By Gboyega Amoboye
How best can one pay tribute to the memory of the great Oloye, the undisputed king maker of Kwara State and former Senate leader, the late Dr. Abubarkar Olusola Saraki, the Waziri of Ilorin?
One may not know, how much less remember the names of Senate leaders from 1999 to date, but one cannot forget the person of Saraki, who personified that office and was so addressed until his death even though his tenure in that position expired with the Buhari coup of December 31, 1983.
Saraki no doubt, was one of the last of the charismatic and colourful politicians. Incidentally, he became Senate leader in the turbulent days of the vibrant Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, under the Great Chief Obafemi Awolowo as leader of the opposition and vibrant Senator Jonathan Odebiyi, as the UPN leader in the Senate.
But this challenge of leading the senate at that period brought out the best of the skilful Saraki. Oloye, as Saraki is fondly called by his people of Kwara State, like the French envoy to the congress of Vienna in 1915, Talleyrand, became a colossus among his peers. By his skilful leadership, Senators, irrespective of the different political affiliations or age saw one another first as friends and so related throughout the senate of the Second Republic as colleagues and not as foes.
There was no dull moment as Senators called one another nicknames. For instance irrepressible Senator Uba Ahmed would shout at Senator Abraham Adesanya (UPN Lawyer) to sit down; or the late Abraham Adesanya calling Senator Ameh Ebute, Ebute Ero (a rowdy jetty area on Lagos Island) or police lawyer; or a chorous of Ndiegoro, each time the ebullient Senator Jaja Wachukwu of blessed memory, was recognized to speak as he could hardly speak without drawing attention to the plight of his community of Ndiegoro that was devastated by erosion.
The senators would also shout FIRE each time the garrulous late Senator Sabo Barkin Zuwo and PRP senate leader, was on his feet, firing his grammar. Whenever Senator Ahmadu Ali got up to speak, shouts of Ali Must Go rented the air from the opposition bench. In this mix you can then throw Senator David Dafinone who was always taunting the UPN Bench.
It was all fun. But the fun could last because there was this astute politician, Saraki, who was the leader.
It was always the ever smiling Oloye that would go into diplomatic shuttles from the bench of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP, leader, Senator Idrisa Kadi, Senator Sabo Barkin-Zuwo, the PRP leader, to Senator Jonathan Odebiyi, to lobby them to support government bills, or any controversial issue from Shehu Shagari, who was President.
It was to the credit of Saraki and of course the Senate President, Dr Joseph Wayas, that there was never a confrontation between the Senate and the executive arm.One may wonder how he was able to hold the Senate together in spite of the volatile political atmosphere of that era. There is no denying the mileage that his charisma garnered pursuant to achieving this feat.
Money is said to be the root of all evil. The Senate therefore removed this evil by neither running a capital vote nor awarding contracts at that time. Everything including stationeries was provided by the executive arm just as the clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Gidado Idris, equally skillfully, concentrated on managing the affairs of the National Assembly which he set up after serving as the secretary to the constituent assembly of 1977.
On how the National Assembly was able to run a rancour free legislature with Shagari, Saraki, who once explained that the NPN Senate caucus used to meet with the president once a week where issues were trashed out before appearing on the floor of the Senate, should be given the credit.
On the home front, if Saraki was good outside, it was because charity had started from home.
This writer during the presidential primaries and the electioneering in 1999, had written that to know whenever Saraki was in Abuja, all you needed do was observe the human traffic rushing to the Nicon Hilton (Transcorp) Hotel, because it was only Oloye that could genuinely surround himself with peasants.
The people of Ilorin knew him very well and he too knew his people very well.
That was why anybody he nominated for an elective office especially governorship was as good as Chief Obafemi Awolowo doing a similar thing in the south west. Dr. Saraki was given the appellation of Oloye by the people of Ilorin before it became a national appellation. If you attended any event organized by the late Waziri, the people one would find next to him are the peasants of Ilorin.
There was a particular incident after he had facilitated the replacement of the first civilian governor of Kwara State, Adamu Attah, with Dr Cornelius Adebayo of the UPN, in 1983 attention was drawn to a remark by the former Governor that Oloye was no longer popular in Ilorin.
