In his first ever media interview in his about over six decades on earth, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq bared it all to the Editorial Team of ThisDay. Harmony Times brings excerpts that bothers on his relationship with Bukola Saraki, the activities of Lai Mohammed as regards campaign funds, Governance in Kwara and his flair for women.
BACKGROUND INTO POLITICS AND 2019 ELECTION VICTORY
I have never granted an interview before. Never. You cannot say you’ve seen me on TV. But what the media people say is that if you don’t tell your story, somebody else will tell it and you may not even like it. I’m reserved. I keep to myself. People blabber what they want. When this republic started, everybody was with Saraki in the ANPP. Just a few of us were in PDP then. We launched the party, very few of us. We knew our goal, to remain in opposition and remove these people from power. That’s our goal from then up till now. If you stick to something you are deliberate, and God knows your conscience, you will succeed.
I’m not saying we got here because we were tough, or more intelligent than others. There’s something divine about getting here, because all their institutions; traditional, religious were all stacked against us. Along the way, they started pulling out, because most of them saw that they had a glass ceiling on the Saraki side. They started pulling out. We started in 1998. Where was Lai Mohammed in 1998? He was in Lagos. He came in 2003 to contest and went back. The other guy that was shouting was with Saraki. We remained here deliberately. We did not ask for anybody’s structure.
We had people like Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, as well. He was with us. He was the first Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP. He has never been with Saraki. There were less than 10 of us. We deliberately continued to build our structure. In 2015, when Saraki moved to PDP, we left, because we will not be part of it. We left the party for them. I moved out. I never contested for office, I was sponsoring candidates and building a party. I was even offered the position of Board of Trustee of the party. I refused. I said I have my business.
Our goal was to change the system in the state. It was not until 2011, that we found ourselves in the ACN, but then ACN belonged to Asiwaju and Lai Mohammed was his front man here so since they had their candidate. We said let’s do free and fair primaries, but they refused. Eventually, they threw us out and picked their own candidate. We moved to CPC.
In CPC, we built the party up. We did our best. Those were the days INEC was just nothing. Today, INEC has been cleaned up, it’s difficult to just write results anymore. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but very difficult. But in those days, they just wrote results and that is it, it stands. They shout the results and everybody goes home.
People didn’t understand the appeal process of the INEC; you’ve lost, go home. From CPC, it was still deliberate and we hung in there. We were there for 2015. Saraki left PDP and we moved to PDP. In 2015, I contested for Senate; in 2011 I’ve considered governorship because not that I wanted to contest, the person, Senator Lola Ashiru, the senator now for Kwara South, we moved together from ACN to CPC. And I said he should contest and he agreed to contest but when he looked at it, I believe he saw that it was just impossible for the party to achieve anything, there was no funding from Abuja. We had to fund it.
So Bukola’s father wanted the daughter to be governor. So they found ACPN. Senator Ashiru went to join them and left me alone in the CPC. He joined them because he was promised some funds. I was left to fund the entire CPC, but it was a good experience. It made me understand a lot of things. In 2015 when we now found ourselves in PDP with Jonathan, Saraki had left. I wanted to run for governorship but I looked at it, the number of people contesting, the odds were difficult. Nobody wanted to step down. In Kwara South, they had seven local governments, and two candidates. Kwara central had about eight candidates in four local governments. So how can we defeat? I did the calculation.
And in politics, people are not realistic. I even went to one professor’s house, just to say hello, and when I was leaving, I saw some people running behind the mosque. I asked the driver if he noticed some people running and he said, ‘yes.’ He said those were the people with us in the afternoon; the delegates that were with me in the afternoon, they were the ones hiding from me.
The delegates were playing games so I stepped down to contest for Senate. I contested against Saraki. I believe they rigged the election. Even at the tribunal, they went to do nonsense in the tribunal but we left it and walked away. I was convinced that our day would come. When I look at it, since I’ve been contesting or donating money to people for election, I’ve never lost money. Within three months of every election, I get my money back in business.
