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2019: Saraki Battles New Foes In Kwara By Dare Odufowokan

Two chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State are currently in court, seeking to be handed the gubernatorial and senatorial tickets of the party in the state and Kwara central senatorial district respectively. In addition, they want the court to declare the Kola Shittu-led state executive committee illegal. Assistant Editor, Dare Odufowokan, reports that the development is generating ripples in the camp of Senate President Bukola Saraki.

Barely three months to the next general election, some chieftains of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State, urged on by aggrieved members and groups within the party, are creating fresh hurdles for embattled Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, to cross in his bid to retain his political control over the north-central state come 2019.

Indications emerged during the week that the crisis thrown up by the primary elections that produced Saraki and other candidates of the PDP in Kwara State may not be over just yet as two chieftains of the PDP are currently in court seeking the invalidation of the party tickets given to Saraki by the leadership of the PDP to contest the 2019 general elections.

Feelers within the camp of the Senate President confirmed that the legal action taken by the aggrieved former aspirants of the PDP, in spite of efforts to address their grievances by the leadership of the party in these state, is a source of concern for Saraki and his associates. “You understand why we will be bothered by such move at a time like this. We don’t want new enemies now, at least not within our own party,” our source quipped.

Saraki, who dumped the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), few months back following lingering face-offs with the leadership of the party and the presidency, joined his former party, the PDP, and moved his political structure out of the APC into his new party, leaving those who stayed back in the ruling party to start rebuilding the APC. To his credit, almost the entire party structure in the state followed Saraki into the PDP when he defected.

Similarly, Kwara State promptly fell off the grip of the APC and became a PDP-controlled state as Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed and his entire cabinet declared their solidarity and allegiance to Saraki by following him into the PDP. A majority of the members in the state House of Assembly also did the same, pushing the APC out of his majority status to become an opposition party in the assembly.

But in spite of the ease with which his political family decimated the APC and still held on to the control of government in the state, it appears retaining his control on the politics of Kwara State beyond 2019 may not be an easy string to pull for Saraki. To start with, leadership and chieftains of the APC in the state are vowing that they will do everything humanly and legally possible to ensure that the Saraki political family is checkmated during the next general election.

Perhaps to help the APC chieftains achieve their aim, prominent leaders of the PDP in the state, led by its then state chairman, Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, and other party leaders, left the party the very moment Saraki berthed, following disagreement over control of party structures. In a dramatic move that sent shivers down leaders of the Saraki group, the entire PDP state executive committee joined the APC to further strengthen it across the state.

Before dumping the PDP, executives have played host to thousands of party members protesting against what they described as “the political leadership of the Senate President.” The protesters who marched along some streets in Ilorin lambasted Saraki and Governor Ahmed, urging the national leadership of the PDP to prevent their coming into the party.

They carried placards with different inscriptions condemning what they referred to as “bad governance,” “political hegemony” and “under-development” under Saraki’s political leadership. When joining the APC, Oydedepo and other defecting Kwara PDP leaders had also described Saraki as an “anathema.” Chief The erstwhile Publicity Secretary of the party, Rex Olawoye, claimed no right thinking Kwara politician will agree to work with Saraki again.

However, in spite of the threat posed by both old and new chieftains of the APC in Kwara State to his strong hold on the politics therein, it appeared to many observers of the politics of the state that the Senate President is forging ahead with determination and his eyes on winning the next general election to prove his mastery of the people and politics of the north-central.

Saraki, Atunwa in trouble?

But that was before two chieftains of the PDP, Ramat Bola Malik and Rukayat Aromoke Sheu, approached an Abuja High Court seeking the invalidation of the processes that produced Senator Saraki, Hon. Rasaq Atunwa and others as candidates of the ruling party in Kwara State. The duo are claiming that the manner in which the candidates were nominated run against the constitution of the PDP in many ramifications.

Both applicants have participated in the primary elections held by the PDP in the state to nominate its candidates for the 2019 elections. While Malik contested for the party’s governorship ticket, Sheu had sought the Kwara Central senatorial ticket of the party, a seat currently being occupied by Senator Saraki in the national assembly. According to court papers obtained by our correspondent, both had filed the necessary documents and paid the relevant fees to the party.

