2023: The Leading Guber Candidates Walking the Political Minefield in Kwara

By Adebayo Abubakar.

In the run-up to the 2019 general election, by this time, four years ago in Kwara State, the media spaces, both new and traditional, have been awash with the excitement of the epochal “Ó To Gẹ” (It’s Enough) revolution, that ousted, what is famously referred to as “the Saraki (political) dynasty” from power. For it to become a reality, a number of tendencies came together to join forces, and plotted the ouster, which ushered in the current All Progressives Congress (APC) administration of Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq. As the protagonists were shouting “Ó To Gẹ”, the other party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were counter-chorusing saying “O tún Yà” (let’s carry on). But the former was such a formidable force then that, the APC, the party under which they contested, won all the elections 100%. As of today, however, the same thing cannot be said of the formidability, as they have broken ranks, due to reasons bordering on seemingly irreconcilable differences.

Coincidentally, all the top four contenders in the gubernatorial race today, walking the minefield of Kwara politics, were prominent soldiers of the “Ó To Gẹ” army. Professor Shuaib Ọba Abdulraheem, of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP); Alhaji Akeem Lawal, of the Social Democratic Party (SDP); and Shuaib Abdullahi Yahman of the PDP, were all parts of the “Ó To Gẹh” movement.

But no sooner had Governor Abdulrazaq assumed office, than things began to fall apart between these hitherto political allies. Some people would argue that, they are strange bedfellows, united only, by the quest to wrest power from the Saraki political dynasty. I do not possess any power of clairvoyance, so do not expect me to drop any crystal ball in respect of the gubernatorial race in the State because, we will only know who comes out, triumphant, in less than one hundred days from now, after the election must have been concluded in March next year. But, with due respect to other political parties, and their candidates, I shall, in subsequent paragraphs of this piece, be analysing each of the top-four, and their respective chances, one after the other, in no particular order.

Alhaji Shuaib Abdullahi Yahman (PDP).

The candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), Alhaji Shuaib Abdullahi Yahman, who is from the Kwara North is riding on the crest of a popular agitation in the area that, fair-minded people that, it is their turn to produce the number one citizen of the state. The reason is not far-fetched. The last person from the northern Senatorial District to be voted as the State Governor was Alhaji Mohammed Sha’aba Lafiagi – 1992 to 1993. Since then, Kwara Central has done, from 1999 to 20011 (Governors Mohammed Lawal and Bukola Saraki), and the South, from 2011 to 2019 (Abdulfatah Ahmed), and now we have another Kwara Central person (Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq) in charge since 2019, who will clock four years, next year. So banking on the strong desire of his people (Kwara North), for Equity, Justice, and Fairness, with the belief that, it is the turn of the zone, Yahman would fancy his chances, coupled with the fact that, he has a running mate, someone from the Kwara South senatorial District, to garner as many votes, as he possibly can, for the ticket. The general resentment against APC across the nation, is another propelling factor why Yahman, who was a leading member of the Ó To Geh movement, believes the much-coveted seat is his, for the asking. Despite his “Ó To Gẹh” antecedents, his new party, PDP, accepted and adopted him as its candidate. They have now come up with another slogan – “O Sun Wá”, which literally means, “We are Fed-up” (of the current APC-led Governments).

In the past three-and-a-half years, if I am to rate the PDP, as an opposition party, I’d say, they have fallen below expectations. They have not been on-duty as much as one would expect an opposition party that is desirous of wresting power from the incumbent. Until lately, sometimes, one would even forget there is an opposition party in the state, except when the party’s leader in the state, a former president of the Nigerian Senate, and a two-term Governor of the state, Dr. Bukola Saraki comes around. The only semblance of opposition to the APC-led government, since 2019, has always come from within the APC itself, until recently. That could be seen in the fact that, the candidates of the four major parties were at a point or the other, over the past four years, members of the APC. While they might not have violated any law, adopting him, it’s a clear indication that, none of its members from the North is deemed prepared enough for the job, except someone who just defected.

Had the PDP been up and running as an opposition party, one would have, by now, been able to say without any fear of equivocation that, they will be the prime beneficiaries of the perceived “resentment” towards the APC administration, and the internal wrangling within the party in the state. PDP might, therefore, need more than the “Ó Sun Wá” slogan and rally, to be able to replace Governor Abdulrazaq, come May 29, 2023. Nevertheless, with the expected split in the bloc votes that ordinarily would have been APC’s for the asking, PDP might find herself back in power, barring any last-minute reconciliation between APC and its aggrieved tendencies, some of whom have one leg in, and one leg out of the party.

