Tension appears to be on the rise within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kwara State as the state government and the Saraki family battle on over the demolition of IleArugbo, owned by the late Senator Olusola Saraki.
The Kwara state government under the leadership of Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq may have succeeded with its intention to demolish a house owned by the late Senator Olusola Saraki, father of former Senate President Bukola Saraki and current Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemi Saraki, over what they called the illegal acquisition of the land upon which the house was built, by the late godfather of Kwara politics, but the last has obviously not been heard of the reactions that trailed the demolition within the ruling party. The house, popularly called Ile Arugbo (House for old persons), was demolished in the early hours of Thursday, after the state government revoked the title of the landed property.
The Kwara House of Assembly in August called for the revocation of the landed property, after adopting the report of a committee that investigated the ownership of the property. Findings by The Nation revealed that uneasy calm currently pervades the rank and file of the APC in the state following the demolition and subsequent altercations between the government and the Saraki family. According to party sources, the open expression of dissatisfaction to the decision of Governor AbdulRazaq by Gbemi Saraki may have encouraged her supporters within the party and other aggrieved members to take on the governors and his supporters within the party sooner than later.
A party chieftain from Asa, who craved anonymity while confirming the tension within the party, said many party members are sympathetic towards the Minister and decried the decision of the government to carry out the demolition without carrying her along. “There are two sides to the issue as we speak within the APC. There are those who feel the demolition is a good payback for Bukola Saraki and those who feel the demolition is a slap on the face of Gbemi Saraki. The later are even more disappointed because the Minister, a high ranking leader in the party, was allegedly kept in the dark on the matter till her father’s house was demolished by a government formed by her own party,” he said.
But an aide of the governor who confided in The Nation that AbdulRazaq has directed that none of his aides should speak on the matter except when authorized, condemned APC chieftains faulting the governor over the demolition, saying it is not true that the governor unilaterally took the decision. “We have a cabinet in the state and it is made up of party members. So, how come the fault is now that of the governor alone? The government took a decision based on facts available to it. There is no way everybody will be pleased with a decision but it is wrong to try to score cheap political points with an action that is based on facts and records,” he said.
Reports that Senator Gbemi Saraki had openly thrown her weight behind the decision of her family to fight the government in court, over the demolition, is also creating anxiety within the party. According to a family source, the Minister, while speaking with some family member after the demolition, had assured them of her support to any legal step instituted over the matter in spite of the political differences between her and her brother, Bukola Saraki. “She is a proud daughter of her father and that is exactly what we expected her to do,” our source added.
Speaking on the development, Alhaji Yussuf Olanrewaju, a kinsman to the Sarakis, described the demolition as “cruel”, adding that the demolition of the structure was a contempt of court since the matter was still before the state High court. Olanrewaju, who is the President of Agbaji Development Association in, Ilorin, said the demolition was improper and “a calculated action to chase away the Saraki family from the plot”. “It is not fair to try to rubbish the late Saraki’s contributions to the socio-economic development of the llorin emirate. The demolition of the structure is not right since the matter is before the court,” Olanrewaju said.
Former President of the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki, while giving a hint on the family’s decision to approach the court, last Thursday, stated that justice will prevail over the demolition of his family property in Ilorin by AbdulRazaq led Kwara government. Announcing the decision of the family to seek legal redress on the matter, Alhaji Bibire Ajape, chairman of the Saraki Legacy Forum, urged supporters of the Saraki family not to take laws into their own hands over the matter. “Following the announcement by the Governor that he had revoked the title on the land which had been rightfully possessed by late Saraki for more than 20 years, they filed a case at the High Court, Ilorin, on December 31, 2019, challenging the action. The suit with Number KWS/463/2019 between Asa Investments Limited and Governor of Kwara State, Kwara House of Assembly, Attorney General of Kwara State, Director General of the Bureau of Lands and the Inspector General of Police was filed on Tuesday.
“In an obviously desperate attempt to pre-empt the court case, the State Governor directed one of his aides to lead a demolition team to the property on Tuesday morning accompanied by some policemen. However, the policemen withdrew when they saw the crowd of old women and youths who gathered to protest the illegal demolition exercise. With the withdrawal of the policemen, the team from the state government were forced to quickly leave the place. Some hours later, exactly a few minutes to the New Year, about 11.45pm, the particular aide led another team, this time with a bulldozer and some policemen massed around the premises of Ile Arugbo but were again resisted by the crowd of women and youth who had then decided to mount a ceaseless vigil around the property.
“Early Thursday morning from 12.40am, while the old women and youth were having their New Year entertainment as they mount watch on the premises of Ile Arugbo, the aide again led a team of demolition squad comprising security agents from the Government House, Ilorin, workers of the Ministry of Works and some urchins to Ilofa Street. For hours, their attempt to commence the demolition exercise was rebuffed. At about 3.30am, the security agents began heavy shooting of gun and tear gas canisters to dislodge the people protesting against the demolition. It was after they were able to disperse the crowd that the bulldozer moved into the street and commenced the demolition exercise.
“It will be recalled that while the Governor on December 27 claimed that there was no existing document showing that the land was properly allocated to late Dr. Saraki, the same government through its agent on Monday circulated a letter of allocation to Asa Investments owned by Dr. Saraki in which the company was directed to pay the sum of N1, 047, 090 (One Million, Forty Seven Thousand and Ninety Naira only). The government then changed its story that the property was allocated to a company which had nothing to do with any politician, dead or alive and that they could not find any record of money paid. The Saraki family has maintained that a Right of Occupancy title was issued to Asa Investment, an indication that the allocation was lawfully concluded with all parties meeting their obligations.
