In the twilight of his eight-year tenure, as Kwara state governor, this week, Bukola Saraki has literally been in overdrive. He hosted Goodluck Jonathan to commission projects: the university at Malete; an aviation college; water plant in Ilorin, even flag-off of a train service.
In a parting blitz of publicity, Bukola’s NGF also organized an induction for newly elected governors in Abuja, ensuring that Jonathan was similarly in tow. He soaked up the publicity with relish, given the distinguished crowd of local and foreign nomenclatura in attendance. The impression being curried was that these are some of the finest moments for the young man, who inherited a state, long the heirloom of his family, in 2003, and proceeded over the next eight years, to rule it with an arrogance that we are unlikely to encounter again in a long time. In Bukola, we experienced what it meant, for a state to be the fiefdom of one family.
Bukola Saraki’s imposition of his erstwhile Commissioner of Finance and long-term staff at the defunct Societe Generale Bank, as governorship candidate of the PDP in Kwara, was dictated by his personal interest of ensuring that power was inherited by an individual central to all the spending decisions of his eight-years in power. Fatai Ahmed is politically a lightweight and was particularly unpopular amongst people, even within the circles surrounding Bukola. For Bukola, what mattered was post-power protection, and no one could guarantee that better than Fatai. Those who worried about Fatai’s choice often recall old historical issues that might turn Fatai’s administration into a revanchist regime against Ilorin. Bukola Saraki was not brought up in Ilorin; never shared the feelings of the community and often showed disdain for its values; he was far more consumed in his own personal agenda to be bothered about those niceties. These were some of the underlining issues of disagreement with his father, Dr. Olushola Saraki, who wanted the daughter, Gbemisola, to become governor alright, but was equally worried about the antecedents of Bukola’s preferred candidate.
Bukola Saraki genuinely thinks that in Fatai he has a man-Friday, who will allow him to remain governor-by-proxy; afterall, wasn’t the chap an old member of staff at SGBN? And besides, didn’t he make Fatai a Finance Commissioner, during which he became stupendously rich; able to build a house in the GRA in Ilorin, said to be worth hundreds of millions? So outlandish was the building, that for a long time, especially during a visitation by EFCC operatives, Fatai Ahmed covered the house with tarpaulin, and that became a butt of jokes in Ilorin! It was reason why Bukola was said to have personally drawn up the list of commissioners while also choosing the state’s nominees for minister without the input of the ‘governor-elect’. If Fatai Ahmed might be willing to play second fiddle to a Bukola Saraki “godfather”, his wife Mrs. Omowoware Ahmed, has apparently not read the script. A born-again Christian, THE NATION newspaper of May 11, 2011, reported her as telling members of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA), a Pentecostal church in Ilorin, that “let no man” claim to have made Fatai Ahmed governor; a clear dig at Bukola Saraki. In the meantime, there are stories that Bukola dragged Fatai to Umrah, to extract a pledge of loyalty.
Those who know say that it was a matter of time, before godfather and son, begin a monumental strife over control of the state. The Bukola Saraki camp believes it has control of the party and the incoming House of Assembly, and therefore would emerge winners of any faceoff. The loyalty Bukola Saraki expects from Fatai he never gave to anybody; not to his father, not to the community! The anticipated face-off is in the near-future, but more far-seeing people have started purchasing ring side tickets to get the best view, when Bukola Saraki and his anointed successor, Fatai Ahmed, begin their roforofo fight over control. The manner of Bukola’s seizure of control was similarly devoid of the moral high ground he tried to occupy in respect of his sister’s governorship ambition. It was immoral for Gbemisola to take over his seat but he had no qualms to take over as senator!
But far more worrisome about the Bukola Saraki legacy is the nature of the achievements he parades. The most central of these is the Zimbabwe farm project that has given us far more food for thought than food for our stomachs. Bukola spent billions belonging to Kwara state on the project; he then turned around to say it is ‘owned’ in the main by the ‘private sector’. It was also the funds of Kwara that he sunk into such prestige projects as Kwara Football Academy; the Aviation College; his Diagnostic Centre; Kwara Furniture Company, renamed Kwara Ethnix; the new supermarket/mall that took land belonging to the Civil Service College; even his nightclub in the GRA. Again, they belong to the ‘private sector’. Under Bukola’s administration in Kwara, P-P-P was genuinely a process of fleecing the public to enrich the private! Then there were the more blatant acts of taking possession: the Amusement Parks in Adewole Estate and on Unity Road in Ilorin were sold to family members; while Kwara Hotel was farmed out to a company brought by a sibling just as most contracts in the ministry in charge of energy and SPEB were the exclusive domain of the family. Add the huge sums he spent hiring private jets to junket around, in his delusion of grandeur, as one of the nation’s leading power brokers!
In the meantime, Bukola’s administration rehabilitated a grand total of FOUR secondary schools in eight years of power, despite the huge sums he spent on an education reform process. Yes, he started a university from the scratch, but who were the contractors fronting for? These are questions asked all the time in Kwara. It was therefore no surprise that people massively voted against Bukola during the elections for Senate; he needed sexed up numbers from rural LGAs of Ilorin Emirate to be declared winner. Even that senate seat might not be guaranteed, because there is a case in court by Alhaji L.A.K. Jimoh, who claims to be rightful PDP candidate; while Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe, the ACN candidate is also in the tribunal, disputing the fantastic rural figures which Bukola used to neutralize his shocking rejection in urban Ilorin. In reality, Bukola Saraki has become a giant with feet of clay, surviving on borrowed political time. After the May 29th handover, Fatai Ahmed will become party leader; and able to dish out patronage as governor, will also become the central focus of loyalty. In Ilorin, people voted massively for Dele Belgore of the ACN, even in the polling booth in front of the Saraki family house; those who voted Gbemisola in ACPN also rejected him, meaning that he has forfeited people’s political loyalty. The collapse of affection for Bukola, especially in Ilorin, was due to a combination of factors, chief among which were the depth of poverty amongst people these past eight years, just as operatives of the regime flaunted unaccounted-for wealth in the mighty houses they seemed to be in competition amongst themselves to build (it was a ‘my house is bigger than yours’ regime!); the demystification of the Saraki clan crept upon him as people became tired of being ‘owned’ by one family and being the laughing stock of the nation. Bukola Saraki’s arrogance just tipped the scale completely! He felt an absurd sense of entitlement (to the ‘conquered’ territory called Kwara) and seemed to believe Kwarans were less than human, including revered traditional rulers. It was an intrinsic part of the Bukola “feudal-court” style that even his commissioners and other people kneel down in his presence to curry favour!
The final question to ask was whether there was anything positive about his stewardship. In eight years, Bukola was a harbinger of a self-serving and elitist form of modernity. In the long run, it was modernity which did not and could not work for the mass of our people. Most big contracts went to his Lagos crowd and the trickle down expected did not materialize because of capital flight. He got tremendous goodwill, at the beginning to make a difference in people’s lives, but he was too self-serving and arrogant, and was therefore, unable to live up to the people’s genuine expectations. On a final and fitting note of transparency, it will be best practice for Bukola Saraki to publish the EXACT amount expended on his various projects and their “private sector” owners.
A Disclaimer is necessary here: I worked actively for the candidacy of Muhammed Dele Belgore of the ACN, in the last gubernatorial election in Kwara state.