Bukola Saraki: Kwara’s Man Of The Year

Sodiq Adelakun
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Of all the comic images of the just concluded elections posted on social media, I found one particularly striking. The image of a fully dressed Bukola Saraki walking out of a football pitch as a stern-faced referee raised his red card and pointed the exit to him! The caption says: “Kwarans Decide, Says O to ge.”

 Literally speaking, the people of Kwara State issued Saraki a political red card at both the Presidential and governorship elections. Not only did he fail to get re-election into the senate, but his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which is the ruling party in the state lost the election and couldn’t produce a single member of the state house of assembly.

It is rare to see the misfortune of one man become a source of joy for so many people as is the case with him. Not only have victory dances erupted on the streets of Kwara, but citizens of the state send themselves congratulatory messages on the defeat of Saraki.

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It was a shocking, but not altogether unexpected development considering events before the elections and the widespread odium he has incurred among large sections of the Kwara populace. The people’s disapproval of his brand of politics was encapsulated in the O to ge political slogan of the opposition which literally means enough is enough!

In the run up to the elections, the slogan became the emotive rallying cry of the people which quickly spread across the state and, surprisingly, in Ilorin metropolis believed to be the stronghold of Saraki. You only needed to broach the subject of Kwara politics in virtually all communities before the locals respond with the slogan O to ge. Saraki’s loss of kwara in such a comprehensive manner could only mean the end of an era, and in this case the end of the Saraki political dynasty which began since 1979.

That was the beginning of the second republic when his late father, Olusola Saraki held sway as the sole political kingmaker in the state. It was his late father that brought him into kwara politics and ensured he became governor in 2003. The Junior Saraki ended his own father’s reign in 2011 when he parted ways with him politically and still installed his stooge as governor of the state in 2011 after he had completed his two terms as governor.

But his hold on power in the state has now been undone sixteen years after, and in such a spectacular fashion that would make it a significant case study on how to lose power. And this is why I feel that when the time comes to review year and profile persons who had done a lot to influence events, Saraki must come out on top.    

A person of the Year must have affected events in significant ways either for good or bad. He could be considered a hero or villain in the way he influenced the events of the year. When the Time magazine named Donald Trump Person of the Year in 2016 after he won the US presidency, one of those on the shortlist of contenders for the award was “Hackers”! Justifying the inclusion of hackers, the magazine said:

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“This year will be remembered for the bad. Hardly a week passed without news of some kind of digital breach, somewhere in the world, often establishing some kind of record—for sheer scope, for novel tactics or for setting an ominous new precedent. Hackers broke into the U.S. Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service and likely the National Security Agency,

“They stole or tried to sell data from private companies including Adult FriendFinder, LinkedIn, Mail.ru and Yahoo. They leaked the confidential medical records of elite athletes Simone Biles and Serena and Venus Williams, the private photos of celebrities including comedian Leslie Jones, and, along the way, the embarrassing password choices of a billionaire hacker named Zuckerberg.”

The jury must be out, after these elections, on what Saraki has done for or with Kwara in the years he shepherded the state. But no one can deny that he was at the centre of Kwara politics in the last one year. Whether it is the Offa bank robbery, his defection to the PDP, the O to ge movement which became the theme of the election campaign, Saraki was right there at the centre.

He is my own Kwara Person of the Year-of course, for the wrong reasons.

I had met Saraki only one-on-one only once in my career as a journalist, and that was when I interviewed him along with a colleague in his Abuja residence shortly after he left office as governor in 2011. He struck me as an intelligent and charismatic young man who had the world at his feet. But it was immediately obvious to me that this was a man in his own world different from the world on the street.

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He sounded like a man who relished power and influence and who would do what it takes to be in the loop. My time with him was not sufficient to come to a more studious understanding of him, but if he came into your presence, you would not fail to notice the aristocratic air around him. He loved fawners and grovelers. That’s why he’s called “Leader” by his followers.

In a recent audio that went viral, Saraki was heard telling supporters in his Ilorin residence why he believed defecting to the PDP was good. He said he would be respected in the party and an indication of that was when Atiku Abubakar came to see him after the PDP presidential primary and called him leader! It was a profane argument that revealed his personality and his purpose in politics.

 Through the years he was governor and up till now, opinions about him are largely negative. Many see his brand of politics as rent-seeking, elitist, unresponsive and anti-people.

Very few Nigerian politicians had ever seemed to me cut for leadership the way I had imagined senate president. Few in my opinion have so much leadership potential in them as this guy. Born on 19 December 1962 to the family of late Olusola Saraki, a senator and Senate Leader of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 1979-1983, he attended elite schools at home and abroad, first in Corona School in Victoria Island, Lagos before proceeding to King’s College, Lagos, from 1973 to 1978, and Cheltenham College in the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1981 for his High School Certificate.

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He then studied at the London Hospital Medical College of the University of London from 1982 to 1987, where he obtained his M.B.B.S (London). He started his career as a medical officer at Rush Green Hospital, Essex, from 1988 to 1989.  He returned to Nigeria and was made a director of Société Générale Bank (Nig) Ltd from 1990 to 2000.

In 2000, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as Special Assistant to the President on Budget and from that position vied for the governorship of Kwara State where his late father was the undisputed political godfather. Saraki junior served eight years as governor of Kwara State before moving to the senate effortlessly in 2011. He was re-elected to the senate in 2015 and his colleagues made him their president, although in a way that showed his steel ambition.

He seemed destined for the highest height until his smooth political journey took a rough turn in 2015, almost as soon as he was announced President of the senate. He had emerged president of the senate against the decision of his ruling All Progressive Congress party, which zoned the position to the North East, and through a bi-partisan alliance his party considered a betrayal.

Conscious that disciplined members of his party would not vote him as president, he formed an alliance that conceded the deputy senate president to the opposition party. That was the beginning of the end for him, at least in this dispensation.

But if truth be told, Saraki’s unraveling started as soon as he became governor of Kwara State.  For a young man with his education and exposure, he had a disappointing tenure as governor, one distinguished by a clear lack of vision and urgency to make positive impact. And it was no surprise that he left no legacy to keep him in the memory of residents of the state, except as “leader”- what became a derogatory metaphor for a vision of leadership that promotes cronyism.

Although he assembled some young and brilliant people in his cabinet, Saraki did not appear to have conceptualized a clear idea of the destination he envisaged for Kwara as a modern state. He behaved more like a son who inherited his father’s business and exuded a sense of entitlement. He cared less about building the business and taking it to new heights. He reveled in the spoil of his conquest and became complacent.

Like a warrior spirit, he seemed to have no idea about building his own castle. He is motivated only by the possibility of new conquests. That is why he schemes, all the time. Scheming has become second nature to him. But this time, he couldn’t scheme his way to victory. 

-The writer can be contacted via [email protected]

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Disclaimer: This article is entirely the opinion of the writer and does not represent the views of The Whistler

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