The All Progressives Congress in Kwara State appears to be cruising in bad weather, about 18 months after the Otoge movement that wrestled power from the Peoples Democratic Party, TUNDE OYEKOLA reports
The APC in Kwara State appears to be enjoying a fragile peace following a botched attempt to remove its Chairman, Bashir Bolarinwa, recently.
Though, the state governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, managed the brewing crisis by affirming that Bolarinwa remains the party chairman in the state, situations in the party are pointing that he may be putting off the evil day.
The seeming division stands in sharp contrast to the unifying Yoruba campaign slogan, Otoge (enough is enough), on which the party rode to wrest power from the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, largely controlled by a former Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
In the 2019 general elections, the APC won all the three senatorial seats, six House of Representatives seats, 24 State House of Assembly seats and the governorship election to dislodge the five decades reign of the late Dr Olusola Saraki’s dynasty.
However, what used to be one house is no longer at ease as the gulf between both the party executive and the state government has become so widened.
The Otoge movement was a ‘political revolution’ which a group that tagged itself as the “Progressives” banked on to secure political power in the state.
Today, the party’s membership has been divided between Governor Abdulrazaq group, otherwise known as AA Caucus and the Legacy Group under the control of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Within the rank of the party executive, the Deputy Chairman, Abdullahi Samari; the Secretary, Mustapha Isowo; and the Publicity Secretary, Folaranmi Aro, appear to belong to the AA Caucus while the chairman and a sizeable number of the executive is believed to be holding their loyalty to the minister.
Sources said that the division in the party could be traced to its formation in August 2018.
A source said, “What is happening in the party is normal due to its composition. The APC in Kwara State is made up of the PDP and the APC members who came with factions to form the APC.
“When on July 31, 2018, the former Senate President defected from the APC to the PDP, those of us in opposition then moved to the APC with two factions; one led by Prince Sunday Fagbemi while the other was led by Chief Iyiola Oyedepo who was the chairman of the PDP in the state then.
“We also met two factions in the APC. One of the factions known as ‘Legacy’ is led by Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the other is led by Senator Gbemisola Saraki. All the factions came with their load of problems.”
The source, who is one of the prominent Kwara APC chieftains, said the current crisis stemmed from the abrupt manner the factions were fused together to win power.
“So, four tendencies came together to form the APC. If we are fighting today, it is because we have not got used to each other,” the source added.
However, another issue that worsened the leadership crisis was the alleged donation of N100m to the party by an APC governor from one of the northern states in November 2018 to fund the bye-election campaign of Raheem Olawuyi, aka Ajuloopin for the House of Representatives seat in Irepodun/Isin/Ekiti/Oke-Ero Federal Constituency of Kwara State.
Sources said the fund was given to a chieftain of the party who did not release the money for the purpose it was meant for.
Although the APC eventually won the election, the non-transparency of the chieftain on the fund was alleged to be responsible for why most of the party stakeholders stayed back from the campaigns of the party for the 2019 general elections.
The party was further polarised when the state governor allegedly single-handedly picked his commissioners and other political appointees in the state, another APC chieftain told our correspondent.
He said, “Another faction in the party comprises some of the governorship aspirants who contested the primary election with the incumbent governor in 2018. Some of them are working against the governor and the interest of the party in the state.
“One of the factions in the executive of the party believes that Abdulrazaq should not spend more than a single term. They are those referred to as “Je ohun to je ko san owo” group. It literally means to ‘eat what you want to eat, wash your hands and leave.’ However, another group within the APC are those in Kwara North Senatorial zone who believe that it is the turn of the zone to produce the next governor of the state.”
Since the assumption of office of the incumbent governor, the efforts of the party executive to unite party members have been frustrated.
For instance, the convoy of the party chairman that went on a ‘thank-you-tour’ to Shao in the Moro Local Government Area of the state after the election was attacked while some party members were injured. Some motorcycles were also vandalised and stolen during the attack.
The crisis, however, reached a crescendo on Thursday, November 5, during a stakeholders meeting held at Kwara Hotel and attended by both the governor and the chairman of the party.
It was gathered that while the meeting was on, a party elder from Oko Ward of Irepodun local government area read out some “sins” allegedly committed by the chairman from a document and moved a motion that he should be suspended.
The document, a copy of which was obtained by our correspondent, was jointly signed by the party secretary, Mustapha Isowo, and a chieftain, Abel Adewumi.
It cited the chairman’s alleged offences as deliberate sabotage of governorship campaign take-off, insubordination to the party leadership, deliberate refusal to convey the State Executive Committee meeting as enshrined in the party’s construction, lack of accountability and mismanagement of party funds, among others.
However, some irate members did not allow the aggrieved party member to conclude the motion before he was mobbed, dispossessed of the leaflets and forced out of the hall.
Some stakeholders at the meeting pointed accusing fingers at the governor as being the sponsor of the motion, saying, “the chairman of the party was not elected in Kwara Hotel, hence he cannot be removed there.”
The Presidency later waded into the crisis and ordered that Bolarinwa be reinstated.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, who is an indigene of the state, was said to have intervened, appealing to the governor to reinstate Bolarinwa.
He also urged Abdulrazaq to attend a town hall meeting organised by Lai Mohammed on behalf of the Federal Government slated for Friday (November 6) in Ilorin.
Consequently, the governor in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye, said Bolarinwa remained the APC chairman in the state and appealed for calm among the party members, urging them to embrace dialogue in resolving the crisis.
