By Abdulrazaq O Hamzat
“In the political firmament of Nigeria, there are young Saraki’s, young Azikiwe’s, young Adedoyin’s who are children of established political and financial magnates, but there are few names that have made it on their own to the political centre stage like Gbenga Olawepo, a rising star with no fall back platform or push of any godfather or back up of any financial empire. Talking of emerging political leaders, this (Olawepo) is a true discovery’’. Tribune News Paper.
Going by historical precedence, Gbenga Olawepo is not new in Kwara State and indeed Nigeria politics. He first made the headlines in April 1989 as the PRO of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS)when as an anti-apartheid activist from University of Lagos, he and other student union leaders were clamped into Police cell after an anti apartheid protest.
In May–June 1989, he was part of the leadership of the anti-SAP and pro-democracy uprising organised by NANS. This revolt was said to be nationwide and gained support across regional and ethnic boundaries. The Ibrahim Gbadamosi Babangida (IBB) military regime dubbed it a ‘’civilian coup’’ and reacted to it with an admixture of palliative concession and brutal force.
Gbenga was declared wanted by the regime and was later arrested and imprisoned without trial. Amnesty International described Olawepo has a prisoner of conscience and he was later freed after legal battle and so much international pressure.
As a political heavy weight determined to oust the Kwara overlord in 2007, Gbenga Olawepo run as a governorship candidate under Democratic People Party (DPP) and was declared the first runner up in the election against the son of the overlord and then incumbent Governor, Senator Bukola Saraki.
Having lost an election which many believed he won, Gbenga Olawepo dragged Saraki to electoral tribunal in quest to reclaim his mandate despite numerous appeal and offer of negotiation by Saraki, he insisted on pursuing the case to a logical conclusion after which he would gladly accept verdict of court. He refused to negotiate his much believed mandate.
However, In a legal battle that lasted for 2 years, Olawepo’s quest to reclaim what he described as a stolen mandate failed when the federal court of appeal finally delivered its judgement in favor of Saraki. At this point, there was nothing left for him to do than accept the verdict of a competent court of law and return to his business to gather enough resources and prepare for another battle of emancipation.
It is however surprising that despite the huge investment of time and resources committed by this gentleman to erase the shame of Kwara as a struggling 47 year old state, the general ignorance of the population denied him an opportunity to serve the state when re-contested as governorship candidate in 2011 under the same party (DPP).
Olawepo lost the election in 2011 based on the negative propaganda of those bent on denying kwara a chance to have a visionary leadership, he was accused of selling his governorship mandate in 2007 and running away after election.
As ridiculous as that sounds, the ignorance in the state manifests as many believed the false story without questioning their own reasoning and the logicality of such claim.
What many keen observer of the state politics had been wondering about is how can people believe that a man who unsuccessfully fought what he described as a stolen mandate be accused of selling the same mandate? This is a man who neither decamped from one party to another as other political candidates like Senator Sulaiman Ajadi and Theophilous Bamgboye did, Olawepo remained the back bone of his party DPP and maintained his principled stance.
Without receiving one kobo from any individual or party, he engaged in a 2 years legal battle against those backed by state resources, but his effort didn’t pay off as the judgement was delivered against him in a competent court of law with no other option of re-appeal.
So, how can the same people that witnessed such a keenly contested legal battle accuse the victim which Olawepo represent in this instance of selling the mandate? This is the consequence of massive political ignorance on the part of the citizens.
From a random survey carried out by this writer, it was observed that, majority of the people are truly ignorant about the electoral process as well as the legal procedure to correct electoral frauds.
When asked on how Olawepo could sell a mandate keenly contested in court to a reasonable conclusion, many seems unaware, yet believed it was sold because it was reportedly said by another politician. This clearly shows that kwarans were not guided by facts and reason, but rather by rumor and propaganda.
While some accuse him of selling the mandate for as low as N10 million, others say it was sold at N25million. However, investigation shows that in all, over the course of 2 years when the court battle was on going, over N50 million was spent by Olawepo to pursue the court case. This is apart from the huge resources spent during the election proper.
It became obvious that Indeed, Gbenga Olawepo is a victim of Kwara political ignorance and naivety.
Also, some Kwarans have ridiculously accused him of running after election. One begin to wonder the kind of politician people appreciate in this era
A man extracted resources worked for over the years from his private businesses in quest to free his people from what he described as political slavery, and having lost in an electoral contest with huge investment, he decided to return to his business to prevent collapse as well as prepare for future re-contest. Yet, he was accused of running away after election.
The question is, after Olawepo had lost in the legal battle that ends his hope of securing the mandate many believed he won, were the people expecting him to sit back at home without going to run his business? If he did stay with them, what would he be doing and where do they expect him to secure resources to finance another election if he wishes to re-contest? This is apart from the fact that kwara is a place where people are always expecting financial gratification from politician upon sight.
So, If Olawepo or any other politician didn’t return to their businesses after losing an election where millions was spent, how and where can such people acquire enough financial strength to live and share to others? It seems we are now judging every politician by the standard of corrupt government officials who spend state resources with impunity. Such practices must stop for Nigeria to get any better.
It is my sincere opinion that, if Gbenga Olawepo didn’t eventually make it to become Governor in kwara State, certainly, he shall be remembered as a leader kwara never had.This is a man who proffer realistic solutions to the many challenges confronting kwara state in a well researched document which he calls his blue print.
At a time when the president of Nigeria is promising to create 2 million jobs, Olawepo promised 400,000 jobs to Kwarans. While some people doubted the realistic nature of such promise, Gbenga presented the blue print titled, ‘’the leader we trust’’ which contain the a to z of how such jobs would be created. The blue print contain how the jobs will be created, where it would be created, how much it will cost, where to secure the funds, how to pay back within four years and the sustainable nature that would allow other administration after him continue to reap the benefits. This is not just any job like the Kwabes or quick win scheme by the current administration of Alhaji Abdulfatai Ahmed, it is a scheme that would turn kwara into an industrial heaven, generate enough internal revenue and pays its workers handsomely while they contribute effectively to the economy of the state.
Finally, it is my believe that, Olawepo is seen by the general public as only a human, but to this writer, Gbenga is seen much more than that, he his many things rolled into one.
He his a human, a quality, a vision, a struggle as well as a history. He his gentle but vibrant, soft spoken but articulate, visionary but strategic and most especially, he his Godly.
Watchout for part 2.
Abdulrazaq O Hamzat writes from Abuja an can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org