This is not an ode. Neither is it an eulogy. It is a clarion call. A testimony even. To the eternal truth of history and Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki’s place it. To the imperative of earned leadership, the need for gratitude and consensus.
A recurrent thread in discussion following the death of the late Waziri of Ilorin, His Eminence, Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki was whether his son, former Governor of Kwara State and distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic, Dr. Bukola Saraki could step into his late father’s shoes. The question was pertinent. For decades, the older Saraki had sustained pan-Nigerian philanthropy on a scale yet to be matched anywhere in Nigeria. Adding to the late senate leader’s huge stature and legacy was a reputation for bridge building that sought to connect us all as Nigerians, rather than our ethnic and religious identities, thorough his generosity of heart and spirit.
However, as this piece will demonstrate, Senator Bukola Saraki had embarked on a different kind of service to his people long before his father’s death thus making his succession as Kwara’s political leader natural. In providing good governance and building a solid foundation for the development of Kwara, the younger Saraki was engaged in a different form of public-spiritedness and service. As a two-term governor of the state, Saraki impacted on the lives of Kwarans in tangible ways. He built schools, hospitals, created jobs, constructed roads, reformed our education, built a university and generally stimulated unprecedented growth in the state, especially in Kwara Central or to put it succinctly, the Emirate. Sadly, it is these main beneficiaries of Saraki’s political philanthropy, especially pockets of individuals, which are today his main transgressors even though the bulk of this section of Kwara and indeed the whole state remains pro-Saraki.
Setting the Records Straight
At the risk of stating the obvious, Saraki didn’t have to come into political office to make money. He was already made. As a credentialed young medical doctor, he was Executive Director of a leading bank at a time his contemporaries were middle-level managers. Even after he distinguished himself as presidential aide on budgeting, he could still have made a fortune if that was his driving force. Truth is, Saraki had a choice. He chose to serve his people rather than rise to the commanding heights of banking or becoming a national political gladiator. Clearly, he didn’t come into the game for the money but to contribute to Kwara’s development and serve its people. And the results speak for themselves.
Unprecedented infrastructural development of the state, especially the state capital, Ilorin. Today, leaving aside the vexatious issue of Federal Roads, Kwara State has one of the best road networks in the country thanks to Bukola Saraki.
Witness Airport Road, Asa Dam Road, Muritala Mohammed Road, Ahmadu Bello Way, Ilorin, Lafiagi Township Road, Gamo-Afon Road, and other well-paved roads constructed by Saraki or completed by his successor, Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed.
Thanks to the vision of Saraki, Kwara State is now being nurtured into an Aviation hub. The International Aviation College, Ilorin the second in Nigeria and the only one owned by a state government, is poised to contribute to Kwara’s growth. What about the Cargo Terminal, which on completion will become the only one with a wet station in the whole of Nigeria? Let’s not forget the revamped International Airport that Saraki undertook despite it being a Federal responsibility and followed up by persuading airlines to ply the Ilorin route.
What about the Advanced Medical Diagnostic Centre, conceived as world-class diagnostic facility and initiated by Saraki? When operational, that centre will make Kwara a top destination for health tourism and generate massive internal revenue for the government. It is a testimony to Saraki’s vision that a centre of that magnitude in terms of standard of equipment and staff is located in Kwara State, the first stand-alone diagnostic centre of its kind in Nigeria.
Perhaps the most outstanding of these is the Kwara State University, Malete, which within a short time of its establishment, has become a globally renowned university, attracting world-class academics into its faculties and shoring up Kwara State’s reputation in Nigeria and beyond. Visit the University and you will marvel at its breath-taking architecture and design. Today, KWASU is not only giving more Kwarans access to quality higher education but is providing employment to thousands of Kwarans as do the Aviation College, Diagnostic Centre, the Airport and other institutions established or initiated under Saraki’s watch.
All these make laughable, allegations that Saraki owns or partly owned these great institutions. As untrue as that is, it shows not only the extent to which Saraki’s detractors will go in their futile attempt to diminish his contributions to Kwara’s development but also what others in his position could have done. If Saraki wanted, he could have used state funds to establish these organisations as his private property in other parts of Nigeria. He could have ensured that only himself and not Kwarans benefit from these institutions. Happily, the reverse is the case, a fact Saraki’s envious opponents refuse to acknowledge publicly.
