27 November 2012

Nigeria: Late Saraki Was a Rare Gem Who Cared for the Masses

Wednesday November 14, 2012, which in Islamic calendar is 29 of Zulhaji 1433 AH, was a sad day for Nigeria as a result of the death of Senator (Dr) Abubakar Olusola Saraki, the Waziri of Ilorin at a mature age of 79. The late Saraki has left a legacy that will not be easy to fill.

Dr. Saraki was my mentor and indeed a man that I will never forget in my life. He was born on May 17, 1933. At the time he felt the need to represent his people in the House of Representatives, Saraki did not know that mere public acceptability was not enough to win an election, and that he had to go through the hands of the then decision makers.

He filed his papers for Ilorin Central seat of the House of Representatives but he lost at the polls. That was, indeed, a serious political move on his part. He lost the election through political misrepresentation. Though he lost, that political incursion remained in his blood till the end. Unlike many people, after their first failure, they withdraw from politics, Dr. Saraki stubbornly refused to back out. He even got more involved with his people. His action of not taking politics as a do-or-die affair endeared him to his people. That was his road to active politics. His first major political victory came when, in 1978, he was elected by the Ilorin Local Government Council Area of Kwara State to the Constituent Assembly, which later ratified the 1979 Constitution.

It was at that conference that Saraki widened his political horizon which led to the formation of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN. He was a major financier and, indeed, one of those that made the party thick,

At the 1979 general election, he contested the Senate seat of Kwara Central after he failed to get the presidential ticket of the party. The NPN succeeded in a political alliance with the Nigeria Peoples Party to form a national government with Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Due to the zoning policy of the NPN, Saraki was elected the NPN Senate leader. Senator Ahmed Rufai, representing the then Bauchi North Senatorial District moved the motion to make him (Saraki) the Senate Leader since various parties such as PRP, NPN, GNPP, UPN and NPP had separate Senate leaders. Senator Ahmed Rufai, having observed the acceptability of Saraki and how he was able to stabilize the Senate despite the fact that the NPN had only 35 members out of 57, moved a motion to make him the Senate leader for Nigeria and not just the NPN Senate leader.

When the motion was moved, the whole Senate went for it. Saraki himself was surprised. Being very close to Saraki, I knew members of some parties who opposed him seriously in the Senate in order to please their party leadership, only to follow him to his office to confess and display their loyalty to him.

In short, that was how he became identified as the Senate leader. He remained the Senate leader in the National Assembly of the Second Republic until the military took over in 1983.

Before then, he had sponsored candidates into the Ilorin Local Government Council under the then newly ratified local government reforms masterminded by the then Baraden Sokoto. His candidates won in all the councils, one of them was the late Alhaji Babatunde Alanmu, his bosom friend from childhood.

Saraki's activism in protecting the interest of the common people of Northern Nigeria was exemplified with his effort at mobilising some Northern civil servants and technocrats to establish what they called the Peoples Parliament, where they met to discuss national issues and offered advice to government

I remember at a certain time that they got figures that showed that Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, students' intake from the North was less than 25 per cent, with the rest coming from elsewhere. Saraki was mandated to deal with the issue. It was I that he sent to the then newly enthroned Emir of Zazzau, Dr. Shehu Idris, who was at that time less than a year on the throne. The Emir of Zazzau met the university authorities and the issue was resolved.

When the final decision was taken to float a new political party in 1978, Saraki and some others met and came up with the NPN after series of meetings at FESTAC Town where members of the then Constituent Assembly were resident. Saraki played a vital role in the formation of the party and, indeed, he was one of the biggest financiers of the party.

In 1991, during the build-up to the aborted Third Republic, he was to found the New Democratic Alliance (NDA), which aligned with political associations of similar ethos that fused into the Social Democratic Party (SDP) under whose platform he sought the presidency along with 22 others but were denied the opportunity by the General Ibrahim Babangida regime, who detained and disqualified them.

Such issues never deterred Saraki for he never looked back. During the Abacha regime, he again floated a party, Congress for National Consensus (CNC), but, again, this party and others were killed due to the interests of the then Head of State, late General Sani Abacha, who was looking for a way to succeed himself, using top politicians (selfish and undemocratic elements) to scuttle the attempt to return to democracy.

Not discouraged, he, again, played a vital role in forming the All Peoples Party (APP) which later became the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the platform on which he and others contested nomination as its presidential candidate in 1999. It was at this point that Saraki experienced real betrayal by his right hand men. Not knowing that they had a separate agenda, these men that Saraki trusted fed him with falsehood and deception at the party's Kaduna convention. Saraki was given assurance that he would be chosen as the party's flagbearer and was told to stay in a hotel room and asked to pay a sum of N30 miIlion to other contestants who had presumably agreed to withdraw in his favour. This, he agreed to do, and raised a bank draft of N30 million, only to be ditched.

A group of supporters from Sokoto, Kano, and Kebbi states resisted the imposition of any candidate other than him, but he pleaded with them to leave everything to Almighty God. That singular act of selflessness saved many lives that would have been lost. The party's leadership played a written script of first electing Chief Ogbonaya Onu, the then Governor of Ebonyi State, then later he was changed for Chief Olu Falae with Umaru Shinkafi as running mate. That was the first time two political parties went into an alliance with the majority party accepting to be a junior partner, and the minority party providing the presidential candidate.

Saraki did not resign from the APP but stayed away from all its activities. Yet, the party leadership wanted to expel him. However, the state chairman fought back at the Dutse Convention. Ironically, a state governor who was Saraki's coordinator was seen sharing money openly and begging people to vote against his own candidate.

When all signs indicated that Saraki was about to leave the party to join the PDP, some PDP members were paid by the ANPP to reject him.

At one point, a top PDP member was heard saying that if Saraki joined the party, he would take it over. And to this, the then Minister of State of Health, Dr. Ndalolo, hit back: "We need Saraki even if he will take over the party." She then queried: "What have the present leaders to show? They have no local government; they don't have senators, no members of state Assemblies and no governors."

She then concluded: "Let Saraki come, because we are sure with Saraki in the PDP, we are assured of a state governor, state legislators, and a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives coming from Kwara and all the three senatorial seats."

Indeed, her words are today a reality.

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