Bukola Saraki’s annual ritual of stampedes

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“Every man’s death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind; so ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”— John Donne

LAST Wednesday, as has become his wont, during Sallah, Bukola Saraki, former Kwara State governor and Senator representing Kwara Central, gathered people in Ilorin to distribute money and pieces of cloths.

And in a copy of what has happened on two previous occasions, there was a stampede, resulting in a tragic loss of lives of many of those gathered on the occasion. Mas’ud Adebimpe, a Bukola sidekick, and Kwara State PDP Publicity Secretary, issued a statement of condolence and confirmed four deaths.

The media variously reported between 10 and 20 deaths; the online medium, Premium  Times, quoted a mortuary source at the Sobi Specialist Hospital in Ilorin, as having counted 15 corpses. There are rumours in Ilorin that over 40 people actually lost their lives in the tragic stampede.

Bukola, who gathered the people, issued his own condolence, stating that “our party’s strength resides solely in the support from party faithful which gives us confidence always-it’s very painful to have lost these party faithful”. It is noteworthy that Adebimpe had also stressed the “party faithful” line while expressing “regret to announce that (they) lost four of our party members to the unfortunate development”.

It is obvious that Bukola and his sidekick were cynically manipulating the tragedy to underline the party line in order to posit the old PDP argument that what happened was no one else’s business, because it was their “family” or their party’s business.

Manipulative pattern

It is also instructive that there is a consistently manipulative pattern of reportage of these killings by Bukola and his henchmen. But the first thing that should worry all rational observers is the persistent pattern of deaths of people in these annual gatherings in the hands of the young man who deludes himself as “leader” in the political scheme of things in Kwara State.

If there had been just one stampede resulting in the death of even a single individual, we would normally have all been saddened by such an unfortunate incident. A second stampede will be seen as a tragic coincidence too many, especially because of the repeated pattern of event and very significant loss of lives always deliberately under-reported, with the active collaboration of a complicit local media.

But a third stampede in as many years, with the same pattern of gathering of the people in a most dehumanising and disrespectful manner, has become not only a source of anger but has become completely obscene and unacceptable!  Nigerians must not allow this latest tragedy to be swept under the carpet, as they elaborately attempt to spin the story out of the headlines.

Even the victims are already being blamed for disorderliness, while Bukola is being whited up (like a sepulcher?) as ‘compassionate’. Traditional rulers have been corralled as part of a conspiracy of spin, with the Etsu Patigi leading a condolences delegation, instead of asking disturbing questions as to why we annually harvest the deaths of our poor people.

Instructively, the online medium, Premium Times reported early this week, a desperate effort to cover up the tragic deaths, when the DPO in charge of the jurisdiction was allegedly ordered from the Zone 8 command HQ in Lokoja to “suspend investigation and immediately forward the case file to the zonal command”!

This harvest of deaths of poor people stains Bukola’s hands, starting from November 17 2010, when at least 11 supporters died in his Mandate  House  campaign HQ. But just as happened last week, Bukola and his PDP gang claimed that ‘only four’ “party faithful” died on the occasion. Mas’ud Adebimpe, press secretary to then Governor Saraki, toed the official line that “the deceased would be greatly missed by both the party and their families”.

The next round of deaths by stampede was harvested on May 27, 2011, with up to 25 dying in the pandemonium following the distribution of six yards of cloth and N5000, to inaugurate the incoming governor. Bukola did not depart from his usually cynical line on the tragedy: “I’m deeply saddened to receive the news about the loss of some of our party members…”.

Humanity of victims

Neither showing remorse about the humanity of victims, nor their loss as citizens, sons, daughters, parents or members of community, but the absolute manipulation of political circumstance, with an eye on continued hegemonic control of the people and the resources of the state!

The standard definition of lunacy is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome. Bukola is a medical doctor, so he should know that for a fact. Why does he continue to gather people in hundreds when there is the likelihood of the stampede witnessed in the past? Must politics be played with so little respect for the sanctity of human lives?

Why has theBukola Saraki political group refused to move beyond the manipulation of the people’s poverty as a means of hegemonic control? Must the people of KwaraState be perpetually at the receiving end of the humiliation regularly visited upon them by a young man who sits atop the resources of the state and calls himself ‘leader’?

When would they apprehend the imperative of genuine empowerment that can translate into wealth creation and dignity for the people? How does Bukola sleep comfortably with his conscience, considering the harvest of deaths on his head with these stampedes? It is incredible, but far more people have died under Saraki’s watch, than the community lost during the Nigerian Civil War (and I say this responsibly, as someone who lost two cousins in the war!).

But as the NLC, CISLAC and other patriotic individuals and organisations have severally pointed out in the past week, more than ever before, we have arrived at a tipping point in KwaraState. The humiliating politics by handouts, from resources that actually belong to the people must be ended! The authoritarian pall cast over the state by the Saraki group must be lifted, karfi da yaji, as we say in Hausa.

The oppressive atmosphere of fear has largely endured because of the endemic and humiliating poverty, mob culture of violence, the vicious cult of Saraki’s personality and the fact that people are scared of dire consequences, if they speak up!

The comforting truth is that there has NEVER been 100 percent dictatorial control in human history. The minority that refuses to be cowered will eventually be the spark lighting the fire that will burn the veldt of oppression and the elaborate infrastructure of heist. That time has appeared on the horizon in KwaraState. The people are fed up with the hegemonic dictatorship of the arrogant young man.

He is fighting for his political life now, at the national level and the homestead is slipping from his hands, despite the spin and propaganda. This is why he has become even more desperate to give out the Ankara cloths and N1000. But that has always been badly handled, leading to the stampedes ending in tragic loss of lives, as happened last Wednesday.

Bukola  cannot sustain the delusion of grandeur that drives his politics. He has alienated himself with his arrogance and has offended too many people. His type of politics isbackwards and reactionary; and it is too costly in the body counts that the people of KwaraState have to continuously endure!

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