Oloye Olusola Saraki (1933-2012) transition The ultimate kingmaker
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Long before the phenomenon of godfathers in politics came into national consciousness and controversy, Dr. Olusola Saraki had turned the phenomenon into a successful pastime in his native Kwara State. It is to his credit, with the irritating exception of the present governor, Alhaji Ahmed Abdulfatah, that all other civilian governors in the history of Kwara State were handpicked by him. Even Abdulfatah who was elected against his desire, fastidiously lays claim to Saraki’s political parentage.
Dr Saraki was simply a political phenomenon. His political odyssey was, however, not spotless. Ironically, Saraki started his political career on the wrong foot and ended it also on the wrong foot.
In the beginning
His first political outing as an independent in the 1964 parliamentary election ended in failure forcing his relocation to Lagos to kick-start what turned out to be a flourishing medical practice. Just as he started, Saraki ended his politics on a wrong note after his seemingly imperious attempt of foisting his daughter as governor of Kwara State after the eight year stint of his son, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
But between the beginning and the ending, Saraki’s occupation of the Kwara political plane was totally domineering and sweet.
His political success could be traced to his seamless ability to connect with the avant-garde and the masses at the same time without compromising the interest of either class.
With the rich and educated class, Saraki utilized his powers of persuasion to bring them under his control. With the less privileged, he used his well known spirit of philanthropy as an attraction.
In 1977 Saraki returned to Illorin and successfully won a seat to go to the Constituent Assembly inaugurated by the General Olusegun Obasanjo military regime. In the assembly, he associated with men of like minds who formed the National Movement which eventually transformed into the National Party of Nigeria, NPN.
By that time his fame had gone through much of the old Kwara State and he had formed political networks and established a following unprecedented in the state.
Saraki had wormed his way into the hearts of his people through philanthropy touching the hearts of the people in a way never seen before in those areas.
Senator Smart Adeyemi, PDP, Kogi West remembered Saraki visiting his secondary school in Iyara in the present Kogi State in the mid seventies and donating a princely amount of N10,000 which in those days was able to construct the school library.
“There was hardly any community in those days that Saraki did not touch through his philanthropy and countless number of secondary school students owed their education to him,” Senator Adeyemi said yesterday.
The dominance of Saraki, or Oloye as he was popularly called, was seen when in 1979 he chose Alhaji Adamu Attah, from the Ebira-speaking area of the state but now in Kogi State as the gubernatorial candidate of the NPN. It was a choice that could have crashed the hopes of the party given that the candidate was from the minority of minorities in the old Kwara State. But Saraki’s influence and network ensured that Attah became the first civilian governor of the old Kwara State.
Having installed Attah, Saraki relocated to Lagos where he featured as a prominent player in the NPN power club.
The leader’s strategy
As Senate Leader he was renowned for combining strategy with realism. Senator Chris Anyanwu who covered the second republic senate as a reporter for NTA remembered Saraki’s deployment of strategy in the running of the senate yesterday.
“Watching him from the Senate gallery in the Second Republic, I saw that several times when Nigeria could have been plunged into a crisis, he had a way with people. He was not hard but had a gentle way of persuading his colleagues to his point of view and pulling Nigeria back from the brink. At that time he was a calming influence in the Senate,” Senator Anyanwu said yesterday.
The 1983 elections
In the approach to the 1983 general elections Governor Attah sought some degree of freedom from Saraki’s hold. Though he successfully won the NPN gubernatorial ticket, Saraki defied party lines to throw support for the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN candidate, Chief Cornelius Adebayo won the governorship election but Saraki in demonstration of his power ensured that the NPN won the State House of Assembly.
Attah’s rebellion was a foreshadow of the tradition of rebellion and betrayal that was to shadow Saraki’s political lordship of Kwara. After Attah, he also installed Shaban Lafiagi in 1991 who also deviated at one time, and after that in 1999, he installed Mohammed Lawal. After the bitter quarrel with Lawal, Saraki looked inwards and fixed his son, Dr. Bukola Saraki in the place of Lawal in 2003.
Where many other political rebels failed, his son Bukola was able to push his father to submission resulting in the retirement of the old man after the 2011 general election.
Oloye’s successes in Kwara were, however, not wholly reflected at the national scene. Besides his successful stewardship and leadership of the Second Republic Senate, Saraki’s efforts at dominance at the national stage were severally frustrated.
IBB, Abacha regimes
In the Ibrahim Babangida transition he found himself in the Social Democratic Party, SDP and was one of the nearly two dozen presidential candidates barred by the administration.
Following General Sanni Abacha’s schemes and the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly in 1994, Saraki again returned to the national stage and used the platform to groom a new breed of political followers across the country. One of those he picked was Senator (Mrs.) Joy Emodi who mourned him yesterday as an inspiration for her political career.
“Senator Saraki was a leader in the true sense of it who knew how to relate with both the low and the high. He was an inspiration for me personally and was an effective guide and guard in those early days,” Mrs. Emodi, Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters said yesterday.
The height of betrayal in the consideration of Saraki’s associates could have been the drama in Kaduna at the 1999 national convention of the All Peoples Party, APP, a party he had inspired, funded and appointed many of its leaders. With the presidential ticket of the party in view, Saraki had helped to plant a national executive with Senator Mahmud Waziri as national chairman.
However, in the wee night deals that transpired, Saraki was edged out from Waziri’s calculations and lost out leaving Saraki embittered. It is not known if he forgave Waziri for that betrayal.
As he approached his twilight Saraki helped to form the Northern Union, NU, using the platform of the body to champion bridge building across the North. Saraki’s intentions were to use the body as a platform for the North to engage the rest of the country.
Unfortunately, age and the sickness that took his life slowed him down in recent years. But not even death would deny him his veritable legacy of bridge building between the poor and the rich, Christian and Muslim, North and South.