Mallam Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq (APC).

The incumbent, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq of the APC, should ordinarily be banking on the advantage of incumbency, which is one unassailable thing. But in a democracy where the people are the ones to decide, through the ballot box, whether they want to reward a term of office with another, it is always very difficult to predict. Well, this is Nigeria, where you underrated the power of incumbency at your own peril.

The Governor has no doubt recorded some outstanding performance in some key sectors, like health (renovation of hospitals, and equipping same), and education – getting the State white-listed again by UBEC), and school renovation exercise across the State. In terms of social investment, too (putting money in the pockets of the vulnerable), nobody can in all honesty say the Governor has not done anything. This is in addition to some modest achievements in sports (getting the State’s darling team, Kwara United football club to compete in the elite division), workers’ welfare.

Ideally, the fact that you’re in government, gives you an advantage to execute projects and programs that would endear you to the electorates. You, therefore, need little or no campaign to secure the People’s mandate for the second term, as your achievements will be visible, to the blind, and audible for the deaf. In most cases, however, even if you have been able to do that successfully, you still require a very robust media team to help you tell your story, and manage people’s perception of your intentions. Has the media team of the administration done well enough, in the business of convincing the people, most of whom are not politicians, to give Governor Abdulrazaq their votes again? How well have they been able to sell the Governor’s administration in the past four years, and again, his candidacy? Well, I may not be able to give a definitive answer, but they certainly can do better than they currently are doing. The business of managing the Governor’s, and of course, the administration’s image, is a task that is too much to be left in the hands of a single appointee. Some “Commissioners of Communication” (about three of them, before the current one) have had very underwhelming performances in office, as far as showcasing the modest achievements of the Governor is concerned. Maybe it is because they were not pressmen by profession. The current one who is not a known media practitioner until his appointment early this year, has not fared any better either.

The team has been involved in some avoidable media spats recently, with some notable figures in the State, both partisan and non-partisan. And that’s not too good, especially, in this season of politics. The Governor’s media team have not resisted, enough, the temptation of stoning every dog that barks along the way. They have not avoided distractions well enough, especially with some men of the fourth estate of the realm, some of whose media platforms the administration has one issue or the other with. The team has not measured its responses, enough, to issues, particularly on allegations of mismanagement of public funds, as many more are likely to be thrown up in the run-up to March 2023 governorship election. It is not new. When I say measure, I mean, weighing the pros and cons of such responses, within the context of politics. I dare say, if you have not been accused of mismanaging, misappropriating, or embezzling public funds in Nigeria, it means you have never served in a public office. Everybody knows that, it doesn’t necessarily mean the allegations are true. Every successive administration has been accused of one form of wrongdoing or the other, whether truly, or falsely. That should not bother any focused politician in Nigeria. After all, he who alleges bears the burden of proof.

Again, the media team hasn’t schooled the governor enough, into appreciating the power of regular engagement with the press, especially those who are based within the State. He’d done a couple of media parley recently, with media executives in the State, but that is a very poor return, in four years, or thereabout. He needs to do that, more often. His immediate predecessor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed used to have what he called, “the Governor Explains” every three or six months then, in a syndicated radio broadcast across the State, through which he acquainted the good people of Kwara State with the progress made in governance during the period under review. The excuse that, “it is the Governor’s unique style” (not to regularly engage with the media) is as puerile as anything. These are some of the “public relation own goal”, scored by the Governor’s media minders, which might come back to haunt him, as he heads to the poll.

Furthermore, Commissioners in other ministries have not seen themselves as the number one Marketing Officers of the Governor in their respective Ministries. Ditto for some SAs and SSAs. These are people who should be the number one image-makers of their principal, in their respective areas of responsibilities, but most of them are yet to stand up to be counted.

