Bukola Saraki: Walking Both Sides Of The Road (2)

January 1, 2011
5 mins read

The first time I ever saw Bukola Saraki was at the end of 2001. I was then General Manager of KWTV, and had attended the annual party/lecture of “Third Estate”, an organization of middle class Ilorin professionals, that is passionate about the community. The late Muhammed Lawal was governor, and Bukola Saraki’s attendance (he sat ill-at-ease and all by himself!) was, with hindsight now, to test the waters of entry into Ilorin community; and eventually, part of a well-calculated scheme by the Saraki family, to win the governor’s seat. A few months down the line, at another Third Estate gathering, Muhammed Lawal launched an attack on one of the allies of Dr Olushola Saraki, Professor Albert Ogunshola. But it was a typical flanking maneuver by a soldier; because the real issue was that Muhammed Lawal was already aware that Saraki was priming his son to take over. So Kwara was readying for the mother of all political battles!

Looking back now, Muhammed Lawal fell into a political ambush carefully set up by a wily and street wise Saraki. Lawal’s temperament did not allow him to fight effectively on just one front, which was surprising for a naval general. By taking on many enemies, he dissipated effort; especially perceived to be fighting the Emir of Ilorin, Lawal alienated himself from community sympathy. On the other hand, Saraki positioned as defender of the heritage of Ilorin to win empathy. Several acts of violence were carefully staged, and then manipulated as the handiwork of Lawal. But Lawal succeeded in chasing the Saraki from the ANPP and they sought refuge in the PDP, where Bukola, that the father used to swear was not interested in politics, suddenly became candidate “reluctantly” allowed (including the deployment of crocodile tears at Bukola being ‘forcibly’ taken to serve) to enter politics. He had no chance of winning the primaries because of the “original” PDP elements. It took the manipulation of the process by then vice president, Atiku Abubakar, for Bukola to emerge; but everyone is aware of how he eventually repaid Atiku!

Central to Bukola’s politics is self-serving opportunism and an incredible arrogance. His ascension to power in 2003 was timely for the Saraki family, because the bitter war with Muhammed Lawal financially exhausted them, as SGBN became bankrupted in the fight. In truth, Kwara State became the Sarakis’ ONLY business: Bukola became governor; Gbemisola made a transition from the House to Senate and Ola Olu, the contracting face, and later a Special Assistant under Yar’adua, which was personally, and arguably, most lucrative for Bukola  and was the apogee of his influence-peddling in Nigeria!

One of the first economic steps Bukola Saraki took was to direct payment of Kwara State’s monthly allocations into SGBN coffers; a media outcry stopped the blatant attempt to use Kwara’s funds to turn around the family’s comatose bank. He later punished Kwara by ensuring that Trade Bank went down; he refused to refinance the state-owned bank, but got funds to reclaim a license for his family’s SGBN. Bukola took Kwara’s money to Erastus Akingbola’s Intercontinental Bank, which became route for various shady deals, as later revealed by Akingbola. When the bottom dropped for Akingbola, Bukola promptly abandoned him.

Bukola’s selfish interest was central to his eight year rule in Kwara. He deployed the dubious platform of PPP as the omnibus vehicle for fleecing the public space to service the private. Nearly every project started with the funds of Kwara and by a magician’s sleight-of-hand, such projects are then said to be ‘owned’ by the “private sector”. As noted last week, Kwara’s funds went into Zimbabwe farm;  Kwara Football Academy; Aviation College; Kwara Ethnix; Shopping Mall; the Cargo Shed (to export Zimbabwe farm products), all now “privately owned”; even the Ilorin central mosque had a public launch, during which people donated money, but was then later allocated two billion naira from the state’s account. Bukola Saraki allegedly sold to himself the Kwara State liaison house on Victoria Island; the choice property was refurbished by late Governor Lawal. A “flyover” bridge improperly thought through, eventually gulped billions of naira, as a result of unending contract variations! And every minister nominated to serve in Abuja, had policing him/her, Koye Sogbola and Tunde Morakinyo, two non-Kwaran sidekicks of Bukola Saraki from his SGBN days in Lagos, who were perpetual special assistants to these ministers.

He built relationships to serve his personal interest and soon as the fellows fell from grace, Bukola turns his back. During Obasanjo’s years, he was a permanent fixture in ‘Andy’ Uba’s residence; he deployed his Kwara boys to facilitate Uba’s emergence as PDP governorship candidate in 2007, and those became millionaires; his nominee as electoral commissioner so badly rigged the election, that ‘Andy’ Uba got more votes than the registered voters! When Uba fell from grace, Bukola promptly ditched him. He supported Obasanjo’s Third Term Agenda, which incidentally Gbemisola proudly opposed and that raised her profile. We know who collected the infamous Third Term loot on behalf of Kwara legislators but pocketed everything! When we defeated Third Term, Bukola re-positioned as a ‘democrat’, helping to influence Yar’adua’s emergence.

By then, the only game in town was James Ibori’s influence with Yar’adua. Ibori became his best pal, and the duo was Nigeria’s leading influence peddlers. After his 2007 re-election, Bukola spent more time in Abuja than Ilorin, where he was governor. No appointment; no policy decision; no issue was too big or too small for him to influence. That was when then vice president, Jonathan Goodluck, was treated with contempt by the Ibori-Saraki tag team and presidential son-in-law, Isa Yuguda. It was also the point that a sick Yar’adua was said to have promised to personally nominate Bukola as presidential candidate in 2011. Unfortunately, Yar’adua’s death changed all calculations.

Bukola abandoned his embattled friend, Ibori, and tried to cozy up to Jonathan, but the ambition he had nursed under Yar’adua proved too much for him to abandon. He began arguing that power must remain in the North, deluded that he would be consensus candidate. When Atiku emerged instead, he became embittered; forgetting that in a race of four people, each had just 25% chance of winning. Bukola turned against the North, betrayed Atiku as well as the preferences of Ilorin, by voting for Jonathan. He badly miscalculated; ensuring that he could never again be a relevant player in the North, at a point when he might have become the only one standing, had he not betrayed Atiku. The Jonathan he voted for, and is now desperately wooing (popularly-whispered gossip say he is frantically lobbying to become either Senate President, Minister of the FCT or Jonathan’s Chief of Staff), will not forget all he did/said before the collapse of his presidential ambition.

Bukola Saraki’s ultimate faux pas is the elitist content of his politics. His projects were a conduit for taking money out Kwara. Bukola does not possess the street wise, populist qualities of his father; he disdains the masses and does not connect with the elite. He is frighteningly selfish and has neither sense of community nor of gratitude. Deluded that his own personal interests surpassed those of the community; Bukola assumed that because Kwara had been run as a Saraki conquered territory with himself the proconsul for eight years, then whatever was good for him, was also in the people’s interest. Our people’s deepened poverty these past eight years, taught them bitter lessons about Bukola and the Saraki family. People painstakingly kept record of his anti-people disposition and various deals at the expense of Kwara, while he assumed he hid perfectly behind a finger. Opportunism, ambition and arrogance, made Bukola Saraki to walk on both sides of the road. He always lived dangerously, exposed to the possibility of being crushed by political hit-and-run mammy wagons!

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