Kwara Assembly: How 2019 election transformed me, by Hon. Olanrewaju Oba
When I returned fully to Nigeria in April 2018, I did not expect to join mainstream politics and this was mainly because I could be described as a novice on the scene. Despite the fact that I had been a regular visitor to my country on my trips towards humanitarian efforts as altruism remains one of my core beliefs, I would only later discover the murky waters of Nigerian politics which is rarely documented. In fact, I strongly feel that Nigerian political behavior is a phenomenon which can hardly be understood from the periphery.
Before I proceed, I want to wish everyone a very happy new year and my prayer remains that the Almighty Allah bless all our endeavours this year and beyond and to my indefatigable well-wishers and supporters, I want to reiterate my continued commitment to making you all proud.
Unknown to me, my humanitarian efforts were gaining me some popularity amongst the people and this prompted certain youths and elders to urge me to run for political office. The general sentiment was that since I could do so much for the people as a private citizen, it was only natural that I would do more in a political capacity. I pondered over this for a while and even sought the opinion of my father who passed the baton back to me by clearly informing me that it was my choice to make. He however left me with an important caveat in Yoruba “Ilorin le fa” which I understood to mean “Politics in Ilorin is hard”. I laughed but I prayed before making the decision to go into mainstream politics because at this point, I could not let the masses who had called on me to run down. My father’s words were on my mind but I would only later appreciate the weight of them.
Armed with the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRunBill I made the decision to vie for the House of Representatives seat of the Asa constituency. At this point the challenges started flooding in with the first being the problem of detractors. My detractors decided to make everything an issue. I was the youngest of all the candidates so they questioned my experience, they made heavy-weather of the fact that I was unmarried then there were also the scathing remarks that I could not speak the language of the people properly.
There was even one well-respected man who made it clear that as a first timer, I was unfit to represent the people of Asa constituency. In all this, I was not deterred, after all I was a firm believer in the old saying that a man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd so turn my back I did, but the main challenges would come later.
My first move was to hold a march for the then Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, a man who I still hold in very high esteem. We termed it the #1millionmassmarch and the attention it generated endeared me to a good number of people but also meant that I lost some key alliances. Subsequently, many of my friends joined the lucrative Ó Tó Gé movement of the APC in Kwara State but as loyalty forms part of my core values, I stuck with the Senate President who I had already assured of my commitment.
Before the primary elections to produce the PDP flagbearer for the Ilorin West/Asa federal constituency was held, party elders called us aspirants and expressed their intention for a consensus candidate but the majority of us favoured a popularity test and it was in the build up to the primary elections that I was first exposed to the peculiar nature of Nigerian politics. In what was supposed to be a battle of popularity and forward-thinking ideas, the other candidates had succumbed to the pressure of bribing delegates. Again I was not deterred, an earlier experience of losing about N500,000 to a young lady who sold fictitious material to me and stopped taking my calls had made me realize to a certain extent, the financial implications of running for office.
On the day of the primaries, it would seem that my opponents had realized that they couldn’t curb my popularity with money so they resorted to unconventional tactics. This is the only explanation I and my family could fathom for the strange happenings in the build-up. I suddenly started feeling a sharp pain in my left leg which prevented me from walking from my hotel accommodation to the Kwara hotel where the elections were to take place. It took the intervention of the strong Islamic clerics within my ranks to get me walking again. I thank the Almighty for his continued mercies towards me. It was doing this trial that my father reminded me that “Mo so fun É oselu kin se fun omode” meaning “politics is not for kids”. Well, I was no kid and I was determined to prove this.
My arrival at the party ground was greeted by cheers from many. One could hardly miss the chants of “Sai Larry” and “Powerful Larry” even from delegates who were supposed to be neutral. It was at this point that one of the party leaders stated that the primaries would not hold.
When I and several others protested, one of the party leaders who never hid his disdain for me accused me of bribing delegates. Eventually, the process was postponed and a new date was fixed with new delegates and new officials but on this day I had another attack similar to the last one but as luck would have it, hoodlums disrupted the process. It was at this point that the party leaders made the unpopular decision of abandoning the entire process and anointed a candidate who did not participate in the botched processes. I was hurt by this and it was also at this juncture that I was being constantly wooed by the APC whose leaders had gathered at my house but to the surprise of many including family members, I turned the offer down. Loyalty would either be my biggest forte or greatest undoing. As a man of peace, I also stopped my loyalists from disrupting the announcement of the PDP consensus candidate by my exasperated fans who were very vocal about their preference for me to fly the party’s flag.
