Dr Olusola Saraki
Just a few days after Nigeria lost one of its prominent politicians, former Governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina, death came calling again when it depleted the ranks of the nation’s political class Wednesday with the passage of Second Republic Senate Leader, Dr. Olusola Saraki.
The death of Saraki in Lagos at the age of 79, sent shock waves that reverberated in many parts of the country, especially Kwara State where he dominated the politics for about four decades.
Ilorin, the state capital, stood still as his remains were flown in aboard a plane for interment at his Iloffa G.R.A. home. His body was interred at about 6.30 pm in accordance with Islamic rites.
Saraki’s death also attracted a wave of condolence messages from eminent Nigerians including President Goodluck Jonathan, Senate President David Mark, House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, and former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) also set aside their usual bickering to eulogise Saraki.
One of his sons, Laolu, in an interview with THISDAY, recalled the last moments of his father.
He said: “He succumbed to cancer by 6 am. Though he had been battling with cancer for about five years, he later recovered. He was fine this morning and even said his prayers this morning. He died in the presence of my brother, my mother and my two sisters.”
Burial preparations for Saraki, fondly called Oloye by his admirers, began in Lagos shortly after his children, including former Governor of Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki, now a senator, arrived at 9.30 am from Abuja.
Before Bukola’s arrival, many dignitaries had started besieging Saraki’s Lagos home to pay their last respects. Many of them, in their entries in the condolence register, paid glowing tributes to the man’s contributions to the political development of the country and in particular, Kwara State.
Bukola and his younger sister, Ms. Gbemisola Saraki-Fowora, were on hand to receive sympathisers.
While Bukola was seated in the expansive sitting room on the ground floor of the family house tending to sympathisers, Saraki-Fowora and the widow, Morenike, were in one of the small living rooms upstairs, directly opposite the room where the remains of Saraki were laid in preparation for evacuation to Ilorin.
Speaking to reporters, Bukola said: “We give praise to almighty Allah for his life. He lived a great life, left many legacies. We are proud of what he achieved in his lifetime and all of us, his children, thank God for his life. He touched many lives and we are proud of what he was able to do.
“We take solace in knowing that our father lived an exemplary life of service, and selfless devotion to development of his people and nation. Baba will be sorely missed.”
On her part, an obviously devastated Saraki-Fowora, struggling with her emotions and holding back tears intermittently, asked: “Do you have an idea how close I was to this man? Do you know how close we were?”
“Funny enough, I was just discussing this with some people recently; you know, his birthday and mine are just two weeks apart and I spent it with him in the (United) States.
“It was such a great time and very, very remarkable. One thing a lot of people didn’t know about him was that he had a great sense of humour, apart from being such a gentleman, a kind man, a family man. He was truly a wonderful person and he would be remembered for that.
“For me, he was my father, he was like my friend; we were very close and had many secrets that we shared together. I am really going to miss him. I’ll miss his phone calls and we do this phone call thing because I live in Abuja and whenever I called him, sometimes, he would go like: se o jade ni? Ma pe e pada (Are you not going out? I’ll call you back).
“And each time he said that, I knew there was some gist in the offing; a piece of information to share; something to talk about. That, I’ll miss. I certainly will miss that. I am going to miss all the conversations, the discussions about politics.
“One other thing about my father was that he was not just a politician; he was also a scholar of the politic.
“He read vastly and I was always under pressure to catch up with him. So, politics was something that we shared, not necessarily active politics but in other aspects of the political society. I will miss those things.
“And to be honest, he always looked out for me, always! He was so supportive of me; always looking out for me,” she said.
Saraki’s body was conveyed in a brown wooden casket to the private terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, (MMIA), Lagos at 3.20 pm in a long convoy accompanied by Bukola and two of his siblings, for the journey to Ilorin.
Four private jets were used to convey the deceased, family members and sympathisers out of the airport to Ilorin.
While three jets belonging to the Rivers State Government and other individuals or companies conveyed the children, an aircraft belonging to Overland Airways, ATR 42, with registration number 5N-BCR and piloted by Capt. Edward Boyo, ferried the remains of Saraki to Ilorin for burial.
The funeral party, which arrived at the Ilorin International Airport around 4.30 pm, was received by the state governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, Tambuwal and many other political office holders.
Bukola along with his siblings – Gbemisola, Tope and Olaolu – who had arrived at the airport 15 minutes ahead of their father’s corpse, unsuccessfully fought back tears.
As the hearse made its way from the airport to town, people lined up on the streets to pay their last respects to a man that touched so many lives in Kwara State.
