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May 29 Farewell to an era in Kwara

By Adeleke Solomon

This couldn’t have been less expected because the change of baton from Governor Ahmed of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq of the All Progressives Congress, APC, will symbolically mark the end of an era. The Saraki dynasty has  lost what they believed traditionally belongs to them and will, therefore, go into the political wilderness for the next four years or eight years or even into total oblivion, as the case may be.he curtains have  gradually drawn on the life of the administration of Dr. Abdulfatah Ahmed, who, for eight years, presided over the affairs of Kwara State, as governor. As the product of the Bukola Saraki’s brand of politics, residents of the state, who have waited with bated breath to welcome a new administration and a new political environment, have started reflecting and taking stocks of what the closing era means for the state.

For the first time in the political history of the state, an opposition party will effectively control the government after May 29. And this is expected to mark a radical departure from the 48 years of Saraki’s political control of the state.

The overwhelming victory the opposition party recorded in the last elections in the state, from the governorship to the three Senate and the six House of Representatives seats at the National Assembly, including the 23 seats of the state House of Assembly was a barometer of the feelings of the people of the state and their damning verdicts against the Saraki political group. This, therefore, places the state under the total control of the political party that is all other things but the Saraki dynasty for the first time in the history of the state.

Some of the close allies of the Senate President, had reportedly drawn his attention to the complaints of the people about the dynasty’s style of politics, which they complained was not development driven. But Saraki often failed to heed the advice.

One of these close allies was Professor Hassan Saliu of the Department of Political Science, University of Ilorin, who presented a paper titled: “Toward A New Development Agenda For Kwara State Beyond 2015”, at the second Distinguished Commemorative Colloquium For the late Waziri of Ilorin, Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki in 2014, which Dr. Bukola Saraki personally attended.

Professor Salihu had observed thus: “At this point, it is important to stress that the Saraki style is still offensive to some political elements for not being empowerment driven but instead it was symbolised by financial hand-outs or more appropriately using the recent terminology, stomach infrastructure.

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“Without the intention of holding brief for the late politician, one argues that the sage only played the politics of his era that was informed by the environmental context of his time on the strength of the limited objective or goal of a politician, especially in the country which is to capture political power.

“The central thesis of this paper is that, development in Kwara should be conceptualised more broadly for our politics to be in a position to distribute public goods for the greatest number of the citizens. Failure to understand and appreciate this can only compound our development efforts.”

One of the residents of the state, Mr. Femi Yusuf, who is a member of the APC in an interview with The Nigerian Xpress described the closing era under the administration of Governor Ahmed and the period between 2003-2011 under Dr. Bukola Saraki as the governor of the state, as the years of the locusts. He expressed sadness that the duo of Governor Ahmed and Senator Saraki destroyed Kwara and the heritage the state is known for.

“They bastardised governance and handed its running to consultants. The Kwara State civil service today is in comatose state with the functions of the ministries and agencies handed over to the consultants. Government in the state is controlled by a cabal; just a few individuals led by Dr. Saraki, who is now the President of the Senate, with a few of his cronies. And he rules the state according to his whims and caprices.

“Though residents of the state have been going to the polling booths in the last 16 years to elect their representatives under the illusion that they were electing a democratic government, but these have always been manipulated by the Saraki’s dynasty to make sure that the people’s votes never count.

“This was until the 2019 elections when they were effectively checkmated. And this was also what the residents of the state were equally experiencing during the 32 years his father, the late Waziri of Ilorin, held sway as the political lord of the state.

“So, the entire Kwara has been under the control of a family for 48 years. This family believes that Kwara State belongs to them until the storm of “O to ge” movement, which was brought about by the people’s disillusionment with the Sarakis and their politics.

“Few days to the expiration of the administration of Governor Ahmed, certain decisions were hurriedly being taken to set a booby trap for the incoming administration of Alhaji Abdulrasaq. This is to make it difficult for his administration to take off and one of these is the secret mass employments they are giving to their supporters just a few days to go. “Another is the appointment of an acting Vice Chancellor of the Kwara State University, KWASU, to replace the current one, whose tenure of office will expire in July this year. They instructed the sitting Vice Chancellor to go on retirement leave. They wanted him to help them perpetrate fraud as he was instructed to sign documents in which he would admit collecting N500 million every month for four years which of course he didn’t collect and the man refused.

