By Hammed Shittu in Ilorin
It will be a test of popularity and acceptance today for President Muhammadu Buhari, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki as they battle for control of Kwara politics in the by-election for Irepodun/Isin/Oke-Ero federal constituency.
The seat became vacant following the demise of Princess Funke Adedoyin.
President Buhari had charged the All Progressives Congress (APC) members in the state headed by Lai Mohammed to take back the state from Saraki who defected from the ruling APC to the main opposition party- Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Although, Lai Mohammed, being the highest office holder in APC from Kwara comes from Oro, Irepodun Local Government Area, which is within the federal constituency in contest, Saraki, who is highly influential in the state, would prove that he remains in control and could command followership even after dumping his former party.
Already, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has has distributed sensitive electoral materials to all the four local government councils where the exercise will take place.
Tension has gripped residents of the state, following alleged arrest of some PDP officials and members in the constituency by men allegedly in police uniform. .
Besides, scores of the PDP members in Ajase-Ipo in Irepodun Local Government Area of the state had been declared missing in the wee hours of yesterday’s night ahead of today’s by-election.
However, the state police command has deployed 1,500 policemen to maintain law and order during the by-election, which will be a straight fight between Saraki’s PDP candidate Mr. Saheed Alatise and Lai Mohammed party’s candidate, Mr. Raheem Olatunji.
Both parties have been throwing barbs at each other resulting in the palpable tension in the state. Besides, there have been accusations and counter-accusations on plots to rig the election.
The PDP camp had accused the APC leader in the state of planning to “import” political thugs from Lagos and Osun states to manipulate the exercise with the state chairman, Hon. Kola Shittu also alleging plots by the federal government to arrest their party leaders so as to make way for the ruling party to muscle through and rob them of victory.
The APC leadership, on the other hand had accused the PDP of planning to use uncollected permanent voters cards to rig the election.
The state chairman of APC, Hon. Bashr Bolarinwa told journalists that the party advised the INEC in the state to check such illegal plot so as to have a free and fair bye-election.
Tension heightened Thursday over a reported attack on the campaign train of APC’s candidate, Mr. Olatunji by unknown gunmen though no casualty was recorded.
However, the state police command said that it was still “investigating the veracity of the claim raised by the APC candidate for the bye-election.”
The state police Public Relations Officer, Ajayi Okasanmi told journalists in Ilorin yesterday that “the report on the attack was being awaited from the reported area where the incident purportedly happened.” He however assured the people of safety within the area of the by-election and the state generally.
Despite the tension, the two leading political parties campaigned across the federal constituency soliciting the support of the electorates.
Speaking at the campaign rally of the PDP at Omuaran, the headquarters of Irepodun Local Government, the state Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed urged the residents of the four local government councils that make up the federal constituency to come out en masse to vote for the PDP and its candidate, Alhaji Alatise.
He said that the people of the area should allow the good work of the later holder of the seat, Princess Adedoyin to continue.
The governor also urged the people not to be intimidated by the heavy presence of security men in their communities, but should feel free to go out and cast their votes for the PDP.
Ahmed said that the PDP would continue to win election in the state because of the transformation that every section of the state had witnessed between 2003 and now under the administration of Saraki and his own government.
The government in a statement condemned the alleged crackdown on members of the PDP and charged the people to fearlessly guard their votes.
Also at a mega rally of the APC at Omuaran, Alhaji Mohammed urged the people of the area to come out and cast their vote for APC candidate, Mr. Olagunju.
The minister, who condemned the alleged attack on Olatunji by unknown gunmen during his campaign tour of the area, said that the party would work with relevant agencies to ensure free, fair and credible election today, with adequate security before, during and after the election.
He said the election would begin a new chapter for the party and would be used to show the world that the APC was intact and the preferred party.
Meanwhile, INEC said that a total of 170, 918 ballot papers and other electoral materials were distributed to all the four local government councils where the by-election will take place.
Madami also said that “1,855 electoral officers would be involved in the election. A total of 125, 865 PVCs were collected from the four local governments where the election will take place.”
He however restated that the commission would conduct free, fair and credible by-election.
Ahead of today’s election, the police had banned the activities of vigilante groups in the affected areas.