Kwara APC: A ruling party in search of harmony

BIOLA AZEEZ looks at the festering ‘civil war’ in Kwara State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) over bottled up anger before and after the 2019 election as well as the controversy that attended the membership registration and validation exercise in the state.

THE opening lines of William Butler Yeats’ famous poem, The Second Coming, aptly characterise the developments in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kwara State. The party is “turning and turning in widening gyre” and as far as the power brokers are concerned their “falcon cannot hear the falconer.” Consequently, things have fallen apart for them and the centre can no longer hold. But will the party hierarchy wait till “mere anarchy is loosed upon…” the party in the state? That is the question many observers are now asking.

One thing is clear though from the power play in Kwara APC between the state governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq and his estranged benefactor and Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, the harmony the party enjoyed during the “O to ge” campaign for the state’s government house in 2019 has fractured.

APC in Kwara State is split along the tendencies that came together to stop the Saraki political machine that has been running in the politics of the state since the Second Republic.

At least, three of the tendencies now have separate party secretariats in different places in the Ilorin metropolis as a pointer to the factions within the party. The crisis in the party was not helped by the recent registration and revalidation exercise which further polarised members, as accusations and counter accusations of marginalisation and manipulation ahead of 2023 politicking trailed the exercise.

While incumbent caretaker committee chairman of the party, Abdulahi Samari, said to be loyal to the state governor  has his secretariat at Tanke area, that of the Honourable Bashir Bolarinwa, an ally of the information minister, Mr Mohammed, has its own secretariat at Ilorin GRA. Another party secretariat, controlled by a governorship aspirant in the last general election and a philanthropist, Waziri Yakubu Gobir, is located at another section of GRA in Ilorin.

It was also reported that a third political force within the APC in Kwara State has been formed to slug it out in the political equation of the state, especially between the ruling APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the next electoral contest.

A few weeks ago, Governor Abdulrazaq, at the launch of a book entitled “O to ge” in Ilorin, had through his deputy, Mr Kayode Alabi, opened up on the roots of the protracted crisis rocking the state chapter of the ruling party, tracing it to his refusal to fund a campaign structure that was formed without his prior knowledge or input as the governorship candidate.

The governor also disclosed that some cabals within the party who received hundreds of millions of naira as donations for the prosecution of the election did not give him a kobo, adding that party officials were equally barred from campaigning with him until the presidential election had been won and the pendulum was clearly swinging in his favour.

“Since this book is about history, I feel it is important to set the record straight on a few things. First, O to ge 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,” he said, in what was the first public statement made by him on the issues within the party.

“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, the party told me they have 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.

“And for ministers, governors, party supporters and friends of Kwara who I later heard donated hundreds of millions of naira to support the “O to ge” 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.”

But the information minister, Mr Mohammed, at whom the salvo was directed, came out to defend himself, especially on the alleged diversion of the campaign funds  during 2019 elections. He spoke during the commissioning of the factional party secretariat,  Reservation road, G.R.A Ilorin.

The minister claimed that he singlehandedly, through family and friends, raised all the funds for the prosecution of the elections in the state, including the House of Representatives by-election for Irepodun/Ekiti/Oke-Ero Federal Constituency which preceded the 2019 general election.

According to him,  “I never diverted APC  2019 general election campaign funds for my personal use as alleged by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq. I singlehandedly with the support of friends and family raised all the money for the Oke-Ero/Isin/Ekiti/Irepodun Federal Constituency by-election of November 2019 that brought Honourable Tunji Olawuyi to the House of Representatives.

“I challenge anybody 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 about what happened to the N70 million that Honourable Olawuyi kept that the governor refused to give us during the by-election. When we raised money to prosecute that November 2018 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 the 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 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 forget the people that put them there. If we did not give money to the party, how did he think the party won?” he queried.

The minister also went further to declare that there would not be party congress in the state on July 10 until all party members were allowed to validate their membership.

