Hammed Shittu writes that the struggle for control of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Kwara State is being driven by jostling for the 2015 general election
Preparatory to the 2015 general election, politicians across the country have begun to subtle political strategies in the bid to outwit each other. To that extent, some of the political parties have also begun to take the stocks of the last elections as well as oil their political machinery in readiness for the next phase of the exercise.
Kwara State is no exception as members and leaders of one of the main opposition parties in the state, Action Congress of Nigerian (ACN) have been locked in supremacy battle over who takes control of the party leadership ahead of the election.
THISDAY checks revealed that the crisis is between the party's governorship candidate in the 2011 governorship election in the state, Mr. Mohammed Dele Belgore (SAN) and National Publicity Secretary of ACN, Alhaji Lai Muhammed. And the bone of contention, THISDAY learnt, was over the governorship ticket of the party in the next election.
Though, the two men had variously denied the cold war, recent events in the party have confirmed that all was not well with the leadership.
According to findings, the choice of Belgore as governorship candidate in the last election was as a result of the political exigency in the state having come from Kwara central. Instead, the governorship ticket, it is believed, should have been conceded to Kwara South since the ACN enjoys a degree of acceptability in that part of the state.
The calculation then was that since Belgore is from the Fulani extraction in Ilorin, he would be at advantage to defeat the PDP governorship candidate then and now governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, who is from the South. But the calculation notwithstanding, the ACN lost to PDP.
Owing to this development, ACN, it is said, has begun to rethink its strategy, one of which is conceding the ticket in 2015 to someone from Kwara South which is where Muhammed hails from. But this thinking is believed not to have gone down well with supporters of Belgore who had got wind of the likely scenario and feel that Belgore should be allowed to try again in 2015.
But unfortunately for Belgore and his supporters, politicians from Kwara South are insisting on fielding the next governor since they brought ACN to Kwara and would not accept monopoly of the seat by another section of the state.
Party strategists believe that any person the ACN would field in 2015 must be a grassroots politician who can effectively route the PDP in next election.
However, sensing the inherent danger in their face-off, sources hinted that both Mohammed and Belgore may have begun to review their relationship as the party hierarchy is presently intervening to save the situation.
The supremacy battle became complicated when the party recently held the registration of more members in the state. THISDAY checks revealed that the two leaders had attacked each other through their supporters during the exercise.
The Belgore camp, according to sources, believed that Mohammed and his supporters had begun to prepare to take over the party structure ahead of the 2015 election, a development the Belgore group are said to be resisting because it would truncate his chances of re-contesting.
Thus, supporters of the two leaders engaged themselves in a free for all fight with many people who sustained various degrees of injury. Security operatives in the state later declared manhunt for those responsible the attack.
Police later nabbed three people allegedly working for one of the ACN bigwigs at Ilorin Grammar School (IGS) as masterminds of the crisis that ruined the party's membership registration. They were subsequently arraigned before a magistrate court in Ilorin and later granted bail.
Just as this was yet to settle down, a petition was written to the police alleging the involvement of some of the leaders of the party in the crisis. The petition was written by the state chairman of the party, Mr. Kayode Olawepo. Police promptly acted on the petition and arrested some leaders of the party for allegedly sponsoring the crisis.
Not long after, specifically on Thursday, December 20, 2012, police arrested some notable leaders of the ACN in the state. They are: former Chief Whip of the Kwara state House of Assembly, Chief Iyiola Oyedepo, Alhaji Hassan Atanda Zhoro, Alhaji Ibrahim Magaji, Alhaji Ahmed Ajimoti, Mr. Funso Agaka, Alhaji Mustapha Kobe and Lateef Abioye.
They were picked up by men of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) because their names were prominent on the petition by Olawepo, who had accused them of anti-party activities and threat to the peace of the party.
The incident came few days after a chieftain of the party in the state, Hon. Iyiola Oyedepo, alleged to be working for one of the factions, was attacked at Bovina Hotel, Ilorin, during which one of his followers was severely wounded and had to be admitted at the Intensive Care Unit of the teaching hospital.
A prominent member of the party told newsmen that the problem with the party was borne out of personal ego and ambition. "Alhaji Lai Mohammed is not really interested in becoming the party's governorship flag-bearer in 2015, but wants to be in total control of the party.
"He may not want Belgore even if the party decides that the governorship candidate should come from Kwara Central. He has the belief that Belgore is an ingrate and he is also very jittery should the control of the party get out of his hand and his leadership is no longer helpful to the development of the ACN in Kwara state."
Meanwhile, a group, Kwara Change Initiative has called on the warring groups within the party to sheath their swords and embrace peace in the interest of the overall development of the party. The one page statement was signed by the group's secretary, Comrade Adewale Adefila.
"We are compelled by the recent developments within the party to prevail on all the warring sides to sheath their swords. It is an open secret that the skirmishes currently experienced by the party in the Kwara central senatorial district and Isin local government area in the Kwara south senatorial district are traceable to wild ambition.
"It is not a crime to nurse an ambition and pursue it legitimately but it will be inimical to the progress of the party when individuals pursue ambitions inordinately, not minding the extent of damage such pursuit might cause. We regret the unfortunate turn of events since the registration exercise started in Kwara State. What is there in mere registration of bonafide members of the party?" the group queried.
But spokesman for Belgore, Rafiu Ajakaiye, has denied the claims of rift between the two leaders. "I can tell you that the party remains very much intact. Alhaji Lai Mohammed and MDB (SAN) talk every day on how to move the party forward."
With the current political scenario in the ACN in the state and in spite of the stage-managed truce, the quest for governorship ticket between the Kwara central and South remains critical. It will continue to be an issue if the leaders of the party fail to resolve the matter as soon as possible and could also spell doom for the party in next election.