By ERIC TENIOLA
EGBON your friend is gone” that was how Martins Oloja,Editor of THE GUARDIAN, broke to me the news of the passage of Dr.AbubakarOlushola Sararai-the Waziri of Ilorin.
Martins knew of my close relationship with Dr.Saraki because he was in my office in 2003 when Saraki phoned me in the Presidency to confirm the drop of his son, Dr. BukolaSaraki by President Olusegun Obasanjo as his special assistant.
“Don’t worry Eric,” Dr.Sarakiassured”,I will make Bukky a Governor”,which he did. Dr. Saraki was a man of few words.
The demise of Dr.Saraki has now reduced the number of 95 senators who were elected in 1979 and still alive,to less than 22. We still have Dr. Joseph Wayas, the then Senate President, Senators Ameh Ebute, Uba Ahmed, Onyeabo Obi, Cornelius Adebayo, Mohammed GirgiriLawan, Donald Dick Etiebet, David OmueyeDafinone,Banji Akintoye, Ayo Fasanmi, David Oke, M. Onukun, John Wash Pam, Nosike Ikpo, George Daniel, Joseph Ansa, Tony Anyanwu, Ahmadu Alli, Jubrin Salihu, George Baba Hoomkwap and Kunle Oyero.
The departed include Senators Mahmud Waziri, JajaWachukwu, Hassan Zuru, Obi Wali, F.J. Ellah, Ayoola Adeleke, Lere Adesina, Ademola Adegoke, Ibrahim Dimis, Jallo Waziri, E.O. Akpata, F.O.M. Atake, J.O. Umolu, J.S. Tarka, Umaru Bama, Idrissa Kadi, Victor Akan, Barkin Zuwo, and Emeka Echeruo.
Others who are no more include Senator A. Muazu, Ibrahim Kolo, Femi Ayantuga, Abayomi Durosinmi, Adeyiga Ajayi, Sikiru Shitta-Bey, Mubashiru Abiru, Jonathan Odebiyi, Kayode Ogunleye, S. Sogbein, D. A. Ladega, Abraham Adesanya, C.L. Adeoye,and Cyrus Nunieh.
After the Senate election in 1979, the ruling party, the NPN, zoned the post of NPN Senate leader to Senator Joseph Tarka to satisfy the yearnings of the people of the Middle Belt.
But Senator Tarka, an Old Parliamentarian, schooled in the First Republic, opted out of the job because he could not know the difference between the Senate President and NPN Senate leader,which is a new innovation in the country at that time. He thought the post would create a clash.
The post was not called Senate Leader;it was NPN Senate Leader, meaning the leader of all the NPN senators.
Dr.Saraki became the natural choice after Senator Tarka bounced out.
In an election conducted by the then clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Gidado Idris(GCON), on October 9,1979, Dr. Saraki as the NPN Senate leader moved the motion for the election of Dr. Joseph Wayas as the Senate President and John Wash Pam as the Deputy Senate President. Dr.Wayas defeated Senator F.O.M. Atake, then of the UPN by 53 to 42 votes, while Senator Pam of the NPP defeated Senator Sabo BarkinZuwo of the PRP by 51 to 43 votes.
In moving the motion, Dr.Saraki said: “Today, in this Senate, we are making history. We are all elected here for a purpose. The foremost is that we are here to ameliorate the poor conditions of our people. We are all Nigerians and 95 of us were elected to come to this Senate to make laws that will govern 80 million Nigerians.
We are blessed with vast land, we are surrounded by rivers, streams and lakes and yet millions of our people have no water to drink, and again we also import some foodstuff. Today, we are here in this Senate to make the conditions of our people better. In the process of doing this, we have to follow the Constitution which says we should have a President of the Senate from among us”.
It was Senator Tarka, in the spirit of nationalism,who persuaded his colleagues that the Senate represent the country and not just any political party, that the toga NPN Senate leader was dropped from Dr.Saraki’s title to that of Senate leader.
And from that day till the Army sacked the Senate on December 31, 1983, Dr.Saraki was referred to as Senate leader-the last national post he held till he died.
Dr.Saraki was colourful.Tall,handsome and magisterial. He conducted himself as Senate leader with dignity and decorum.He was particularly fond of Senators MammudWaziri, Dr.Wayas, Senator Wachukwu and Senators Abraham Adesanya and Odebiyi. He had a large heart for all the Senators.
I knew him through Alhaji Lai Mabinuori of Daily Times in 1976. Dr. Saraki was a realistic leader of men, a master of the games,who understood the importance of ideas. He assumed his responsibilities fully.
After losing the Presidential nomination of the NPN to Alhaji Shehu Shagari at Casino Cinema,Yab,Lagos in 1978, Dr.Saraki told me and Tony Idigo of NAN, that he lost because ”I don’t understand National Politics. I will go back to Kwara”.
He never left Kwara State and from there he called all the shots.
Were Kwara State to be a country, Dr. Saraki would have been like Lee Kuar Yew of Singapore or MuhammedAlli Jinnah of Pakistan.
Surely, he will be missed.