In this report ABDULLAHI OLESIN, writes on the evolving political climate in Kwara State in the face of conflicting reports over party defections
The purported defection of 800 members of the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC) in Kwara State to the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caused some ripples in the state’s political firmament.
Indeed, the development has since heightened political activities in the state. Political gladiators from both parties have been engaged not just in a war of words but in a battle of popularity ahead of the 2019 general election, expectedly so.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had invariably set the stage for the political parties to test their might and popularity among the voting populace, after its declaration and release of the general election timetable.
Taking a cue from the electoral commission, the parties involved are squaring off to each other, while in same measure, seeking better ways to endear themselves into the warm embrace of prospective voters.
In the forthcoming election, APC and PDP remain the two dominant parties in Kwara State. But Kwara has always been the fortress of the Saraki political dynasty, which is currently in the APC. With three Senators, six members of the House of Representatives, 24 members of the State House of Assembly, the governor and the 16 local government chairmen belonging to the ruling APC in the state, Kwara is said to be a no-go-area for the opposition.
The overwhelming influence of the President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, pervades the state as he has expanded the political machinery he inherited from his late father, Chief Olusola Saraki.
Having served as governor of the state for eight years and somewhat going against the wish of his father to produce his successor, there is little doubt as to the firmness of Saraki’s grip on the state’s political structure such that it becomes pretty difficult for the opposition to rock the boat, analysts aver.
But that had been the belief in the political circle until the November 18, 2017 local government election was conducted. The opposition led by the PDP clinched eight councilorship seats. They further alleged that the poll was manipulated in favour of the ruling party by Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission.
To the PDP, the outcome of the council election, despite its allegation of manipulation of the process, portrays the dwindling influence of the APC in the state. As such they are poised to latched on it to re-strategise, particularly for the national election scheduled to commence from February 2019.
In addition, the opposition party has been employing different streaks to decimate the ruling party further by criticising policies and programmes of the state government. The sustained criticism has recently resulted in verbal war between the ruling and opposition parties in the state.
Still, the seeming political mileage enjoyed by the PDP in recent times comes amid rife speculation that Saraki and his political machinery are preparing to return to the party. Although Saraki’s defection remains at the realm of speculation, events have given fillip to this possibility.
While some political watchers point to Saraki’s on going trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the recent visit of the Kwara State PDP leadership to the national headquarters was very instructive.
Led by their chairman, Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, they had pleaded with the Prince Uche Secondus-led national leadership not to dismantle the current party structure in the state in its bid to accommodate Saraki.
Speaking with newsmen after the meeting, Oyedepo, who admitted that they are ready to make concessions to accommodate Saraki and his political family, expressed fear that the Senate President’s return would alter the structures in the party.
The state party chairman said, “it is not Saraki’s coming that creates any fear. It is what the national executive can do to encourage him to seize the party structure from established people in Kwara.”
Apparently impressed with its gains so far, the PDP last week, announced the defection of hundreds of members of the ruling APC into its fold.
The party claimed that the defectors were led by one Dr Hanafi Alabere from APC in Alanamu Ward, Ilorin West Local Government Area.
Oyedepo, who broke the news in Ilorin, the state capital, when he played host to the leadership of the PDP in the North Central zone led by Arch Theophilus Dakas, also said no member of their party has defected to the ruling APC in the state.
“We are very delighted to tell you that there is no notable leader of our party that decamped or defected to APC in the state. Instead of PDP members to decamp to APC, reverse was the case as many APC members have joined PDP after the November 18, 2017 local government elections.
“We are in fact waiting for the good ones among them to join the train of liberation in Kwara State. Today, the factional crisis in PDP is virtually over. We have learnt to work together so that in 2019, PDP will certainly be in government in Kwara State.
“Our party is waxing stronger in the State. APC years of misgovernment is giving us an edge in the hearts of the people of Kwara State. The people in government under PDP from 2003 to 2013 are still same people in government under APC from 2013 till date.
“When it suited them, they were under the umbrella and when they voluntarily refused the shade provided by our umbrella, they decided to hold the broom. Whether under the umbrella or holding the broom, they are the same. Change of name, logo and the slogan is not change of nature and character.
“By 2019, they would have served the people of this State the same diet and soup for solid 16 years. The diet and soup have become stale and bitter. It now looks like poison that must be spit out, otherwise the effect could be cancerous to the people of the state,” Oyedepo added.
The chairman said that the people of Kwara State were tired of a government that consciously for 16 years worked against the interest of the people of the State.
