The lingering crisis within the Kwara State chapter of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is not ebbing.
In this report, LAYI OLANREWAJU examines the accusation and counter accusations of an alleged diversion of the 2019 general elections campaign funds, among other issues.
The wave that swept over the political terrain of Kwara State some two years ago was strong enough to pull down the Saraki political dynasty built over some three decades. Coined in Yoruba slang-‘O To Ge’ (enough is enough), strange bedfellows came together to confront their perceived enemy, Bukola Saraki, and ultimately gave the dynasty a crushing defeat in the 2019 general elections.
However, barely two years after the historic victory, the party is now embroiled in a war of supremacy between Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq and his rival groups, including the Information and Culture, Minister Lai Mohammed, Minister of State for Transport, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, Prince Sunday Fagbemi and Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, among others.
While the stakeholders are pretending as if all is well in the party, political watchers are wondering why they are living in self-denial.
The intrigue that culminated in the emergence of Alhaji Abdullahi Sanmori who replaced Bashir Bolarinwa as the chairman of the party is already a familiar story.
Consequently, the leading members of ‘O To Ge’ movement had to retrace their steps back to their former fold, while AbdulRazaq assumed full leadership of the state structure in line with the constitution of the APC. Thus, as the governor continues to enjoy the support and loyalty of members of his old group, the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), those of the ACN faithful keep their allegiance to the Minister of Information and Culture. This is in addition to a group loyal to the Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki, an old member of the PDP.
Already, the development has created some mutual suspicions among the APC members in the state. But rather than facing the reality, the leaders of the splinter groups continued to cry wolf over the alleged refusal of the governor to bankroll the party.
Governor AbdulRahman recently stirred the hornet’s nest when he declared that some members of a cabal within the party, who received hundreds of millions of naira as donations for the Kwara struggle ahead of the 2019 general election from various sources did not give him a dime.
AbdulRahman, who was represented at a book launch by his deputy, Mr Kayode Alabi, said that he received no dime from anybody.
His words: “Since this book is about his history, I feel it is important to set the records straight on a few things. First, the ‘Otoge’ is the struggle of our people and it did not necessarily start in 2019. Every Kwaran of good conscience owned and worked for that struggle in various ways. We were only positioned by providence to lead the final lap of the breaking of the jinx that dated back many decades.
“However, permit me to assert here that contrary to some claims out there, the battle cry ‘Otoge’ and its adoption were a product of a statewide field research that I commissioned shortly after the primaries in October 2018. If anyone could lay claim to its copyright, it has to be the Hook Nigeria, a communications outfit owned by very young people. One of them, Toyyib, is a Kwara South prince.
“I had held meetings with various PR outfits, but I found their own presentation most strikingly catchy and reflective of the Kwara struggle. We ran our campaign with that slogan and it quickly resonated with our masses. So popular was it that even motorcyclists and trailer drivers adopted it in their honking. It became a household refrain.
“I also need to set the record straight about the party crisis. It did not begin after the election or swearing-in. It is safe to say that those who claimed to own the party in the state at that time practically disowned me until after the president had won his election and the coast became clearer back home. Here is the story!
“Shortly after the primaries in October, 2018, the party told me they had set up a campaign structure. Nobody consulted me before doing that even though I was the governorship candidate. They asked me to fund the campaign structure that I was not privy to.
“Of course, I declined it. I would later lead my own small campaign team across the state.
“It is on record that the party officially boycotted my campaign tours. Party officials got the instruction not to attend my campaign.
“A few of them can testify to this. I went round the whole of Kwara North without the party. However, they stylishly joined the campaign after the presidential election, when it was clear Kwarans had decided in our favour. I am not aware of any decent democracy where a candidate would not be given the privilege of shaping the direction of his own campaign.
“It is even worse that my campaign was boycotted because I refused to be led by the nose.
“I have told these stories of the slogan and of the party issues to disabuse the mind of Kwarans or friends of Kwara who may not have had this information. In doing so, I am not claiming sole credit for the success of the struggle.
“And for ministers, governors, party supporters and friends of Kwara who I later heard donated hundreds of millions of naira to support the Otoge struggle in Kwara, I want to say that I did not receive a kobo of that fund. But how that money was managed or stolen is a story for another day.”
Expectedly, the governor’s expositions at the book launch have continued to elicit reactions and counter reactions from stakeholders within the rival camps. Lai Mohammed, reacting to the alleged diversion of the campaign funds by some cabals during the 2019 elections, claimed that he singlehandedly, through family and friends raised all the funds deployed for prosecution of the elections in the state, including the House of Representatives by-election for Irepodun/Ekiti/ Oke-Ero constituency which preceded the 2019 general elections.
He said: “I never diverted APC 2019 general elections campaign funds for my personal use as alleged by the governor. I singlehandedly with the support of friends and family raised all the monies for the Oke-Ero/Isin/Ekiti/Irepodun Federal Constituency by-election of November 2019 that brought Tunji Olawuyi to the House of Representatives.
“I challenge anybody here to say he gave the party one penny apart from what I gave them. I challenge anybody here to say he gave logistics support to the party. I did that by the grace of God. I distributed 500 motorcycles and 20 vehicles. And many of the beneficiaries are here today.
“I want them to explain to Nigerians what happened to the N70 million that Olawuyi kept that the governor refused to give us during the by-election. When we raised money to prosecute that November 2019 by-election and gave them, but to our biggest surprise, like two days to the election, we could not reach them through their phones again to release funds we raised.
“I had to go to friends to raise another N150 million to prosecute that election. I remember very well that there are 42 wards in that constituency. We thank God today that was the beginning of our success.
“When the elections proper came, we did not see our governorship candidate. We could not wait. I say without any fear of contradictions that by the grace of God with the money raised from friends, colleagues and associates, we financed the four elections and we scored 100 per cent.
“But they got there today and forgot the people that put them there. If we did not give money to the party, how did he think the party won?”
Among those present at the event where the minister spoke are; member, Federal House of Reps, Gani Cook Olododo; factional Chairman, Bashir Omolaja Bolarinwa; Prof Oba AbdulRaheem; member, state Assembly, Saheed Popoola; Alhaji Tajudeen Makama; Chief Akogun Oyedepo; Rex Olawoye; Dr Hezekiah Oyedepo; Saka Raji, Dr Iyanda; Alhaji Adebayo Adisa; Comrade Rahoof Bello, among others.
While the battle line is drawn, party supporters are looking up to the national leadership for intervention to nip the crisis in the bud. According to Chief Iyiola Oyedepo, a former majority leader of the state House of Assembly, the crisis has degenerated to a level beyond what the two groups could amicably resolve without the intervention of “a third party”.
Oyedepo, a loyalist of Lai Mohammed’s faction said: “We have not exhausted all the available options to resolve the crisis. We had reported the matter to the highest authorities of the party at the national level, but as we speak, there has not been any concrete solution to it.
“We learnt that the national body is sending down persons to intervene. It has gone beyond what we can settle internally now. We suddenly discovered that strange bedfellows were behind the ‘O To Ge’ movement about two years ago.”
Political analysts in the state are, however, of the view that if the APC should remain polarized ahead of the 2023 polls, the Sarakis may stage a comeback.
But a former Senator, who represented Kwara South senatorial district between 1999 and 2003, Alhaji Makanjuola Ajadi reacted differently, saying “there is no political party today in Nigeria that is free of political squabble.
“The ‘O To Ge’ movement is bigger than any political party. It was a weapon in the hands of the voters. And seeing the good works of the incumbent governor, the feat will once again be reenacted in the state.”