The war of internecine that has, over the past three years, rocked, and weakened the APC in the state is another issue that is, seriously, not to the advantage of Governor Abdulrazaq. But I believe, it could still be addressed, if the Governor believes that, politics is a game of “Give-and-Take”. Compromise. But it is beginning to look like, it is too late already, as the time ticks. The recent gale of resignation of some prominent aides, and defections of party chieftains, as a result of the crisis, should a cause for worry for the Governor and the party. However as far as the governor is concerned, “there is no time to check time”, as he wasted no time in announcing replacements for those who were affected. The resignation and defection of the Special Advisers on Health, Sports and Community Mobilisation, Professor Wale Sulaiman, Mallam Attahiru Ibrahim, and Comrade Musbau Esinrogunjo, respectively, coupled with the defection of a number of party chieftains across the state, is not something any ambitious politician, especially an incumbent who faces a re-election bid, and is not banking on rigging, should be comfortable with. Although, the traffic of defection is not a one-way thing, as politicians from other parties too are carpet-crossing, politics is a game of number, and numerical superiority will at the end of the day, determine the winner. Almost, every politician cherishes being addressed with the moniker, a “grassroot mobiliser”, but some have “grass”, without the “root”, and some have the “root” without the “grass”, while there are those who have, both the grass and the root, and therefore are by virtue of that, qualified to be addressed as grassroot politicians, as opposed to the first two categories. Regardless of their clouts, no political party, or candidate, desires losing such politicians. APC in Kwara State has lost a considerable number of them, to last a party for more than one electoral cycle. The only thing working in favour of the APC now is that, those who do not want the Governor to return are yet to form a united front, as some of them still appear driven by personal interests more than anything else. By and large, whether or not, APC will be returned, come March 2023, depends on whether the seemingly fragmented opposition parties are able to form a strong alliance, going in to the election next year.

Professor Shuaib Ọba Abdulraheem.

The candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party, NNPP, Professor Shuaib Oba Abdulraheem, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin – an “Ó To Ge” Commander, is a formidable political force, whose popularity can only be treated with levity, at huge cost to his opponents. He claims to have won the APC gubernatorial primary election in 2019. Not a few insiders corroborated the claim. But those in the camp of Governor Abdulrazaq countered it, saying, “nothing could be farther from the truth than that.

One of his major strength is that, he is believed to have built people, especially, when he held sway as the VC of the University of Ilorin, and as the Chairman of the Federal Character Commission, FCC. He is also believed to be a grassroot mobiliser, at least, in the central senatorial district of the State. What he appears to be banking on, is how many votes he believes he would wrest from the bloc votes that brought APC to power, in the last general election. And that is not a misplaced hope, if you ask me.

He contested the ticket of the SDP with the current holder, but lost twice within a week or so, last May. His popularity outside of Kwara central may not be as strong as it is, inside of it. But he is capable of springing surprises, having done what others are doing – choosing a running mate from Kwara South.

One cause for concern for him is that, he seems to be alone on this political voyage, if what the founder, and the presidential candidate of the party, Alhaji Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso said sometimes ago, is anything to go by. He (Kwakwanso) said, apart from himself, the only presidential candidate he could endorse is that of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. This statement hints at the likelihood of him stepping down for Asiwaju, at a point, in the nearest future, before February next year, and may therefore order the party’s structures at the State level to be collapsed into the APC. That means, the Governorship candidate might not be on the same page with the national leadership of the party, considering the mutual endorsement that exists between APC’s Tinubu and Governor Abdulrazaq. And who knows, the fortunes of the presidential candidate might just rub off on the Governor.

I do not think the former Unilorin VC will consider going into an alliance, where he would be required to step down for whomever, even though, it is the surest way to defeat the incumbent. But, if he could win the 2019 primary election, after which he said the national leadership of the party prevailed on, him to step down for a candidate with a bigger financial war chest, then he deserves to be taken very seriously.

Alhaji Hakeem Lawal (SDP).

The candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Hakeem Lawal, is a UK-trained Economist, who is in his late 40s. Controversies, trailed his emergence as the party’s flag bearer. His major challenger, Professor Ọba-Abu, refused to accept the result of the first election, on the ground that it did not follow the due process, and another one had to be conducted, but Lawal won again when a rerun was conducted. The former FCC Chairman would later defect to the NNPP – a party which flag he now flies. Before now, the most vocal member of this party used to be Honourable Saheed Popoola, representing, Ojomu/Balogun constituency, at the Kwara State House of Assembly, but now contesting to represent the Ifelodun/Offa/Oyun Federal Constituency, at the National Assembly, under the auspices of the SDP. He was among the first set of the aggrieved members of the “APC Loyal” group (as they like referring to themselves), to leave for the SDP, following their alleged disenfranchisement by the party exco, loyal to the Governor, during last year’s APC membership validation and registration exercise. While others were exploring options for a possible reconciliation, he seemed to have already concluded that the much-sought reconciliation would not be forthcoming, and had, therefore, hit the ground running earlier than most of the group members. While the direction, Honorable Popoola and a few others face, has been very unambiguous, from day-one, the same cannot be said of others who still clung on to a tiny thread of hope that the situation could be salvaged. Perhaps they were, initially, being careful not to be caught in the web of anti-party activities. But as time went on, they came out, full blast, and left no one in doubt, as to their next political move., damning the consequences. They’re now in SDP.

