By Bayonle Omo Kwara
For over four decades, the Saraki political dynasty held sway dictating who gets what in Kwara State.
The patriarch of the dynasty, Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki, though a medical doctor by profession, was very popular among his people due to his politics of inclusiveness. He consistently shared in the pain and joy of his people.
This perhaps led to his election into the upper chamber of the Nigerian National Assembly and his emergence as the leader of the Senate in 1979. Saraki from 1979, installed civilian governors of Kwara State namely, Adamu Attah, Cornelius Adebayo, Sha’aba Lafiaji and Mohammed Lawal who ruled from 1999-2003. It was the turn of his son, Dr Bukola Saraki who had hitherto served as the special assistant on budget to the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Bukola led the affairs of the state from 2003-2011 before installing his crony, Abdulfatah Ahmed as his successor. The younger Saraki, prior to the demise of his father about a year later, had taken over the leadership of the dynasty and was already dictating affairs of the state from his bedroom. Henceforth, he consistently deployed huge resources to win all elections in the state for his party and candidates. The last of such polls is the 2017 local government election which appeared largely manipulated in his favour. Less than two years later, Saraki and his candidates surprisingly tasted defeat for the first time in the February 23, Presidential and National Assembly elections.
The defeat of Saraki in his bid to return to the Senate as the sitting Senate President was excruciating giving that it may likely mark the end of the dynasty. Saraki, who was a two-term governor, former chairman of Governors’ Forum and the Waziri of Ilorin, did not just lose the election but did so with an unimaginable margin. Flying the PDP flag, the seemingly invincible Saraki lost in all four local governments (Asa, Ilorin West, Ilorin South and Ilorin East) that make up Kwara Central, his senatorial district, scoring 68, 994 votes as against 123, 808 votes garnered by his main challenger, Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe.
The Senate President not winning his own seat is a big deal, he was simply run out of town. Though the election may have been won and lost, the questions political pundits have been asking is how did Saraki lose this election to the APC candidate he defeated in the same contest in 2011?
The answers are not far-fetched. A few issues are germane.
- Poor Governance.
The present administration under the leadership of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed has been eight wasted years of misrule characterized by infrastructure deficit, disregard for welfare of workers and several unfulfilled promises. Like his immediate predecessor, Ahmed’s government has succeeded in impoverishing the people of Kwara further. Local Government Council and State Universal Basic Education Board workers are owed salaries while pensioners are also owed their gratuities. Many Kwarans are wont to rue the slow pace of infrastructural development, particularly in the last eight years.
- Saraki played God.
Prior to his defeat, the Senate President believed he had Kwara in his grip and that the state is impregnable for any challenger on the politics turf. Saraki preferred to dominate the scene, deliberately avoided picking smart and popular candidates for elections.
He held the fortunes of the state hostage for the last 16 years but Kwarans have it all, the elastic limit of patience and suffering was overstretched here. Until his defeat, Saraki sees himself as an authority bigger than the Presidency and the All Progressives Congress.
- Recycling corrupt and self centered few.
Another undoing of Saraki was his preference for consistently appointing same set of self-centred individuals into government positions. Some of them have been in government even before Saraki became the governor of Kwara State in 2003, yet with no traceable impact in government and their community. For Saraki, he mostly pick these set of people based on their loyalty to the dynasty and not for their competence or performance. It was therefore not a surprise that virtually all Saraki’s foot soldiers were defeated at their polling units.
- Kwarans now more enlightened.
For several years, many Kwarans especially the aged and unemployed youths were satisfied with receiving handouts from the dynasty in the name of empowerment. Not anymore as people of the state have now realised that for every plate of food or N1,000 worth Ankara they received from Saraki, he earns N100,000 from the state treasury.
Kwarans consistently got wind of how they have been impoverished in the last 16 years through a political radio programme initially called ‘PDP Gbode’ and now tagged ‘APC Gbode’. The team of commentators namely, Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, Chief Rex Olawoye, Hon. Yekeen Alajagusi, Engr. Umar Shaaba and Olorunfemi Yusuf exposed the rot in government to the populace. They were joined in the campaign for the desired change by a former students’ union leader, Musbau Esinrogunjo, who massively mobilised support for the APC through his vibrant house-to-house campaign in addition to his jibes on radio. They also enlightened Kwarans on how and why it is easy for Saraki to rig elections in Kwara and how to dislodge from power.
- Atiku Abubakar Campaign DG distraction.
Saraki’s responsibility as the Director-General of the Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation distracted him so much that he was hardly available for campaigns in Kwara. Unlike in the past, when he stayed back at home to strategise on campaigns, Saraki this time shuttled between the state and campaign venues of the PDP presidential candidate across the country. Those who took charge of campaigns in the former Kwara governor’s absence could not sustain the tempo and momentum the Senate President had built overtime.
- The ‘O to ge’ phenomenon.
This slogan, translated to mean ‘enough is enough’ resonated among the electorate and it became very popular through various radio programmes. It was a ‘quit notice’ to the Saraki dynasty that has brought untold hardship on the people of the state.
- No federal might support.
For all those who have been following events in the state, the Saraki dynasty has won elections when it enjoyed the ‘protection’ from the government at the centre. That was not so in 2015, but it rode on the popularity and wide acceptance of Muhamnadu Buhari to triumph over the opposition. In 2019, alas Saraki had no federal might to harass, intimidate voters and rig the polls. The heavy security presence and clampdown on political thugs including the re-deployment of INEC officials and security agents he consistently bought over with his deep pocket, meant Saraki had no machinery in place to manipulate the outcome of the election.
- The ghost of Offa banks robbery.
The April 5, 2018, Offa bank robbery incident is one sin several indigenes of the state will for many years hold against the present administration and the Saraki. Not that anyone is accusing Governor Ahmed and/or Saraki as the perpetrators, they created the environment for such dastardly act. Ahmed, as the chief security officer of the state, paid kid gloves to the issue of security especially outside Ilorin until the bloodletting incident that claimed about 33 lives, including nine policemen. He also failed to create employment opportunities for the teeming youths in the state. They became easy recruits for cultism and robbery.
Saraki appeared to have incurred the wrath of the people of Offa when he boasted on radio last December that he donated N10million to the families of the victims without minding the unquantifiable value of the 33 lives lost to the unfortunate incident.