Prior to the 2019 gubernatorial election in Kwara State, the amalgamation of forces that birthed the Otoge revolution swept across like a political wildfire.
The conflagration did not only consume the entire leadership structure of the former Senate president and two-time governor of the state, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, it left the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) reeling with zero portfolios and elective positions for the first time in two decades.
To achieve such sweeping victory, top leaders of the state chapter of the former opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) downplayed their differences and adopted a united approach to clinch the governorship ticket.
Following the feat, and with the pattern of voting during the exercise, expectations ran high among the populace. The general belief was that the government would leverage on the opportunity to better the lots of the citizens through formulation and implementation of the relevance policies for good governance.
However, more than two years down the line, and with the electioneering period fast approaching, the state chapter of the APC has found itself trapped in a protracted political tussle. The impasse has been escalated to a survival battle of sorts between two top political gladiators. This, many say, has relegated governance to the backseat in the state.
Signs that the leadership crisis in the party might assume an alarming dimension began to manifest early during the one year anniversary of the present administration.
It was the now factional chairman, Bashir Omolaja Bolarinwa (BOB) who fired the first salvo when he went public for the first time to criticise Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq.
The embattled factional chairman said the party was making the same mistake of the government it replaced, adding that building schools and constructing roads were not the only criterion to benchmark good governance.
Since that public confrontation, the situation has degenerated between the governor and his group and the BOB’s group, led by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
For those who had hoped that the state chapter of the APC had the capacity to reinvent itself and form a united front again ahead of the 2023 elections, the latest brickbats between the governor and the minister on the pages of ThisDay newspaper appeared to have foreclosed any possibility for reconciliation.
It was Governor Abdulrazaq who took the initiative this time when he described Lai as someone who only relied on media hype and could not even win an election in his ward.
“Lai cannot win an election in his ward. They are good with social media noise. That’s all they do,” he noted.
Abdulrazaq went on to accuse the minister of embezzling campaign funds running into several millions of naira.
The minister, in his response to the governor’s vituperations, described him as a troubled soul who is not fit for any public office.
But denying any form of embezzlement, the minister maintained that he, with the support of others, prosecuted the election in the state.
“Abdulrazaq is a deeply troubled soul, not qualified for public office. It is on record that I received no penny from him to execute his own election,” the minister added.
Accordingly, there have been concerns from political observers and critics alike, that the party’s crisis has been a huge distraction to the governor’s effort to effectively govern the state, to the detriment of the over four million electorates.
But for Prince Sunday Fagbemi, the new chairman of the APC and loyalist of the governor, that is far from the reality on ground.
Speaking with Daily Trust Saturday on the issue, Fagbemi, one of the most prominent foot soldiers of the governor, rejected the notion that governance has suffered in the state because of the crisis.
Fagbemi, who said the governor had not involved himself in the politics of the party, said his style of governance had helped him to remain focused.
“In what way has the crisis in the APC or otherwise affected governance? There is no governor since the creation of Kwara who has performed more than what has been done in the last two years by Governor Abdulrazaq. Even his past two predecessors were unable to do 50 per cent in their 16 years of leadership.
“Governor Abdulrazaq has not involved himself in the politics of the party, but has focused on governance, which is clear to all Kwarans. No area or local government that he has not touched positively in the area of education, health, infrastructure, among others. Kwarans are not fools; they know what is happening.
“The so-called APC crisis is being sponsored by some characters in the opposition, thinking that they want to take Kwara back to Egypt. That will never happen,” he said.
In the same vein, the special adviser, political communication to the governor, Alhaji Bashir Adigun, said such narrative was promoted by those who are mischievous.
“What do they mean when they say that Kwara would have had it better if not for the crisis? They are just mischievous.
“The masses know that this is the best governor we have ever had. The state has never had it so good, which can be attested to by his recent award and recognition as the best governor.
“When he came, the condition of the state was nothing to write home about and the morale of civil servants was down. He turned the place around with prompt payment of salaries. The same turnaround happened in the economy, agriculture, education and health sectors in the state,” Adigun said.
However, a social commentator and political scientist, Comrade Abdullateef Ishowo, said strong party system was one of the hallmarks of a strong democracy, adding that political parties were very important to how our democracy would germinate and grow.
“Governor Abdulrazaq has not been able to manage the conflict in his party, and it has really manifested on his performance. Except we want to deceive ourselves, this will make it very difficult for him to even mobilise the party against the opposition; and it is a dangerous trend for the APC going into 2023.
“The programme mantra that catapulted the government to power has been made nonsense of by the unnecessary war in the ruling party in the state. For those that will say “nothing spoil” with the present situation because salaries are being paid and projects are ongoing, that only goes to emphasis our underdevelopment, listing salaries as a form of achievement in the 21st century. Such position is even an embarrassment and insult to Kwarans,” he said.
He said that most of the projects, like roads, that the governor’s apologists want to flaunt, lacked proper appraisal.
Ishowo further criticised the Best Governor’s award, adding that the public are more conscious and aware of events happening around them.
A former top government official in the state, who also weighed in on the issue, preferring not to be named, said political parties played very active role for elected leaders to fulfill the programmes and policies of the party in their manifesto.
“In the cause of implementation, the party needs to monitor, evaluate and even get feedback of how its programmes and policies promised during the campaign are impacting the lives of the people, which are referred to as dividends of democracy.
“This is also used to mobilise the party’s supporters and admirers for vote again in subsequent elections. But when such process is not even allowed to feature in the party, there is no way it will not affect the output of such government.
“Governance goes beyond an individual; it is not a one-man show like we have now. And any person who is a product of the political party needs it to be able to deliver, no matter how brilliant he/she might be,” he said.
Our correspondent learnt that some of the governor’s antagonists attributed the initial delay in the appointment of members of the cabinet in the two instances so far, and the return of nearly all the sack commissioners, as a reflection of the effect of the crisis on the party. They also accused the legislature of being a ‘rubberstamp’ and not doing enough in the presence the circumstance.
But the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Danladi Yakubu-Salihu, an engineer, did not only deny the allegation, he maintained that the lawmakers had supported the governor by providing stability and creating a conducive environment for good governance to thrive.
While the back and forth continues, Kwara residents want more from the government.