“That was why they sent him on compulsory leave in preparation for his retirement that will anyway be due in July. They now appointed an acting Vice Chancellor that will do their bidding. But thank God, the intervention from Kwarans thwarted their plot.

“There are many things one cannot continue to be saying about the administration of Governor Ahmed. I will describe the closing era under the Saraki’s leadership as an era the residents of Kwara State will hurriedly like to put behind them.

“The duo destroyed the state to the point that I personally do not envy the governor-elect, Alhaji Abdulrasaq, who will take over the mantle of leadership from May 29, because he has a lot of works to do to fix the damages these people had wrecked on the state for 16 years,” Yusuf said.

He observed further that though Kwarans may want to hurriedly forget about Saraki’s long years of bad governance in the state, but will be a bit difficult because of the dynasty’s negative footprints that will still be visible even long years after they must have left the office.

Another resident, who held a contrary view to the way and manner the duo of Governor Ahmed and Senator Saraki run the state and constantly called their attentions to it, is Honourable Mashood Mustapha.

Interestingly, Mustapha was one of the poster boys of the Saraki’s dynasty and an influential member of the inner caucus of the group. He was ostracised when his criticisms were too much before he eventually dumped the dynasty for the opposition party APC.

Mustapha was not only a close friend of Senator Saraki. Their fathers were family and political friends as a result of which the late Dr. Olusola Saraki adopted him (Mustapha) as his son and allowed the junior Saraki to take him under his wings.

He was commissioner twice when Senator Saraki was the governor. He was also a member of the House of Representatives and Chief of Staff to Saraki when he became the Senate President.

So, he was a very close member of the Saraki’s political family. But, M.M as he is fondly called by his followers was too blunt to the liking of Senator Saraki.

“When I started frankly telling them the truth about how people feel about our approach to governance, how we are alienating our supporters, how we are ignoring their plights, how people that loved us before now hold us in contempt, they were not comfortable with my positions and honest criticisms. I had to abandon the group because they don’t like the truth. We are the ones who were very close to the people; we know how they feel but our leader, the Senate President was prevented from listening to these honest views by the sycophants. Perhaps the situations would have been saved if they had allowed the leader to have access to the people’s feelings.

“Kwara from May 29 will have a new political environment that will be completely different from the environment we had become familiar with for the past 16 years. But that doesn’t say things will be initially smooth for the incoming administration of Alhaji Abdulrasaq because things have been so damaged that he needs to be urgently fixing them”, Mustapha said.

For Mr. Olatunji Babatunde of the Charity Chambers, the 16 years of Ahmed and Saraki as governors have their positive and negative sides. He observed that the state was financially buoyant when Senator Saraki was in power between 2003 and 2011. The price of oil was good at the international market with Nigeria having robust revenue profile, which positively affected Kwara, according to him.

“The administration of Senator Bukola Saraki as governor of the state didn’t have the financial challenge, the type the administration of Governor Ahmed had between the early 2014 to 2019. The question however is; did Saraki perform well? While he constructed big projects like Kwara State University, the Shonga Farm, the International Diagnostic Centre, the Aviation College, the Post-Office flyover bridge, the Football Academy, construction of federal and state roads among others, how impactful are these projects on the people of the state? Are they mere white elephant projects? How sustainable are they years after Saraki had left office? Who benefitted from these projects and who didn’t? And if Saraki had performed very well as being bandied about by his loyalists and in view of the projects listed above, why did the Kwara people reject his party, PDP in the 2019 elections and why did his people, that is the Ilorin people, reject his quest to represent them at the Senate? Did he shortchange Kwara, that is could he have performed better than he did, given the quantum of money the state received during his time? How much of positive impact did his projects have on human capital and how much of impact did he have on the rural areas’ transformation?” Babatunde said in a chat with The Nigerian Xpress.

On the administration of Governor Ahmed, he said the residents of the state will remember him mostly for the challenge of payment of salaries, which had immediate impact on the state’s welfare.

