Former Senate Leader Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki died of cancer yesterday in Lagos, aged 79.
Olaolu, one of the late Saraki's sons, said: "He has been battling cancer for about five years. He was fine this morning. He was comfortable and even said his prayers. He died in the presence of one of my brothers, my mother and my two sisters."
Saraki, popularly known as Oloye, was born on May 17, 1933 in Ilorin.
He was the strongman of Kwara politics since the advent of the Second Republic, having being behind the election of every civilian governor of the state except the incumbent.
In a statement in Lagos yesterday, the late Saraki's eldest son Bukola, who is a senator and former Kwara State governor, said: "With gratitude to Almighty Allah, we announce the passage to eternity of our beloved father and grandfather...who answered the call to great beyond early hours of today."
"We take solace in knowing that our father lived an exemplary life of service and selfless devotion to development of his people and nation," the statement added.
The late Saraki was educated at Edward Blyden Memorial School, Lagos; Eko Boys' High School, Lagos, and attended the University College, 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.
Saraki first entered politics when he ran in the 1964 parliamentary election for Ilorin as an independent candidate, but failed to win. After the election, he went back to his medical practice in Lagos, only to return to party politics in 1978/79.
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, and became the Senate Leader. In 1983 Saraki was re-elected into the Senate on the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
Saraki became a National Leader and member of the Board of Trustees of the All People's Party (APP) in 1998, contributing to the APP success in Kwara and Kogi states.
He later switched allegiance to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and in the 2003 elections supported his son Bukola, as the candidate for governor of Kwara, and his daughter Gbemisola, as senator for Kwara Central.
His remains were flown in a brown wooden casket to Ilorin by Overland Airways jet, accompanied by his three children and wife Florence.
Four private jets, one of them belonging to Rivers State Government, were used to convey the deceased, the entire family and their sympathisers to Ilorin.
Among dignitaries who received the corpse in Ilorin were Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal, National Planning Minister Shamsuddeen Usman who led the Federal Government delegation, Internal Affairs Minister Abba Moro, Senator Andy Uba, Senator Danjuma Goje and CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.
Former PDP chairman Abubakar Baraje, former Defence minister Bello Halliru Mohammed, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Dr. Wale Babalkin, Sport Minister Bolaji Abdulahi, GTB managing director Segun Agbaje and Alhaji Kola Abiola were also there.
The funeral prayers, held at the Eid prayer ground, were led by chief Imam Sheikh Muhammad Bashir at about 5.05pm.
The corpse was later brought to the Illofa home of the late political icon at about 6.05 pm and lowered into the grave at about 6.20pm. The Kwara State Government declared three days of mourning and today as a work-free day.
Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, through his spokesman Wahab Oba, described the death of Saraki as a monumental loss to Nigeria.
He said the late politician lived an exemplary life and dedicated his life to the service of his people, particularly the downtrodden. He described the late politician as a philanthropist of note who used his wealth to help the ordinary people.
Earlier yesterday, sympathizers converged as early as 7am at the Lagos home of Dr. Saraki. Among the early callers were Senator Bola Tinubu, former Lagos deputy governor Kofo Bucknor-Akarele, former Ekiti governor Niyi Adebayo, ACN chieftain Lai Mohammed and Kola Abiola.
"He was able to understand the political terrain. It is indeed, a great loss, not only to the people of Kwara State but the entire country," Tinubu said of the late Saraki.