Toast of the moment, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki (CON) has secured his place in the history of Nigeria with the comprehensive victory of his new party, the All Progressives Party(APC), in the just- concluded elections.
Not only has ABS kept the Saraki Dynasty alive, he has achieved what even his legendary late father, Sen.Abubakar Olusola Saraki could not achieve in his life time – a100 percent electoral success in Kwara state.
And even more fascinating beyond the frontiers of Kwara State is the younger Saraki’s star power at the national level. Let’s go memory lane.
Kwara , and indeed the nation, was thrown into deep mourning when Oloye passed on in his sleep in 2012, aged 79.
In generosity and philanthropy, Oloye was matchless; in politics, he was The Master; in relationship with the ordinary people, he was uncommon. Oloye was aso a Nationalist par excellence. Kwara sorely misses its indefatigable political Godfather. The nation has fond memory of a politician whose influence transversed the entire country.
In the wake of his death, some pundits and implacable Saraki critics said it was the end of the Saraki Dynasty in Kwara .Yes, it was the end of an era , the Oloye era, but the dynasty was not buried with him. The Saraki phenomenon is still alive and kicking. Two reasons account for this.
First , the dynasty was built around the people,not the individuals in the Saraki biological family. The philosophy and practice of Oloye’s egalitarianism was so well-imbibed by many who had benefited from his leadership.
Secondly, Oloye was blessed with a son who cultivated the great man’s political structure, broadened it while the sage was still alive and nurtured it after the political titan’s exit.
ABS shares so many attributes of his late name- sake (Abubakar) father. Both were born as silver spoons, both trained as medical doctors, both were elected as Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the younger succeeded the older as Turaki of Ilorin.
And of course, both cultivated the common people even if the elder Saraki was miles away in this arena.
Oloye created a world record in Africa for getting his son (ABS) elected as governor and his daughter, Rukayat Gbemisola elected as Senator simultaneously in 2003 and both observed two terms in their respective elected positions.
But despite their shared interests, the ABS path to political greatness is different from his father’s. He is unarguably the architect of modern Kwara. He assembled a first-class team (Cabinet) in his very first term to support his quest for excellence in governance. One of the stars of that cabinet, Alh. Abdulfatah Ahmed, succeeded him as governor.
Gov. Saraki put Kwara on the world map through the revolutionary zimbabwearn farmers initiative (the first comprehensive commercial farming project in Nigeria). He constructed the first flyover in the state, he invested in health and road infrastructures and gave Kwara an edge in modernization through the Kwara Diagnostic center, International College of Aviation and facilitation of domestic air travel from Ilorin.
ABS was methodical in his approach to political leadership and influence. His chairmanship of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum gave that body a great turn around, making NGF a formidable platform for qualitative governance (through its peer review mechanism ) and turning it to a formidable political machine that even a a no-nonsense president Olusegun Obasanjo would not confront. He leveraged on that leadership to attain national prominence.
His level of influence increased when he successfully got Kwara (for the first time in history) a slot in the powerful National working committee of the ruling People’s Democratic Party(PDP). He fought hard to get Alhaji Abubakar KawuBaraje elected as PDP’s National secretary. He indeed, had a brush with OBJ who had already annointed Senator Tunde Ogbeha for the top job.
ABS is not abrasive. but he is a fighter. He is a veteran of many political battles. Until he waded in, ministerial positions for Kwara were always minister of state (1999-2008); he drove Abuja-based politicians into exile( like nomads, they come only when it is election time), he fought off the Lagos “Progressives” in 2007 (AC) and 2011 ( ACN ).
And , memorably, ABS fought for and won the battle for power shift to Kwara South (after Kwara Central’s unbroen 12years reign). He is a great hero in this regard as he sacrificed his biological family’s interest for this historical political shift to happen. He still carries the scar of that epic power shift battle but it is comforting that the reconciliation within the family has now been substantially achieved with the deft defection of Senator Gbemi(GRS) to APC and the end of animosity between brother and sister.
It is not a accidental that the hyped “freedom fighters” in Kwara met their political waterloo in the just-concluded elections. Saraki prepared well for them. An unusual mix of traditional Saraki critics and recent high-profile Saraki beneficiaries, had massed in PDP and their war-cry was “Freedom for Kwara”. They vowed to end Saraki dynasty and of course , terminate ABS political career. They made the 2015 election a referendum on Bukola saraki’s political leadership. They were humiliated.
Indeed, the political mastery of ABS came to the fore in the 2015 elections. He solidified the political structure through an innovative polling unit approach. Don’t be a big man for nothing, just hold your polling unit. It worked magic as it was easy to forecast the APC electoral strength even before the first election was held. So, despite PDP’s huge war chest which was recklessly displayed on election days, and the frightening federal threats and intimidations, Saraki and his structure prevailed in the presidential election ,posting over 70 percent success rate .
The National and state Assembly results were even more humiliating for the PDP giants with clay feet: 9-0 (3 senators, 6 House of Representatives in the National Assembly), 24-0 in the State Assembly. A 100 percent score in the four 2015 successive elections was a feat that even Oloye would be proud of in his grave.
ABS had significant leverage in the Yar Adua government such that after the latter’s sudden death while in office, his influence in national politics, especially with the ruling party, dipped. But he was only down, not out. He was soon back in the limelight, earning national applause as the arrow head of the merger of the PDP elements with the legacy parties in APC. it was a grave risk leaving the PDP comfort zone for the then struggling opposition APC but he pulled it through. It should be pay back time for him and his tenacious PDP group.
ABS is in the race for senate president. Zoning or no zoning, he is the best man for the job. He is intelligent, innovative, focused, and unifying. He has been an outstanding performer in the public offices that he has held.
As he turned around the fortunes of Kwara in his time as governor, he has also displayed a similar shrewdness in the national assembly. He transformed a colorless committee on environment and ecology to a first class oversight platform in the senate. His contributions on the floor of the senate are well-documented and applauded.
In 2011, ABS ran in the PDP presidential primary where he was the best aspirant with the most vibrant, issues-based campaign. But he was technically knocked out through a questionable selection process by a committee that screened the northern aspirants (Alh. Atiku Abubakar, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, , Gen. Aliyu Mohammed and ABS himself). Let this senate president election be different and merit – driven.
If Senator Bukola Saraki gets elected, as he should, as senate president, that will be more than a matchup with his legendary father who was elected senate leader in the first republic.
Indeed, Oloye is alive.
*Adedoyin, a journalist, wrote this piece from New York.