Dissatisfied with the outcomes of the shadow elections, Sheu is seeking an order disqualifying the current senatorial candidate of the PDP in Kwara Central, Senate President Bukola Saraki, from contesting the senatorial election scheduled for February 2019. The plaintiff also claimed in an affidavit in support of the suit that Saraki was unlawfully handed the senatorial ticket by an illegal party executive committee contrary to the provisions of the party’s constitution.

She added that based on the above grounds, her own nomination by the then Akogun Oyedepo-led state executive committee of the PDP is the acceptable process going by the party’s constitution, and as such, she should be declared the validly nominated senatorial candidate of the PDP for the Kwara Central senatorial district in the 2019 general elections.

Malik, in another suit, is standing on similar grounds to contest the emergence of Hon. Razak Atunwa as the governorship candidate of the PDP in the state just as the applicant would want the court to nullify Atunwa’s nomination by the PDP in the state. Party sources claimed both Malik and Sheu had been severally prevailed upon to sheathe their swords and allow for the resolution of the crisis before they headed to the courts.

“We thought they had accepted the pleas of well meaning party leaders and members over these matters. It is surprising to see them in court at a time all hands should be on deck towards delivering Kwara to the PDP again. The issues they are laying claim to have to do with the sudden change in the leadership of the party. These are issues we can resolve as party members if truly they are still our members,” another source said.

Listed as defendants in the suits are the PDP, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Saraki and Hon. Atunwa. The complainant accused the PDP of breaching the provisions of its constitution by allowing the Engineer Kola Shittu-led state executive to participate in the September 26, 2018 primary elections in Kwara State as they were not validly nominated to lead the state chapter of the party.

Consequently, they are seeking a declaration that having been nominated as candidates in a process where the disputed Shittu-led executive committee had participated as delegates, Saraki and Atunwa, as well as all other nominees from the said primary elections, have not been validly elected as candidates of the PDP in Kwara State for the forthcoming 2019 general elections.

In addition, they also seek declarations that the plaintiffs, having been validly elected at the Kwara State primary elections of the PDP held on the 26th day of September, 2018, in which the Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo-led executive had participated as delegates, ought to be declared as the authentic candidates of the PDP in the state for the governorship and senatorial elections respectively.

From the horses’ mouths

But when contacted for the position of the state chapter of the PDP on the brewing crisis, the spokesperson of the party, Tunde Ashaolu, expressed surprise at the development because, according to him, the plaintiffs are not known to the party and as such, do not posses any claim to the tickets they are seeking to be awarded by the judiciary through their legal actions.

“Please what are their names again? And which primary elections are they claiming they participated in? They are not known to the party here in Kwara State and I can tell you they did not obtain our forms to participate in the primary elections. They didn’t contest in any primary election of the PDP. We don’t have their names on our aspirants’ lists.

“If you can tell me the exact primary elections they truly contested in, then we can know what they are saying and how to address their claims. Ours is the authentic PDP executive in Kwara State and we don’t know them. Anyway, I will get back to you with more detailed response on the matter as soon as I can. Thank you,” Ashaolu had told our correspondent when he was contacted on phone.

Speaking with The Nation on the matter, Sheu, who insisted that the PDP stands a better chance of winning the next election with her as the senatorial candidate instead of the Senate President who she claims is currently parading a stolen ticket. She expressed optimism that the court will restore her as the validly elected flag-bearer of the party before the elections.

“I am in court not because of anything other than the fact that I am the legitimate candidate of the PDP in Kwara Central. I am the one recognised by the party’s constitution because I emerged in due compliance with the electoral act 2010 as amended. Those currently parading themselves as candidates were nominated in contravention of our party’s constitution and the electoral act.

“I learnt someone is claiming we are not known to the party and that we didn’t participate in any primary election. I just want to say the court will soon prove that we participated in the PDP primary elections as we claim. That is why I am praying the court to nullify the candidacy of the illegal bearer and compel INEC to recognize me as the legitimate candidate for the 2019 general election,” Sheu said.

Asked if it is true efforts were made to resolve the matter amicably before she headed to the courts, the PDP chieftain said nobody approached to ask her for her side of the story. “These are people who believe they can get away with any form of impunity. We complained severally and raised alarm over our stolen mandate but they didn’t listen,” she added.

“And if they do now, I will no longer agree to an out of court settlement as this will run against my conviction. I have conviction to serve my people and that is the only settlement I can agree to. I also will not want to let my supporters down. If I abandon this struggle to get my ticket back, my numerous followers, who are yearning for a change in Kwara, will not forgive me,” she explained further.

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