This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Saraki - a Glorious Exit

Photo: Vanguard
The late Chief Sola Saraki

"I look forward to celebrating my 80th year," Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki (aka Oloye) announced wistfully as we celebrated his 75th birthday in 2008.

Sadly, Oloye didn't make it. The political icon of our time died in his sleep in his house in Ikoyi, Lagos, early yesterday - six months to the magic 80th birthday.

Baba had "died" several times since last year but we (those close to him) - and he in particular - had always laughed off the rumours generously promoted with a sinister motive in the social media.

The June 26, 2012 rumour was particularly instructive. Oloye was in the United States of America on medical vacation. I was there too, visiting. When the rumour broke on the social media that he was dead, I responded swiftly that I was with Oloye and he was hale and hearty. That statement was probably what prompted AIT to broadcast falsely yesterday that I had denied Baba's real death.

But with the way this last 'death' came, I knew instantly, it was over. The source who called me to break the news said he got it directly from another I considered the most credible. Yet my source wanted confirmation from me as Oloye's adopted son. Ten minutes after, I called my source: "Confirmed, Sir".

And I wept. Not just for Oloye because I knew instantly, that with his passage, Kwara was in for some tough challenges. In his life, Oloye breathed Kwara; he served Kwara selflessly.

In an environment brimming with so many unofficial biographers of this theorist and practitioner of grassroots politics, following the Saraki personae had been a passion. From a man who started out as a loser in the Federal House of Representatives poll in 1964, Saraki was the archetype long-distance runner in Nigerian's political marathon. His rising visibility did not suffer from this temporary setback as he was to become a member of the Constituent Assembly, which produced the 1979 Constitution.

One of the most colourful politicians of the Second Republic, his emergence as Senate Leader was a vote for unity in the midst of poignant diversity. When the Senate was inaugurated, there were five party leaders with Dr. Saraki representing the NPN, Senator J.A.O. Odebiyi (UPN), Senator Jaja Nwachukwu (NPP), Senator Idris Kadi (GNPP) and Senator Ibrahim Barau (PRP). But so dramatic was the motion moved by Senator A.D. Rufai and seconded by Odebiyi, calling on the Senate to make Saraki the Senate Leader that it continues to draw comparison in today's appalling antagonistic politics.

One enduring attribute of his political odyssey was a never-say-die spirit, which saw him weathering the tempest of Nigerian politics. Even in the Second Republic, with the ruling party without an absolute majority, Saraki, the consummate arbiter, was the bulwark in the National Assembly, rallying relative stability for the Shehu Shagari presidency.

Saraki, as far back as 1979, had become the colossus who would not only influence the course of national politics, but also determined who would be elected or removed as governors in Kwara State.

With six governors in his kitty - Alhaji Adamu Attah (1979), Chief C.O. Adebayo (1983), Allhaji Sha'aba Lafiagi (1992), Alhaji Mohammed Lawal (1999) Dr. Bukola Saraki (2003) and Alhaji Abdulfatai Ahmed (2011), it was clear who determined the occupant of Kwara Government House.

His success in building an octopoidal political empire was traceable to the building blocks of generosity and loyalty nurtured over time. The various testimonials that have poured out since yesterday have proved that Waziri's generosity was legendary. Those who ceaselessly trooped to his Ile Loke residence for family support would bear tribute to a philanthropist par excellence.

For the Waziri of Ilorin, God certainly loves a cheerful giver. In a way, that divine instruction that givers never lack appeared to be the working secret of this exponent of grassroots politics.

With loyalty as a strong point, the Sarakite political machine bore a cult-like following and followers willing to die for their leader. This is because the leader never abandoned his people in their hours of tribulation. He was an unusual Godfather - who installed with no commitment other than the general good of his people. He was the only patron saint that continued to spend on an elected officer long after victory at the polls! Such was the Waziri and his politics.

In the 2011 elections, Waziri wanted his daughter, Gbemisola elected as governor. She didn't make it but the man who made it, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, a political son of the Waziri used Oloye's well-oiled and well-tested political structure, controlled by the scion of the Saraki dynasty, Bukola Saraki, to get elected.

True to his true spirit of generosity and undiluted love for Kwara, Oloye was until his death a great pillar of the Ahmed administration and political mentor of the governor who is now the chief mourner.

For a man who served the nation so selflessly, it is astonishing that no particular monument has been named after him in the nation's capital city. But not to worry, he is already immortalised in the minds of the people.

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