half the job done, mastering and adopting it all the way is the other half. Then pray, and pray and pray more,” he was quoted as saying.
A firm believer in the strength and diversity of a united Nigeria that works for all, Mustapha has always warned against inciting comments capable of plunging the country into another civil war. He has consitently called for peaceful means of resolving conflicts.
Like Martin Luther King said in his Oslo speech, to progress and record advancement, “mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.” Such pacifist and gentlemanly approach is the Mustapha approach. That, ultimately, is the approach that can engender growth and development in Nigeria’s party politics, electioneering and governance.