Politicking in Kwara state took another dimension on Sunday night with the announcement that leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)with political leaders of Kwara north to effect a power shift arrangement to the zone by 2023.
It was an announcement that caught many stakeholders unaware coming barely a month to the first set of elections slated for this year.
By the agreement,the party’s gubernatorial candidate, Hon. Abdulrazaq Atunwa would do only one term if the PDP wins the forthcoming election.
By every sense, Kwara north is the beautiful bride in the state during this election season. Since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the zone has not been able to produce the chief executive for the state even when it has well qualified sons and daughters.
All expectations were that 2019 would be the turn of the north since Kwara central has produced the governor (1999-2011) and Kwara south has also now ruled from 2011-2019.
However, rising opposition to the continued domination of the political landscape by the Saraki political structure changed the permutations, both for the PDP and the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC).
For the APC, Kwara central remains the best place to picks its gubernatorial candidate because of population and the need to ‘deal’ with Saraki, using his own people and kinsmen. Kwara central controls about 50 percent of the overall votes in the state. For the PDP, Kwara central was best in order to checkmate the incursion of the APC to a traditionally safe area.
At the end of the day, Kwara North was sacrificed by both parties. The people expectedly reacted badly. The PDP, having a central leadership, was however able to more easily handle the fall out. The APC however faced a greater challenge with its controversial primary whose result had to be ferried to Abuja and took weeks of horse trading before it was announced.
During those weeks, there were daily protests by APC members from the north senatorial district who felt cheated by the arrangements to pick a Kwara central person as gubernatorial candidate of the party.
The bitterness among the APC members stemmed from the belief that having escaped the ‘dictatorship’ of the Saraki empire, their voices would be genuinely heard in their own party. Having realised that their agitations could not change the permutations from Abuja, party leaders eventually agreed to sheathe their sword and worked for the victory of their party.
But there was still an expectation that the zone would be adequately compensated for the loss. Available compensation slots include Deputy Governor, Speaker of the House of Assembly and Secretary to the State Government even though these are not new positions to politicians from the zone who at one time or the other occupied these offices
But while everyone seemed to have relaxed and accepted that the zone would wait for another eight years before providence would shift the gubernatorial ticket its way, the Saraki dynasty came out with what members hailed as a game changer; an agreement that does not only compensate them for the moment but also assured that they will not have to wait another eight years before getting their rights.
Perhaps to establish the fact that he too has learned his lesson in political negotiation, Saraki, leader of the group, ensured that the new arrangement was documented, signed, witnessed by traditional rulers and shown to the media. His recent campaign has demonstrated this lesson; that in 2015 he went to support the APC without a written agreement on who takes what at the end of the battle and thus when. he aspired to be Senate President he met stiff resistance from the same people he had helped to power.
For Kwara north, that wont be the case, according to the Director General of Kwara PDP Campaign Council, Professor Sulaiman Abubakar at the press conference he held with PDP chairman in the state, Engineer Kola Shittu where he unveiled the new plan.
His words: “About an hour ago, the PDP Kwara State Leadership just completed a meeting with Leaders of Thought from the Kwara North Senatorial District. The meeting was also attended by leaders of the party across the state.
“The sole purpose of the meeting was for us to have an understanding on specific terms on issues bordering on power shift, cohesion, giving sense of belonging and inclusiveness to our people across all the three Senatorial Districts.
“The conclusion of the meeting is that there will be power shift to Kwara North in 2023. Also, the positions of Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly and Secretary to Kwara State Government have been zoned to Kwara North in the post- May 2019 government.
“The understanding has been committed to writing and signed by all key stakeholders present. The stakeholders present at the meeting include National Leader of PDP, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Governor Abdulfatai Ahmed, gubernatorial candidate of the party, Rt. Hon. Rasak Atunwa, Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Dr. Alli Ahmed, Director General of the Mandate 2019, Prof. Abubakar Sulaimon, Chairman of the Party, Eng. Kola Shittu and other leaders of the party in the three Senatorial districts.
“Traditional rulers from Kwara North Senatorial District and Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu Gambari were consulted on the understanding and they gave their royal blessing to the terms and contents.
“In their speeches at the meeting, the traditional rulers expressed support for any move that will ensure equity, justice and unity among all the various zones in the state. They also noted that their decision to serve as witnesses is based on the need to ensure that political leaders honour and respect the contents of the understanding and work for peace and progress of the state before, during and after the general elections.
“Also, in return, the people of Kwara North have agreed to deliver the bloc vote from the zone to the Peoples Democractic Party (PDP) in the general elections. We believe this understanding aimed at re-enforcing the unity, harmony and even development of our dear state is definitely necessary for the continued progress of Kwara State now and in the future.”
The arrangement is unique in many ways and would have far reaching consequences on the outcome of the coming election. For one it is the first time that any party in the state will enter into a written covenant with any group on power shift and will now awaken other groups and stakeholders to the fact that they too can negotiate on what they can take away from politics for their people.
Ceding the Speakership and SSG to the northern zone will also put the APC at a crossroad on where to fix those offices. Already the party is said to be having challenges in confirming the choice of its Deputy Governorship candidate. Therefore the PDP has cleverly introduced another clog into the wheel for the opposition to move with, few weeks to the election. It could prove a clumsy movement for the opposition that has been growing its wing in the zone.
The permutation from those behind this latest move would be that the APC cannot pledge only one term and sign such an agreement for its gubernatorial candidate, thereby effectively pushing opportunities for its members in the north to 2027, a long time for somewhat impatient politicians.
The agreement is expected to see stakeholders in the north giving their all to see a victory for the PDP which now currently appears to love the zone more than the APC. If that works, then Saraki would have truly introduced a game changer to the politics of Kwara state, and should be seen being copied across the country.
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