At 70 in 2003, ThisDay (May 17, Saturday) did the most extensive interview then with the late Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki. What an anniversary copy for keeps by those struggling to come to terms with the Waziri phenomenon in particular and Nigerian political leadership in general ? Inspired by that singular historic interview I did a reflection entittled Essential Saraki at 70. Some of the issues raised in that reflection remain valid today, albeit posthumously. Oloye had always been in the news in defence either of his abused political trust by scores of political associates or his often misunderstood political positions on topical national issues. That historic interview at 70 was refreshingly more in the affirmative and, (if you like) on the offensive to the extent that it laid bare essential thoughts and practices of the late Waziri of Ilorin. Paradoxically, ThisDay almost betrayed the significance of a worthy job with its caption; `HOW I MADE MY SON GOVERNOR. .’ I wrote then that a true caption of such a good job should be `Essential Saraki at 70’. This day’s caption once again put the man in defence of what did not require any defence (going by holistic reading of this interview). At worst the caption further promoted the smear and stereotype about Turaki as a another `Godfather’. Interestingly my friend and brother, Raheem Adedoyin (who possibly should know better than me) also gave credence to this stereotype through his excellent but rather equally true -to run-of-the-mill piece entitled “..Quintessential Godfather at 70’’ in ThisDay (17th May 2003).
Essential Saraki is certainly NOT God-fatherism but servitude in the spirit and content of what Almighty Allah enjoins all of us with knowledge and wealth (in- that- order of significance) should do to others of lesser endowment. Contrary to false impression of a slave master presiding over a fiefdom, in the typical Italian mafia style, Saraki emerged as a defender of rights of all people ..as far back as 60s as a young struggling young medical doctor . It was a combination of desire to serve patients at Lagos General Hospital casualty ward (at a time it was not popular to do so) and the genuine appreciation by the recipient-patients of his disinterested service (not money) that set Saraki on the path of public service. Yours truly was a beneficiary of his generosity at a tender age as a secondary school student in Ilorin Grammar School. In in 1974, on Friday, there was an instant hysteria after the school hours, that late Waziri (then Turaki!) on his way from Lagos to Ilorin wanted to see all the students. It was difficult to fathom how someone of Turaki’s standing then would insist to see us the students of a public community school by the road side. Indeed, here he was admonishing us to take our education seriously after humbly introducing himself as a Medical student who had also traversed the same learning process. His shared life experience with respect to primacy of education remains a life long constant reminder to some of us to excell in knowledge pursuit. Certainly Oloye caught us young!
We are, all political animals after all. But how many a political animal would deliberately disinterestedly serve people as Waziri. Saraki was not on government scholarship, yet he returned more to the community than those who from cradle to grave live like leeches on the community. Perhaps the late Bashorun Abiola only compared with Oloye in a disinterested service to community. In a country in which most political elite strive for what they could grab for self helps in terms of money, properties and vain tittles, Late Dr Saraki’s almost singular anonymity in charity was legendary. He did impress on some of us as an accessible community man whose house in Ilorin is just another house in the neighbourhood. He was not a Godfather, demanding roads or empty water tank be named after him or breathing down on all through idolized billboards. On the contrary, he was a servant-leader of his people well before late Musa Yar Adua popularised the servant-leadership type. When asked about what he would be remembered for Saraki was as unambiguous as he was in 1960s; “I will like to be remembered as that man who helped the sick get treated, the man who helped put a child in school, the man who helped that poor woman pick her life after losing so much in business or whatever. And think the chain will continue”.
Later day political life of Oloye threw up scores of controversies and few conspiracy theories. However the bigger picture I saw was political disinterestedness rather than political dynasty. Having supported the political mass movement that enthroned four governors in quick succession namely; Adamu Attah, Cornelius Adebayo, Shaba Lafiaji and Muhammed Lawal (three of whom are not from Ilorin emirate and none of whom is his relation), it is politically uncharitable to slam ‘Oloye’ with dynastic tendencies. Indeed thanks to Oloye’s political generoiusity, it was easier for an Ebira man (Adamu Attah!) be a governor in a bigger Kwara (inclusive of Kogi state ) than he can possibly be today in a smaller Kogi. The truth is that many political “sons” or “daughters” of the late Oloye certainly abound!
Significant for me too, late Oloye was labour friendly. He was instrumental to the historic enactment of the first minimum wage Act of 1981 as a senate leader following the national strike of NLC led by Comrade Hassan Sunmonu. He was also instrumental to the establishment of Micheal Imoudu Labour Institute in Ilorin, a fast growing centre of labour studies in Africa, an institute that eternally immortalizes Labour No 1; Michael Imoudu.
Essential Saraki’s qualities are twin issues of education and gender sensitivity. Having been born into wealth, read him; “education is very important. My father left me a lot of properties. But I have not touched them. It is the education I’m living on and the reason I sent my children to the best of schools in the world”. Saraki shows that knowledge is wealth and that wealth is knowledge. In a country regrettably with new illetracy, where governance is sadly less knowledge-driven resulting into public poverty, private accumulation as distinct from public prosperity, it was quite refreshing to see one politician obsessed with education after late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the great education protagonist himself. Lastly, no politician has been so much concerned with women’s plight like ‘Oloye’. Indeed, Saraki showed that if your support base was truly gender sensitive with considerable concern for those on the margins like women, nobody can possibly stop you. He was truly a politician of the ‘heart’. By the way, will somebody recommend the late Wazirin for a posthumous national honour denied him while alive? May Allah grant him eternal peaceful rest!
Issa Aremu mni
VICE PRESIDENT, NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS (NLC)