By Oniyangi Kunle Sulaimon
The most enduring legacy of late Dr. Olushola Saraki, and in fact, the primary definition of his greatness amongst his people is primarily his redemption of the political eminence of Ilorin Emirate in the history of Kwara State right from late 60s through the 70s and 80s till now. The eminence bolstered the political leadership of Ilorin Emirate in the state from that period up till this present time.
That evolution of leadership was clearly intertwined with the patterns of leadership of Saraki: His rise in political eminence energised the rise of Ilorin’s; the rise of Ilorin’s leadership also entrenched his political influence.
Arguably, the primary collateral victim of that political redemption of the Ilorin’s leadership in the state is Kwara South. Thus, majority of the oppositions to his political leadership and, by extension, that of Ilorin is from the Yoruba region of the state.
Right from inception of Kwara, there had been that political rivalry especially between Ilorin and the Yoruba speaking region: it is a natural consequence of a historical precedence. This makes it quite understandable whenever there were virulent assaults to the leadership and legacy of Saraki largely from the oppositions from that region or their political sympathizers. That was the way it was in the past, and the way it still is today.
Saraki personified the major hindrance to any reality of political leadership of the region over Ilorin Emirate for decades. It was doubtful they were flattered with such reality.
However, it is ironic that the patterns of comments over the legacy of Saraki from Ilorin itself are joining the fray of assaulting the legacy and questioning the impacts of Saraki’s leadership. Ilorin Emirate, at least, ought to have had the benefits of history and access to knowledge and the facts therein. Maybe there is that need to speak to the past more often.
Don’t get it wrong. We all have the liberty of our individual opinions on political history and associations, but the expression of such opinions should be laced with facts of history.
I may not have been an ardent supporter of Saraki’s politics just like several others from different sections of the state, besides I’m not a politician. However, that should not and cannot obliterate his legacy in the history of Kwara State especially the benefits of his political leadership to Ilorin Emirate.
Despite our individual political differences, we cannot help but live within that inevitable reality of his greatness in political history of state. The Ilorin Emirate especially lives in the presence of his legacy.
By the late 60s and 70s when Ilorin was having acute scarcity of water, Dr. Saraki it was that single handedly financed boreholes and water supply throughout about seventy percent of the Ilorin Emirate. That was at a period that the man neither had any entrenched political structures nor any advantages of known association with the government. Because of that singular gesture and the personal sacrifice for his people and his community, Saraki was adored as a man with their interests at heart and it was the basis and patterns of his political history with his people in the forms of his philanthropy, his populism and his legendary generosity.
In the build-up to the general election of the Second Republic in1978-9, Saraki was reputed to have virtually financed his party, NPN. In fact, he was their main financier. That afforded him the opportunities he opened for the indigenes of the Ilorin Emirate in particular and Kwarans in general to different but strategic political posts at the beginning of the Second Republic. In the 1979 general elections, he was overwhelmingly elected as a senator, where he was subsequently elected as the Senate Leader.
His gesture in opening up opportunities for the indigenes Ilorin and Kwara State became the starting points of the careers for lots of politicians and public administrators. And till today, the imprints of Saraki’s leadership retain a significant part in the history of over seventy-five percent of all political personalities and virtually all the politicians both from Ilorin Emirate and Kwara State as a whole.
Dr. Saraki sensitized the active political participation of women in Ilorin Emirate and Kwara State when that was not even a dream at any level of a wildest imagination. He awakened the political weight of the women bloc and their strategic values to electoral victory right from the early 70s. Saraki nurtured the political consciousness of women in Ilorin and Kwara State: he gave the women a strong political voice, and the women gave him their absolute loyalty. They always came from far and near in their thousands to express their love and loyalty: he welcomed them; entertained them; listened to their plights individually and collectively; and he rendered his generosity. He did that till he breathed his last.
It was not surprising, therefore that throughout his over four decades of political leadership, the women voters remained his most enduring political bloc. His every electoral success was traceable to the decisive loyalty of women voters than to any other of his political strategies. The active political participation of women would continue to determine the electoral patterns in the political future of Kwara State.
The ignition of women political activism would remain an important element of his legacy.
Despite the fact that Ilorin had earlier introduction of western education between 1904 and 1915, it lacked an advantage in critical mass literacy penetration. By the time Kwara State was created in 1967, the Igbomina and Okun people (of the present Kogi State) were ahead of Ilorin in mass literacy penetration, which conferred an advantage of greater occupation of strategic positions in the then civil service. Therefore, Ilorin was behind in strategic number within the civil service since the creation of the state til around mid-80s.
