On Saturday November 14, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, returned to Ilorin, the capital city of Kwara State, for the first time since the 2019 political losses he and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), suffered in the hands of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The former governor was actually in town to be part of the memorial prayer for his father, Senator Olusola Saraki. Bukola Saraki was not alone on that visit as he arrived just a day after his sister, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, Minister of State for Transport, arrived in Ilorin, for the same purpose.
In 2019, Saraki, who had lord it over the state politically since 2003 when he rode on his father’s political strength to emerge as the governor, suffered a terrible blow to his political jaw as he not only lost hold of the state’s administrative structure in the Oto’ge revolution, but also lost his senate seat to the rampaging APC. Worst still, not a single candidate supported by him and his group won any seat. While the winners were still rejoicing and the losers sulking, the former Senate President sneaked out of town. And he was not to return till November 14, last year.
On arrival, Saraki received a heroic welcome from associates and supporters. A mammoth crowd of supporters and well-wishers besieged Ilorin International Airport to welcome Senator Bukola Saraki back home after the long break. The crowd moved with him into town as he rode in a motorcade to his family house. The political rally led observers to say there was more to Bukola Saraki’s homecoming than merely his father’s memorial. Today, stronger indications have emerged to confirm that the Saraki political family is preparing to launch a comeback in 2023.
“They are testing the waters. The opposition in Kwara is still formidable. What is needed is a leader to rally the various forces together. No doubt, Saraki is the best man to do that. His absence all these while left the stage for the APC to run riot politically. Now that he has re-entered the political space, be rest assured that the contest for 2023 has started in earnest. The grand entry he made following the huge mobilisation done by his allies and aides is meant to send the signals out that he is prepared to once again lead the charge against APC,” an analyst said.
Not one to leave anybody in doubt of his political intentions, Saraki, shortly after the visit to Ilorin, promised to woo political stakeholders, youths, businessmen, among others, to the fold of the PDP, in its push for a return to power in 2023. He was speaking in Abuja, at the inauguration of the PDP National Reconciliation and Strategic Committee which he chairs. But the message wasn’t lost on the powers that be in Kwara as Oloye didn’t spare any anecdote in letting Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq and his party, the APC, know that he is back and ready.
“We will go all out to reach our members who have one grievance or the other and seek to reconcile all of us. We will reach out to numerous key politicians who have left our fold and have indicated interest in returning to the PDP. We will reach out to all the youths looking for a party on whose platform they can contribute to the development of our country. We will reach out to those who create jobs in our country and want to support a party with clear and realistic economic policies.
“We will hold discussions with many other political leaders in other parties who have expressed the desire to join PDP but have held back until we put our house in order. Since political parties are vehicles for mobilising the citizenry around national goals, objectives and ideas; it is important for the passengers in the vehicle to be in harmony, stay together in peace and be focused on their destination and the best possible route to get there,” he said.
Apparently, Saraki’s return from his self-imposed political exile is reawakening his allies and party chieftains. More and more chieftains of the opposition party are finding their voices. Speaking recently, the state Chairman of the party, Engr. Kola Shittu said the PDP is now stronger and better than it was in 2019, and as such, is poised to return to government in 2023. According to him, the people also, having tasted both the PDP and the APC, are now wiser than they were in 2019. “With the way APC is handling things, we will return to power in 2023,” he said.
“APC came to power through propaganda and lies. They deceived the people. Now the citizens have seen the difference between our governors and their governor. So, come 2023, we will be back. We have the right plans. We have the needed strategies and our leader, Senator Saraki, is an intelligent man who knows what to do and what to say. The current governor is a businessman and the people have seen that the incompetence of the current government is affecting the state, he added.
Not a threat
But the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kwara State says Saraki’s recent grandstanding shouldn’t be taken as anything serious by political pundits. According to the ruling party, the era of intimidating the voters with rented crowds is over. The APC boasted that Saraki will not in any way affect the chances of APC in 2023. “APC will floor other political parties in any election that is held in the state,” Chairman of APC in Kwara State, Bashir Bolarinwa said, insisting that Saraki’s domination of Kwara politics was gone for good.