You may question their initial obstinacy in holding on to their grievances for far too long, and their indecisiveness in leaving the APC for another party, but you cannot question the genuineness of their grievances, and the hope they held on to, for possible reconciliation. Majority of the people in this group were among the most prominent protagonists of the “O To Ge” revolution in 2018/2019. It is my belief that, allowing this group to leave might turn out to be a great misstep, the Kwara APC will live to regret. It comprises some of the most formidable grassroot mobilisers there are, in the State.

Lawal is expected to split whatever bloc votes Governor Abdulrazaq might be expecting from any perceived stronghold, especially, Kwara Central. But that might not be enough to defeat the incumbent. Like the candidate of the NNPP, Lawal, who’s a son of late Admiral Mohammed Lawal – a former Governor of the State, is from the same senatorial district, as the incumbent. What that simply means is that, the votes from Kwara Central would be split among the formidable trio. Do I see a possibility of an alliance, between the SDP and NNPP, and SDP, NNPP and PDP on the other? Well, nothing can be ruled out for now, but it does not look likely, especially if one considers the doggedness of Ọba-Abu,and the swiftness with which he acted, defecting to the NNPP, after he lost the SDP rerun primary to Lawal.

Lawal would also remind anyone who approaches him with a proposition to step down, of how popular he is among the youths, and the elderly in the party and beyond. Like the saying goes, “one week is such a very long time in politics”, where things move at the speed of light. In the midst of the elderly, Lawal is riding on the crest of his late father’s popularity, coupled with the advantage of demographic congruity with the youths. At 48, his strongest point is that, he is young, energetic, and resourceful, and he is also at home with, both the youths, at least, and the elderly, in his party majority of whom were APC foot soldiers, four years ago. They could also be counted upon to replicate the feat of Ó To Ge revolution. The Master strategist of AbdulRazaq’s campaign in 2019 – Arch. Kale Belgore is now Hakeem Lawal’s campaign Director-General, while the likes of Director of Media (Central) of Governor Abdulrazaq’s Campaign Organisation, Abdulrasheed Akogun, a media mogul, for instance, is also a member of the Hakeem Lawal Campaign Organisation, among other battle-tested young “Ó To Gehists”. Ideology might be a massive stumbling block, preventing the PDP from going in an alliance with the two or either of them.

In addition, PDP might be feeling too big, and rightly so, to be in a political alliance where it will play a second fiddle role to anybody. Furthermore, Lawal is from the central senatorial district, as the incumbent, and would be banking on his running mate, like other candidates, to garner some votes from the southern senatorial district.

What makes the possibility of an alliance between him and Professor Ọba-Abu, a very unlikely proposition is because of what transpired between them, during the SDP primary election in May, which was majorly between the duo, and a very fierce one at that. It is, therefore, very unthinkable to expect the latter, being the older, to shelve his ambition for the latter because, who has age on his side.

By and large, if these ploys to remove Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq from office continue to remain fragmented, until the day of election, then he remains the man to beat. But the people of Kwara State will ultimately decide, through the ballot box, in whose custody, among the lot, they will entrust their socio-political destiny, for the next four years.

Abubakar writes from Ilorin. He can be reached via 08051388285 or marxbayour@gmail.com


Ibrahim Sheriff is the Editor of Fresh Insight and former Special Assistant on Media to the Speaker, Kwara state House of Assembly. Although a management science researcher by training, he has over five years experience of practice in Journalism, Public Relations and Communication Strategy. Sheriff holds a Masters Degree in Finance and Bachelors Degree in Banking and Finance from Kwara state University, Malete. He has Certificates in Digital Journalism, Enterprise Creation and Skill Acquisition (ECSA) and Basic Econometrics Data Analysis, as well as Bank of Industry (BoI) Certificate in Business Management. He is also a holder of Diploma in Cooperative Studies from Kwara state Polytechnic, Ilorin.

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