Understanding the importance of mass literacy penetration, Saraki sponsored thousands of Ilorin indigenes in their pursuit of education between the period of early 70s and the 80s. He continued the pattern till his last breath. Directly or indirectly, his influence encouraged many Ilorin indigenes to seek better and higher education, which resulted in the advantages of their greater numbers in the civil service as well as strategic positions in government both at the state and at the federal level from the early-80s till today.
Saraki was the highest individual donor in all developmental drives of Ilorin Descendant Progressive Union (IDPU) especially from the late 60s through the 80s. In that period, IDPU organized several fund-raising efforts for the purpose of founding schools especially secondary schools in the Emirate. Through those efforts and by the early and mid-80s, Ilorin as a region had the highest numbers of schools in Kwara State largely built through community efforts. It is on record that Saraki supported all these efforts with the highest individual donation of cash and especially encouragement.
By the time Kwara State was created in 1967 and Ilorin was made the state capital, the city was unprepared for the population explosion in terms of infrastructure. It was believed by the indigenes of Ilorin that the pace of developing the state capital by the then government was less than stellar and therefore, very unappreciable and uninspiring.
Towards ameliorating the inherent deficit of infrastructure, IDPU organized fund raisings for roads and infrastructural development within the Emirate. Again, Saraki was always the highest individual donor. The evidence of that drive is scattered in several township roads and network in traditional Ilorin till today. Saraki also donated to several communities outside Ilorin Emirate. Lots of towns and communities in the Yoruba speaking region of the state still have their records of his generosity.
By the early- and mid-80s, the political leadership of Ilorin Emirate was on a faster track than all other regions of Kwara State. And the ascendance naturally bred political rivalry between itself and especially the Okun and the Igbomina. That was part of the reasons that Okun agitated for and got merged into a new state, Kogi. It was also part of the reasons that there is not always any enduring political mutual friendship between Ilorin and Igbomina. It was the leadership of Saraki that nurtured the advantages Ilorin had in the emerging political power permutations of that period without which Ilorin Emirate would most likely have been relegated.
Since the semblance of the monolithic political outlook of Ilorin was nurtured through the political leadership of late Olushola Saraki, he was always on the crosshair of political assaults especially from a section of Yoruba part of Kwara State and their sympathizers from the mainstream media of the western part of Nigeria.
The media of western Nigeria was/is more comfortable with the political arguments of the Yoruba section of Kwara because they saw/see any political leadership of Saraki and by extension the Ilorin Emirate as their aggrieved entrenchment of Fulani hegemony without any decent examinations of the underlining political parameters. In the absence of objectivity in their skewed reportages, they colored the prism with which their media audience saw/see actual political permutations in Kwara State. Unfortunately, their audience took/is taking the bates hook, line and sinker: the people were fed political animosities towards any leadership of Saraki as well as that of the Ilorin Emirate.
Those media strategies fitted the Yoruba political perspectives (in deed, their political objectives) of the western region from the 60s through the 70s and 80s. It is the pattern till now. Yoruba largely influenced the mainstream media especially from the 50s through the 80s.
Because opinions and news items that could disabuse the minds of their audience with empirical realities were deliberately shut out, the media warfare was successful and the people only had tainted impressions of a manipulative leadership of Saraki and the Ilorin, which were misconstrued without meaningful facts as an extension of Fulani hegemony.
When it was becoming increasingly impossible to wrestle political leadership from Saraki and by extension, Ilorin Emirate even with their strategies, it was a beginning of new dawn in psychological warfare by referring to the indigenes of Ilorin as “slaves” of Saraki. That pattern started from the mid- and late 80s. Ilorin indigenes became subjects of derision in most political discourses and media commentaries, where they were referred as political robots that did not have a mind of their own.
The fact of Saraki’s political victories since the beginning of this democracy only strengthened that animosity toward him as well as enlarged the derision of Ilorin Emirate as his slaves. That was the impression that gained prominence, which was sold by political rivals to the political domination of Saraki and Ilorin Emirate. .
Islam remains the most important factor in the life of Ilorin Emirate. Their lives revolve around their religion as their primary rallying point. Saraki’s philanthropy was legendary in his contributions to, and development of the tenets of Islam in Ilorin. He was the highest individual donor to the construction of the ultra-modern Ilorin Central Mosque in the 70’s. The same Saraki also contributed immensely to the remodeling of the Ilorin Central Mosque about two years ago to the architectural masterpiece that it is today. He was the largest contributor to building and renovations of several mosques in the Emirate.
Between the 60s and now, thousands were beneficiaries of sponsorship to the Holy Pilgrimage due to the generosity of Saraki. The people hold sacred to the basis of Islam and their adherence to its tenets is the focal prism of their life. Therefore, they appreciated those gestures in advancing one of their most important religious obligations. Saraki also supported the clerics and displayed an uncommon understanding of, and an inspiring sympathy for their challenges. They loved him and he loved them, and the love was automatically transferred to their followers.