“I alongside Professor Oba Abdulraheem and Tajudeen Makama met with the Caretaker Committee chairman of the party, Mai Mala Buni, at the party secretariat in Abuja, and he made it known clearly to us that Kwara’s case is special, and there will not be party congress in the state, until all members are validated and registered,” he said.

Meanwhile, the minister did not wait long to get someone to challenge his statement on the party’s campaign fund, as a member, House of Representatives, representing Ekiti, Irepodun, Isin, Oke-ero Federal Constituency, Abdulraheem Tunji Olawuyi Ajuloopin, described the allegation against him by the information minister on the 2018 by-election campaign fund as frivolous.

Giving details of what transpired, Ajuloopin stated that a North-Central state governor reached out to him on personal ground to donate toward the 2018 by-election, and when the minister got wind of the donation, he immediately reached out to him asking him to bring the money.

“However, I immediately contacted a few of our trusted party elders to intimate them of the development, but they counselled me against sending the money to the minister based on his antecedent with money.

“Also, on my own, I personally gave Alhaji Lai Muhammed the sum of N32.5million, with the full knowledge of the former party chairman, Bashir Bolarinwa, for election purposes; the minister and Bashir Bolarinwa cannot deny this”.

Ajuloopin also said that, “it will also interest the public to know that one senior Federal Government official told Governor AbdulRazaq who was then the candidate of the party that Lai Mohammed reached out to him and claimed that there was no money for the bye-election campaign in Kwara.”

The lawmaker, who declined to name the official, said he pleaded with the governorship candidate (now the governor) and asked him to release N50 million to the minister, which was released, alleging that the money was never accounted for nor used for campaign purposes as envisaged.

Also, some members of the Kwara State House of Assembly faulted a claim by Mohammed that he single-handedly raised fund to execute the election of members of the ninth legislature in the state.

The Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Right Honourable Yakubu Danladi-Salihu, in reaction to allegations raised by the minister, said that Alhaji Mohammed did not in any form support the then APC House of Assembly candidates during the campaigns and election.

The members said the only individual who could claim offering the members massive support during the election was the state governor,  who, at the time, was just the party’s standard-bearer.

The speaker, who spoke through the Deputy Speaker of the House, Honourable Raphael Olanrewaju Adetiba, member representing Oke-Ero Constituency, explained that Alhaji Mohammed was not in the campaigns and election that produced the ninth legislature, hence his claim to have personally raised fund for their election is farther from the truth.

However, Kwara State APC Caretaker Committee Treasurer and Financial Secretary, Mohammed Tajudeen, who also joined the fray over accusations and counter accusations concerning 2019 campaign funds, said that Mr Mohammed provided funds and logistics for the election campaign of all the APC House of Assembly candidates in the 2019.

Addressing reporters in IIorin, Tajudeen said that the lawmakers in their statement confirmed the receipt of the sum of N500,000, but mischievously claimed that the money was from the national secretariat.

Treasurer, Kwara APC caretaker committee, Dantala Yaro, corroborated the financial secretary. “As custodians of the party accounts, we want to restate that the said money was released to them by Alhaji Lai Mohammed and transferred to them through the party’s account. In a bid to satisfy their pay master and in desperation for second term tickets, they are in self denial and the fear of losing illusory second term tickets, they should at least have a sense of history and remember that posterity is the greatest judge,” Yaro had stated.

Also adding their voice to the political squabble, APC chairmen from Irepodun/Oke-Ero/Isin/Ekiti Federal Constituency faulted Olawuyi’s allegation against Mohammed, saying he was merely attempting to pull the minister down.

Though as things stand no one is sure of how or where the pendulum of the power struggle in the state’s ruling party would swing eventually, what however is certain is that the last has not been heard of the contentious issues, especially the allegations about campaign funds and how they were used.

But political watchers in the state have posited that all the political machinations in the state are a reflection of what is brewing at the national level. The struggle for control, they argued, is all about 2023 and who controls what, and whose outcome could be disadvantageous to some leaders in the state.

How the drama will play out in the state, however, depends on the actions and inaction of the political gladiators in the party in the days to come.

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