By Hassan Mustapha-Orire
A body of literature is gradually being written on the well-deserved victory of the opposition in Kwara over the long entrenched Saraki’s political dynasty in the state.
There’s no begrudging such writings except that most of them appear to have been designed purely to either taunt the Sarakites or build some narratives to justify why some persons should (not) get what appointment and how the sharing of the political spoil should go. Very few, if any, of the articles so far written have made the point that the victory of 2019 resulted from a long-standing struggle against the Saraki dynasty, especially what many may call its history of abuse of political power and reactionary politics which seeks to entrench a Machiavellian rule at the expense of rapid development.
This struggle, as some have observed, started as mere grumblings within (the dynasty’s) own erstwhile foot soldiers who insisted that things were not going well. Even then, most of the soldiers were waging the war from within. A few — such as the fearless Iyiola Oyedepo and the Wole Okes — had the courage to write press statements or books to protest the parlous state of affairs. Some even recanted after a while!
But the first and the most significant challenge to Saraki’s rule berthed in 2011 when a certain Mohammed Dele Belgore, a senior advocate, ran for governor on the platform of the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). It was a valiant and hugely successful challenge to the status quo in the state. The Sarakites survived that daring onslaught only because they were in the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which afforded them the use of state machineries to tilt the balance in their favour. Even then, the huge votes recorded by Belgore (over 150,000) were the highest any opposition candidate had ever polled in the state against Saraki’s political machinery. Undiscerning analysts may say what matters is victory. But such comment can only come from persons who knew not what later transpired at the election tribunal where various mind-boggling electoral frauds were established such as votes recorded criminally exceeding the ballot papers used in the conduct of election. That is beside the cases of polling agents of the opposition being barred from collation centres and village heads, working with some pliant officials, arbitrarily allocating votes to the ruling party.
The point here is that the Bukola Saraki’s victory in 2011 against the Belgore tsunami was largely because the former had state machineries working for him. Besides, the Belgore feat was largely driven by massive support from the hoi polloi who — like the Otoge campaign chant — bought into the ‘O n dunbo, Dele L’afe’ (roughly Kwara will be great; we want Dele) slogan of the ACN candidate.
But there is more to credit Belgore for. As a candidate of the ACN, Belgore was coming from the central senatorial district just like the outgoing Governor Saraki whose second term tenure had just ended. Saraki had tapped Abdulfattah Ahmed, an Igbomina man from Kwara South senatorial district, to succeed him. It was a political masterstroke which succeeded in getting the Igbomina elite and other known anti-Saraki elements to drop their long-standing opposition in the belief that Saraki, who had opposed his sister, was being fair to the Kwara South by conceding governorship slot to them. Belgore and indeed other ACN top echelons had told the Kwara South establishments that Ahmed wasn’t going to serve their people’s interest. He had said Ahmed was coming to serve just the interest of his boss. Eight years down the line, it is clear Belgore saw the future. The rest is now history!
The ACN’s hugely expository campaign (about the misgovernance and the alleged malfeasance of the Saraki years) and the huge following it enjoyed — particularly among the youth — helped to demystify the myth that no one could muster or survive a challenge to the political dynasty.
Not only did Belgore challenge the outcome of the election up to the supreme court, he and his team kept mounting pressure on the dynasty through constant engagement of the public on how the state was being ‘mismanaged’. These engagements continued until 2013 when Saraki led his foot soldiers out of the PDP and joined the APC, an amalgam of ACN, Buhari’s CPC, ANPP and some PDP elements led by Saraki, Rotimi Amaechi, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Aminu Tambuwal and Murtala Nyako, among others.
Because of the nature of Kwara’s struggle, Belgore and his supporters left the ACN/APC for PDP on the ground that they couldn’t cohabit with Saraki who they insisted was at the heart of underdevelopment and anger in Kwara. They insisted that Saraki was unpopular with the people and had gone to the APC to shore up his dwindling political fortune hiding under Buhari’s popularity and the clear signal that Goodluck Jonathan, then loathed at home and abroad, was going to lose the 2015 polls.
The Belgore group had warned that APC would regret ever bringing Saraki to their fold. Again, the rest is history as the APC went ahead to win the presidency and most seats at the parliament but it never had any peace — no thanks to Saraki’s treachery in his bid to clinch the senate presidency.
Belgore’s predictions about Saraki have come full circle. That included that Saraki was ‘finished’ politically among the people in Kwara and had needed a Buhari to survive in 2015. The 2019 polls have proven this point, as Saraki and his men were humiliated at the polls which were won 100 percent by APC. Saraki lost because he had not only lost the people, he had also been stripped of the use of state machineries with which he had always won elections for himself and his anointed candidates.
It is important therefore for chroniclers of history to pay attention to these nuances as they write the political obituaries of Bukola Saraki.
AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq’s Otoge movement was a hit ‘back-to-back’, but it partly owes its success to pent-up anger which had rightly been instigated and sustained in people’s consciousness by the likes of Belgore, Iyiola Oyedepo and a few others who had been at the forefront of the struggle to dethrone Bukola Saraki and end the political tyranny in the state.