“The pre-emptive move by the state government to demolish the property was made to undermine and frustrate the judicial process and it represents another act of disrespect for the judiciary and the rule of law which the current government of Kwara State is known for. On our part, we call on supporters of the Saraki family, particularly the women and youth who were brutalized during the attempts to carry out the illegal demolition exercise to maintain peace and not take laws into their hands. We assure them that this illegality will not stand as the family will pursue all legal means to claim the rights of their late patriarch,” he said.
But the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Rafiu Ajakaiye, while urging the people of the state to ignore the explanation of the embattled Saraki family, explained that the land was originally meant for secretariat and parking space of the Civil Service Clinic, but was unlawfully allocated to a private firm, Asa Investments Limited, without any record of payment to the state government. He said: “Hundreds of civil servants still operate from rented apartments at a huge cost to the government. The new secretariat, once completed in 2021, will definitely go a long way to end this unhealthy trend as well as provide a more conducive and decent working environment for government workers.”
Ajakaiye added that governor of the state, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, had signed an instrument withdrawing the allocation of plots of land 1, 3 and 5 to the firm. He said that the said land was unlawfully appropriated contrary to the purpose for which it was meant. Ajakaiye added that the governor’s decision followed a resolution of the state’s House of Assembly urging him to reclaim the land because it was arbitrarily taken over in the 1990s without any evidence of payment by the company, even though the land was meant for public use.
Party leaders are worried following indications that supporters of the governor and those of the Minister may engage in open disagreements over the matter soon. According to a serving member of the national assembly from the state, if the situation is not properly handled, the APC in the state may soon be thrown into fresh crisis. Recalling that the party is still struggling to manage a serious post-election crisis that has seen the leadership of the party and the government disagreeing over almost everything, he called for urgent interventions from relevant quarters.
“My take on this matter is that we need to put sentiments aside and address the complaints of all those concerned. I have heard from some people that the Honourable Minister was not carried along properly before her father’s house was demolished by the government. I have also heard from reliable sources that the Minister refused to see reasons with the government over its decision to demolish the house and acquire the land for government use. Whatever the truth is, we need to shun sentiments and address all complaints in the interest of the party,” the federal legislator said.
Already, some moves and statements credited to the Minister are being interpreted as part of her decision to take on Governor AbdulRazaq in the days to come. “And you and I can imagine what it will mean to the party should our governor and a Minister representing the state in the federal government engage in a political battle. This is what many of us are worried about. It is sad that there was no opportunity to discuss this issue before it got to this level. But as it is, all habds must be on deck to stop a crisis,” our source added.
In a statement by her special assistant, Titilope Anifowoshe, the minister, while expressing open solidarity with her embattled family, renamed her movement to ‘GRS-OLOYE.’ “So many things have happened this year, in fact, right up to the very dying hours of the year, but we will continue to take brave and faithful steps.
“We will continue to walk in the alight even though we have no idea what will happen next, though we are comforted, encouraged and reassured with this: ‘But they plan and Allah plans and Allah is the best of planners’ 8:30.
“So GRS Family, we are going to now be known as GRS-OLOYE Movement. We have a history and we are proud of that history. May Allah forgive the sins of ALL our dearly departed and may He make us worthy representatives of all that they stood for,” the statement read in part. Source within Ilorin also confirmed that hundreds of GRS-OLOYE members and supporters were among the crowd that attempted to stop the bulldozers from demolishing the buildings last Thursday. “They publicly joined other people to condemn the actions of Governor AbdulRazaq,” our source claimed.
But in spite of the tension within the party and opposition to its action even among chieftains of the ruling party, the government insists the decision to demolish Ile Arugbo and acquire the land is in the interest of the state. In its reaction to criticism through the state commissioner for Communications, Malam Murtala Olanrewaju, after the demolition, the state government confirmed the reclamation of the land in the early hours of Thursday, explaining that the “action was carried out in the early hours to avoid any needless confrontation.”
“Attempts by some persons to provoke government agents on lawful duty were resisted by the security agents who exercised the highest level of restraint and professionalism,” the commissioner said in a statement in Ilorin. Contrary to the claim that the state government was served court papers on the matter, we state that no court papers has been served as at the time the government took the steps to preserve what lawfully belongs to the people,” he added, stating the readiness of the government to defend its decision at any time.
The government appealed to the people of the state to remain calm, peaceful and be guided only by facts of the matter and not to be drawn into what is targeted at distracting the public from the issues at stake. “Finally, we urge the people of the state to remain calm, peaceful, and be guided only by facts of the matter and not be drawn into emotional outburst that is targeted at distracting the public from the issues at stake. While the administration is focused on restoring sanity to the state after years of barefaced impunity, we will do so within the limit of the law,” Olanrewaju said.
Governor AbdulRazaq, had last month, while announcing his decision to revoke the ownership of the disputed land by the late Olusola Saraki, said it was illegally acquired. According to the governor who insisted it is wrong for anybody to attribute political vendetta to his action, the land was originally designated for the construction of a secretariat and parking lot of the civil service clinic, but that it was unlawfully allocated to a private firm, Asa Investments Limited, without any record of payment to the state government.