AbdulRazaq vs Mohammed: Who blinks first?
STEPHEN OLUFEMI ONI reports on the battle for the structure of the Kwara State Chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) between Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq and the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed
The crisis rocking the Kwara State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) antedates today. Of course, it started long before the 2019 general election although it didn’t blow open as it is today.
Prior to the 2019 elections, particularly the governorship election, the crisis which had been brewing in the party was successfully managed and shielded from the public, with the party using the ‘Otoge’ (enough is enough) mantra to swim to power in an unprecedented manner in the history of the North Central state.
The APC won not only the coveted governorship seat, but all the 24 seats in the state House of Assembly, the six seats in the House of Representatives as well as the three seats in the Senate.
Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, who made his first public statement on issues they were having within the party, on June 26, however, stirred the hornet’s nest when he volunteered rare insights into the protracted crisis rocking the party in the state, tracing it to his refusal to fund a campaign structure that was formed without his prior knowledge or input as the governorship candidate.
Speaking at the launch of a book titled “Otoge” in Ilorin, the state capital, the governor also revealed that some members of a cabal within the party, who received hundreds of millions of naira as donations for the Kwara struggle ahead of the 2019 general election from various sources did not give him a dime.
AbdulRazaq, who was represented at the book launch by his deputy, Mr. Kayode Alabi, further disclosed that party officials were equally barred from campaigning with him until the presidential election had been won, signaling that the pendulum was clearly swinging in his favour. His words: “Since this book is about his tory, I feel it is important to set the records straight on a few things.
First, the ‘Otoge’ is the struggle of our people and it did not necessarily start in 2019. Every Kwaran of good conscience owned and worked for that struggle in various ways. We were only positioned by providence to lead the final lap of the breaking of the jinx that dated back many decades.
“However, permit me to assert here that contrary to some claims out there, the battle cry ‘Otoge’ and its adoption were a product of a statewide field research that I commissioned shortly after the primaries in October 2018. If anyone could lay claim to its copyright, it has to be the Hook Nigeria, a communications outfit owned by very young people. One of them, Toyyib, is a Kwara South prince.
“I had held meetings with various PR outfits but I found their own presentation most strikingly catchy and reflective of the Kwara struggle. We ran our campaign with that slogan and it quickly resonated with our masses. So popular was it that even motorcyclists and trailer drivers adopted it in their honking. It became a household refrain.
To God be the glory and we thank the people of Kwara for this. “I also need to set the record straight about the party crisis. It did not begin after the election or swearing-in. It is safe to say that those who claimed to own the party in the state at that time practically disowned me until after the President had won his election and the coast became clearer back home. “Here is the story.
Shortly after the pri- maries in October, the party told me they have set up a campaign structure. Nobody consulted me before doing that even though I was the governorship candidate. They asked me to fund the campaign structure that I was not privy to.
Of course, I declined it. I would later lead my own small campaign team across the state. “It is on record that the party officially boycotted my campaign tours. Party officials got the instruction not to attend my campaign.
A few of them can testify to this. I went round the whole of Kwara North without the party. However, they stylishly joined the campaign after the presidential election, when it was clear Kwarans had decided in our favour. I am not aware of any decent democracy where a candidate would not be given the privilege of shaping the direction of his own campaign.
It is even worse that my campaign was boycotted because I refused to be led by the nose. “I have told these stories of the slogan and of the party issues to disabuse the mind of Kwarans or friends of Kwara who may not have had this information. In doing so, I am not claiming sole credit for the success of the struggle.
Far from it! I have done so simply to clear the air, and this book launch offers the right platform to speak up. “And for ministers, governors, party supporters and friends of Kwara who I later heard donated hundreds of millions of naira to support the Otoge struggle in Kwara, I want to say that I did not receive a kobo of that fund. But how that money was managed or stolen is a story for another day.”
Expectedly, the governor’s expositions at the book launch have continued to elicit reactions and counter reactions from stakeholders in the two divides of the raging imbroglio – the camp led by the Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and that of the governor.
Factional Vice chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the minister’s camp, Chief Theophilus Oyebiyi, said it was funny that the governor could now come out to say that he did not know about the campaign structure set up by the party to which he (governor) contributed to by his nomination of Kale Belgore to represent him at party meetings ahead the setting up of the campaign structure.
He said: “After Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq emerged as the APC candidate in 2018, the chairman of the party, Hon, Bashir Omolaja Bolarinwa, called a meeting and appealed to all those who contested with the then APC governorship candidate, now Governor AbdulRazaq as well as other members of the party that we should all work together for the success of our party at the poll.
“Thereafter, the chairman called another meeting of all the aspirants that contested at our Zango area former APC office. The candidate, now the governor, also attended. It was then we discussed the issue of campaign structure. The governor that day came with Dr. Yahaya Oloriegbe, who was the APC Kwara Central senatorial candidate.
