Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki: A tribute

Date: 2012-12-02

By Ebenezer Babatope

DR Abubakar Olusola Saraki is dead. His remains have since been buried in his family house in Ilorin, Kwara State. He was a great man.

It is a great pity that Nigerians are yet to imbibe the culture of honouring their heroes. Let us pray that one day, this will happen in Nigeria to the joy of all. The Madam Tussaud building in London represents the British attitude of ensuring that memories of great men and women in history (whether negative or positive) are kept alive.

There are matters and events that occur in the life of a great man of history that are never publicly known to the outside public. When I read the tribute of Owei Lakemfa about the late Dr. 'Sola Saraki, I learnt one or two new things about this wonderful son of Nigeria who translated mortality for immortality few weeks ago.

Lakemfa was able to inform us about the Pan-Africanist life of Dr. Saraki when he was a student in Great Britain in the pre-independence years. Lakemfa told the story of how, in a meeting at the office of the late Uncle Alao-Aka Bashorun (one of the Africans that had been sent by Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to work on the Independence Constitution of Uganda), had announced Dr. Saraki as a progressive in his student days and how he (Saraki) was ever prepared to send money to organisations that were pursuing progressive causes and ideals.

Eric Teniola (a journalist trained by The Punch newspapers) had equally complimented Dr. Saraki as an able and effective Senate Leader during the Second Republic. Teniola told us in his own tribute how the Senate (made up of many political parties of the time; National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP)) had unanimously changed the title of NPN Senate Leader to purely Senate Leader as a result of the respect the entire Senate had for Dr. Saraki. Lakemfa and Teniola had testified to the otherwise unknown positive facts about the life and times of this unique politician from Kwara State.

I now state facts known to me about Dr. Olusola Saraki that make me believe that he (Saraki) deserves all the encomiums and eulogies that have been paid to him since his death.

Let me state it from the onset that Dr. Olusola Saraki was a leader and member of the ruling NPN during the Second Republic. I, alongside my leaders and other associates of our great sage, Papa Obafemi Awolowo, was in the UPN at that period of Nigeria's history. We politically crossed swords then as we were diametrically opposed in the views we all held about partisan politics in Nigeria. The UPN lost elections in Kwara State in 1979, largely due to the political influence of Dr. Saraki. Our UPN candidate at that time was charismatic Chief J. S. Olawoyin (now of blessed memory) who, without doubt, was one of the politicians in Nigeria that gave real battle to the feudal potentates in Nigeria. Olawoyin had gone to prison 17 times in Nigeria during the colonial times.

It is, however, not generally known that the UPN won the governorship election in the same Kwara State in 1983 with my friend, Cornelius 'Tunji Adebayo, as governor. This feat was achieved with the full support of Dr. Saraki. A power tussle had developed within the NPN, shortly before the 1983 elections. The NPN was broken into two groups one group supporting the then NPN governor, Alhaji Adamu Attah, while the other went Dr. Saraki way.

Dr. Abubakar 'Sola Saraki was able, with his group, to tilt the political scale in favour of the UPN and Attah's NPN group was roundly defeated by the UPN. It must be remarked that when our leader, Olawoyin died, Dr. Saraki, together with the late Governor Lawal, were present at his funeral service held in Offa.

Three months after the victory of the UPN in August 1983, the 'Beret' Generals of the Nigerian Army, led by Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Tunde Idiagbon and Sani Abacha, staged a military coup that put paid to the life of the Second Republic in Nigeria.

When the military leaders, led by Buhari, clamped the principal political actors in Nigeria in various prisons after the 31 December, 1983 coup, my paths directly crossed those of Dr. Saraki when we were both in Kirikiri Prisons alongside others in 1984. When I entered Kirikiri in March 1984, Dr. Saraki and others, my leaders in the UPN, the late Papa Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the late Professor Ambrose Alli, the late Chief Bisi Onabanjo, the Aiyekoto himself; the late Uncle Bola Ige, and the late Chief Dele Ige, had been lodgers inside Kirikiri since January 1984. Dr. Saraki surprised me when he and Chief Tony Anenih came to welcome me to prison with loaves of bread and tins of milk. I was then in the same cell with Mr. Isaac Shaahu (a former NPN Minister of Communications) and the late Chief Ayo Shasanya, a business guru of the French Fieugerolle Company.