Oloye, in reaction, managed his characteristic charming smiles and said “Gboyega, you will accompany me to Ilorin this weekend”. About five kilometers to the township, both sides of the road were lined by a large crowd shouting endlessly, Oloye, Oloye, Oloye. We drove straight to the Emir of Ilorin’s palace where it appeared a quarter of the entire population of Ilorin was already waiting and chanting Oloye, Oloye, Oloye.
After paying homage to the Emir of Ilorin, we drove straight to his house. On the way, about four out of every ten people along the road were heading to Oloye’s house shouting Oloye, Oloye.
Arriving at his house, Saraki could hardly enter as praise singers and a very large crowd that had turned out to welcome him blocked every available access.
‘Kabo, se dada le de’ (welcome, how was your journey) and the shouts of Oloye was all you could hear. In the large courtyard, were plates of food driving themselves, in a manner Shakespare had written in Machbeth, that as “fire drives fire so pity, pity” because the crowd was as usual having a nice time in their own house – Oloye lived all his life for the people.
After managing to enter the house, he relaxed that early evening and by 8pm, he appeared again to greet the crowd.
Oloye himself was to explain that he entered into politics “to fight the cause of the common man and woman” having been moved by their plight when he was a medical doctor at the general hospital, Lagos.
If Dr. Saraki was loved across Kwara State, it was because he was equally never selfish politically as he looked beyond Ilorin, the state capital. Against the wish of the Illorin people in 1979, Attah, an Ebira, was installed governor. And when Attah thought he could walk alone without Oloye, he was replaced with Adebayo of the UPN from Offa, in confirmation of his pronouncement when President Shagari’s CAMPAIGN TRAIN got to Ilorin shortly before the election.
At a point, Illorin people could not understand why Oloye would give them an indigene of Ilorin as a governor. This was in 1999. By this time, the shout of “we want Bukola” was underground. Bukola was then an Executive Director with the Societe Generale Bank, SGBN, which the family owned – mind you, SGBN was the first bank in Nigeria to introduce the ATM component of banking.
But to their disappointment, Oloye opted for Mohammed Lawal, a Navy Captian, the ANPP, as their governor, but the shout of “we want Bukola” refused to cease until the self-same Bukola, his first son, eventually succeeded Lawal of blessed memory.
On a personal note, the generosity of the senior Saraki was beyond description. He always stockpiled his house with assorted and expensive gifts which he never hesitated to give to any visitor to his house to compliment a handsome envelope filled with cash. To allow for accessibility, Dr. Saraki did not move to his Ikoyi residence but for many years remained in Surulere.
Oloye remained the only philantropist that I ever came across who after giving would look at your face with a smile and ask if it is enough and would add to it before you could answer.
Dr. Olusola Saraki is an epitome of religious tolerance.
Though a Musilm, he allowed his wife Florence, to continue with her Christian faith. This is a lesson to learn and emulate from the life of Saraki.
If there was anything he had wished for before departing, it was to leave behind a political dynasty that could rival those of the Kennedies and George Bush in America which no political family has achieved in Nigeria. This, he had achieved when Senator Bukola Saraki was able to pass his test as a worthy successor as the new king maker of Kwara Sate by installing the incumbent governor of Kwara State while Senator Gbemi Saraki was able to defeat others in a man’s world to become a Gubernatorial candidate of another political party in the same state. By this, Senator Gbemi Saraki has grown from Gbemi of Ilorin to Gbemi of Kwara State.
To the uninitiated who felt it was a defeat of the father by the son, what the father did in the language of Oliver Goldsmith, was like an eagle tempting its young offspring to the sky to learn how to fly. It may be noted that it was not for no reason that the old Saraki had crowned the young Saraki the new Turaki of Ilorin, the title he, Dr Olusola Saraki, cherished so much, to become the Waziri of Ilorin a title which may now be beckoning at Bukola, as he is fondly called at home. .This to me is the significance of the last election in Kwara State. Instead of Oloye’s death therefore being the end of an era, one may safely say that it is another beginning of an era.
May Oloye’s great soul rest in perfect peace.
Gboyega Amoboye, one time media aide to the late Dr.Olusola Saraki, wrote from Lagos (08037043074)