By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA |
Bukola Abubakar Saraki is a political force of nature. His meteoric rise to national prominence in a relatively short time span has left even his most ardent critics grudgingly envious of his achievements that have since overshadowed that of his late father, Abubakar Saraki, who bestrode the politics of the North central state of Kwara like a Roman god. In the run up to the 2019 elections in less than two years and the evident lack of physical capacity of the current President, Mohammadu Buhari, to go on beyond his first term, political punters are already assessing the alchemy of factors that will throw up Nigeria’s next Northern Commander-in-Chief. Top on the pecking order of a number of analysts is the ambitious, cerebral and foxy, Bukola Saraki. The Bukola Saraki mystique is as complex as the explanation of how water slides into the husky tomb of a coconut shell. The Saraki clan is an uncommon agglomeration of brilliance, guile, shrewdness and, as some have claimed, ruthlessness.
Bukola Saraki, the Senate President of the eight National Assembly (NASS) has all these attributes and more. He has achieved so much, so fast that his peers look like Lilliputians described in Daniel Defoe’s famous allegorical fantasy, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. But what else would one expect from the most visible son of the famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the fence you sit) strongman of Kwara politics, Abubakar Olusola Saraki (nicknamed Oloye)?
His innocent facade belies the enormous political strength he carries, and does not in any way reflect his true capacity to move issues along lines that suit his interest. His harmless looks is an effective decoy one that he has repeatedly used to the eternal regret of his political rivals. The younger Saraki is in fact a ruthless political strategist. As a result of his calm and unperturbed demeanour, many unsuspecting political adversaries had, to their own peril, seen him as one to be ignored. However, many who have ignored him have done so at huge political costs.
An adept and ruthless student of politics
Bukola Saraki’s emergence on the national platform was not without its challenges. It took a lot of patience and skill for the former Kwara State governor who received tutelage from his father to survive intrigues weaved against him by forces in both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
A student of power, he learnt the ropes well from Oloye who dominated Kwara politics for more than 25 years. Unlike other dynasties in Nigeria, the Sarakis (both father and son) have not been challenged for over 35 years in Kwara State since the birth of the Saraki Dynasty in the 1970s.
Saraki studied and deployed Niccolò Machiavelli’s principle of Virtù, a vision of political rule purged of extraneous moralizing influences to maximum use. While the Italian word would normally be translated into English as “virtue” and would ordinarily convey the connotation of moral goodness, Machiavelli obviously meant something different when he referred to the virtù of the prince.
Machiavelli employed the concept of virtù to refer to the range of personal qualities that the prince would find necessary to acquire in order to maintain his state and to achieve great things.
He expected princes of the highest virtù to be capable, as the situation requires, of behaving in a completely evil fashion, for the circumstances of political rule are such that moral viciousness can never be excluded from the realm of possible actions in which the prince may have to engage.
If Machiavelli were to be alive today, the Italian politician and author would have much-admired Saraki for being an adept student, for the senate president had learnt well and exploited his teachings to maximum benefit.
Saraki is the first person to have exhausted his maximum two terms in office since the creation of the Kwara State some 50 years ago.
After ruling the ‘State of Harmony’ for eight years and installing his successor, the younger Saraki moved into national politics. And in less than 13 years in active politics, he has already surpassed the feats of his late father, who only attained the office of senate minority leader. Bukola has since become the Senate President, the third highest ranking offices in the country.
On his way to prominence, he ruthlessly destroyed his father’s famed political machinery to install his own successor as governor. The elder Saraki ran into the ambush of his own son, ironically a beloved firstborn and as medical doctor like himself.
The father, Olusola had wanted his daughter, Gbemisola to be the governor of the state, a move Bukola, then the incumbent governor opposed. In a bitter and fierce feud that ensued, Bukola went on to seize his father’s political empire and presented his nominee, incumbent Governor Ahmed Abdulfatah as his party’s candidate.
The vanquished Olushola Saraki Olusola, unwilling to go down without a fight, pulled his troops from the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the unknown Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN).
In a quandary and faced with a possible humiliating defeat by the old fox, Bukola Saraki resorted to mafia politics by playing the people of the state against his father, using cultural and religious propaganda to outfox him. He employed religious chauvinism to campaign against the emergence of a woman (his own sister) in a Kwara full of hardcore religious conservatives.
“Though, most Kwarans revered Oloye Saraki and ignored his excesses, he underestimated his son when he presented his daughter, a female to rule over the conservative state. As you know, the state is a predominantly Muslim state. Most aborigines and settlers (Yorubas from Afonja and Fulanis from Alimi dynasties) are predominantly Muslims who have strong views about the role of women in politics.
