Sunset on Saraki’s political dynasty
By Dayo Omotoso
In a 1796 letter, third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I have no ambition to govern men.
It is a painful and thankless office.” And, former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, observed that “Politics are almost as exciting as war and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.”
For about four decades the Saraki family of Ilorin dominated the politics of Kwara State. The patriarch of the family, Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki, a medical doctor and politician, was the prime mover. Dr Saraki first entered politics in 1964 when he contested the parliamentary election for Ilorin as an independent, but lost.
After the election he returned to his medical practice in Lagos, only returning to party politics in 1978.
Earlier in 1977, Olusola Saraki had been elected as a member of the Constituency Assembly that produced the 1979 constitution. He won election into the Senate in 1979. He was re-elected in 1983 on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and became the Senate Leader. Between 1979 and 1983, he was a member of Ilorin Emirate from Agoro compound in Agbaji.
In 1998, Olusola Saraki became a National Leader of the Board of Trustees of the All People’s Party (APP), contributing to the victory of the APP in Kwara and Kogi States. He assisted Mohammed Alabi Lawal in becoming Governor of Kwara State.
In 2001, Olusola Saraki 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 stakeholders. Later Olusola Saraki defected to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); and in the April 2003 elections the kingmaker supported his son Bukola Saraki as candidate for governor of Kwara State and his daughter, Gbemisola, as Senator for Kwara Central Senatorial district.
In March 2003, the Societe Generale Bank (SGBN) of which Olusola Saraki was the Chairman was investigated by the National Drug Law Enforcement
Agency (NDLEA) for alleged money laundering. Later, SGBN was investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Nuhu Ribadu, and its licence was suspended.
The SGBN eventually went under. Many depositors and customers of the bank lost a fortune in the process but there were no consequences.
Dr Olusola Saraki’s last political party was the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) on whose platform Gbemisola contested the 2011 Kwara State gubernatorial election.
The attempt created a schism in the Saraki family because Olusola Saraki wanted Gbemisola to succeed her brother, Bukola, as Governor of Kwara State but Bukola preferred his own anointed candidate, Abdufattah Ahmed, instead. Bukola Saraki’s candidate defeated his father’s candidate.
Popularly known as Baba Oloye, Olusola Saraki was allegedly deeply hurt and humiliated. Rumour, however, had it that father and son later reconciled.
Olusola Saraki was born in Ilorin on 17 May 1933 and died of cancer in Ikoyi, Lagos on 14 November 2012. His mother was from Iseyin in Oyo State; his father hailed from Ilorin, Kwara State. Saraki’s paternal ancestors were Fulanis from Mali about 200 years ago.
Olusola Saraki attended Eko Boys’ High School, Lagos; University of London; and St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. He worked as medical officer at General Hospital, Lagos and the Creek Hospital, Lagos. He had four children: Bukola, Gbemisola, Temitope and Olaolu.
Abubakar Bukola Saraki followed closely in the footsteps of his wealthy and influential father. Born on 19 December 1962, Bukola was educated at the Corona School, Victoria Island; and King’s College, United Kingdom: 1979-1981 for Higher School Certificate (HSC); and London Medical College: 1982-1987. He worked as Medical Officer at Rush Green Hospital, Essex: 1988-1989; and Director of SGBN: 1990-2000.
In 20000, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Bukola Saraki as Special Assistant on Budget. During his tenure, Bukola Saraki initiated the Fiscal Responsibility Bill. He also served in the Economic Policy Coordination Committee, where he was responsible for the formulation and implementation of several key economic policies for the nation.
Bukola Saraki was elected governor of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2003. He served for eight years: 2003-2011. As governor, Saraki became the first state chief executive to complete the Nigeria Independent Power Project in collaboration with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. He introduced innovations in the Primary health care, agriculture and infrastructural development. He also brought revolutionary changes into the Nigeria Governors’ Forum
In April 2011, Saraki was elected into the Senate on the platform of the PDP representing Kwara Central Senatorial District, and then re-elected in March 2015 on the ticket of the All Progressive Congress (APC) after he had decamped from the PDP. Saraki was the arrowhead of those who moved against President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term bid for the presidency in 2015.
However, Saraki defected back to the PDP on 31 July 2018 some days after 14 Senators decamped from the APC to the PDP. He blamed his defection on intolerance of some influential persons in the APC.
The party’s national Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole actually campaigned vigorously for the removal of Saraki as Senate President. Indeed, the national leadership of the APC never liked the emergence of Bukola Saraki as President of the Senate and they never disguised their disdain for him.