Dr. Abubakar Saraki further extended the same kindness to me when we were both members of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference then assembled by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo-led government.

One day, during the assembly's session, I had met Dr. Saraki just as we were about to take refreshments. I was surprised when he (Saraki) called me by my first name, Ebenezer. He said to me nearly in his own words; "Ebenezer, you are not looking well. How long have you medically examined yourself? You must see me in Lagos when we have a little break. You are not looking well at all. Don't forget I am a medical practitioner by profession." I was jolted by Dr. Saraki's observation because that very morning, my friend, Senator Olu Alabi (in whose house in Abuja I had stayed for the conference), had told me; "Ebino, you are not looking well."

I told Dr. Saraki that I did not know his house address in Lagos. He immediately gave me the address. When I saw Dr. Saraki at his Lagos residence later, he told me he would advise I went abroad for thorough medical examination. He volunteered to give me the money for the trip. I was at sea with Dr. Saraki's open gesture to me. When he had wanted to instantaneously give me the money, I said to him that I would send my PA to collect it. (I was not so sure whether Dr. Saraki's gift was not a gift from the "Greeks").

Dr. Saraki went ahead to give N500, 000 to my P.A, Mr. David Subuloye. It was for me one of the Seven Wonders of the Universe. I heeded his advice and went to the U.K. for the medical check. It was a trip that I believe till today solved a major health problem for me. That was truly him, Oloye Dr. 'Sola Saraki.

I must also say this that from what you are told or from what you had perceived of Dr. Saraki, you may sharply disagree with his politics, but none has ever expressed to me a deep-seated hatred for his person. My colleagues in the UPN during the Second Republic, like Architect Ogunniyi, Seth Maiyekogbon, Adewunmi, the Zuzuki dealer in Ilorin; Owoniyi Igbaja, Honourable Adewara Lawal of Oke Ode, Honourable Shittu of Offa, Wole Oke, the stormy petrel from Shao in Moro near Ilorin; Chief Domingo of Idofian, Mrs. Obaoye of Omuaran, J.O. Layemo, Titus Balogun, the late Idris Obahopo of Iwaro, the late Abatemi Usman of Okene and the late Oba Carpenter, ever expressed antagonism and hatred for Oloye Dr. Saraki. They organised well for the UPN and sought the victory of our party over the NPN. They were, however, never rabid opponents of Oloye. This was why it was easy for our leaders in Kwara State to effectively work with Saraki in the 1983 elections to defeat the then NPN hawks.

Dr. Saraki, though from Kwara State, was brought up in Lagos. He spoke the Lagos 'Yoruba' language with such fluency that it was certainly a delight to all.

When we were at the National Political Reform Conference in 2005, Dr. Saraki told me that he regretted never having the opportunity of meeting with Papa Obafemi Awolowo when the sage was alive. He said he only heard and read of him in the newspapers.

Dr. Abubakar 'Sola Saraki was a fighter in his life time. Teniola has told us in his tribute:

"'Egbon, your friend is gone", that was how Martins Oloja, Editor of the Guardian, broke me the news of the passage of Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki the Waziri of Ilorin.

Oloja knew of my close relationship with Dr. Saraki because he was in my office in 2003 when Saraki phoned me in the Presidency to confirm the drop of his son, Dr. Bukola Saraki, by President Olusegun Obasanjo as his special assistant.

"Don't worry Eric" Dr. Saraki assured, 'I will make Bukky a governor,' which he did."

That was him Saraki, the never say die political warrior!

Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki has now gone to the world beyond. He was a fine fellow! May his soul rest in peace!!

Babatope, OFR is a former minister of transport

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