“From Ilorin to Offa, Ajase-Ipo, Omuaran, Omupo, Share, just mention a few, the people are mostly conservatives. Even women, particularly the elderly ones are conformists who believe that women are not to be seen or heard, but operate from the ‘inner rooms’.
“Unfortunately for Oloye, his own son stoked religious and cultural politics to his own advantage and for the first time, Oloye Saraki witnessed the first major defeat of his political career and eventual demystification, largely orchestrated by his own beloved son.
“Bukola is a person who can go to any length to achieve his aim. To me, he is at home with a popular maxim, ‘the end justifies the means”, says Dr. Abdullahi Alanamu, a Kwara indigene lecturing at the Kogi State University, Anyigba.
Few months after, the already exhausted Oloye breathed his last in his Lagos residence paving the way for Bukola to emerge the new political godfather of Kwara.
Many political analysts had predicted the end of the Saraki Dynasty in the state with his father’s death. Bukola did not only effectively master the act, but became a master of it.
Politicians in the state who rated themselves equal to the status of his father had underrated him to their own peril.
He has successfully held together the older women (over 40 percent of the voting population), the strongest political weapon his late father used until his death.
Entrance into national limelight
From that moment on, Bukola Saraki did not look back, but worked and schemed ardently on his steady rise to power and prominence. He has continued to batter and crush all opposition that came his way like a hot knife inside margarine
As a governor, he manipulated the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) to drive his ambition. Under his watch as chairman, the NGF, with a fully resourced secretariat, a technical and administrative division became a veritable political instrument.
As an ardent tactician, the younger Saraki built a machine that allowed him move from governor to senator, taking over the position left by his sister, Gbemisola Saraki in May 2011. This birthed an unleashing of his political abilities and his social wiliness.
In 2008, he led the NGF to institute a lawsuit at the Supreme Court against the President Umaru Yar’adua led PDP government. Though he was elected a governor on the PDP platform, he mobilized all governors across party lines to confront the Presidency on the sharing of the $15billion Excess Crude Account.
President Yar’adua in 2009 opted for out of court settlement. By then, Saraki has emerged as a power broker. Under his leadership, the NGF actively became an efficient, independent- minded political pressure group.
WikiLeaks had reported that James Onanefe Ibori and Governor Bukola Saraki had chosen then Governor Umar Musa YarAdua as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and recruited Andy Uba, their friend and presidential adviser to sell the plan to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
According to WikiLeaks, they allegedly recruited Andy Uba who teamed up with them to sell the plan to Obasanjo. The deal, according to security sources, was for Ibori and Bukola to fund the presidential election of Umar Musa YarAdua. In return, Ibori and Bukola were guaranteed that Ribadu would be removed as EFCC chairman and that any prosecution involving Saraki and Ibori would be quashed.
A top intelligence officer in one of the nation’s security outfit, Danladi Yusuf (not real names), told BH that both Bukola Saraki and James Ibori subsequently hijacked the government of Musa Yar’Adua.
“It is a well known secret within the security and intelligence community that some hawks, led by Saraki and Ibori hijacked power from the terminally ill Yar’Adua. They were effectively in control of his government and frustrated the war against corruption at that time. Saraki’s residence in Abuja effectively became an Aso Rock extension where powerful Nigerians visited to discuss affairs of state”, he said.
It was his trail that the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, then Rivers State governor, followed, when, three years after the governors settled out of court with Yar’adua, he led the NGF to drag President Goodluck Jonathan to the Supreme court in October 2011 to demand that the $1billion saved in Sovereign Wealth Fund be shared along with the billions in excess crude account.
By 2013, the relationship between the Amaechi led NGF and the Presidency under Goodluck Jonathan had become irreconcilable. Amaechi and five other governors later pulled out of the PDP to join the All Progressives Congress (APC) formed by major opposition leaders in the country. Bukola Saraki actively encouraged and participated the mutiny.
A smooth political operator, he was a major financier of the election of President Buhari.
Knowing the importance of money in grasping power, Saraki, according to sources, amassed massive wealth to oil his political machine. The senate president is said to be among the five richest politicians in Nigeria.
According to Saraki himself, he acquired 95 per cent of his wealth before he joined the country’s political terrain. “I came from a blessed family. I come from a family where my parents were opportune and after that I worked hard in the private sector and I think I have worked hard for everything that I have. I made 95% of my asset before I joined government,” Saraki had told the BBC.
According to an EFCC charge file obtained by BH, Saraki and his father were responsible for the collapse of Societe General Bank Nigeria, which they allegedly looted through transactions worth billions of dollars without collaterals spanning periods from 1999 to 2003.
Apart from the wealth allegedly made from the failed bank, it was also gathered that Saraki is also a big government contractor. He is also said to be in control of Kwara State resources.
