An end has surely come to an era in Kwara politics with the death of Dr. Olusola Saraki, the man popularly called the strong man of Kwara politics.
Great political attainment, philanthropy, commitment to grassroots development, and human development are among attributes of the late pillar of Kwara politics that had endeared him to many politicians and the masses over a long time. Many people say his death on Wednesday signalled an end to his style of politics. Others argue that one of Nigeria's finest politicians had fully prepared his son for the task of carrying on with his political legacies. What becomes of his legacy now certainly rests on the shoulders of his son and political associates.
Oloye, as Saraki was fondly called by his political admirers and well wishers in the state and Nigeria, had installed nearly all past governments in the state without any crisis due to his political influence that he had built over the past 40 years. Starting from the days of Alhaji Adamu Attah, 1979- 1983 and Alhaji Shaaba Lafiagi, 1991-1993, to the late Alhaji Muhammed Alabi Lawal, 1999- 2003, and Oloye's own son, Dr. Bukola Saraki, 2003-2011, the late Saraki played the ultimate kingmaker in the choice of governors of Kwara State. The incumbent governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, whose election was not supported by the Oloye, and whose emergence had been the source of a rift between the old man and his son, can be said to have emerged by default.
Apart from the installation of past governors of the state, late Saraki had installed various political office holders, council officials and other top government functionaries in the state. Before his reported retirement from active politics after last year's general elections, when he fought tooth and nail to install his daughter, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, as governor after Bukola, the late elder statesman ensured that he united all his political siblings.
The fight for Bukola's successor had factionalised the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the state, from which Saraki had created the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, the platform with which he had tried to make Gbemisola governor. He was able to bring everyone back to PDP, consequently proclaiming the death of ACPN in the state.
Running the Show
Soon after the last general elections, the late politician left for London when his daughter could not take over the mantle of leadership of the state. But while in London, his son, Bukola, now senator for Kwara Central, ensured that a powerful delegation led by the incumbent governor travelled to London to reassure Oloye that he was still in charge, despite the new government. The delegation was said to have told Baba, as the late Saraki was also called, to come and form the government for them to ensure political stability in the state. Baba was said to have accepted this and promised to come home soon to ensure that all the people that left the ruling PDP to join him in ACPN returned to PDP to form a formidable political class in the state.
In trying to achieve political stability, the late Saraki also ensured that all his political associates were integrated into the governance of the state and this has remained an indelible mark of his politics.
All the appointments into various political offices was coordinated and approved by Oloye and this allowed members of the ACPN that returned to the ruling PDP to benefit. Since then, the political class in the state had seen themselves as one family headed by the late elder statesman.
Another Era Begins
It was after the reunification that late Saraki proclaimed his son, Bukola, as the emerging political leader of the state. Bukola had ensured the emergence of the incumbent governor of the state, Ahmed, and all others elected into the House of Assembly, National Assembly, and local councils. He had also influenced the appointments of virtually all political office holders in the state.
Since his emergence as the new leader of the state, the younger Saraki has tried to work according to the expectation of Kwarans. He it was that almost single-handedly put into office virtually every member of the PDP state executive. This has helped to strengthen his political leadership of the state.
One of the old associates of late Saraki, the first Commissioner for Finance under the then Adamu Attah regime, Alhaji Usman Mustapha, affirmed the leadership qualities of the junior Saraki, thus, "We thank God for giving us Bukola Saraki as the new leader and he has been doing well since he took over the mantle of leadership of Kwara."
Mustapha, who had been with the late Saraki since 1973, told THISDAY, "Bukola Saraki is our leader and will remained so."
Another close ally of late Saraki, Alhaji Oba Wankasi, spoke in the same vein. According to him, "I thank God for positioning his son, Dr. Bukola Saraki, to replace the elder statesman."
The president of Afonja Descendants Union, Olola Kassum, said, "Late Oloye will forever be remembered as a friend of the commoners and the poor and his exit marked the end of an era in Kwara politics characterised by heavy dosage of monetised charity."
The late politician was hailed for helping to take many people from grass to grace. He was admired as someone who made life bearable for all and sundry. His philanthropy transcended religion, tribal or political affiliation. Little wonder many, among whom the poor, needy, old men and women burst into tears when the news of his death broke in Ilorin last Wednesday.
From his compound, Agabji, Oja- Oba, Ilofa GRA, to many other places in Ilorin, it was wailing and tears, as the people mourned the passage of the benevolent elder statesman. On hearing about his death, people came to Ilofa GRA to see things for themselves.
The new political leader of Kwara State, Bukola, seems to have long been acquainted with his new role, having been playing it even while Oloye was alive, as he was no longer very visible in the state after the 2011 general election.
Besides, his sickness did not allow him to attend public functions. Many old people, the needy and poor in Ilorin always trooped to Ilofa GRA when the senator came from Abuja to see him, and they were always treated with kindness. He seems prepared for the task ahead in order to stabilise the political growth of the Saraki dynasty.
However, some analysts believe the future of politics in the state remains in doubt. The thinking is that judging by his age and level of experience, Bukola may not have the power and influence to hold the state together the way his father did.
Former PDP acting national chairman, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, said the sadness over the death of Oloye Saraki was not only felt in Kwara but in Nigeria, generally. He called the late elder statesman, "A rare gem, an icon," saying, "in fact, the chief mourner is Kwara State. Without mincing words, his positions will be difficult to fill. We are really mourning. We thank God for his life."
Baraje said, "The future belongs to Allah. We miss everything that is love in him, everything that is compassion, sense of service to humanity, philanthropism, everything that is exemplary." Baraje noted that the late elder statesman played politics without bitterness and called on Nigerian politicians to continue to emulate him to move the country forward.
Also commenting on the late Saraki, the Action Congress of Nigeria governorship candidate in the state at the last general election, Mohammed Dele Belgore (SAN), said Nigeria had lost a politician who touched the lives of many people and whose contributions would be debated for years to come.
Belgore said the death of Saraki, a Second Republic Senate Leader, was "a great shock to me and to all the people of Kwara."
Belgore stated on Wednesday, "We are saddened by the sudden death of our father, Abubakar Olusola Saraki, who passed away today. No doubt, Nigeria has lost a political giant. He was a man who touched the lives of many people and whose contributions would be debated for years to come, especially in Kwara where he was the dominant figure for over four decades."
Colonel Theophilus Bamigboye (rtd.), a former military administrator of Bauchi and Osun states, described Saraki's death as surprising, saying that everybody in Kwara and, indeed, Nigeria would miss him.
Associates of the late politician say he has left a beacon that present and future politicians in the state will continue to build on.
For now however, there is no doubting that a significant epoch in Kwara politics has ended with the death of Saraki. What remains to be seen is how well his son would fill the big shoes he has left behind.