Yes, I spent time, but financially I have not lost. So coming to 2019, we found Saraki going into PDP again. And they told us in Abuja that it is Saraki that they recognise, so they are handing the party to him. They don’t know us. How can you not know us? It’s okay, if that’s the case, we’ll go back to CPC. We had merged to form APC and then Lai came and said that we have a new leader from Abuja and they had handed over the party to Saraki. That’s the APC.
I said that it was the end of the road. We left, but some of our CPC guys stayed in. So we moved out. In 2018, when we moved back to PDP, and they had problems in Abuja, naturally we moved to APC. In moving to APC, they invited all of us because Saraki had vacuumed everybody out. It was us from PDP that came and took over the party.
HOW I WON THE 2019 APC PRIMARY ELECTION
Lai Mohammed that is out there shouting didn’t have anybody. So we came and took over the party and we were in two factions, but we overwhelmed them. From the first meeting, I just knew the direction we were going. They called us for a meeting in Abuja and after the meeting, they set up a committee for Kwara. Oshiomhole was there, a working committee member, the deputy chairman of north and south were both there. They announced that the chairman for the committee for Kwara would be Niyi Adebayo. The deputy chairman south. It looked odd because Kwara was considered part of the North. When you give me Adebayo then there is a southern game being played. We understood that and then we now saw Lai being the minister, the highest person in political office, he too taking charge.
It is a game of numbers, these primaries. It’s about working. I’ve had the experience for almost 20 years. I’ve people in every ward. Because of my nature, I don’t talk. I can sit with you for 10 days, I won’t say a word to you. Because of that they underestimate you and your capacity to do anything. But when you are deliberate and calculating and you know where you’re going, then you laugh at them, and just keep quiet. We built our own structure around the state.
For example, a few months ago we had some peace meeting with Lai Mohammed at the Governor of Niger State House. It was the first time Lai Mohammed would meet the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly. Is that the kind of person who is making noise about politics and governance in Kwara and you want me to waste my time responding? The Speaker was with me when I was running in 2011 for CPC, so you can see it’s deliberate. Lai Mohammed knows only one member of the Kwara State House of Assembly. How did these state legislators emerge? They say we don’t have people. All the members apart from one is with us. All our National Assembly members apart from one is with us.
HOW SAHEED POPOOLA, COOK-OLODODO EMERGED IN 2019.
We are in the same group. And then they say you don’t have people. I don’t understand. Because we were deliberate and calculating, we knew where they were going, we knew. Even the National Assembly member we don’t have, Lai Mohammed came to beg me to accommodate his own candidate because he lost the primaries. He lost to our own candidate. It took a lot of pleading and we allowed him and that’s the only one member in the National Assembly from Kwara who is not with us. The only one in the state assembly did not even contest.
I allowed him, Popoola. He did not contest for the state assembly. He contested for the House of Reps. But after the primaries, the Senator, the person that won the Senate and the House of Reps were from the same town; Offa. It won’t work. We asked the community to decide. Obviously they will take the Senate. So, what do we do with the guy that won in the House of Representatives? We had to send him to the State House of Assembly, which he did not contest. He did not buy a form from the assembly. Those are the only two people, but they will say we don’t have people. They’re noisy in the media, not on ground.
Lai cannot win an election in his ward. They’re good with social media noise. That’s all they do. But nobody’s asking how each member of the state assembly emerged. How did they manipulate their way to win their seats? There was no godfather, putting people in place, everybody struggled to emerge. We would network and work with each other. No godfather. Everybody struggled in their own way. Yes, I gave money, and they also sourced money for themselves.
So everybody struggled to win this thing. But some people will sit down and say that it is their party. It is this or that, that I don’t have anybody. If I don’t have anybody, I have all the legislators with me. Is that not something? Let them tell me, they have people. How many legislators do they have both in the state and National Assembly on their side? It’s just a whole lot of media hype. Lai came a few months ago to make noise that he sponsored the campaign, did this and that.
