As Lai Mohammed Battles for Political Relevance In Kwara
By Abdullateef Aliyu
For Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, this is certainly not the best of time in his political career. He is presently waging a war that is critical to his survival as a politician to reckon with in his state, Kwara.
As a former chief of staff to a former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who has lived in Lagos for years, having largely plied his trade there as a lawyer and businessman, very few people know him as a Kwaran.
But in Oro in Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State, he is no doubt an illustrious son. His mansion sits distinctively in the heart of the community. He comes home every now and then to identify with his kinsmen.
Like many politicians of his ilk, Mohammed has reaped bountifully from the fertility of Lagos, the country’s commercial nerve centre. The state has been predominantly accommodating and still accommodates as many people as they troop in, in search of the greener pastures.
Asiwaju Tinubu, who ruled the state between 1999 and 2007, was able to assemble a star-studded team of appointees across the country. Among them was Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who has remained one of his loyalists till date.
From the days of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to Action Congress (AC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), he has remained committed to what their supporters call Tinubu’s progressive ideology, defending the politician and the party with candour and vigour.
With Tinubu playing the role of opposition at the national level, Mohammed has the Saraki’s dynasty to contend with in Kwara politics. This was the dynasty of the late Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki, the second Republic Senate Leader who held sway in Kwara politics, under whose influence many governors emerged.
Several opposition politicians, including Lai Mohammed, were displeased with the system, but they were not strong and coherent enough to displace it.
In 2003, Mohammed contested the governorship election under the AD and was defeated by Dr Bukola Saraki, the immediate past Senate president and the scion of the Saraki dynasty, who was contesting for the first time as governor of the state.
In subsequent elections, Lai teamed up with other politicians to dislodge the Saraki dynasty, until 2015 when the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), to which the defunct new-Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) championed by Saraki himself was part of what brought together the two politicians, and for once, the minister was in the mainstream of the state’s politics. He instantly became a regular visitor to the Ahmadu Bello Way Government House and he could proudly say “This is our government.’’
But many were not surprised that the marriage was shortlived. Ab initio, it was a marriage of strange bedfellows. People with dissimilar ideological orientation, distinct idiosyncrasies all flocked together to dislodge the then president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. The alliance of about five political parties which birthed the ruling APC then in 2014 was simply about hijacking power, and that objective was achieved, and as such, they all returned to the trenches.
It was not too long that the Saraki’s new-PDP bloc differed with the ACN’s, and Lai Mohammed, who had been the national publicity secretary of the party, particularly reverted to his old status, and within a twinkle of an eye, became an opposition figure once again as Saraki and the then Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed returned to the PDP.
The defection of Saraki and his people from the APC, where he was a founding member, paved the way for the likes of Alhaji Mohammed to return to his old struggle of hijacking the political machinery of the state from Saraki, which he failed to achieve in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 under different circumstances and political parties.
Then the struggle took shape ahead of the 2019 elections. Many like-minded politicians joined the fray. It was going to be a fight to finish and the Otoge revolution did the unthinkable. Cashing in on the deep disenchantment with the Abdulfatah Ahmed-led administration, the Otoge mantra was what was needed to displace the Bukola Saraki-led PDP; a feat observers insist became easy without federal might.
But AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq became the star boy and the greatest beneficiary of the Otoge revolution, which sent Saraki and his candidates packing.
No sooner was the election concluded and AbdulRazaq emerged as governor than the next phase of the struggle commenced. Like a typical Nigerian politician, their interest is supreme. Where this was not met, it became an issue.
This is the genesis of the crisis that has rocked the APC in Kwara the moment the election was concluded. From the composition of the transition committee members to the formation of the cabinet, many chieftains and members of the party have felt “cheated, slighted and secluded’’ from the government they all toiled hard to form.
Undoubtedly, no one can dismiss the role played by Alhaji Mohammed in the victory of the APC in 2019. Rallying other opposition figures, majority those with “scores to settle’’ with Saraki, he became the symbol of the impending revolution. Through the Lagos APC, he even mobilised many Kwarans in the Centre of Excellence to return home and be part of history.
Incidentally, Senator Gbemi Saraki was also part of the struggle against her brother. What of Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, the fiery and vocal voice on radio, criticising and shooting down every policy of the government ahead of the election. In the same struggle was Professor Shuaib Abdulraheem, a former chairman of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), and several others who feel they were not carried along in AbdulRazaq’s government.
The last straw was, however, the ‘sack’ of the party chairman, Mr Bashir Omolaja Bolarinwa, popularly known as BOB, an Eruku man, who is also described as a ‘Lagosian’ like Lai Mohammed. BOB was a two-term chairman of Lagos Mainland Local Government in Lagos and two-term member of the House of Representatives for Lagos Mainland federal constituency.
He became the party chairman immediately after the exit of Dr Bukola Saraki from the party in 2018. But he was ‘removed’ in what his backers call a ‘coup’ by the National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee led by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, while his deputy, Alhaji Abdullahi Samari, who is loyal to the governor, was appointed.
All this while, Lai Mohammed has kept his cool, taking all the insults and what his supporters call insubordination, in order not to take the party to the cleaners, until the commencement of the APC membership registration and revalidation exercise, which has turned out to be as controversial as their primary elections.
The minister must have been pushed to the wall when he addressed the press conference where he called for the cancellation of the exercise, citing alleged disenfranchisement and deregistration of members.
He also said the Senator John Danboyi registration committee failed to meet with critical stakeholders as stipulated by the guidelines.
He said reports from the monitoring teams revealed that the exercise, which started on February 9, did not comply with stipulated guidelines.
The minister said, “The guidelines stipulate consultation with all the stakeholders by the registration officials from Abuja.
“After the botched attempt to have a meeting of stakeholders due to orchestrated violence, the registration officials failed to consult with all the stakeholders before the commencement of the membership registration exercise.
“They opted instead to work with only one of the four tendencies here in Kwara, the Fagbemi group, to which the governor belongs.
“They excluded the three other tendencies – the Akogun group, the Gbemi Saraki group and the Lai Mohammed group, without which the Otoge Movement would not have succeeded. Ironically, the Fagbemi group is the weakest of the four tendencies.
“Out of the 193 wards in the state, the group has only nine chairmen and does not have even one local government chairman,” he said.
But the governor’s loyalists have unleashed invectives on the minister for his outburst, saying they would resist any move to micromanage their boss.
But certainly, the minister is not alone in the struggle. Virtually all the governorship aspirants who contested with the governor have one grievance or another against him, yet instead of taking the path of reconciliation, the parties and their supporters have been making remarks that tend to exacerbate the cold war.
A chieftain of the party, Chief Rex Olawoye, blamed the APC crisis in the state on the lack of understanding between the governor and the executive of the party, which later culminated in what he called the illegal removal of the chairman.
He alleged that when the registration exercise commenced, the committee was cornered and materials hoarded.
“As I am talking to you, I have not registered because there is no paper in my own polling unit. Again, all of us registered before and we have our membership cards. They said they were doing revalidation; for what? Now, those who have registered are not up to one-third of our members,’’ he said.
He said while nobody was contesting the leadership of the party with the governor, he had all the power to unite every chieftain and member of the party.
He said it was unfortunate that even the lawmakers who only rode on the Otoge struggle to get elected are supporting the sack of the executive.
Olawoye, who was a frontline opposition figure and one of the Otoge champions, said though the governor remained his friend, he needed to work with all the stakeholders of the party who contributed to his emergence.
Will Alhaji Lai Mohammed be successful in his fight to remain relevant in the politics of Kwara State? Only time will tell.