“If they control the state resources and we still not join them to lick their pot of soup, it means if they come to us they will pollute the Party already in the heart of Kwara electorate.
“It may be difficult for outsiders to believe that we are poised for history in this State in 2019, but our victory in 2019 general election in Kwara State is a foregone conclusion by the grace of God,” he said.
Oyedepo declared that the rumour that until the leadership of APC cross over to the PDP, the present leadership of the party could not win elections was a travesty of the PDP’s well acknowledged efforts in the state.
“We have for more than three years engaged the present government of Kwara in a battle of responsible opposition. The efforts we have made in that regard have now given birth to a culture of socio/political consciousness in Kwara. Kwarans now hold the government accountable”, he added.
Oyedepo told the zonal executives that PDP was fighting a cause in Kwara, adding that when people saw them struggle, they were fighting oppression.
“It is difficult for those that are not part of us to appreciate our plights. Those that are not touched by the wicked engine of oppression mobilized against us cannot see what we suffer,” he said.
But in a swift reaction, the state chapter of the APC, declared that no member of the party decamped to the opposition PDP as claimed by the party leadership.
A statement issued by the state APC Publicity Secretary, Alh Sulyman Buhari, said the claim that 800 members of APC defected to PDP was outright falsehood and misleading.
The statement noted that the state PDP only hosted the visiting zonal leadership of the party to a stage-managed and choreographed political drama of defection because no defection took place.
It alleged that the state PDP was still grappling with factional crisis and should therefore busy itself with the challenges facing it.
The APC insisted that there was no member within it bearing Dr Hanafi Alabere, who reportedly led a group of defectors to the PDP and frowned at what it called “some irresponsible and false assertions credited to the state PDP chairman”.
He added “What happened was that the North Central Zonal leadership of the PDP visited Kwara State and a factional chairman of the PDP in Kwara State, Mr Iyiola Oyedepo, decided to entertain his guests with stage-managed and choreographed political drama of defection. Indeed, there was no defection.
“Dr Hanafi Alabere who was said to have led the defection is not one of us. The man is also not part of us. The drama of defection anchored by Iyiola Oyedepo would have made huge sense if it portrayed the movement of PDP members from one faction to the other within the PDP.
“The APC wishes to declare that Kwara PDP lacks pull factor. Therefore, there couldn’t have been defection of APC members to the PDP.
“The general public should be reminded that the chairmanship seat of Mr Iyiola Oyedepo is still subject of factional battles. As admitted by Mr Iyiola Oyedepo himself, the PDP is still facing critical moments of crises. The party lacks direction. The party is also bereft of responsible and competent leadership. Thus, the directionless and crises-ridden PDP has no value to add to the quality of governance and development of Kwara State.
“The APC frowns at some irresponsible and false assertions made by Mr Iyiola Oyedepo. The party believes Mr Oyedepo has veered off the lane of politicking and resulted to character assassination and defamatory labelling of our party leaders.
“Mr Oyedepo and his cohorts should be warned as defamatory labelling of our party leaders will not be tolerated in the run up to the 2019 general election.
“We wish to reassure the good people of Kwara State that the Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed-led administration and all elected representatives of the party led by the Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki are effectively and efficiently discharging constitutional duties toward the upliftment of Kwara State and her people”, the APC statement said.
Also, a group under the banner of APC Joint Stakeholders in Alanamu Ward of Ilorin West Local Government Area of Kwara State debunked the reports that members of the ruling party had moved in droves to the PDP.
It also said the claim on some social media platforms that one Dr Hanafi Alabere from the ward led the team of the defectors to the PDP was non existent as there was no member of the APC bearing such name in Alanamu ward.
A statement issued by the APC Joint Stakeholders Forum’s chairman in Alanamu ward, Hon. Kayode Omotose, said the party had found out that the said team leader was not a member of the APC .
The group said the attendance list of all meetings organised by the ruling party in the ward showed that there was no name of Dr Alabere on it, adding that such an individual was never a card carrying member of the APC.
It noted that while it remains the inalienable rights of every Nigerian to pitch tent with any political party, it was wrong to single the leader of the said defectors as a member of the ruling party.
The statement reaffirmed its support for the APC leadership of the President of the Senate, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of their efforts to steer the ship of the state to the desired harbour.
It stated that members of the ruling party in Alanamu ward have committed themselves to the ideals of the APC, reiterating that no member of the party had defected to the opposition in the ward.