He made a lot of noise and pushed it to NTA. When the House of Reps member from Omu Aran died, there was a by-election, six months before the general election. We needed to fill the candidate. The person who won the primaries then Ajulo is still the House of Representatives member. He was trying to raise money. He got money from governors, they gave him N100 million. Lai now said the money must come to him. The boy came to me and I told him, you have to do the right thing. Are you doing the election for yourself or for Lai? Lai put pressure and collected N32 million from the boy and took off to Lagos.
HOW LAI MOHAMMED, OTHER APC LEADERS DEHUMANISED ME.
Yes, from the day I refused to hand over money to them, the APC leaders in Kwara boycotted my campaign. They did not take part in my campaign. They were sitting at home watching DStv, till we finished the Presidential election and the governorship election was postponed by one week. A few days to the election, I started seeing them showing up. Before the election what were they saying? That they will decide after the presidential. They never thought we would win. So they thought that being the minister, Lai is the leader of the party in Kwara. And when they are sharing posts that he will be the one to share it.
They totally dealt me a bad card. The party decided that where there is no governor, the candidate will be the President’s coordinator. They didn’t allow me to operate. They frustrated me. Even when the President was coming, I set up a committee for the president’s campaign, they set up their own committee. I know where I’m going so I disbanded my committee and let them do it. Even when the president arrived they put me at the back of a Coaster bus. It was when we got to the Emir’s Palace because it was from the airport to the Emir’s Palace then to the campaign venue, that the president’s ADC tapped my back and said are you not the candidate? I said ‘yes.’ He said I should be riding with the President.
I stayed where they put me. He said I should wait, then went to speak with the president. The president said I should ride with him. Then Lai Mohammed got up and went to speak with the ADC and said he wants to ride with the President but the ADC said Mr. President has spoken unless you go and meet him. Lai Mohammed went to meet the President and said he had something important to tell the president, that could he ride with him. The president said okay. So when we finished the event, one security guy on the president’s team just said I should sit in the car, opened the door and I sat with the president. It’s this sort of thing they were doing. Lai sat in Abuja. All the money donated to the party in the state, he never accounted for them.
UNACCOUNTED CAMPAIGN FUNDS: HOW LAI MOHAMMED POCKETED 100MILLION NAIRA FUND.
For example, the Chief of Staff to the Kaduna State Governor called and said Lai gave us an account but it’s not going through, “can you give us another account so we can send you the money?” But I was going to campaign so I said fine. I came back two days later and remembered, and I said they should call him and give him an account number. When we called, he said Lai had sorted it out. That one and several. Until today, as we speak, he never told anybody that he collected money.
There’s a businessman from the South-east. His banker came to me and said his Oga wants to speak with me. I spoke with him and he said he was sending money to me. I said, thank you very much. After the election, he called me to congratulate me. When he saw I was just saying ‘thank you’, then he asked if Lai didn’t deliver the money, I asked him what money? He said N100 million.
I said, no, but thank you. So he said no, it’s not thank you, that he will call Lai up and please let me know when you are in Abuja, we will thrash this out. He said I should stay on the line and speak to the former Senate President, I spoke with that one. That one said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. N100 million? Somebody gave you the money and someone pocketed it? I said, we’ve won. It’s not just that case. I have many on my phone. So many on the phone that they’ve sent money Lai collected it.
I got to one governors meeting. They said I’m not grateful that they did this and that for me. I didn’t see anything. Everything that was donated, Lai Mohammed did not declare to the party, or to me. Some were direct donations to me. Some were sent to Kwara APC but there’s no governor, no minister. He was sitting there in Abuja, he did not know how we held the election.
He did not know how we campaigned. He was in Abuja. Ask Minister Lai Mohammed, how many times he comes to Kwara? Our two ministers don’t come to Kwara. They are in Abuja. Both of them. Lai goes to Lagos. That’s his home. That’s where his son is a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly. That’s where his family is. He has no house here. He doesn’t come here. As our minister, he doesn’t come home. Same with Gbemi Saraki. She doesn’t come. So it’s like we don’t have a minister. That’s why the pressure is on the governor. In other states, you have ministers relieving that pressure. Everything coming to the state, they stay in Abuja and hijack it. They are running from one ministry to the other to try and hijack things from Abuja. In terms of resources, they just took everything.