The next day, the party leaders called me to offer me the party ticket for Alanamu/Ajikobi Constituency which I initially turned down, having seen my fair share of the dark side of Nigerian politicking. I intended to return to the Unaired Arab Emirates where I would continue my efforts towards charity against the wishes of my cousin and close associates. One call changed everything.
“Youngest honorable, are you alright?”
I quickly grabbed his voice. He said:
“Go and pick the Kwara State House of Assembly ticket without questioning. Don’t you know it’s good to have a practical knowledge of the people you want to represent first before moving to the higher level?”
This was a call from the then Senate president, Bukola Saraki a man I held in high esteem and it was he who made me realize that politics was not about personal ego but about service to the people and so I ignored the detractors who continued their taunts, this time about me accepting a lesser position.
Another challenge I discovered on this political journey was that many personal relationships can be lost in political endeavors. During the campaigns, I met a fine young woman who was persuaded by her people to abandon the budding romance because her family belonged to the opposite party. Even the APC candidate for the House of Assembly seat who had a cordial relationship with me suddenly changed stance when he realized he was to run against me.
Eventually, it was time for the elections which was to be contested along the Ò To Gé Warriors (APC)and The Ó Tun Ya (PDP) where I belonged. At this stage, I discovered the bitterness of Nigerian politicking. I and my team were regularly provoked and in many cases, it took restraint to prevent an equally harsh response. There was this one time during the course of our campaign rally at Alanamu Ward when one young man from the Ó To Gé who knew my campaign team were passing in a direction but chose to walk into our train. To prevent needless confrontations, I had to tell my campaign team to take another route. When we spotted this same man in Lagos, I had to restrain some of my supporters from paying back in kind.
At this point, I was now familiar with the role of money in politics but I also realized that for us to stand a chance, the people in the rural areas had to feel our presence so we campaigned long and hard in those areas but we also faced challenges. On one occasion, one man threatened my campaign team on our way back from one of these areas with a locally-manufactured gun. When I confronted him by asking if he intended to commit murder with a gun like the one he was holding, he laughed and demanded money which I initially refused to give him but when he allowed my team to pass, I alighted the vehicle again and gave him more than he was expecting and he jumped and sang in delight. At other times we were blocked from moving until we greased the hands of the people. This took a toll on our finances but we were motivated by a strong desire to help our people so we carried on.
The violence that greeted us during the campaigns was also something that I had to get used to. At times, I was scared for my supporters who were attacked. One of the young men in my team was hit on the head with a charm which made him react in a funny way. It took the head of the Ifa in Ilorin to cure him.
I have always spoken the truth without fear and this has sometimes put me in the bad books of people. During one of the meetings with our leader, I mentioned the fact that the governor would need to come out more often to quell the O to ge wave which had gained new heights. The governorship candidate expressed his displeasure about this but it was when he campaigned in my constituency the following weekend without informing me that I knew that he had taken my good-intended comments as a personal slight. This was followed by calls from my supporters to make peace with the governorship candidate.
Later, I discovered that our secrets were being leaked to the opposition but we were still in a strong position until we suffered the major setback of postponing the elections. This was calculated to manipulate the elections in favour of the APC and when our party lost the Federal elections, our course lost a lot of members and momentum but the manipulation by the powers did not stop there.
On the election day, I realized that security operatives had been compromised. On our way to my ward, we encountered one Moshood Mustapha, an APC stalwart who was seen with huge sums of cash but to my bewilderment he was set free almost immediately. On getting to my polling center, I was shocked by the harsh manner I was greeted by soldiers and other security operatives who despite being told that I was a candidate, did not desist from their verbal attacks. I cast my vote and left without responding to their attacks wondering what would be done to my supporters in other areas if they could do this to me.
A lot of other factors contributed to our eventual defeat including the anger towards the former governor, the manipulations, the use of security personnel like the DSS and police to affect the polls and the buying of votes but I gave God the glory and returned to Lagos as sympathy of the people was not what I needed at the time.
The elections have come and gone and while many would rue the lost funds as well as the time expended, my initial foray into politics has not been without adventure and lessons and for this I am grateful.
One thing is clear, the next elections would not be contested along O to ge and O tun ya lines. We should have grown as a people and I look forward to the 2023 polls with optimism that issues which can positively impact the lives of our people would be on the front burner. I remain unbroken and determined in my bid to serve the people and this is why I will contest the next election. For now, I continue to support our elected officials as we should remain committed to a better Kwara.
Once again, happy new year.
I love you all, and looking forward to sharing more experiences with you on life after the election.
Hon Olanrewaju Oba
PDP House of Assembly Candidate in the 2019 elections,