In more than one of every two traditional family compounds in the Emirate, there are arguably evidences of Saraki generosity in one form or the other, directly or indirectly. His legendary generosity and interventions made thousands of people and straightened the trajectories of tens of thousands of lives whose paths are today meaningful to themselves and their families. Throughout his lifetime, Saraki was not known to have taken a single person to any court of law nor had any cause to lock anybody up in police cell as a form of redressing any acts simply because he was powerful and influential and that his paths were crossed. Yet, he was known to have been cheated by people that were close to him, worked for him or worked with him. In fact, it was generally known that the easiest person to cheat was Saraki.
He was never known to have physically assaulted anybody because of any differences he may have had with others. He personally had a generous sense of forgiveness.
He was never discriminatory either in his generosity or in his social interactions and associations with different people from different social classes: He danced with the poor and dined with the mighty.
If he was accused of complicity on the fate of Societe Generale Bank, where he was the majority shareholder and chairman, the re-acquisition of the bank through a Supreme Court injunction against the action of CBN and the subsequent selling of the same bank to a new set of institutional investors after the court injunction about four or five years ago, had actually vindicated him of indictment in the management of the bank. The fact may still be out there but in the absence of indictable facts, everybody is presumed innocent before the law until clearly proven guilty. Thus, Saraki was free of any indictment and remained an innocent man till his death.
When he virtually bankrolled his political party, NPN, in 1979, he was not known to have amassed funds illegally from government connections or contracts. Just about a year and half he had problems with the same party and those he helped installed. Practically, it was impossible for him to have recouped any “investments” or had a greater stake in milking the state.
When he switched political support to Kwara gubernatorial candidate of rivaled UPN, Chief C.O. Adebayo in 1983, and the military coup truncated that administration just within its first hundred days in office. It was impossible to have recouped any financial benefits from that administration more so he was dealing with a rival party.
The administration of Alhaji Sha’aba Lafiaji that he helped installed in 1992/3 was only in power for less than a year and a half. Again, he couldn’t have benefitted to justify the accusation of his complicity in any corruption. He and late Governor Muhammed Lawal were already out of political love in less than a year and a half into the administration of the latter. It would have been pretty difficult to expect any financial rewards from Lawal considering the depth of their animosity.
His son, Bukola was the governor for two terms of eight years. By the first year of his second term, it was becoming clearer that the father was estranged from the politics of his son. By the time father and son broke their political accord over the gubernatorial ambition of Gbemi Saraki, his daughter and sister to Governor Bukola, there was no evidence that Saraki was richer than he was in the 70s and 80s. As a matter of fact, the manner of the issues that Societe Generale Bank had with CBN lent credence to a clear testament that Saraki was not at all as wealthy as he was in the 70s and 80s. Yet, that was at a period his son was the governor.
This is not by any means an exhaustive appraisal of his legacy, but it may give some clues to why he was adored by his people and that he was seen to be accomplished in his four decades of political career.
In about 45-year existence of Kwara as a state, democracy has been practiced for only 15 years and 3 months. Saraki could only be said to have been totally on the same page with different governments that he installed and therefore very influential in the direction of governance for less than eight years. A greater part of those eight years were the period of his son. Therefore, it stands logic on its head if and when he was solely and verbally indicted by the people especially in the absence of empirical evidences of fact to his alleged absolute indictment.
However, in spite of these elements of his legacy, he was not a saint and may not have appropriately worn, in its entirety, the garb of an angel. Saraki was human and he had his shortcomings including acts that could be generally adjudged as imperfect. If anybody prays for his soul and begs for the forgiveness of his sins before his God, it is a grand admission of the fact that he was not and can never be a saint. But his perfections stood him out before his people than the gravity of any imperfection.
By and large, Saraki would not be remembered today or at any other time as the wealthiest Ilorin man or Kwaran that ever lived; he would always be remembered as that leader that invented the political eminence of his people via his own leadership. His legacy would not be defined merely within the politics that he played arguably with sufficient mastery; he would be defined within the light from which he lit the paths of others. He would not be remembered for his materialistic worth but instructively for the worth of his goodwill.
The impression most of us outside politics have is that politics is a conclave of sinners and evil. But it is clear that in his playing politics that essentially defined his lifetime, Saraki and his leadership were more beneficial to his community, his state, his country and humanity than any leader in the history of the Emirate and in deed, Kwara State.
The elements of his legacy are therefore seen from the prism of what we see of his impacts rather than what we do not know of his secrets. His benefits to history are built not merely on his person or the extent of chasing his personal dreams but importantly the nexus of those dreams in his leadership that elevated the political leadership of Ilorin Emirate and of course, Kwara State. If these elements did not stand him out as a true hero of his people, one would wonder how a hero is to be defined. Oniyangi, writes from Ilorin