The 2019 National Assembly election was therefore, an opportunity for the APC hawks to take their pound of flesh. Before the election the Senate passed the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill but President Muhammadu Buhari rejected it, stating that it reduced the President’s powers. The Senate said the Bill was passed to promote transparency and accountability. Buhari has no petroleum minister of cabinet rank.
In the February 23, 2019 election, Bukola Saraki lost his senatorial seat to Dr Ibrahim Oloriegbe of the APC. Saraki polled a total of 68,994 votes against Oloriegbe’s 123,808 in the four Local Government Areas of Kwara Central Senatorial District leaving a margin of 54,814 votes. Oloriegbe is a former Majority Leader in the Kwara State House of Assembly.
A political scientist, Dr Kehinde Awujoola, commented on the shocking defeat of the Senate President. He said he was not surprised that Saraki was ousted considering the several unsavoury occurrences since he became the Senate President in June, 2015. He said “First, you will recall that the leadership of the APC did not want him as the Senate President.
The party had a preferred candidate from the North East. Saraki’s tenure was tempestuous. He encountered many tribulations. Several wild allegations were hurled at him including the Code of Conduct Bureau saga and the futile attempt to link him with the Offa robbery case.
The immediate past inspector general of police, Ibrahim Idris, had no respect for the office of the Senate President.
On several occasions, Idris derided the Senate President with impunity without consequences. The Executive arm of government did not help matters. Nobody in Buhari’s administration wanted Bukola Saraki. They saw him as a liability. So, the APC cabals waited for the right moment to humiliate him at the poll.”
Another commentator, Dr Tosin Iyaniwura, observed that the rivalry between the Saraki siblings, Bukola and Gbemisola had destroyed the cohesion of the Saraki political dynasty.
She said: “The current problem began in 2011 when the once united Saraki family became polarised over Gbemisola’s gubernatorial ambition. Unfortunately, those who were envious of the family’s streak of luck and influence exploited the crack to convince the Saraki teeming followers that it was time for them to chart a new course hence the new political slogan “ O to gee” in Kwara politics.
For several years, the Sarakis had always kept their followers happy and loyal by distributing food and money to them with some getting killed in the stampede for the items. But, now, some young Kwarans who were probably former followers of Baba Oloye have decided to challenge the Saraki dominance of Kwara politics.”
Reacting to Saraki’s defeat, a former media adviser who prefers anonymity said, “If an unwanted visitor comes to your compound, you quickly sweep off his or her footprints. Bukola Saraki is too arrogant and self-centred. He is a butterfly pretending to be a bird. When you talk of Kwara politics, we were loyal to him and his father.
The people served them faithfully but Bukola took their love and loyalty for granted. He became swollen-headed, and we said O to gee, meaning enough is enough. Bukola Saraki has become a pariah in Kwara politics.”
But, earlier in a newspaper interview in October 2014, a former Commissioner for information under Saraki’s governorship, Raheem Adedoyin, had argued that “The system in Saraki’s political dynasty is not about struggling for anything…”, adding that “Elections in Kwara had never been a tea party; but from 1979… the winning machinery is the Sarakis. The founder, a great visionary, Late Olusola Saraki, established the machinery and the machinery…has even surpassed the founder. Bukola Saraki, our leader is the Senior Prefect of the dynasty.”
The plot against the Saraki political machinery in Kwara first reared its ugly head before the 2015 general elections when some former loyalists kicked against an alleged plan by Bukola Saraki to impose a gubernatorial candidate on the APC. He compounded his political woes in 2018 when he decided to go back to the PDP.
Shuaibu Iyanda, a resident of Ilorin, is from the Amilegbe area of the state capital. He sympathised with Saraki’s political misfortune but eulogised Ibrahim Oloriegbe’s modesty and humility in victory. He said: “Dr Ibrahim Oloriegbe is a noble man. I congratulate him on his modesty and humility in victory. Oloriegbe is not like some proud Abuja politicians who regard themselves as the Alpha and Omega of Kwara politics.
They have been going about boasting that they are behind the APC victory in Kwara. These pretenders are not even from Ilorin. Why, then, are they claiming to be leaders? Ilorin people have just shaken off the hegemony of one family. We do not want a new imposition from any quarters. Nobody should use us to secure appointments in Abuja,” he concluded.
Omotoso, a journalist, wrote from Ibadan