The point is how many Sarakis are employed at the Aviation College, Diagnostic Centre or KWASU? Which of their boards is composed on Saraki’s siblings or relatives? None. Rather these organisations employ Kwarans and are accelerating the state’s development, thanks to Saraki’s public spiritedness.
Putting Kwara on the Global Map
This thesis on Saraki’s uncommon kind of public spiritedness and how that establishes him as our rightful leader in Kwara State will be incomplete without a look at how he again put Kwara on the global map, created thousands of jobs and laid another foundation for Kwara’s growth: Shonga Farms. Its take the kind of vision and pragmatism possessed by Saraki to have initiated and successfully nurtured a delicate project like Shonga Farms. Every enlightened mind knows that commercial farming has long gestation, is capital intensive but has huge profit potential. It takes courage to bring 13 displaced farmers from a troubled land and provide them with the resources needed to establish beneficial commercial farming. Despite the potentially huge and costly economic and political cost of failure, Saraki had the courage to push through with this project which is today a source of pride to every Kwaran.
Today, as a Senator of the Federal Republic Saraki, Saraki continues to make us proud. Against all expectations, he elevated the rot in fuel subsidy regime to national consciousness, exposing the mess in the oil sector to the applaud of sensible Nigerians. Today’ s oil sector reforms may be slow but we must give Saraki credit for the courage to take the bull by the horns even at the cost of friendship. Against all odds, Senator Saraki has etched environmental activism into our consciousness, championing the plight of the people of Zamfara, Kogi the Niger-Delta and others ravaged by environmental degradation. In troubled countries such as Nigeria, the environment is of least concern but thanks to the senator from Kwara Central the environment is on the national agenda now
We should all be grateful to Saraki for his contributions to Kwara’s greatness not question his right to our political leadership, especially those who have benefitted the most from his public-spiritedness and kindness. Certainly, not the emirate that are today the greatest beneficiaries of the Saraki era.
Leadership by Consensus
Senator Saraki, Governor Ahmed and the scores of Kwarans representing us across the state and at the Federal level are products of the politics of consensus promoted by late Dr. Olusola Saraki. At a time Nigerian politics was riven by fractious and violent elections, Kwara practised the politics of consensus in which party flag bearers were chosen through negotiation and agreement. Not for us the violent party primaries and congresses. As initiated by Baba Saraki and sustained by Senator Saraki, consensus produces candidates with the right pedigree and popularity without rancour, this gaining the ruling PDP its vice-like grip on Kwara politics. It is this consensus approach that produced Saraki as two-term governor, and led to the emergence of Abdulfatah Ahmed as Executive Governor. Only a passionate believer in equity and fairness such as Saraki will have insisted on this spirit of consensus and promoted Ahmed’s emergence in the political firmament built by the late titan on politics of consensus.
Given his enormous contribution to the development of Kwara State, enhancement of the people’s welfare and his anointment by Baba, Senator Saraki has earned his place in history as the architect of modern Kwara and the rightful political successor to the throne of leader-cum strongman of Kwara politics. His admittedly few detractors or opponents for leadership in the Emirate should recognise that, show obeisance and gratitude rather than challenge this seamless process of leadership succession.
Let us be clear as I round up. Senator Saraki is not superhuman. Like all of us, he has his faults. I am sure his eight-year tenure as Governor witnessed some mistakes. But what we cannot change is that we owe Kwara’s continuing greatness to Senator Saraki’s different kind of public service. We must all recognise that and his rightful position as our political leader. Those who have benefitted from the Saraki legacy and have now constituted themselves into opposition to Senator Saraki’s rightful leadership should fear God. Those pockets of people in the emirate trying to oppose Saraki for selfish reasons should fear God for Allah detests hypocrisy. Those of us from other parts of the state know that the Emirate is the greatest beneficiary of Saraki’s stewardship as governor not only in terms of infrastructural development but also patronage. Of course other parts of Kwara also benefitted from his tenure in terms of development and appointments. But truth be told, Saraki did more for Kwara Central than any other part of the state and we should be showing him gratitude by supporting his natural but earned leadership not questioning it.