Then Mallam AbdulRazaq said that he would want a bottom-heavy campaign structure that will bring all groups together.
“There and then, we set up a committee which included Alhaji Isowo Mustapha, the Secretary of APC, Abdullateef Alakawa, Kwara Central Senatorial Chairman, Hon. Olabanji (Kwara South) and Chief Sunday Oyebiyi from Kwara North. And I, Chief Oyebiyi was made the committee chairman.
The candidate himself nominated Kale Belgore to be a member of that committee. We met about six times and we came out with a report and submitted to the governorship candidate through the same Kale Belgore.
“The job of the committee was to fashion a campaign structure that would handle the election. This we did creditably. After submission, we waited a while and nothing was heard from him. It was then the party chairman called some elders to inform them that our campaign ought to have started. “After that period, the then governorship candidate turned his back against us and we never saw him again.
The chairman would sometimes call the candidate but he will not pick his calls. But the chairman kept calling. Now, for the governor to say that he never knew about the campaign structure which he contributed to by nominating Kale Belgore is very funny.
“At a stage, the governorship candidate pointedly told the chairman that the party should handle its own campaign, while he would handle his. He said the party should source for money to do its campaign. The chairman had to call Alhaji Lai Mohammed that there was problem at hand and that the party could not afford to fail.
Then it dawned on the minister to move round and source for money for the campaign. “By his recent utterances, Governor AbdulRazaq has confirmed that he never funded the campaign that made him win the election. It is very absurd for him to come out now and say that people never supported him. Which campaign did he do?
That Governor AbdulRazaq could also say that the party leaders did not release funds donated to him for the campaign is very funny too.
“If governors and ministers donated money for some individuals for the 2019 governorship campaign in the state, I challenge him to mention the names of those who collected the money. The governor should be factual enough to come out clearly what he means by all these. We cannot be chasing shadows. This is an area he had to expatiate and prove it because hat is a vague statement in every form.”
Lai Mohammed, on his part, denied the allegation of diverting funds meant to prosecute the 2019 campaigns of the party in Kwara State. He said that he singlehandedly raised all the funds for the prosecution of the elections in the state.
The minister spoke in Ilorin at the commissioning of the secretariat of his faction of the party, a clear indication that the crisis in the party has worsened. He said: “I never diverted 2019 campaign fund of the Kwara State APC for my personal use as alleged by Governor AbdulRazaq.
By the grace of God I singlehandedly, with the support of friends, politicians and family, raised all the monies for the Oke Ero/Isin/Ekiti/Irepodun Federal Constituency bye election of November 2018 that brought Hon. Tunji Olawuyi to the House of Representatives.
And I challenge anybody here to say he gave the party one penny apart from what I gave them. “I challenge anybody here to say he gave logistics support to the party. I did that by the grace of God. I distributed 500 motorcycles and 20 vehicles
. And many of the beneficiaries are here today. I want them to explain to Nigerians about what happened to the N70 million that Hon. Olawuyi kept that the governor refused to give us during the bye election.
But for the grace of God and some friends we would have lost the election because when we raised money we gave them but two days before the election we could not reach them through their phones again.
“I had to go to friends to raise another N150 million to prosecute that election. I remember very well that there are 42 wards in that constituency. We thank God today that was the beginning of our success.
When elections proper came in 2019, we did not see our governorship candidate. We could not wait. I say without any fear of contradictions that by the grace of God that with the money raised from friends, colleagues and associates, we financed the four elections and we scored 100 per cent. “That was how we won all the elections. But they got there and forgot the people that put them there. They are now selling lies.
They are selling dummies. If we did not give money to the party, how did he think the party would have won?” Also speaking, a former state chairman of the party, Bashir Omolaja Bolarinwa, who is the chairman of the faction loyal to the minister, asked the governor to account for the N1 billion campaign fund given to him by the national secretariat of the party to prosecute the 2019 elections in the state.
But rising in defence of the governor on the issue, a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Moshood Mustapha, said: “I think the issue of N1 billion should not have arisen at all because it was a very clear and straightforward case.
The money was not handed over to any individual, be it the governorship candidate who is now the governor, Lai Mohammed, Mashood Mustapha, or Bolarinwa as the chairman of the party then.
“Nobody can come and say it before me that one person collected the money. I was at that meeting and it was Bolarinwa that invited me and said there would be a meeting to share the money that was coming from Abuja based on the template sent from Abuja. It was based on that template that the money was shared.
“So, I really don’t know how and why some people would just concoct some lies against an innocent person because they were trying to defend themselves; I don’t think it is a good way to do politics.
