15 November 2012

Nigeria: Abubakar Olusola Saraki, 1933 - 2012 - Departure of a Strongman

Photo: This Day
The late Chief Sola Saraki


Former Senate leader and strongman of Kwara politics Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki breathed his last yesterday morning at his Lagos residence. A victim of cancer, he has since been buried according to Muslim rites.

There is no contemporary Nigerian politician with the kind of mythical grip he had on his home state Kwara. For decades, he singlehandedly determined who got what, where and when in the politics of the state and the federation. No one dared him, except his son Bukola (now a senator), who ironically was the fifth civilian governor he installed at the Kwara Government House.

The seeming disagreement between father and son was seen by pundits as a transition in the Saraki political dynasty because the elder Saraki was in his twilight.

To underscore the essence of the archetypal elder statesman, Gov. Abdulfattah Ahmed of Kwara declared yesterday a work-free day to allow residents of the state to receive the body of the late politician. He also ordered a three-day mourning for the departed politician.

Saraki, fondly known as Oloye, was the Waziri of Ilorin. He was a consummate politician, an astute grassroots mobiliser, a political colossus with awe-inspiring powers of political organisation. President Goodluck Jonathan remembers him as "one of Nigeria's most prominent leaders, medical practitioner and democrat". ACN leader Bola Tinubu has described the late Saraki as a statesman of immense prodigy.

Born on May 17, 1933, in Ilorin, he was elected to the Senate in 1979 on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria. Saraki was educated at Eko Boys' High School, the University of London, and St George's Hospital Medical School, London. He worked as a medical officer at the General Hospital, Lagos, and the Creek Hospital, Lagos, before veering into business and later politics.

But it is in politics that he made an indelible mark. He first entered politics when he ran in the 1964 parliamentary election for Ilorin as an independent, but failed to win. He however made sufficient business success as a boardroom guru and chairman of the defunct Societe General Bank to re-launch his political career.

Subsequently, he produced governors, state and federal lawmakers, and ran for president at a time. In 1977, Olusola Saraki was elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly that produced the 1979 Constitution. In 1979, he was elected a senator of the Second Republic on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria and became Senate leader.

In 1998, he became a national leader and member of the Board of Trustees of the All Peoples Party, contributing to the party's success in Kwara and Kogi states. Later, Saraki switched allegiance to the Peoples Democratic Party, and, in the 2003 elections, supported his son as candidate for governor of Kwara State.

Kwarans and party politics would miss the acumen of this legendary fixer and selfless political godfather. The vacuum created by his exit would be difficult to fill even by the scion of his political dynasty.

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