Saraki: His Life And Regrets

Date: 2012-11-25

Olusola Saraki, a trained medical doctor was a veteran of many political battles both in his home State, Kwara and the nation at large. His residence on Ilofa road in Government Reserved Area, GRA, Ilorin, the State capital is always a beehive and a Mecca of sort to his admirers and political associates. Even at 78, Baba Oloye, as he is fondly called by his friends and foes, was in battle during the 2011 gubernatorial election in the State. It was a strange battle for him because the war was from within his household. Like Absalom, who rebelled against his father, David, in the Bible,  Bukola, Saraki's first son, and two term governor of the State had picked Abdualfatah Ahmed to fly the People's Democratic Party, PDP ticket in the election. Saraki who anointed and practically installed Bukola  in 2003, preferred Gbemisola, Bukola's half sister, who got the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN ticket for the election. At the end of the contest, Gbemisola and Saraki lost, while Bukola emerged as the new god father with the victory of Ahmed, his former Commissioner for Finance.

Though Saraki later reconciled with his son, and even nominated some loyalists into Ahmed's government, the strongman never recovered from the shock. He thereafter disappeared from the radar, fuelling speculations about the condition of his health. Twice, it was rumoured he had died. The rumour of June26, 2012 was particularly instructive, as the Saraki was actually in the United States on what his aides called medical vacation.

Even on Wednesday, 14th November, 2012, there was an initial confusion when the news of his death broke out. His associates in Ilorin, who apparently wished the news would be untrue, denied the speculation, until Senator Bukola Saraki  officially broke the sad news some hours later.

"To Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return. With gratitude to Almighty Allah, we announce the passage to eternity of our beloved father and grandfather, His Eminence, Oloye (Dr) Abubakar Olusola Saraki, Waziri of Ilorin, former Senate Leader, Second Republic, Federal Republic of Nigeria who answered the call to the great beyond, in the early hours of today in Lagos. (17 May 1933 - 14 Nov 2012)

We take solace in knowing that our father lived an exemplary life of service, and selfless devotion to development of his people and nation. Baba will be sorely missed," the Senator said in a statement.

Olaolu Saraki, the last child of the deceased told reporters at his Cameron road, Ikoyi –Lagos home that his father had been battling with cancer for some time now. He explained that his father died after his morning prayers in the presence of some of his children.

Kwara State immediately declared a public holiday, while Governor, Ahmed  urged all Kwara indigenes to turn up en-masse to and welcome his body to Ilorin. A three-day mourning period was also declared by the governor who also set up a committee to oversee the burial arrangements.

Ilorin, the State capital stood still as his remains were flown in abroad a plane for interment at his GRA residence in the town, where his body was interred at about 6.30 p.m.

Born 17th of May, 1933 at Ilorin, the late politican has a somehow controversial origin - from Iseyin, Mali, Abeokuta to Ilorin. In an interview with the Sun Newspaper on Monday, August 17, 2009, the Late Saraki said.:" My mother is from Iseyin, in Oyo State, while my father is from Ilorin in Kwara State. My great-great grandfather originated from Mali and I am talking about 150 to 200 years ago. And they are Fulani and that is where we got our  Fulani connection from. My great grandfather settled in Ilorin, preaching the religion of Islam….my great grandfather brought our own Quran to Ilorin from Mali to Agbaji where we settled."

He attended Eko Boys High School for his secondary education and proceeded to London for his university education, attending the University of London and St George's Hospital Medical School, and qualified as a medical doctor in 1962.  He returned to Nigeria to work as a medical officer at the General Hospital, Lagos and the Creek Hospital, also in Lagos. He was married to Florence, a Christian from Ondo, in Ondo State.

In 1977, Saraki was elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly that produced the 1979 constitution. In 1979 he was elected a Senator of the Second Republic, and became Senate Leader. In 1983 Saraki was re-elected into the Senate on the National Party of Nigeria, NPN platform.

In 1998, he  became a National Leader and member of the Board of Trustees of the All People's Party, APP, contributing to the party's success in Kwara and Kogi States. He assisted Mohammed Alabi Lawal in becoming Governor of Kwara State in 1999. They parted ways after the first term, following a disagreement over what the Late governor called undue pressure over political patronage and state's funds.

In 2001, he was head of a team from the Arewa Consultative Forum, a Northern cultural and political group, sent to meet and discuss common goals with Northern State governors and other leaders. Later,  Saraki switched allegiance to the Peoples Democratic Party ,PDP, and in the 2003 elections supported his son Bukola Saraki as candidate for governor of Kwara state and his daughter Gbemisola as Senator for Kwara State Central. Bukola ruled for a record time of eight years.

Despite his robust political stature, Saraki, according to Abiodun Kolawole, in his book, Kwara: A State in bondage, Saraki was brought  to Ilorin in 1964 "by the combined efforts of Afon community leaders in Lagos with the encouragement of their people at home."   Alhaji Ibrahim Baako, the Ashiwaju of Afon, explained in the book that at the first meeting held at Gannmo Community Primary School, where Saraki was introduced to them, the then Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, just back from Mecca had to drive down to Afon to warn the people not to vote for Saraki, who he claimed is not an indigene and whose name, Olusola is alien to Ilorin. He thereafter contested the 1964 parliamentary election as an independent candidate having lost the bid to secure the ticket of the Northern People's Congress, NPC. He lost the election to Honourable Babatunde Gada and returned to Lagos.

