GUEST CLUMNIST: ISSA AREMU
On May 17, 2003, THISDAY carried the most extensive interview so far then with the late Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki when he turned 70. What an anniversary copy for keep by those struggling to come to terms with the Saraki phenomenon in particular and Nigerian political leadership in general! Inspired by that singular historic interview I did a reflection entitled “Essential Saraki at 70”. Some of the issues raised in that reflection remain valid today, albeit posthumously. Saraki, the man his people fondly called Oloye, had always been in the news in defense 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 Saraki, Waziri of Ilorin. Paradoxically, THISDAY almost betrayed the significance of a worthy job with his 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”. THISDAY’s caption once again puts 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 rather excellent but equally true-to-type/run-on-the-mill piece entitle “Quintessential Godfather at 70’’ in THISDAY May 17, 2003.
The essential Saraki is certainly NOT god-fatherism but servitude in the spirit and content of what the 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, Saraki emerged as a defender of rights of all people to well being and well having, as far back as the 1960s 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.
I was a beneficiary of his generosity at a tender age as a secondary school student in Ilorin Grammar School in 1974. On a Friday, before Jummat, there was an instant hysteria, that late Waziri (then Turaki!) coming to Ilorin from Lagos wanted to see all the students. It was difficult to phantom how someone of Turaki standing would insist to see us the students of a public community school by the road side. But there he was admonishing us to take our education seriously after humbly introducing himself. His shared life experience with respect to primacy of education remains a life long constant reminder to some of us to excel in knowledge pursuit. Certainly Oloye caught us young!
We are all political animals after all. But how many a political animal would deliberately AND disinterestedly serve people as Waziri. Saraki was not on government scholarship, yet he gave back 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 Saraki in a disinterested service to community. In a country in which most members of the political elite strive for what they could grab for self help in terms of money, properties and vain tittles, 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 neighborhood. He was not a godfather, demanding roads or empty water tank be named after him. He was not breathing down on all through idolized billboards either. On the contrary he was a servant-leader of his people well before late Musa Yard’ 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 Saraki threw up scores of controversies and few conspiracy theories. However the bigger picture I saw was that of 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 therefore politically uncharitable to slam Saraki with dynastic tendencies. Indeed thanks to Oloye’s political astuteness, it was easier for an Ebira man (Adamu Attah!) to be a governor in a bigger Kwara (inclusive of Kogi state) than he could possibly be today in a smaller Kogi. Many political “sons” or “daughters” of the late Oloye certainly abound!
Significant for me too is that Saraki was labour friendly. He was instrumental to the historic enactment of the first minimum wage Act of 1981 as a senate leader following the struggle of NLC led by Comrade Hassan Sunmonu. He was also instrumental to the establishment of Michael Imoudu Labour Institute in Ilorin, a fast growing centre of labour studies in Africa, an institute that eternally immortalizes Labour No 1, Michael Imoudu.
The essential Saraki’s qualities are the twin issues of education and gender sensitivity. According to him, having been born into wealth, “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 with new illiteracy, in which governance has not been knowledge-driven resulting into public poverty as different from public prosperity, it was quite refreshing to see one politician obsessed with education after Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the great education protagonist himself. Lastly, no politician has been so much concerned with the women’s plight like Saraki, the Oloye. Indeed, Saraki showed that if your support base was truly gender sensitive with considerable concern for those on the margins like the women, nobody can possibly stop you. He was truly a politician of the ‘heart’. May Allah grant him eternal peaceful rest!
•Comrade Aremu is Vice President, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).