“With the stupendous wealth at his disposal, Saraki is in a position to buy whatever he wants.
In fact, the president realizes the danger of having him and other young men whose net worth run into billions of dollars. With so much money at their disposal, Saraki and his likes portend grave danger not just to President Buhari but to his opponents”, says Danladi Yusuf.
Rewards and punishment
Like Don Corleone in the famed novel, The Godfather, Bukola Saraki is quite clever about how to influence people and get things done. While he rewards good deed to him, he never forgets any wrong or affront, no matter how small.
For example, he compensated Ahmed Abdulfatah with governorship position of his home state for being absolutely loyal to him. While former Sport Minister, Bolaji Abdulahi, was made the current APC national spokesperson and a minister during Jonathan’s administration, Senator Dino Melaye, despite his garrulousness, is a key player in the Senate.
On the other side, he made sure that Ibrahim Magu did not get senate’s confirmation as the EFCC boss for taking him and his family head on. He also used the Senates to disgrace the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal.
BH also gathered that Bukola Saraki orchestrated the sack of former EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu for investigating him.
On June 8 2015, Bukola Saraki, against the dictates of his party, the APC was elected the president of the eighth Senate. The APC had the opportunity of taking over leadership positions in the National Assembly, but Saraki played a very fast one on other members of the APC by aligning with members of the PDP, and he emerged as the Senate President unopposed.
From thence, the red flag was raised in the National Assembly as APC leaders vowed to resist his triumph. Then the onslaught started. Saraki was in September 2015 slammed with 13 counts of corruption charges and docked at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for false declaration of assets. Not done, the police investigated the alleged forgery of the 2015 Senate Standing Order which led to the election his election as Senate President and Ike Ekweremadu of the PDP as his deputy. His wife was also arrested and investigated for fraud, acts some analyst believed are plots to cut him to size.
Anti Saraki protesters were also mobilized to stage showdowns demanding that Saraki should step down and clear his name. Adept in the ways of Nigerian power game, pro Saraki groups also showed up in a hide-and-seek game. Saraki rallied his allies in the senate to assert fight back. Senators keep thronging after the Senate President whenever he goes to the tribunal until he was acquitted of all charges.
The Senate under his leadership has stood up against the President Muhammadu Buhari-led executive on several occasions and seems to be getting away with it. The Senate, allegedly buoyed by Saraki, among other showdown with the executive had on two occasions refused to confirm the nomination of the embattled EFCC acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, using a DSS report as justification.
He also used the senate to fight close members of the president’s kitchen cabinet to a standstill. It was a report presented by the senate that nailed the suspended Secretary to the Government of the federation, Babachir Lawal.
The Senate had also unsuccessfully tried to fight and ridicule the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali and Prof. Itse Sagay, who chairs the Presidential Advisory Council on Anti corruption, all close allies of President Buhari.
Business Hallmark reliably gathered that the war against the executive has the approval of Bukola Saraki, who sees the instruments of the assembly as a major weapon to checkmate the executive and their onslaught against him.
The crafty strategist does not allow any rebellion to fester within his domain. Fearing a revolt from senators belonging to the Unity Forum (SUF), he led the APC members of the Senate to remove Ali Ndume as their leader and appointed Senator Ahmed Lawan as the substantive Senate Leader.
BH reliably gathered that the move was also meant by the crafty Saraki to pacify the national leader of the party, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who had initially nominated Lawan as their leader.
With this singular move, Saraki, it was learnt, won over lawmakers from the South West and other lawmakers from the North East who had consistently worked against his leadership.
The removal of Ndume also brought its own headache. The angry Ndume on many occasions fought openly with the decisions of the leadership of the Senate. The opportunity to cut him to size presented itself when he was suspended for six months for bringing unproven allegations against Saraki and Dino Melaye.
The suspension was one of the recommendations of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges which probed the allegations of certificate forgery against Melaye and ownership of seized bulletproof Range Rover against Saraki.
The report, which was signed by two-thirds of the committee, cleared Saraki and Melaye of any wrongdoing but suspended Ndume for failing to conduct proper investigation before making the allegations.
Initially haunted by Buhari’s Presidency, BH learnt that Saraki is now being courted by the cabals in the Presidency who did not Atiku and Tinubu to have an edge in the 2019 presidential election contest.
With the waning of strong political kingpins, Saraki is slowly extending his political tentacles across the country making him possibly the next major political godfather in the country
And as the nation continues in its march, it could be concluded that the chapter of the Sarakis is yet to close and for the incumbent holder of the Saraki heritage. Whether his charms will stand the test of time remains to be seen. Only God has the exclusive insight into what the future holds for him.