Following his interesting performance at the national stage, Saliu Mustapha, a founding member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has retreated back to his home-state to contest a seat in the National Assembly. This unexpected decision has disrupted the political space in Kwara state and plotted new dynamics to the senatorial contest in Kwara Central, Tijani Rasheed writes.
After stepping down for Abdullahi Adamu in the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairmanship race, a phenomenal Saliu Mustapha chose to go back home, where he enjoys a teeming support of youths, market women, artisans, traditional rulers and many other stakeholders.
For months, prior to the imposition of a consensus candidate on the eve of the national convention, the Turaki of Ilorin, as he is revered by his followers, presented himself as a bridge-builder, one that will connect the younger cadre to the older ranks in the party and vice-versa.
He had taken his campaign programmes to many states until the leadership of the party insisted on a consensus arrangement, which favoured Adamu’s emergence.
Rather than groan or cause a drama, a clear-headed Mustapha accepted his fate, restating his commitment to the ideals of the party and unalloyed loyalty to the structure.
However, after the post-convention debates settled, the 49-year-old sprang a surprise by declaring interest in representing the people of Kwara Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, one of the most contested offices in the state.
This unprecedented move, this newspaper learnt, had created palpable fear amongst the political actors and disrupted the polity in the district.
This is further compounded with the intense clamour and widespread campaign for the office to be zoned to Ilorin South/East federal constituency, Mustapha’s political stronghold.
As of the time of filing this report, apart from the incumbent Senator, Yahaya Oloriegbe, who has shown interest in getting a return ticket, and Yahaya Seriki, a business mogul,
no other political figure in the APC has declared intentions to run for the office after Mustapha did.
But Seriki is not considered as a serious contender. He is viewed as too temperamental, and a little less mature to handle the rigours of the office of the Senate. In fact, at a recent meeting with stakeholders of the party in Ilorin East Local Government, Dr. Oloriegbe was qouted to have said that the position of Senate is not a ‘child’s play’, in reaction to the reported entry of Seriki into the race.
Thus, with a Saliu Mustapha-like figure in the race, the All Progressives Congress in Kwara state might be stuck between giving Oloriegbe a return ticket or giving Mustapha, who is favoured by some political odds, the opportunity to help the party retain the seat.
To settle this, the APC ticket might be thrown open at the state primaries, leaving the two major contenders to jostle for it.
How Kwara Central was won and lost
It should be recalled that the Senatorial seat used to be a preserve of the Saraki’s until the ‘Otooge’ storm, championed by the APC, that shattered the age-long Saraki hegemony in 2019.
For the records, Gbemisola Saraki occupied the office from 2003-2011 and Bukola Saraki, her younger brother and a two-term Governor of the state, won the senatorial seat in 2011. Bukola was in the office till 2019.
Political actors in Kwara Central were star-struck in 2019 when Oloriegbe, a long-term opponent of the Sarakis, won the seat by a wide margin.
Meanwhile, pundits and observers opined that Oloriegbe was only a beneficiary of the collective APC-led revolt against the Saraki hegemony, adding that the outcome of the poll is not reflective of Oloriegbe’s popularity.
This newspaper understands that now that the 2023 general election is fast approaching, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party has chosen a former minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, as its flag bearer in the Kwara Central Senatorial contest and this may pose a setback for Oloriegbe’s second-term.
Analysts stated that the election won’t be a walkover like it happened in 2019, noting that Abdullahi is backed by Bukola Saraki who remains a force to reckon with in the politics of the state.
Mustapha as a game-changer
Defeating the opposition, although tough, is not impossible, considering the political weight of Saliu Mustapha in the district.
The campaign for a power shift, which has hit the ground running for months, will favour the APC because Mustapha, unlike other aspirants, is from Ilorin East Local Government Area. It should be noted that both Messrs Oloriegbe and Abdullahi, who are major contestants, are from Ilorin West Local Government Area.
This offers the APC the avenue to pacify aggrieved members of the district who feel marginalised and ultimately get their votes.
Mustapha’s popularity among the high and the mighty in Ilorin Emirate is another factor that comes to bear in the election. Being a traditional title holder in the emirate and the right-hand man of the Emir, Mustapha has maintained a solid relationship with traditional and religious leaders across boards.
This is aided by his consistent acts of philanthropy that has earned him the commendation and adulation of Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq.
Recently, the Saliu Mustapha Foundation, a non-profit organisation that he chairs, doled out millions of naira as seed grants, business grants and scholarships to a lot of people in Kwara state.
Through philanthropy and nobility, Mustapha has warmed his way into the hearts of the people and this is evident in the manner he is being received at public functions.
Also, Mustapha’s decorous performance at the national level has earned him the respect of some APC leaders at the National Secretariat who have thrown their weights behind his Senatorial bid.
Although this may appear to be an external factor, it gives him an edge over other APC candidates because a candidate unaccepted at the national level, may further polarise the party which is already factionalised.
Nevertheless, some top members of the party have expressed fear that if APC does not key into Mustapha’s ambition, he might be hijacked by other political parties and that may thwart the chances of the ruling party in the forthcoming polls.