Another mammoth crowd turned up at the Ilorin praying ground, for the funeral prayer. The crowd was so large that it became impossible to bring out the body from the hearse for the two-rakat funeral prayers in line with Islamic injunctions.
Not even the presence of a detachment of policemen and other security agents could deter the crowd, as people jostled to catch a glimpse of the body.
Frustrated by the crowd, Islamic clerics, led by the Chief Imam of Ilorin, Sheikh Muhammad Salihu Bashir, had to offer the prayer with the corpse inside the hearse.
It was another tortuous journey to his Iloffa home where the body was to be interred as sympathisers, mostly youths, rebuffed both the entreaties and threats of security agents to make way for the hearse.
Before his burial in a grave located beside his popular sitting room where he used to host visitors during his lifetime, another funeral prayer, led by Sheikh Farouk Onikijipa and AbdulRasak Aduagba, was held.
As a mark of respect for the deceased, Ahmed declared yesterday a work free day to enable Kwarans to attend the burial. He also declared three days of mourning while a 20-man committee, headed by Alhaji Saka Onimago, was set up to give a befitting burial to the strongman of Kwara politics.
Earlier, the state government in a statement broke the news of Saraki’s death to the people.
“The Kwara State Governor, Dr. Abdulfatah Ahmed, has announced the death of His Eminence, Waziri of Ilorin, Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki.
“The governor urges community, religious and political leaders to troop out en masse to receive the remains of this illustrious son and Nigeria’s political icon at the Ilorin International Airport,” the statement read.
Jonathan, in a statement by his spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, commiserated with the family of the elder statesman and the people of Kwara to whose service and upliftment he selflessly devoted his long and very successful career in politics.
He urged them to be consoled by the knowledge that the deceased lived a successful and fulfilled life, rising to national prominence by dint of hard work, uncommon generosity, political sagacity, dedication and wholesome commitment to the service of his people and the entire nation.
“President Jonathan believes that the late Dr. Saraki will be long remembered and eulogised as a consummate politician, an astute grassroots mobiliser and a political colossus with awe-inspiring powers of political organisation,” the statement added.
Mark, in his condolence message, described Saraki as a political giant and a shining star of the Nigerian politics.
“Saraki was a political leader who stood to be counted when it mattered. He stood on the side of the people and worked assiduously for the liberation of the downtrodden. He was a leader who lived and worked for others.
“We shall miss his fatherly counsel. We shall miss his candour. We shall miss his humility. We shall miss his robust political debates. He was one of our brightest and most focused political leaders,” he said.
On his part, Tambuwal described Saraki as a quintessential politician and influential figure who gave his best for the development of the country.
In his message of condolence issued by his Special Adviser, Media and Public Affairs, Malam Imam Imam, Tambuwal said Saraki had earned his place as one of Nigeria's most consistent advocates of democracy.
He urged Nigerians to emulate Saraki's virtues of dedication, humility and compassion for the ordinary folks.
Atiku also described the death of Saraki as the fall of a big star from the galaxy of Nigerian politics. A condolence message by Atiku’s media office in Abuja said Saraki was not only tremendously influential but also uncommonly compassionate.
According to him, his uncommon compassion was the source of his political relevance and influence among his people.
To Tinubu, Saraki’s death was a monumental loss not only to the people of Kwara, but also to Nigeria.
“Saraki remains one of the builders of modern Nigeria. He was a political tactician who played a pivotal role in the political advancement of his people and that of Nigeria.
“Nigeria has lost a political general and a formidable leader of influence and clout. Saraki was not just the issue, he was the main issue in Kwara politics and now that he is no more, Kwara politics will never be the same again,” Tinubu said in a statement.
The PDP likened Saraki’s death to the gradual extinction of the last of the Mohicans.
A statement by the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, said Nigeria has lost a political guru and a titan who compared in every respect with the generation of the independent Nigerian leaders.
The party commiserated with the government and the people of Kwara State on the death of the elder statesman and prayed God to grant them, especially the immediate family, the fortitude to weather the storm of the irreparable loss.
Like the PDP, ACN also said the country has lost a great politician and a titan with the death Saraki.
The party expressed shock and sadness at the death, saying the nation has lost another political titan and a legend of his time.
In a statement yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said: “Dr. Saraki defined his era, and since his entry into politics several decades ago, politics has never been the same again, especially in his native Kwara State, where he became synonymous with the politics of the state.
“Any politician who ignored him in his lifetime did so at his own peril, and only the casualties of his deft political manoeuvring can appreciate his clinical political efficiency.”