I have been sponsoring candidates since 1998, so I did not need anybody. I plan my own campaign. I have one or two friends who donated to me. I plan my election, not with the money donated to me. It’s not part of it. Lai Mohammed came a second time this year to do a press conference, because somebody launched a book on ‘O to Ge,’ and they invited me.
The Deputy Governor represented me and read my speech. I said at the right time, I will say what happened to the processes and the funding. I think that got to him. He started saying that he is the one that funded the party. What did he do? What was his visible contribution? He bought about 30 used cars and 200 motorcycles. That’s all he did. And even at that, none got to me.
Not one motorcycle. They had ostracised me completely. They just picked people from a group called Lai Mohammed Campaign Organisation and that’s what he used for his campaign in 2003. Those are the people he gave to and maybe one or two senators. He gave one to the senatorial candidates from south and north. Finish. Asides from that, our assembly members, zero. They did not get anything from him. When he now made this noise and came and insulted me, on two occasions I tried to say something and Asiwaju said I should forget this thing. I shouldn’t talk and I should forget it.
That’s why I’ve not answered him. They create the impression that they built the party and I just walked in. We planned this thing. We stayed up late, we knew the people to meet. They were against us. There was a lot of work. We were not sleeping, unlocking traditional rulers, but what helped us is not that the people loved us to put us in, it is because the other side lost their mandate. They were not getting water. When we got in, no water works were working.
ROTS IN THE SYSTEM.
The water workers were on strike. When we got in, radio stations were on strike, no radio station was working, and everything was dilapidated. When we got in, the TV station was down. And today you see one popular private television channel abusing us every day. But we looked at the record and saw that that television channel collected a N500 million contract. But there’s nothing to show for it at our TV station. I asked for the file. It has been stolen, like so many files. I asked the former commissioner during that time, Raheem Adedoyin, what happened. He said, I have one or two letters to show that there was a contract with that television channel, but the whole file was in Government House. They did it from the Government House. There were no file, like many contracts disappeared.
It shows you the extent of the rot we met. Even the Herald Newspaper was dead, electronic media dead. Everything dead; no TV, no radio. We had to buy new consoles and build new studios for the radio stations. We’re building a new radio station in Kwara North. It was a difficult challenge for us, we’re just rebuilding the state completely. Like I said, we’re deliberate and calculating. They lost it because the state had collapsed under them. Their system of politics was simple. Take money, give to the gatekeepers, traditional rulers and clergy.
But while you were sharing money, the empire eroded because the structures of the empire: human capital development, infrastructure, and so on had started collapsing. In the whole of Ilorin, there was no water. Workers were not getting paid. Some were just on 50 per cent salary. When we came in, we had to clear all that one. Even judges’ work allowance was not paid in 10 years. We cleared all that. That was why they lost the election. It was not a competition between us and them and who had the best manifesto. They allowed the state to crumble.
Grandstanding now doesn’t serve any purpose. That’s what they are doing. The people know that there are changes, and the changes are gradual and dynamic. We are getting water now. We thought it would be a stage where we’ll expand on the water network and start building new water works. What we met there had collapsed. We have to bring everything back. When you ask us, “where are your legacy projects?”, we’ve invested the money of our legacy projects to bring these things back to where they should be.
SPEAKS ON PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH BUKOLA SARAKI, POLITICAL FEUD: “…WE WERE VERY CLOSE”
We can be in the same space, but their own space does not accommodate anybody. There’s a glass ceiling in their space, which means you cannot rise up beyond a certain level. And then he is authoritarian, which is to say there’s a leader. As you can see in APC today, there is no leader, everybody is throwing banters and doing what they want. That’s democracy. It’s rowdy with democracy, but when you’re in their own space, there’s only one leader.
I’m not there to say, one person is my leader. When we joined, Lai was the leader because he was the most senior person in government. Normally, politics in Nigeria, in the state, the governor is the leader unless. I don’t argue with Lai, but he has done a lot to dehumanise me. The treatment he gave me shows that he does not have leadership qualities. Leadership is not what you buy. You earn leadership. For example, a few months ago we had some peace meeting with Lai Mohammed at the Governor of Niger State House. It was the first time Lai Mohammed would meet the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly.
