Gbemi Saraki: Between defection and reconciliation
The name of Senator Gbemisola Rukayyat Saraki, fondly called GRS, rings a bell in the nation's political space not only on account of her 12 years' legislative experience as a two-time senator representing Kwara Central and member of the House of Representatives (Asa/Ilorin West) but also by virtue of her father's popularity as a political titan.
Besides being a governorship aspirant of the PDP, Gbemisola was the candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) in the 2011 governorship election in the state. In the build-up to the forthcoming general elections, Gbemi joined the PDP at a time her brother and former governor, Bukola Saraki was bidding farewell to the party, having led others, including Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, GRS publicly declared for PDP with a mega rally and canvassed support for President Goodluck Jonathan. According to Gbemi, notwithstanding the defection of her brother and some aggrieved former PDP members to the APC, the party remained strong in the state. Her declaration was seen in the political circles as a deliberate step to show her loyalty to the party and convince the PDP supporters that she was not in the party as a spoiler.
Irrespective of her disposition to PDP and the Jonathan administration, Gbemi's defection to the PDP was taken with mixed feelings by a section of the party leaders who doubted her sincerity in the party. Her stay in the PPD has bred suspicion, anxiety, apprehension and tension in the midst of the clamour by a section of the party to put an end to the Saraki rein in Kwara State. Those who believe in uprooting the dynasty therefore see GRS as an unwanted element in the party.
But as events unfold, it appears Gbemi is one personality that cannot be toyed with, especially with her role in the emergence of new executives of the PDP where she has sufficient loyalists as members. Besides, Gbemi through her GRS forum, with chapters in all the 16 LGAs of the state, has been able to sustain her political structure with ardent supporters who believe in her politics. She contested the governorship ticket of the party, rubbing shoulders with prominent party loyalists for the ticket. Among them were Dele Belgore, Professor Oba Abdulraheem, Deacon John Dara, Senator Mokanjuola Ajadi, among others before Senator Simeon Sule Ajibola won the ticket.
Following the conclusion of the primaries, there were moves to reconcile all the aggrieved candidates in a bid to secure their commitment to support the PDP candidate. However, Gbemi left the country almost immediately after the primaries while her supporters back home complained bitterly of ill-treatment in the party.
They alleged that little or no regard was given to their principal even as they called on the national leadership of the party to warn some members against denigrating the Saraki dynasty.
One of her closest aides and PDP Secretary for Ilorin West Local Government, Alhaji Toyin Olosasa, confirmed the ill-treatment of Saraki in PDP, saying, "we Sarakites in the PDP are not happy with the development.
"I just want to make our views known to Mr President and the national secretariat of the PDP on the way and manner in which the PDP in Kwara State is treating us. They have neglected us. We were not involved in all the activities going on as par the ongoing campaign of PDP."
Olosasa also called on the PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, to warn the state chapter of the party against hurling abusive words on late Dr Olusola Saraki, saying, "This act is painful to we Sarakites in PDP."
Daily Trust reports that indications of Gbemi Saraki's grievance in the PDP emerged with her conspicuous absence at many fora and activities of the party including President Goodluck Jonathan's campaign visit, the inauguration of the campaign council and the flag-off of the PDP campaign. Her action has therefore fuelled speculations of her impending exit from the party.
However, Gbemi arrived Ilorin penultimate week with a declaration that she still remains in the PDP. Asked if she has given instruction to her supporters who have consistently alleged maltreatment of their master, she was evasive in her response, saying her supporters were mature enough to take a decision.
It was gathered that the issue of Gbemi Saraki has created division within the party. While a section of the executive loyal to Gbemi believes in pacifying the former senator, others see no reason for that.
Investigations reveal that several organs of the party have intervened to douse the tension and stall her impending exit. It was gathered that the national executive of the party has been notified of the developments and it is currently mediating to keep Gbemi and the party united ahead of the April 11 election.
Some observers believe that the state PDP cannot afford to lose Gbemisola Saraki if its desire to form a new government is to materialise. Already, the party has lost some bigwigs including the Labour Party governorship candidate, Dr Mike Omotosho, former senatorial aspirant for Kwara Central, Hajia Bilikisu Gambari and their supporters. Given Gbemi's clout and followership, it would be suicidal for the party to lose her, analysts say.
Should the reconciliation move fail, Gbemi and her supporters might have to seek solace in another party, but it is not likely to be APC considering the suspicion about an alleged rift with her brother and scion of the Saraki dynasty.
But it is clear that the APC would be the sole beneficiary of her imaginary defection. Will she dump the party? This is still within the realm of speculation. Only time will tell.
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