By Hon. Kayode Abdulwahab- Omotose. (PhD).
The good memories of great men linger in the sand of time, because of the presence they made in minds of the living. They might have left the planet earth, but their impact is effervescent. Today, as the 10th year fidau/prayers are held for the late Waziri of Ilorin, Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki, the marks of how he bestrode the earth reverberates among his biological family and the huge political family across the length and breadth of the country. And in particular, his community, Ilorin. To all of these segments, Baba Oloye, as he was fondly called, adored and served them devotedly with his reach, his riches and his warmth.
As today ticks, a decade after his exit from the landscape, what came to my mind were some of his contributions to education; the little that I knew. Baba Oloye encouraged and sponsored people to institutions at home and abroad, without discrimination to gender, ethnic divide and religious inclinations to acquire education to the apex of their capability in both the eastern and western knowledge. As he often said, in his lifetime every living being needs the two stretches, to enjoy his stay in the world and live well in heaven. One episode that rings in my ears to underscore his philosophy was the comment of fiery labour leader, Comrade Issa Aremu when he came to pay his condolences after the demise of Baba Oloye at the Great Hall. I was on the welcome team that received him. In his remark, he said that he had cut-short his ever busy schedule to come over to Ilorin and commiserate with the immediate biological family and the extended political family from all works of life. He recalled that in the 1970s when he was a student at Ilorin Grammar School (IGS), he went to the road side with his school friends, on a particular day. Shortly thereafter, a Jeep vehicle pulled by and a handsome elderly man came down from the rear seat. He beckoned at them with a smile and asked them pertinent questions about the condition of the school. According to him at the end of their interactions, he appreciated them and also said: “thank you very much, I am Dr Sola Saraki”, as he gave another parting smile.
Not long after that encounter, Dr Saraki rolled out some packages to improve the facilities at IGS. He equipped both the science laboratory and the school library, and furnished the offices of the school Principal and Vice Principal. Shortly thereafter, the number of students that went into the science-based courses increased in a definitive response to this facility and the pass rate went higher. Earlier in that decade, he had had made his glorious contribution to connect the school onto the ECN (later NEPA and now PHCN) grid, at sawmill. Hitherto, the students used lantern for their night study. We had not gotten to this current abominable era of generators. In the 1979/80, there were less than a dozen secondary schools in Ilorin, the state capital; about five in Omu-Aran etc.; it was so in major towns of the state. Most of the others that came in all parts of the state in that era, had the input of Baba Oloye. Soon after the victory of Alhaji Adamu Atta as Governor, Dr Saraki as Senate Leader and concurrently Chairman of the ruling party rolled out a programme to establish many secondary schools across the state.
During this period as well, he was in the forefront of the establishment of six community secondary schools at Banni, United, Ballah, Odoore, Barakat and Baboko by the Ilorin Descendants Progressive Union (IDPU). Baba Oloye’s commitment to education was without deference region. I was privileged to be on his delegation to the hometown of Chief Oloniniyi, to which we headed after a detour at the country home of Gen. David Medaiyese Jemibewon. He was one of his political disciples in old Kwara State whose territory was excised to Kogi State. Shortly on arrival at a primary school field for the event, a group of well-dressed men in their 50s and 60s, some of them in beads round their necks and wrist, to signify their chieftaincy titles, came to greet him. And they did so, in the traditional African way. Baba Oloye was surprised as they introduced themselves as beneficiaries of the Community Secondary School which he principally facilitated in the town. They had become lawyers, doctors, journalists, engineers and shakers of the community. After their departure, the late Chief Tunji Arosanyin informed him that he was the one that facilitated the request of the community and handed over the money which Baba Oloye donated to get the project accomplished. He gave a smile and replied: “I can’t remember”.
Baba Oloye was available to the people. Both during the military interregnum and the civilian, he derived joy in going round the nooks and crannies of the state to check on them and mitigate their challenges within his capacity. I am a professional journalist and as the Chief Correspondent of Thisday newspaper in Kwara State, I covered all events including the Government House. As it was the tradition, when Group Captain Baba Adamu Iyam assumed office as the military Administrator during the Abacha years he undertook an extensive tour of the state. At the villages of Igboroko, Agboyi, Eleminla on the way to Otte, which was as rough and narrow as a footpath, groups of women carrying buckets of water on their heads, and men with farm produce, dropped their loads and ran towards the blaring siren. They came shouting OLOYE! OLOOYE! OLOOYE!! OLOOOYE!!!
The military Administrator was astounded and asked the protocol officers what was amiss. They told him the people thought it was Dr Olusola Saraki because he is the only bigman that comes as far into the hinterland to ask after their welfare. He is only person they knew. In response Iyam said no wonder that he continued to hold sway in the state.
Picking his gauntlet from the old block, the scion of the family, Dr Bukola Saraki prioritized education at the three tiers when he was Governor of the state. Specifically I recollect that specific decisions were taken to improve the literacy and numeracy levels. The government distributed free textbooks in core subjects that included English and Mathematics. To give pungency to this action, President Olusegun Obasanjo launched it at Government Secondary School, Ilorin when he came on official tour. Indeed that year, some Secondary Schools were completely renovated by government. They included two-faith based schools; Bishop Smith Memorial College, Ilorin; and Ansarul Islam Secondary School, Ilorin; the community established school that recorded the best result in WASC examination, Okelele Community Secondary School and pioneer school in the state, which is the 13th oldest secondary school in the country, GSS, Ilorin. At the tertiary level, KWASU was established.
As President of the Senate, among others, he offered scholarship to all kwarans who made first class in their first degree, to undertake post-graduate courses. The law graduates were in addition sponsored to the law school as well. Similarly, Senator Gbemisola Saraki continues to sponsor indigent and brilliant students for higher education both at home and abroad. She did it as a legislator and it has continued in her current position as a Minister of Nigeria. They have maintained the legacy of Baba Oloye.
It is therefore, in the recognition of what Baba Oloye stood for that the Sola Saraki Educational Foundation was set-up. Its pioneer Chairman was the late Chief Tunji Arosanyin, while by Dr Musa Audu holds the position now; with Alhaji Ladi Hassan as the Secreatry. I was privileged to have been a part of the team that wrote a book “The Statesman” in honour of Baba Oloye that was launched in 2017. Our Chairman was Alhaji Saadu Koroagba Alanamu (PhD). Other members were Alhaji Muhammed Nuhu. Alhaji Oladimeji Shuaib Agaka, Alhaji Ladi Hassan, Chief Deji Oni, Hon. Isiaka Mogaji, Hon. Lauda Lata and Alhaja Nimata Ibrahim. Fund-raising was held and it had a commendable presence. The objective of the laudable effort is to elongate the frontiers that Baba Oloye charted by giving scholarship to medical students in Nigerian universities; endow academic chairs in medicine; sponsor medical research and also establish a Cardiac Hospital to be named after the late sage.
Indeed the medical outreach was conducted at the weekend, November 12th at two outposts. These were the Emir Palace and Agbaji, the ancestral home of Baba Oloye. Then November 13th at Kulende and Eyenkorin respectively. The patients that attended were given free medical consultation; free cardio-vascular check-up; free diabetes screening free eye check-up and glasses as well as free drugs for their ailments. Lovers of development are enjoined to participate to give honour to whom it is due.