A loyalist of President Muhammadu Buhari and an associate of a former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, are in for a fierce battle for the Kwara Central Senatorial seat in the February 25, 2023, presidential and National Assembly elections.
While Malam Saliu Mustapha, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is a loyalist of President Buhari, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi is an associate of Senator Saraki.
Daily Trust reports that Comrade Umar Faruk Akanbi of the Labour Party (LP), Dr Abubakar Apaokagi (SDP), among others, are also in the race. The contest, according to analysts would be a two-horse race between the candidates of the APC and PDP.
While the contest for the Kwara Central Senatorial seat is causing ripples and has polarised the revered traditional institution in the Ilorin Emirate, it has been described as another potential showdown between the Saraki and Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq dynasties, two of the biggest political schools of thought in the state.
Kwara Central which comprises Ilorin East, Ilorin West, Ilorin South and Asa LGAs occupies a strategic position in the politics of the state. With the largest concentration of voters, including the biggest ward in the state, Alanamu, domiciled in the district, the race for the seat has never been as keen as it is.
For the two “mallams” who have not held any elective position in the state or at the national level, the 2023 contest will provide a different political experience.
However, both will be going into the race having distinguished themselves in the areas they had previously served.
His emergence as the APC senatorial candidate in May signalled what political watchers predicted as a titanic battle ahead going by the antecedents of his main opponent, Abdullahi.
He comes into the picture with a deep pocket as a very successful businessman and a rich experience in national politics with a vast network of friends within and outside the country. He first rose to national limelight with his election as deputy national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and was among the proponents of the merger of political parties that culminated in the setting up of the APC in 2013.
However, his governorship ambition suffered a setback in controversial circumstances after he, alongside a former member of the House of Representatives, Moshood Mustapha, were disqualified midway into the primary election in 2019 that produced Gov AbdulRazaq who ironically is today his strongest supporter.
He later contested for the national chairmanship of the APC and garnered nationwide support only for the party to adopt a consensus that saw the emergence of a former Governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Abdullahi Adamu.
Mustapha, the Turaki of Ilorin, has since put that behind to pick the senatorial ticket of the APC. His decision to run coincided with the clamour for other LGAs within Kwara Central to also have a shot at the seat aside Ilorin West.
An indigene of Gambari Ward 1 in Ilorin East LGA, Mustapha appears to have warmed his way into the hearts of the people through his endless philanthropic activities that cut across the traditional, religious and sports sectors of the state. With these, many of his admirers see him as not only the poster boy of the APC, but a lesser version of the late Baba Saraki.
However, what may be a red flag ahead for him is the inability of the party to get its aggrieved leaders who have refused to dump the party as a result of the fallout from the primary that produced Mustapha. Sen Ibrahim Yahaya
Oloriegbe is still bitter. It remains to be seen how Mustapha, who once vowed to unite all the aggrieved leaders of the party in the state, will handle the situation to augment his growing popularity.
Bolaji Abdullahi, fondly called BJ by his supporters and admirers, hails from Ubandawaki in Ilorin West LGA and is one of the “spanners’’ of Sen Saraki from whom he enjoys a very high rating.
A very successful writer, BJ was a star in the numerous appointive offices he held, with legacies that are being referenced within the political circle in the state and nationally.
Coming from the private sector in the media industry where he distinguished himself, his venture into politics began with his appointment as a Special Assistant (SA) during the tenure of Saraki as governor in 2003. He has since gone ahead to be appointed as Minister of Youths and Sports where he replicated his previous feat in the state at the national level with accolades across the country. He signed off the assignment on a high by winning the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) which had eluded the country for many years despite the resignation being in controversial circumstances.
He would go on to become the National Publicity Secretary of APC, but voluntarily resigned again following Saraki’s return to PDP after he fell out with the President Buhari-led APC. Bolaji started his “elective” politics from the top when he vied for the governorship ticket of the PDP in 2018 but lost to a former House of Assembly Speaker, Razak Atunwa, who was defeated by Gov AbdulRazaq.
BJ has demonstrated his grasp on the issue of governance with his rich insights from his previous appointments and has promised to change the face of representation in the state if given the opportunity. He has not stopped offering his perspectives on issues of governance in the country, leading to him being referred to as the man with the big ideas with readiness and capacity to serve.
Unlike in the case of his opponent, BJ will have the full party machinery backed by Saraki behind him. But whether that will translate to votes is another ball game.
However, the coming poll is going to be a referendum on whether the voters are ready to amplify the accusation and agitation from the other local governments that it is “Otoge” for Ilorin West or reinforce the present scenario that has seen the local government occupy the seat since the return of the country to democratic rule in 1999.
The Head of Department, Political Science, University of Ilorin, Dr Mohammed Alada, told Daily Trust that, “Nigerian politics today, unfortunately, is highly monetised and whoever outspends the other may put himself in a good position as to where the pendulum will swing.
“However, it may come down to the point where the people will have to decide who they think is capable of solving their economic problem; whether through ideas or money and empowerment. Although one has more economic resources than the other, it will not be an easy contest. In terms of being tested and trusted, one of them has the edge and so we cannot rule out the possibility of the influence of who is known and who is coming afresh. But the influence of money cannot be ruled out amid other considerations that may creep in.”
On his part, Dr Alabi Abdullahi, a political scientist at the Kwara State University (KWASU), said, “Bolaji Abdullahi is well-known in the state and at the national level. But some people have misconceptions about what he has done, especially in Kwara. Contesting the APC national chairmanship is a credit to Mustapha, but the APC’s internal wrangling and their perception as bad economic managers are other major considerations, with a serving senator (Oloriegbe) vowing not to support APC, except Tinubu.
“However, the philanthropic gesture of Mallam Mustapha is a huge credit, and Bolaji has the opportunity of having Saraki as a godfather, together with his supporters. Mustapha is well-loved as a person and supported by a great number of people, but may not have the political tentacles of Bolaji/Saraki. While Mustapha is spending his way in, Bolaji is using the media to gain support. I see a very keen contest ahead.”