Is that the kind of person who is making noise about politics and governance in Kwara and you want me to waste my time responding? The Speaker was with me when I was running in 2011 for CPC, so you can see it’s deliberate. Lai Mohammed knows only one member of the Kwara State House of Assembly. . I can’t contest for anything unless they say so. So they pick who contests for the election, but in APC, we say everybody just go and find your space. That’s the difference. We were very close friends when we were younger.
SPEAKS ON FLAIR FOR WOMEN: ” ..If you see a man working in my private company, he was either a driver, mai guard or messenger. Everybody is a woman, and they worked..”
I think it’s more about luck. Now, we’re very strong in SDG 5, women. We have the record in Africa. It pitted me against the party. But you have to look at the challenges women go through. They need to sleep with men to go up the ladder. That’s the truth of it, not 100% of the cases but there are abuses in MDGs, and so on. So, I said, well, the best thing is, let’s promote women, not just in political offices. Fifty per cent of our permanent secretaries are women. So it’s deliberate, to keep them at advantage because I understand what they go through; harassment and all sorts of things. We have to promote them. In my private businesses, the workers are all women. I’ve never had a male executive. It’s not about tokenism. If you see a man working in my private company, he was either a driver, mai guard or messenger. Everybody is a woman, and they worked.
What are the challenges of working with women? Women have their rivalries more than men; petty rivalries. But why the rivalries? It’s about space, domination, getting ahead. What are the men doing? Plotting to steal money, while women are bickering amongst themselves, men are taking money. But in terms of efficiency and delivery, I find that women deliver more than men. But our culture; the African culture, Nigerian culture, allows men to dominate the space. That’s what it is. We go to political meetings at 8p.m. and we know it’s going to run to midnight. Which decent woman will sit at such a meeting when she has a husband at home, children that will go to school in the morning? She can’t sit in the ward leader’s house or local government chairman’s house till midnight. Even her husband will say, “You have to be home at 6p.m. What are you doing there?’’
People think of female politicians who try to excel in a certain way, like they’re doing other things. You see, that’s part of the problem we have. Even in Abuja today, call a political meeting at the National Headquarters of any party, the attendance you see of women is less than 5%, but that’s not proportional to the national population. There should be a deliberate attempt to promote women. The benchmark is 35 per cent, how many states are meeting 35 per cent? We have done 62 per cent. Now, what can be done to get women in? I don’t know if you know about the SFTAS programme. It is a World Bank and federal government programme where you get rewards for meeting certain goals, that is, publishing your budget before January 30, you get $2 million; publishing your state’s account, $1.5 million, having a procurement agency, $2 million. So, we comply, and we’ll get all this money, because we need it. If you have a system like that, that says if you have in your cabinet 35 per cent women, consistently for one year, you get $2 million, states will comply because $2 million is about N1billion now. So, if you get to 40%, we will give you $4 million, get to 50%, we will give you $10 million. You will start seeing changes because there’s money. Revenue of the states is very low.
I’m doing it because from my private practice in business, women are efficient, and I find it so. I also see that they were disenfranchised because they are women. Those are the two main reasons that you have to promote women, and my experience of working with women shows that they’re very efficient and productive. So that’s why they are there. Now in terms of finding them, mostly they’re nominated by senators, House of Representatives members, House of Assembly members; they just send names in. And then we interviewed them. I don’t go to one local government and say I pick you.
I don’t even know many of them personally. The constituencies throw them up. When we chose the youth corps member who was our youngest commissioner then — she’s from Edu local government and a Christian. They brought several names to me, but I said I want a woman. Then they came up and said the only woman we have will finish her youth service next month. I said bring her, we will wait till next month to swear her in. The community brought her. Maybe it was deliberate to show that she’s in youth service, but we embraced her. And she’s done well. She’s not in the cabinet any more. We’re sponsoring her for a master’s programme in the UK. She’s had the experience but we have to also prepare her for the future. She’s had this experience. What next? We will mentor her.2731