Saraki returned to Kwara in 1973,this time, better equipped to face the political intrigues of the young State. With the support of Babatunde Alanamu, Abdul-Razaq Alimi, and Alhaji Amuda Gobir, he was able to warm himself into the hearts of the elites of the town. Saraki later became  Gobir's private secretary from where he got his links to the Northern political leaders. Gobir later died in France under a mysterious circumstances, but Saraki had learnt enough as he started cultivating the youths, Islamic clerics and the village heads through the funding of major programmes, donations and gifts during festive periods. These actually boosted his political career and social status, which peaked with the conferment of the title, Turaki of Ilorin, claiming Agbaji quarters as his home. He was later baptized Abubarkar by the late Emir of Ilorin, Sulu Gambari. He was later elevated to Waziri in 2007 by Emir Ibrahim Gambari.

By 1977, when the transition to civil rule of the second republic was about to begin, he was already  firmly on ground and trusted well enough to be elected by the Ilorin people into the Constituent Assembly. Saraki used his participation to court allies across the country, leading him into the National Party of Nigeria, NPN. The success of the NPN marked the blossoming of his political career, as he was elected into the Senate and emerged as the Senate Leader. Apart from this, he largely influenced the emergence of Alhaji Adamu Atta as the first civilian governor of the state under the ticket of the NPN. Since then, he has more or less, become the kingmaker of the politics of the State. He also installed Shaaba Lafiagi as the governor in 1992 under the Social Democratic Party, SDP's ticket.

Despite his high political standing, the Late politician had some unfulfilled dreams. In March 2003, the Societe Generale Bank, SGBN of which he was chairman was investigated by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency for alleged money laundering. Later, the bank was investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu, for allegedly using the depositors money in the bank to finance elections. The Central Bank of Nigeria later moved in and  its license was  suspended. The bank never came of the crisis.

Saraki could not also realise his ambition to rule the country. He contested the SDP presidential primaries in 1992 and failed. Despite installing several governors and political office holders in the State, he failed, for the first time, in the attempt to install her daughter, Gbemisola in the 2011 gubernatorial election in the State. He was demystified by his own son Bukola, who he installed eight years earlier. His last regret was the inability to reconcile his loyalists who parted ways as a result Bukola-Gbemisola political feud in 2011. Before his death, he was the Chairman of the Reconstruction Committee of the Ilorin Central Mosque. His wish that the new mosque will be commissioned in his life time was not fulfilled before he died last week.

Political analysts in and outside the state agree that his death will create a vacuum and alter the political calculation of the State. Anthony Kayode Towoju, the State Commissioner for Youths and Sport told the magazine that with the death of Saraki, "the future of politics in the State is in the hands of God." Adding that the Late Saraki had built a political empire that will outlive him.  Kolawole explained that he  never wished Saraki dead, but wanted him to live to see  the liberation of Kwara in his lifetime.  "It was almost that in 2011, but we bungled it.. the opposition and the people. Because the leading lights in the opposition cannot not separate personal and ambition from struggle for collective good; because they are ignorant of their history, some are not ashamed of going back to reinforce Saraki the father, while others went on to board Bukola's kabukabu. The father could not get it but the son emerged as the new tiger of Kwara politics," Kolawole told the magazine last week.

Sources close to the family also fear the reopening of the wounds of the 2011 political disagreement between Bukola and his sister, Gbemisola. The exit of Saraki, who has been a stabilising factor in the house might pave way for Florence, the only wife to emerge as the new force in the family politics.

Another problem that might rear its head is the issue children born other women outside the matrimony. One of them is Oyinkansola, said to be born by a Ibadan woman, he met in the U.K. She raised a lot of controversy in 2007 and contested for the governorship of the State Alliance for Democracy, AD.

His death last week,has attracted a wave of condolence messages from eminent Nigerians.  President Goodluck Jonathan, in a statement by Reuben Abati, the Senior Special Assistant, Media urged  Saraki's family  to be consoled by the knowledge that their departed father, leader and mentor lived a very successful and fulfilled life, rising to national prominence by dint of hard work, uncommon generosity, political sagacity, dedication and wholesome commitment to the service of his people and the entire nation.
The President  also  believed that the late  Saraki will be long remembered and eulogized as a consummate politician, an astute grassroots mobiliser, and a political colossus with awe-inspiring powers of political organisation.

The President further noted that Dr. Saraki's brand of people-oriented politics and his success in building on his strong support base to contribute positively to Nigeria's political development as a powerful voice in the nation's dominant political parties, as the Senate Majority Leader in the Second Republic, and as the ultimate reference point in the politics of Kwara state for decades, have assured him of a place amongst Nigeria's heroes of democracy.

Senate President, David Mark described him as apolitical giant and a shining star of the Nigerian politics. He said the nation will miss his fatherly advise. Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives described him as a quintessential politicians and an influential figure who gave his best for the development of the country. Abubakar Atiku, former Vice President described the death as the fall of a big star from the galaxy of Nigerian politics.

Also, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji  Lai Mohammed, described his death as a big loss to the nation, adding that the Late Saraki defined his era.

Ebenezer Babatope, former Minister of Transport described the Late Saraki as a charismatic leader loved by  many Nigerians.
"When we were both in the National Political Reform Conference during President Olusegun Obasanjo's time in 2005, Saraki once told me that one of his regrets was his inability to know and meet Papa Obafemi Awolowo during the old man's lifetime," he said.

Zakari Mohammed, Chairman House of Representative Committee on Information told the magazine on phone last week that Saraki was a "political Field Marshall who traversed our political landscape." Towoju said the Late politician was a great humanist whose policy revolves around the people's welfare
In a condolence message to the family, Senator David Dafinone described Saraki's death as painful, especially at a time when the nation is in a state of flux.

He lauded Saraki's great concern for the unity of Nigeria and the growth of democracy. "Dr. Saraki as a medical doctor, international businessman, philanthropist and politician gained the respect, trust and love of the entire country and he will be greatly missed" he said.

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