However, the outgoing Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Dr. Ahmad Alli, who is one of the trusted allies of Senator Saraki, betrayed the deep trauma of members of the dynasty on their loss at the polls.

His answer during an interview with selected journalists in Ilorin about how members of the dynasty felt, losing the election was a deep reflection of the fear of the future, especially the unknown future that await them outside political power. This unknown future has started haunting some of them few days to the end of their tenure in office. It is also a betrayal of the sense of ownership the Sarakis attached to political power in the state and the entitlements that goes with it. They felt that political power traditionally belongs to the Sarakis and felt terribly about its loss.

He said: “All Progressives Congress, APC, couldn’t have won elections in Kwara State if not for the punishment the residents of Kwara wanted to inflict on the administration of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, which invariably affected the Saraki dynasty. The people of the state voted for APC because they wanted to punish us. Anybody that flew the ticket of the APC could have won the 2019 elections in Kwara State because the residents of the state were already tired of the administration of Governor Ahmed.

“Voters were not really interested in whoever was on the ballot papers; they just wanted to boot out the administration of Governor Ahmed and this was meant to punish the Saraki’s dynasty that sponsored him. This of course was what affected our party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and all the candidates that contested on that banner. We didn’t have enough information on what we did wrong. Now the people have whipped us and we are feeling the pain.

“However I am confident that the Saraki dynasty would survive it and will definitely bounce back, but only God knows when. I am appealing to Kwarans that they should bear with our mistakes because we have learnt our lesson.”

Members of the dynasty are accustomed to being in power and enjoying the privileges that come with it. Many of them, especially those who have been with the patriarch of the Saraki dynasty, have been in power and politics for more than three decades, while those who joined the dynasty when the junior Saraki was installed as the governor of the state on May 29, 2003 were in power and politics for less than two decades.

During these periods when the dynasty held sway, members, especially the influential ones, their families and cronies were not only protected by the “‘power that be” but also enjoyed all the privileges and opportunities which people that are closed to power often enjoy.

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All the resources of the state were exclusively controlled by just only one man and he dispensed them as he wanted. Thus, loyal members of the dynasty were the lucky ones in the society that didn’t often not only corner the largest chunks of the patronage but were always considered first.

They had access to choice appointments whether at the state or federal level, access to money, access to contracts, access to land, access to houses, access to vehicles, access to foreign trips, access to security agents and in fact there were hangers on and dependants who were not formal employees of the state, but were on the payroll of government.

Amongst these were hoodlums the Saraki dynasty often called “good boys”, maintained and sustained with government money to foment trouble at the slightest provocation in the state. Some of the boys who participated in the Offa armed robbery confessed to working for the Senate President. They had access not only to the leader, but also to all his influential allies, who always pampered them with material gifts and money.

Another group of hangers on the Saraki dynasty maintained and sustained are the aged women known as Saraki’s women, who were often mobilised for voting. There are many of them as some younger women have recently joined the group due to increasing poverty and unemployment in the state. They were sustained with government money and often given gifts ranging from clothes, foodstuffs and tickets to hajj and Jerusalem for pilgrimage. Some of their children were also often given employments at state, federal and local governments, whenever there were openings.

During the periods under review, the Saraki dynasty didn’t only dispense power and influence; it equally raised a large number of political disciples, whose lives became meaningful due to their association with the political families.

They raised governors, deputy governors, ministers, commissioners, local government chairmen, diplomats, special assistants, chairmen and members of Board of Directors of state and federal agencies, among others.

While some of these beneficiaries have deserted the dynasty, there are equally large numbers of loyalists who have sworn to stay with the group through thick and thin. These foot soldiers fought gallantly during the just concluded elections to prevent the loss of power by the dynasty. Unfortunately they couldn’t halt the anger of the people.

From May 29, when there will be a change of baton and a new administration in the state, sun will set on the political dynasty and its members will begin to experience life from the other side of the divides.

Everything that will be written or said about the dynasty and its members will be in the past tense. These big men and women of influence, who operates from the position of power, and before whom people trembled, will become ordinary mortal, operating outside the public office. This is one of the fates amongst others that await the dynasty in whose hands the destiny of Kwara State lied for 48 years.