“Let me say this for all to hear; we are not disallowing anybody from entering the state. Saraki’s recent grandstanding is not anything serious. We know that Saraki can no longer pose any threat to APC in the state. God that was with us yesterday is forever with us. Our members have no reason to entertain any fear. Saraki’s domination of Kwara political landscape is gone for good. His coming to the state or staying away will not in any way affect the chances of APC in 2023. APC will floor any opposition in Kwara come 2023,” he said.
Similarly, 74-year-old veteran politician, Kunle Sulyman, said neither Saraki, nor the PDP can stop the re-election of APC’s Governor Abdulrasaq in 2023. Sulyman, one of the founding fathers of PDP in Kwara State, said with his performance, the governor will retain his seat for the APC. “If Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq performs very well and I believe he is already performing very well and he will still do more, nobody can stop him. We are old in the game. The strategy for 2023 is already on, let them plan their own, we will plan our own.
“When you are looking at performance, you must examine how it directly affects the lives of the people. Within one year, there is no local government that the governor has not touched. Oro town, the road had not been motorable for many years. The governor has done it. He is already inviting investors to various tourist centres in the state where he had made the roads to these centres passable. Go to Offa, Kwara North and even in Kwara Central, our people are not blind, they are grateful.
“Tell me, for 16 years, when did we have that? I live in Adewole area of Ilorin for 10 years, there was no water but today, I can drink government water in my house, courtesy of AA and somebody will come and tell me he hasn’t performed when I knew a government which spent billions of Naira on water reticulation and I didn’t get water for 10 years. What about education; there is no school across the three senatorial districts that he has not rehabilitated; all these schools are now conducive for the pupils and the teachers and somebody will now say he hasn’t performed, are they blind? Somewhere in Yashikira in Kwara North, they used to have light but for about seven years, they didn’t have light and the governor provided solar energy for them,” he recalled.
The race is on
While addressing the crowd during his November homecoming, Saraki announced that the 2023 political game is now open in the state as he matter-of-factly declared that his homecoming should be likened to the commencement of the premier league. According to close aides of the former Senate President, he has his eyes on getting the PDP back into Government House. “Bukola is a man who loves the people of Kwara and he cannot fold his arms while they suffer. The current administration has failed and we are coming to change things,’ an aide said.
But some analysts believe the odds against the former Senate President are enormous. Abdulrazak Alabi, an Ilorin based political researcher, wonders what role the former governor will be playing come 2023. “The question many would ask is: what role does Bukola Saraki want to play in 2023 in the state’s politics? A godfather? He wants to return to the Senate? He wants to contest for president? No option looks good for him. Who wants another godfather to design their future? Not in today’s Kwara. People have moved on. If he wants to return to the Senate; it is his legitimate right. But he would be asked if there is no one else outside his family that is qualified for the office,’ he said.
However, some chieftains of the APC are perturbed by the ongoing moves by the PDP to position itself as an alternative to the ruling party ahead of the 2023 general election. Consequently, they are urging the APC to put its house in order before the election. Chief Rex Olawoye, former chairman of Ifelodun Local Government Area and immediate past Publicity Secretary of APC in Kwara, is worried that the crisis within the party, if left unresolved, would lead to disaster during elections. Today, Kwara APC is torn between loyalists of Governor AbdulRahaman AbdulRazak and those of the party chairman, Bashir Bolarinwa.
“I am of the view that only the national executive of the APC could resolve the cold war within the party in the state. Every attempt at resolving it at the local level had been fruitless. The headquarters of the party should timely set up a reconciliatory committee, so that we will not run a tattered party in Kwara. The governor has sufficient arsenal in his armoury to put the party together in Kwara. I am not talking about money alone, but recognition for all the members of the party. The lack of recognition made some of us defect from the political group of Dr Bukoka Saraki,” he pleaded.