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The Rise and Fall of Saraki.

Jun 16, 2019 5:51 AM

  • Only sixteen years since he first won an election, he's politically finished; stranded with no allies- except for Dino Melaye.

When he became a senator after a two-term tenure as governor of Kwara State, Olubukola Saraki had just defeated the toughest opponent of his political career- his own father. The late Olusola Saraki, known as Baba Oloye in Ilorin where he held court like a medieval monarch, was publicly humiliated by his son who took every lesson he had learned since childhood and used it against his own family. If anybody cried for him after he lost his Senate seat in last Saturday’s election, it would have been associates like Dino Melaye. He certainly got no tears from his own family, the so-called-but-now-extinct Saraki dynasty.

Olusola Saraki, Abdulfatah Ahmed, Olubukola Saraki
By the time Saraki Senior died a year after his son essentially ended his political career, he was a broken man whose body had his body been ravaged by five years of cancer and worse still, aware of the fact that his two oldest children, Bukola and Gbemi may never speak to each other again.

Gbemi and Bukola Saraki, circa 1972.
Rumour has it that Baba Oloye placed a curse on ‘Bukola in 2011 after the outgoing governor insisted on re-routing their family process. Saraki was a kingmaker; since his Senate tenure ended with Buhari’s 1983 coup, he had been instrumental in appointing who became what in Kwara State. By 2003, he had decided that it was time for his son to become governor and for his daughter to become Senator. His plan was to reverse the roles at the end of the term- Bukola a Senator and Gbemi, the first female governor of the state. But by then, the son had become the father of the man and he defied his father.

Gbemi and Bukola Saraki in 2015.
2011 saw Bukola not only win his election to the 7th Senate, but his friend Abdulfatah Ahmed also replaced him as governor while his sister and father came third through their newly formed party, in the gubernatorial elections. Legend has it that the elder Saraki cursed the younger Saraki thus: “As you have disgraced me, you will be disgraced out of politics.” There’s no proof that that actually happened, but the loss of Olubukola Saraki at Saturday’s polls leads credence to the fact that although he may have positioned himself as a political stalwart of sorts, he definitely is not his father.

Bukola Saraki never hid his lofty ambitions. Political ambition is one thing, political savvy is another. When he knocked off the structure on which his father had built in Kwara since the ’80s, he must have thought he had acquired the latter. And it looked like he had. Unshackled by his father’s large shadow, he collaborated with the all-conquering APC which ended sixteen years of PDP rule. Of course, he had his own clout- Kwara State delivered three hundred thousand votes for President Buhari, not to talk of billions of naira in campaign funds, and won all nine national assembly seats.
However no sooner than he had made new friends that he outmanoeuvred them (or so it seemed). He wasn’t the preferred choice as Senate President but here he was, no longer the fresh-faced London trained doctor he had been when he started politics in 2003 and euphoric from his recent political patricide; he defied the party hierarchy and pretty much installed himself as the third highest-ranking public officer. Baba Oloye would not have played it like that. Whilst he pretty much had the final say in his lifetime, he made a big show of consulting with his followers. Every group was listened to and when it seemed as if they wouldn’t get there desire at that time, they were placated with something else. It wasn’t for nothing that his Ile Arugbo home was besieged daily by the party faithful. He was their father, end of.
Bukola burnt bridges at every step of his political career. Before his father died, he had said that Gbemi was in fact, his successor, not his first son- a sentiment echoed by another Saraki sibling, Laolu in 2015. It was his collaboration with Tinubu and Buhari that was supposed to mark his independence from his father. Rather, before the ink was dry he had jumped ship. He abandoned the APC and returned to the PDP. As he struggled to fight off the onslaught from the executive, he also was angling himself for a 2019 run for the presidency. That would have been poetic, wouldn’t it? President Olubukola Saraki.
Except that a more experienced politician, Atiku Abubakar was also interested in the office. It was his own ambition that saw him fall out with his principal, Olusegun Obasanjo during their term. It had also taken him to the APC only to lose to Buhari at the primaries. At 72, this is was his final chance to try to win an election, a dream he had first had twenty-five years ago. Bukola lost at the PDP primaries and – going by some of the photos from the Atiku campaign, reluctantly- threw himself into working to get Atiku elected. As he did this, he took his eye off the simmering pot of chaos that had been brewing back at home.

For a few years now, egged on by the memory of how he betrayed his father and his own rumoured highhandedness; local Kwara politicians had been planning on detaching themselves from the dynasty Bukola was building. There was nothing to gain from his own power play, nor were they going to benefit anything from an Atiku presidency. In the hinterland twinged Yoruba of the Ilorin people, “O to ge!” became the chant that called for the end of the Saraki hold on Kwara. Except that, it was he that they wanted gone- sister, Gbemi Saraki had joined Buhari campaign. Everywhere you went in the state, the cries of “O to ge, ole!”  rent the air, the defiance of the people solidified by the determination to see the back of him. Enough was enough. As he hurriedly departed Ilorin after the Saturday elections, dozens of his kinsmen raced after his convoy across the airport tarmac, flinging their insults with along Quranic verses.

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Bizarrely, for someone who would go back to seek the votes of these people, he never went back to make amends. After all, this is Nigeria where any and all sins can and will be forgiven. Rather, he hedged his bets on the Atiku wave and expected presidency; extreme naivete if ever there was one. Now, only sixteen years since he first won an election, he’s politically finished; stranded with no allies- except for Dino Melaye who won his own election and would be heading back to the Senate.
Baba Oloye would never.

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