By Abdulganiyu Abdulqadir
Here comes another time to reminisce about the life and times of the widely much-admired political leader of Kwara politics and one of Nigeria’s renowned political genius, Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki. On a Wednesday, precisely, November 14, 2012, Nigerians home and in the diaspora woke up to the news that the mighty Iroko had fallen. The earth vibrated! Many did not believe it; some others wailed like the world had crumbled beneath their feet; people were seen standing in groups mourning; tributes poured in from far and near, the big register had no time to rest from condolence messages; Kwarans, both young and old thronged to the residence of the man who had served as their reliable confidant for decades. At every junction, newspaper stands, offices, shops, market, farm and in taxis, it was the name and deeds of the late Saraki on every lips.
Born 17 May 1933, The Great Oloye, as he is fondly called lived a unique life and was a golden fish at every facet of his life till he breathed his last. It’s now 10 years after, but the people of Kwara and Nigeria at large in nostalgia still adore and speak hearteningly of a man who rose from nowhere and evolved in the Nigerian political space, a style of politics never known before, but which became highly popular and embraced by political leaders today.
Saraki, a London trained medical doctor, practiced his profession for some years but carved a niche for himself in politics and philanthropy. Olusola Saraki came into politics when he contested in the 1964 parliamentary election for Ilorin as an independent, but lost. Determined, visionary and strategic, he was to return to party-politics in 1977, as an elected member of the Constituent Assembly that produced the 1979 constitution.
He pioneered the formation of leading political parties in the country especially during the Second Republic which led to the establishment of the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Under that same platform, he got elected as Senator of the Second Republic, and became Senate Leader, a position that marked him out as a leader par excellence, unifier and grassroot politician.
Many admired him for his ability to forge consensus as Senate Leader, whose NPN did not have the majority to pass legislation then. He singularly warmed his way into the heart of other political party parliamentarians to make way for the government of the day. In 1983, Saraki was re-elected into the Senate on the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) platform, entrenching himself further as a consummate politician, with awe-inspiring powers of political organisation.
Baba was to have the finest of time as a political titan in the fourth Republic, when democracy returned and he was naturally enthroned as a leader by the people of Kwara. His unwritten assumption of leadership position was a factor of providence, unparallel magnanimity, emphaty, grassroot integration, sheer democratic ideals and enviable leadership prowess. Like the great Zik of Africa, Ahmadu Bello and the Awo of the post-colonial cum first Republic, Oloye was no doubt an exemplary leader and a de-tribalized Nigerian. He joined political bigwigs from across the country to establish and finance many political parties, just as he nurtured many who have today made their mark in the political space, during his life-time. As a tireless campaigner during electioneering, or host to political, religious and community leaders; where he drew the strength to hold deliberations after deliberations, no one knew.
Again, how a single man was able to hold political sway and dominate his political environment for decades still remains a topic of scholarly discuss. But it could not be far from the submission of Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, who in his tribute after the demise of Baba, opined that “the most enduring reasons for Saraki’s control was his superb understanding of the psyche of the people.
“He made choices people could easily relate with and rallied to symbols, especially in Ilorin, such as Islam; the emirate structure and belonging to Northern Nigeria, which ensured that people almost instinctively trusted his judgment about wherever he made them go politically, with the belief that he was not likely to betray their core political loyalties. These are very central to the political dominance that he enjoyed for decades.”
There is no gainsaying that the status of Baba Saraki cannot be constrained to his political voyage alone. He was indeed an enigma. Even those who did not share his political ideology admired him for his open mindedness, empathy, his unassuming posture to relate with the down-trodden and unshakeable loyalty to stand by his words no matter what. Baba was an untiring giver who never hesitated to provide succour to his people. His home was a Mecca of sort where the needy converged regularly to feed, get moneys to keep body and soul together as well as clothing. It was such a core mission for him as a philanthropist that he erected a shelter, ‘Ile Arugbo’, which served as a haven for women, mostly in their twilight.
As the Waziri of Ilorin Emirate, a revered traditional title he held till his death, Baba Oloye’s relationship with the traditional institution was second to none. As a visionary leader, the late Saraki imbued in his son, his legacy. Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, like his father, superintended over the 8th National Assembly. It was a meritorious four-year dispensation by The Distinguished. Living up to his father’s vision, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, following his landmark accomplishments, was bestowed with the lineage traditional title hitherto held by the late patriarch, Waziri.
Baba Saraki was a family man, who loved everyone around him and was loved by all and sundry. He valued his family, took good care of everyone and was always concerned about their welfare and development. Baba Oloye was a symbol of unity in his Agoro family in Agbaji, Ilorin Kwara State. In his loving memory is his dear wife, Chief (Mrs) Florence Morenike Saraki, ‘Mama Saraki’, former President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Hon. Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Senator Ruqayyah Gbemisola Saraki, Laolu Saraki and Temitope Saraki.
No doubt, the name Saraki, in various quarters, even among those who have never stepped on the soil of the North-Central state, is almost synonymous with Kwara; and “Saraki Oloye,” the popular panegyric popularly chorused to hail the icon didn’t only dominate the narrative then, it has resonated every now and then, with his style of politics becoming a school of thought for many. Baba Abubakar Olusola Saraki will always occupy a place of honour in our hearts.
Abdulganiyu Abdulqadir, the Press Officer on Local Matters at Abubakar Bukola Saraki Media Office, writes from Ilorin.