Bukola Saraki: Sustaining a family’s political heritage
TO those keenly following the political trajectory in Kwara State, the emergence of Bukola, scion of the powerful Saraki family of Ilorin as the President of the Nigerian Senate and Chairman of the 8th National Assembly, did not come as a surprise.
The two-term Kwara governor and one time Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) under whose watch the association became a veritable political instrument, was only treading the path of his father, whose big shoes he has actually stepped into as the grandmaster of Kwara politics.
The father, late Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki, a consummate politician who was variously described as the godfather and kingmaker of Kwara politics, died in November 2012 at the age of 79.
The late Saraki studied medicine in Oxford University London but after a brief spell at the consulting room, embraced politics as a profession and changed the political docility of the people of Ilorin to that of a people with positive agitation and masters of political intrigues.
He introduced a populist concept of politics of welfarism, under which he held majority of the people of the state, even when it included part of Kogi State, spell-bound for about three decades between 1965 and 2012.
So enormous was the political influence of Saraki, popularly called ‘Oloye’ among his admirers that it would be almost impossible for any politician to win an elective post without aligning with the philosophy of the political school of ‘Ile-loke’ the name of the political square of the late doyen of the state’s politics.
In 1977, Olusola 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 platform of National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
In 1998, Olusola Saraki became a National Leader and member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the defunct All People’s Party (APP), contributing to the APP success in Kwara and Kogi States. He assisted Mohammed Alabi Lawal in 1999 becoming Governor of Kwara State. 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.
Saraki later switched allegiance to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and in the 2003 elections supported his son Bukola as candidate for governor of Kwara and his daughter Gbemisola as Senator for Kwara Central.
But one thing he said until his demise in November 2012 was that he only had sympathy for the PDP but was not a card-carrying member of the party.
He quickly manifested his claims by floating the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) to contest for the Governorship of the state against the incumbent Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, then of the PDP.
His daughter Gbemisola was the ACPN candidate in the election and in the first defeat to be recorded by the political titan, Gbemisola lost to Ahmed in a contest that had the Sarakis divided against themselves.
The loss was attributed to the supports of Bukola for the PDP candidate. Few months after, Oloye breathed his last in his Ikoyi Lagos residence paving the way for Bukola to emerge the new political godfather of Kwara.
Many political analysts had believed that the end of an era in the state’s politics had arrived with Oloye’s death. But his son ensured the unity of his surviving lieutenants.
These are: Alhaji Bibire Ajape, Alhaji Suleiman Yusuf, Alhaji Ganiyu Cook Olododo among others. Besides, he held together the older women population, the strongest political weapon his late father used till he died. In many political fora, portraits of ‘Oloye’ were merged with that of his son to signal the beginning of the political slogan of ‘continuity’, which churned out the much-desired results.
Bukola Saraki did not only effectively master the act, but became a master of it. Probably what gave him the upper hand was the fact that those politicians in the state who rated themselves equal to the status of ‘Oloye’ had underrated him to their own peril.
After his medical training in London like his father, Saraki jettisoned his stethoscope for politics and occasionally, would switch code from medical jargon to political slangs. His new status attracted the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu Gambari who conferred on him the title of Turaki of Ilorin when his father moved up the traditional chieftaincy ladder to become the Waziri.
He began his political career when he was appointed Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Budget in the year 2000. While holding this position, he initiated the Fiscal Responsibility Bill and served on the Economic Policy Coordination Committee, where he was responsible for the formulation and implementation of several key economic policies for Nigeria.
His sojourn into the foray of politics proper started in the year 2003 when he contested the Governorship of Kwara and won against the incumbent, Alhaji Mohammed Lawal. Saraki, who was the first person to have exhausted his maximum two terms in office since the creation of the state some 48 years ago, no doubt moved the state to the next level of its socio, political and economic developments through some monumental feats in office.
He had battered and crushed all opposition that came his way like a hot knife inside margarine. Where he could not ‘fight’ with a particular opposition, Saraki succeeded in making him his friend and thus turned the state into a peaceful haven for all.
During his tenure as the Governor of Kwara, hitherto considered a sleeping state in the socio, political and economic affairs of Nigeria, Saraki vied for the Chairman seat of the NGF and won.
At the completion of his tenure, Saraki, according to one of his associates, Suleiman Yusuf, wanted to embark on a quiet life probably abroad studying or doing something else.
Yusuf told The Guardian how he had convinced Saraki against his will, “I told him to go to Senate because he would need the position later in life to boost his political credentials. He was indifferent to it because he is contented and never an over-ambitious man. We know him very well. He is our leader. But there is something in this great Nigerian, he loves Nigeria with a passion of a patriot and he always want to contribute his quota when given the opportunity to do so.
“We though miss the exit of ‘Oloye,’ Saraki’s birth and position in ‘Oloye’s dynasty is ordained of God. He is in firm control of what his father left behind. He stepped into that shoe and nobody is complaining. He has as well moved the dynasty to the heights Oloye would be happy with. We are very proud of him.”
Throughout his political career, the senior Saraki never tasted executive power but was contented backing candidates for elective positions. He started with Adamu Attah (1979-1983), Chief Cornelius Adebayo (October 1983-December 1983), Sha’ba Lafiagi (January 1992-November 1993) Muhammed Lawal (1999-2003) and his son, Bukola (2003-2011).
But his son was not just the governor he had also ‘enthroned’ Ahmed, now in his second term as governor of Kwara state.
As a legislator, ‘Oloye’s’ profile did not exceed the office of the Leader of the Senate, but his son, representing Kwara Central recently emerged the President of the Senate, an apparent one step above that of his father.
Yusuf added, “Saraki will surely bring a positive dimension to the Red Chambers. He will leave behind an enduring legacy as the President of Senate. He does with all his might whatever is committed into his hands. We are indeed lucky now in Nigeria having Saraki at the helms of affairs at the Senate.”
What the two Sarakis enjoy(ed) among their people was/is the tumultuous reception each time they had cause to visit Ilorin.
Probably due to the absence of a functional airport at the time of Oloye’s political activism, his associates in their hundreds would always join his convoy from Lagos at Otte a sleepy adjoining settlement some 30 kilometres to Ilorin, causing unprecedented traffic gridlock along the then single-laned Ogbomoso-Ilorin Road.
The sporadic chanting of ‘Oloye’ had since been replaced with ‘Sai Bukky’, signaling the beginning of a new political era in the state and this was on display last weekend when a crowd of supporters converged at the Ilorin airport to welcome the new Senate President.
The Emir of llorin who was thankful to God for allowing a citizen of the town emerged as the Senate President during his reign, canvassed ceaseless prayers for sustenance of Nigeria’s democracy and the growth of the nation under Saraki’s leadership during the visit.
As the nation continues in its march towards democracy, it could be concluded that the chapter of the Sarakis is yet to close and for the incumbent holder of the Saraki heritage, only God has the exclusive insight into what the future holds for him.