Let us always be very truthful about what the situation is. As far as I am concerned, nobody took custody of any N1 billion, nobody went with any N1 billion and the governor did not even have the power to do that as the candidate then because it was clearly spelt out by Abuja how the money should be shared. That is why after the sharing there was no controversy in any way on the issue. Why now, if not for mischief?”
Besides, 22 out of the 24 members of the state House of Assembly, 22 out of the 24 members, and two members of the House of Representatives, Hon. AbdulRaheem Ajuloopin and Hon. Ismail Tijani, debunked the claim by the minister that he bankrolled their campaign expenses, saying such claim is a lie from the pit of hell.
In separate press conferences in Ilorin, they said it was Governor AbdulRazaq that gave them the needed support to win the elections in terms of funds and logistics.
Speaker of the state Assembly, Hon. Danladi-Salihu, who spoke through the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Raphael Adetiba, explained that Lai Mohammed was nowhere to be found at every point of the campaign and election that produced the 9th legislature, saying his claim to have personally funded their elections is farther from the truth.
He said: “The only individual who could claim offering the members massive support during the election was Governor AbdulRazaq, who was the APC governorship candidate at the time. We ordinarily should have ignored the Minister and taken it as another lie from Lai Mohammed but for the unsuspecting members of the public and posterity, the record needs to be set straight.”
The member representing Ekiti/ Isin/Irepodun/Oke Ero federal constituency of Kwara state in the House of Representatives, Hon. Abdulraheem Ajuloopin, described the allegation against him by the Minister that he embezzled N70 million from the 2018 by-election campaign funds meant for his reelection as “frivolous, baseless, wild and it only exists in the imagination of the minister.”
Addressing journalists in Ilorin, he said: “The minister is only being economical with the truth, petty and resorting to the politics of pull him down. On my own, I personally gave Alhaji Lai Muhammed the sum of N32.5 million, with the full knowledge of the former party chairman, Bolarinwa, for election purposes.
The minister and Bolarinwa cannot deny this except there is no conscience left. “It will also interest the public to know that one senior Federal Government official told Governor AbdulRazaq, who was then the candidate of our party that Lai Mohammed reached out to him and claimed that there was no money for the bye election campaign in Kwara.
The official whose name I won’t mention here spoke and pleaded with our governorship candidate (now the governor) and asked him to release N50 million to the minister, which was released but the money was never accounted for nor used for campaign purposes as envisaged.
“Now, if anyone is to be accused of mismanaging the 2018 campaign fund, it should be nobody other than Lai Mohammed, who till date cannot give details of how the money was spent.”
The House of Representatives member said he was taken aback at the effrontery of the minister to accuse him of such criminality without recourse to due diligence, adding that the outburst debased the exalted office Lai Mohammed is occupying.
He said: “This simply suggests the minister was not even on the ground during the bye election to know the enormity of work and resources put into winning the elections. What he did showed him to be somebody whose interest was to corner every available money donated for the purpose.
“This wild allegation amounted to a campaign of calumny and a well-orchestrated move to score cheap political points, using me as his best bet to sway his audience.
This to me suggests that the minister has something up his sleeves and also has an axe to grind with me but chose that discredited platform to air his grievances.” Also, Hon. Ismail Kayode Tijani, representing Ifelodun, Offa and Oyun Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, condemned comments linked to minister in which he described Governor AbdulRazaq as “one chance governor.”
He said: “The minister’s comment was unfortunate and deliberately targeted at destroying the party. The truth is that there were crises before the party’s primary elections and after the emergence of the candidates, I could remember when Lai Mohammed made attempts to replace names of some successful candidates at the primary elections
. “After party primary, the minister personally called me and told me to step down for Gbenga Power, which I resisted and he later sponsored Gbenga to challenge my victory in court, even to the Supreme Court, and thank God, I came out victorious.
As a minister for six years, what has he facilitated to Kwara in terms of developmental projects to warrant him calling our performing governor ‘One chance governor.’
The truth is that, he is out to polarise and destroy APC in Kwara State. But, the Caretaker Committee Treasurer and Financial Secretary of the party, Mohammed Tajudeen, loyal to the minister insisted that he provided funds and logistics for the election campaign of all the APC House of Assembly candidates in the 2019 elections.
He said the lawmakers confirmed the receipt of the sum of N500,000 but mischievously claimed that the money was from the national secretariat of the party.
He said: “As custodians of the party’s accounts, we want to restate that the said money was released to them by Alhaji Lai Mohammed and transferred to them through the party’s account.
How could they have won an election that the governor had publicly declared that he didn’t give the party a dime to prosecute?” At the moment, the allegations and counter-allegations are still raging even as there are calls for Lai Mohammed to be sanctioned for his outburst and vituperations against Governor AbdulRazaq at the commissioning of the secretariat of his faction of the party penultimate Saturday in Ilorin. However, only time will tell on who blinks first between the governor and the minister.