Considered as the arrowhead of dissident lawmakers of the All Progressives Congress, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki is facing the biggest test of his political life, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Saraki Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki probably possesses an uncanny intuition that fortified him for the prevailing topsy-turvy state of affairs he currently finds himself. From serving as Governor of Kwara State, he built a growing robust profile as a politician of note. In the current scheme of things, Saraki has become one of the most talked about policymakers in Nigeria.
Presently, Saraki is the cynosure of all eyes, particularly as regards the decision of some lawmakers of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to dump the party for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The APC leadership is aware that Saraki has a good number of senators who are ready to move with him. Twelve of them have gone to the PDP already. And yesterday, he played a masterstroke by quitting the APC to the PDP with majority of the elected office holders from Kwara State, thereby confirming his position as the grand master of Kwara politics.
As a scion of the late strong man of Kwara State politics, Dr. Olusola Saraki, he could be said to have learnt politics at the feet of the master. Over time, the younger Saraki became a controller himself. He even disagreed with his father and took over his efficient political dynasty. The older Saraki was respected because he was considered a fair judge in the allotment of political opportunities.
Oloye, as a he was popularly known, was a member of the 1977 constituent assembly that produced the 1979 constitution and he was also elected as a Senator of the Second Republic. He became Senate Leader and till death he exercised considerable political influence in Kwara and across Nigeria.
Concerning the affairs of Kwara State, he had a hand in the emergence of every civilian governor, minister, federal appointee, senator, House of Representatives member, local government chairman, party chairman and virtually every public office available. Though two of his children, Bukola and Gbemisola became senators, he was still considered just; and people freely submitted themselves to his political leadership.
In the build up to the 2011 general election, the younger Saraki, who had been governor between 2003 and 2011, stood against his father. Both men differed on the choice of who should rule Kwara after Bukola. While the older Saraki preferred that his daughter, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, should become governor, Bukola thought otherwise. He insisted that the governorship slot must go to Kwara South, in the interest of equity. His father was forced to leave the PDP. He opted for the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) where Gbemi contested to become governor of the state, but lost to the incumbent Governor Abdul Fatai Ahmed. It was damaging blow to the old man’s ego. This was no ordinary political defeat. Bukola demystified his own father!
When ‘Oloye’ later died on November 14, 2012 after a brief illness, Saraki fully inherited his late father’s dynasty, which he has effectively used as a launch pad to play prominent roles in national politics.
Though he studied at the London Hospital Medical College of the University of London from 1982 to 1987 and obtained his MBBS (London), he scarcely practiced what he was trained for.
He only had a stint as a Medical Officer at Rush Green Hospital, Essex, London from 1988 to 1989. He later became a director of Société Générale Bank (Nig.) Limited from 1990 to 2000. But the bank ran into a huge financial mess. Depositors lost billions of Naira and it brought the family name to disrepute.
On the strength of his father’s contributions to his electoral victory in 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo offered him a job as his Special Assistant on Budget. He initiated the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, served on the Economic Policy Coordination Committee, and was responsible for the formulation and implementation of several key economic policies for Nigeria.
Saraki’s rise in national politics was not just because he inherited his father’s dynasty. When he served as Kwara State Governor from 2003 to 2011, he recorded some landmark achievements that further endeared him to the people. His legacy include reforms in agriculture, health, education, finance and environment. Worthy of note is the Shonga Farms programme, which he did in partnership with Zimbabwean white farmers.
The instant success of the arrangement was replicated by other states across nation. The policy increased the commercial viability of farming and also the volume of exports to international markets.
Apart from being the brain behind the New Nigerian Farmers Initiative that improved the technical capability of farmers and ensured that farmers had a significant financial stake in new investments in agriculture, Saraki created a commercial hub developed to build capacity for indigenous farming communities in Kwara.
He did well in power generation. Kwara under him was the first state to complete the Independent Power Project. He collaborated with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria to re-energise the Ganmo Power Station in Ilorin. He was equally reputed to have connected over 375 rural communities to the national grid. Today, about 90 percent of people in the state have access to electricity, while the national average is 30 percent in other parts of the country.
These and other achievements as governor helped him retain the hold on the state’s political structure. But he started playing prominent national roles when he was appointed the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF)
Though former Akwa Ibom State governor, Mr. Victor Attah and former Edo State governor, Mr. Lucky Igbinedion held the NGF chairmanship previously, it was Saraki who wielded the powers of the forum during his tenure as chairman between 2006 and 2011. He got close to the powers-that-be under the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, and became an insider in government at the national level.
Senators Rabiu Kwankwanso, Danjuma Goje, Aliyu Wamakko, Amaechi and Saraki, depending on the bloc they built in the forum, eventually led their members out of the PDP to form the nPDP.
It won’t be out of place to say the way he snatched the Senate presidency from the APC leadership in 2015 was simply because he was underrated. He had silently built his political pedigree and with 21 ex-governors in the Senate he presided over, he was surrounded by a sizeable number of his old friends
As Saraki has fully moved back into the PDP, the days ahead look interesting. How the current tussle between him and some forces in the APC plays out eventually would be a commentary on Saraki’s political astuteness.