As the Kwara APC continues to battle its leadership crisis, stakeholders have wondered whether the forces behind the Otoge movement which wrested power from the PDP are still on the same page as regards the models of governance they set out to achieve about two years ago.
The party’s Publicity Secretary in the state, Tajudeen Aro, who is believed to be a member of the AA Caucus, said the movement had been able to produce a leader and people-oriented government “that is receptive and very sensitive to the yearning of the citizenry.”
“He (Abdulrazaq) demystifies the arrogance and opulence of power. The governor gave a sense of belonging to everyone by making them (citizens) participate directly in matters affecting their lives,” Aro added.
Chief Wole Oke, a Second Republic Majority Leader in the Kwara House of Assembly and chieftain of the party believed to be in the AA Caucus, claimed that the government birthed by the Otoge movement had achieved more in the provision of physical development and effective management of the financial resources of the state.
But another chieftain of the party, Mr Iyiola Oyedepo, differed, insisting the objectives of the Otoge movement had yet to be achieved in the state.
He said, “No, the objective has yet to be achieved. Though we have been able to change the people in government, we have yet to reach the Eldorado because things are still being done the way they were.
“We have been clamouring for equity and justice, but we can’t see anything in that direction. We have succeeded in changing the status quo; we are free from godfatherism and the politics in the state is no longer a one-man or one-family dominated. We have laid the foundation of bringing in more people of integrity into the government.”
Meanwhile, a former governorship aspirant of the party in the state, Reverend Olubunmi Olusona, said the crisis in the party was being exaggerated and denied that there was a disagreement between the governor and the minister.
He stated, “To the best of my knowledge, there is no crisis between the leader of our great party, Governor Abdulrahman (Abdulrazaq), and Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who is one of the other leaders within the Kwara Chapter of the APC. I believe Abdulrazaq and the minister are relating seamlessly.”
However, in the same breadth, Olusona called for the removal of the party chairman, who came in through a caretaker committee.
He said, “The chairman, due to his lack of experience and the way he became the caretaker chairman, has been rude and he displayed incompetence in so many ways. We call for the dissolution of the State Caretaker Committee. It should be dissolved so that we can properly elect new party officials and Bolarinwa should test his popularity among the members if he is sure that he controls the party.”
Another chieftain of the APC, Mr Ayoola Obisesan, who is believed to be a member of the Lai Mohammed’s faction, alleged that there are some elements within the party who are pursuing selfish agenda.
Although he denied the existence of any crisis in the party, he neither confirmed nor denied the rift between the minister and the governor.
He said, “There is no crisis in the party. Up till now, there is no factional leader. Bolarinwa is our party chairman and Governor Abdulrazaq is the leader of the party. But I think some people are playing a sort of game to protect their own interest or the interest of their paymasters which is acceptable in any political setup.
“I am aware that some people made an attempt to remove Bolarinwa as the chairman of the party to overrun the system and to protect the interest of their paymasters. We have some members in the state executive of the party who felt uncomfortable with the leadership of the party but unfortunately, they happen to be in the minority. They made an attempt which was thwarted by the majority in the executive.
“I will neither dispute nor agree that there is a crisis between the governor and the minister. Both of them are performing their respective functions effectively without affecting each other. The governor is performing his functions as the governor of the state and the minister is performing his as the minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Definitely, I’m very close to Lai Mohammed, but there was never a time that he told us there was rancour between him and the governor. Even during the recent town hall meeting organised by him, the governor was there while the party chairman was also there with each performing their respective functions. Although they are all human beings and they have their differences, they are able to manage it.”
Obisesan said that the crisis within the executive of the party was not affecting the execution of the party’s programmes in the state as the government and the party had distinct functions to perform, adding that the governor had the right to pick members of his executive single-handedly without consulting the party
“The party can only advise him which he may or may not take. Don’t forget that the buck stops at his table and he is the one that the people would hold responsible for his actions,” he added.
Speaking on the way out of the crisis, both Oke, Obisesan and Oyedepo noted that the bulk of the solution rested on the governor.
Oke urged the governor to keep his door widely open to members of the party for consultation and see the party as a vehicle he needed for his political ambitions.
“The party chairman should unite the executive of the party. Bolarinwa should take the initiative to ensure that the party is united,” he added.
He also advised all the former governorship aspirants of the party to unite and build a strong party, advising them to see the party as a vehicle they would ride on to succeed in future elections.
Obisesan said, “The governor who is the leader of the party should do the needful. If he wants peace in the party, he can achieve it because if he calls a meeting of the party today, everybody will attend.”
To Oyedepo, the crisis in Kwara APC is avoidable and could only be resolved by the governor.
He said, “Some people have to provide the right leadership. The governor is the leader of the party. I think it is the governor that will provide the leadership that will bring people together. He is the biggest channel that would bring people together because he governs the entire state.
“He should start the process of reconciliation of party members and I want to commend him in drawing the minister and the state chairman of the party to himself. Formerly, the governor and the minister as well as the party chairman were not in talking term, but now, they’re talking.
“The governor should do more by doing the same thing to all stakeholders in the party by bringing them together. This is what he can do if he wants to save the party.”
In the coming days and months, how the crisis is managed will go a long way in reinforcing the APC’s status as the new ruling party in the state or diminish its ‘virtue’ hinged on the Otoge movement.