Perceptions 2023: Bukola Saraki

Date: 2022-01-22

The journey started last week…seeking perspectives via objective perceptions of acts and trajectories of major and minor actors angling to foist on Nigerians their dreams to run for the position of the President. We identified a little over 20 aspirants, and we admitted it was not an exhaustive list – though only a sprinkling have somewhat declared their interests. After the preambles, our first torch was on Owelle Rochas Okorocha. Today, we continue the steady survey of the busy highways that lead to Aso Rock in May, 2023.

BUKOLA SARAKI, 59:

At a glance, Dr. Olubukola Abubakar Saraki comes across as a well-groomed aspirant fit for the presidency: he has served as a state governor for two terms (2003 to 2011); moved over to the Senate in 2011 representing Kwara Central district; elected as the 13th president of the Senate at the 8th session in 2015. He entered the Senate as a PDP member in 2011; led a faction of the PDP to form the new APC in 2014, and returned to the Senate as an APC member, before he was decorated with the Senate presidency.

Interestingly, he took the senate seat from his younger sister, Gbemisola in 2011 after a brutal political fratricidal "bloodbath". He left the Senate, in some kind of tumult, as a result of his political volte-face – his return to the PDP amidst blistering accusations and prosecution.

In 2019, Senate President Saraki tried to foist his image as the leading opposition figure in the vacuum created within the out-of-power PDP, so as to become its presidential flag bearer. He lost to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and magnanimously accepted to serve as director general of the Atiku/PDP campaigns to wrestle power from the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari. Both failed handsomely.

Bukola Saraki's yeoman effort to rev back his formidable political foundry so as to return to the Senate in 2019, as a PDP man, backfired spectacularly. He was summarily whipped at the polls, surprisingly losing the Kwara Central kingdom that had been in the family's grip since his father's victorious run at the Senate of the third republic (1979-1983). It was a shellacking: Bukola reportedly scored 68,994 votes at the 2019 senatorial election to APC’s Ibrahim Oloriegbe (123, 808 votes). His calamity was not personal; all the candidates of PDP across the entire state lost without remiss, and Buhari also won in virtually all the local government areas. It was a defining and chastening wipeout. Incidentally, his sister remained in APC, and is today a junior minister in the current administration.

Before he ventured into politics, Saraki, a trained medical doctor, barely practised for two years before he was drafted into management, in one of his father’s business concerns, Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria (SGBN), in 1990. Ten years later, President Obasanjo, a keen pessimist of young talents, considered him suitable to serve as his Special Adviser on Budget.

Less than three years in Aso Rock, the dapper doctor decided to leverage on his father's enormous socio-political pedigree. He wanted to unseat incumbent ANPP governor of his state, Kwara, Rear Admiral Muhammed Lawal (rtd). Lawal was also a protege of the older Saraki. But blood (family) was thicker than water (politics), and Lawal was kicked under the bus, as Saraki Snr somehow performed a double whammy – a continental masterstroke – on Kwarans. The Waziri of Ilorin emirate ferried his son to the governor's lodge, and his daughter (already a federal legislator), as one of the state's three senators, in 2003!

It is not preposterous to point to this political quagmire, and post-tenure round-robin hassles in the hands of Nuru Ribadu's bulldog agency, EFCC as catalysts of his ill health, which ultimately led to his demise in November, 2006, at a London hospital.

What signposts, for me, the flaws that make Bukola Saraki a dangerous presence on the presidential seal, was, among other things, the way he turned on his father, the same famed strongman of Kwara politics. By the end of his second term as governor in 2011, Bukola Saraki desired to have his friend, Abdulfatah Ahmed, supplant him as governor, instead of his sister, Gbemisola, whom the father preferred. They had turned Kwara into some sort of personal fiefdom with which they viciously hunted and preyed on one another. His dexterous moves and countermeasures practically forced the father and her beloved daughter to dump PDP, and seek refuge in a new party.

Bukola Saraki basically retired the Waziri from politics, alongside his entrenched and well-oiled machinery during the 2011 electioneering campaigns. Bukola's choice, PDP's Ahmed trounced the pick of the senior Saraki, and ACPN’s Gbemi Saraki! It may have whittled considerably in significance after serving as a special purpose vehicle designed singlehandedly by the senior Saraki, but it stands for Allied Congress Party of Nigeria... not sure if it still stands for anything now, even with Dr. Oby Ezekwesili's ill-fated romance with it in 2019.

Well, the old man never recovered from the various scars of that devastating electoral trouncing in the hands of his own "beloved son". The former Senate Leader, who also contested the presidential primaries of SDP in 1992, one of two military-established political parties constructed during the meandering Babangida transition programme, passed away in November, 2012. The official reason was cancer.

Bukola Saraki's brutally incisive political mindset, and caustic effectiveness in knocking off any opposition against his vaulting ambition would be well-regarded and compensated within the internecine corridors of boardroom politics.

He cuts for me an image of a man prodigiously consumed by a desire to rule, to dispense patronage, and to be at the apex of the biggest proverbial cake – irrespective of the manner and size of crumbs that may trickle to others below.

He appears an individual impervious to complaints and pains of others, whether genuine or contrived; unperturbed with general apprehensions of ordinary people, or the possible devastation of the private economies of simple folks far away from the blinking entrails of high offices.

More worrisome was his alleged implication in the heinous bank robbery in Offa, Kwara South – a town reputed as a cauldron of progressive opposition to the Saraki's political machinery for as far back as the 70s. Though nothing has been proven to substantiate his alleged cozy relationship with the Offa criminals, it was bad enough that his name and that of some elements within the state government were mentioned.

The suggestions and imputations need not be true or factual, such scents are stuff that become guillotines and deadly darts on the campaign trails, and at the polling units. Every election circle, there will be a vivid recall of the viral tape where a voice claimed to be Saraki's was lamenting his frustration with Buhari's style of governance post-2015 elections; that despite spending hundreds of millions each, in about 30 states, Kwara didn't get the expected political appointments! There were also the allegations of collecting irresponsibly humongous ex-governor's pension benefits from Kwara State between 2011 and 2015 – even as a serving public servant (senate)...therefore, taking from the public till double for nothing! And that is in a state staggering under the wicked weight of poverty, impoverishment, inadequacies, and more deprivations. It was for such indiscretions that he was paraded on a number of occasions, on national television, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

It is immaterial if these allegations were half-truth or holy grail...his persona had been tragically crushed and deformed. The image of Bukola Saraki as a self-serving spoilsport and unconscionable power-broker remains unscratched.

It will serve him well to channel all his efforts into rebuilding his Kwara Central homestead by restituting all he had taken from the people, and repairing bridges he had bombed or thrashed while in power… and then hope the people’s proverbial forgiving spirit would be roused enough to put him back in the Senate, where he can start rewriting a fresh template that may become tenable and appreciable in about four election circles. But he won't listen…and thus may continue to fail, fall and flounder.

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