opinionBy Hammed Shittu
Lagos — The race towards 2011 in Kwara State may have been kick started in Kwara State as scores of aspirants aspiring for various political offices have commenced underground consultations with political stakeholders across the state towards gaining support for their aspiration. However, the man whose ears are mostly being sought is Second Republic senator and Senate Leader, Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki. The senior Saraki became the father of politics in Kwara and Kogi States throughout the second, third and fourth republics. He established political machinery that stood the test of time. Saraki became the father of politics in the former Kwara State now Kwara and Kogi states throughout the second, third and fourth republics. But he seems to have lost control of political affairs in Kogi as far as deciding who wears the governorship crown of the Confluence State is concerned.
Although, the former senate leader is said not to be a card carrying member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or any political party for that matter, his support and influence for any gladiator in Kwara would surely help such person towards clinching the governorship seat of the state. It is for that reason that he is being looked upon as greatest voice in deciding who assumes the mantle in the state after the expiration of the second term of the incumbent governor of the state, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
Unknown to many people, the patriarch of the Saraki family who is also the Chairman of the Northern Union is a highly experienced medical doctor having practiced medicine for many years. He served as Medical Officer, General Hospital, Lagos and later Medical Officer, Creek Hospital, Lagos. From medicine, he ventured into politics in 1959. In 1977, he was elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly that produced the 1979 constitution. With the advent of democratic civil rule in 1979, he was elected a Senator of that Federal Republic. His election marked the beginning of his dominance of Kwara politics. As senate leader, he enjoyed tremendous good will with a strong force in the direction o f the Senate.
Within four years in the Senate, Saraki had established himself as a towering figure of consequential influence. When the wind blew again heralding the advent of the fourth republic, Saraki identified with the All Peoples 'Party (APP). He was a National Leader, financier of the party and a member of its Board of Trustees. He wielded a big political influence to ensure the election of late Admiral Mohammed Lawal and Abubakar Audu as governors of Kwara and Kogi states under the umbrella of All Peoples Party (APP) in 1999
Before 2003, he fell out with Lawal and opted out of APP, a party he helped both in establishing and nurturing. He instructed his followers to join the rival party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Thus in the 2003 general election, Saraki looked inward and sponsored his son, Dr Bukola Saraki and his daughter Gbemisola Saraki Fowora as governor and senator respectively. Lawal having fell out with his godfather contested under APP and lost to Bukola With this feat, Saraki had clearly proved that he is a tested political leader and godfather of Kwara politics.
Because the power of Saraki in politics of Kwara State has been tested and found potent, it is now being generally believed that whoever will succeed Bukola as the next governor of the state in 2011 would have to seek the endorsement of "Oloye" as Saraki is fondly called by his loyalists.
Governors in the list of those produced through Saraki's political machinery included Alhaji Adamu Attah in 1979 under the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The elder Saraki who was then the Senate Leader, also facilitated the emergence of former Minister of Communication, Chief Cornelius Adebayo as the governor of the state in 1983 during the Second Republic.
He sponsored Adebayo a candidate of the rival Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) to spite Adamu Atta his estranged godson. He was also behind the election of Alhaji Shaaba Lafiaji as governor under the banner of defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1992 and late Alhaji Mohammed Lawal in 1999 before the incumbent governor and his son, Dr. Bukola Saraki came to power in 2003.
It is however doubtful whether the game will change in 2011 because Saraki still bears great influence in the politics of Kwara state. Therefore as the race to the Ahmadu Bello way Government House, Ilorin in 2011 has commenced in earnest, the aspirants have intensified the courting of the "strong man of Kwara politics"
Initially two persons were believed to have shown interest, but now the number of aspirants has increased to at least six. These are the state commissioner for Finance and Economic Development, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed and Saraki's daughter who is also the incumbent senator representing Kwara Central senatorial district, Senator Gbemisola Rukayah Saraki. Others are the senator representing Kwara North in the senate, Senator Ahmed Ahmed, senator representing Kwara South senatorial district area of the state, Senator Simeon Ajibola, Hon. Gbenga Makanjuola representing Irepodun/Isin/ Ekiti federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Ahman Pategi representing Pategi/ Edu federal constituency in the House of Representatives and former Speaker of the state house of assembly and now the Minister of Transport, Hon. Bio Issa Ibrahim.
Alhaji Abdulfatahi Ahmed is believed to have wielded strong influence in the government as the state commissioner for Finance and Economic Development since inception of the administration of Governor Bukola Saraki. He was said to be instrumental to the implementation of government's economic planning and financial policies. Another factor that may work in his favour is that he is from Kwara South senatorial district area of the state, the zone, although produced former governor Adebayo who served for three months before the Military sacked the government of second republic, the yearning of the area is to produce a governor that would run a full tenure. Ahmed, a close ally of governor Saraki has been so loyal to governor Saraki since the inception of the administration. The political machinery of the incumbent governor is said to be already been oiled in preparation for Ahmed's ambition, while efforts are being made to sell his candidature to the former senate leader
Senator Gbemisola Rukayah Saraki was in the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003. She was elected into the Senate in year 2003 and won again in 2007.
Although, political observers believe that the elder Saraki may be considering the implication of supporting his daughter to succeed his son in 2011. However, considering her intelligent, couple with her experience in the National Assembly any other candidate will have to struggle to beat her on merit. Also with the support of her father, the senator may be the person to be watched when the chips are down.
As for Senator Ahmed Ahmed, he was a former Secretary to the State Government (SSG) under the government of late former governor Muhammed Lawal. When crisis brewed between the late governor and Saraki, Senator Ahmed in displaying of political loyalty to the godfather, resigned his position.
Senator Ahmed was consequently rewarded with the senate ticket and he is now serving his second term in the senate. Ahmed's chance is being encouraged by the people in his senatorial district who are currently yearning for governorship position in 2011.
Senator Simeon Ajibola, a second term senator is a long time loyalist of Saraki. He is a grassroots man loved by his people. Beside it is the ambition of the people of the Kwara South to produce the next governor of the state. Ajibola's experience in the senate coupled with his close association with the godfather may also see him through in 2011.
Another material said to be under consideration is Hon. Issa Bio Ibrahim, the current Minister of Transport and the immediate past speaker of the State House of Assembly and one of the strong members of Saraki's political dynasty. He got the ministerial post because of his prominence in the dynasty. With his vast experience as the Speaker of the state house of assembly and as a member of the Federal Executive Council, political observers believe that Hon. Bio is a strong contender for governorship in 2011
Another possible successor of Bukola is Hon. Gbenga Makanjuola, the chairman House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture. He has been a member of the house for over six years. A young politician, he is loved by his people for his generosity and prompt deliverance of the dividends of democracy to the people of his federal constituency in Irepodun/ Isin/ Ekiti/Oke-Ero federal constituency area of the state.
Equally believed to be on card is Hon. Ahman Pategi. He is representing Pategi/Edu federal constituency in the House of Representatives. He is also a loyalist of the strong man. Pategi's father and Saraki have been political associates for a long time.
Also trusted by his people, he was recently lauded for bringing development to the doorsteps of the people in the grassroots.
Certainly as these politicians position themselves or are being positioned for the topmost post in the state, one factor that cannot afford to ignore is the Oloye, the undisputed kingmaker of the Kwara.