The Tyranny Of Saraki Family And The Kwarans’ Struggle For Liberation, By Remi Oyeyemi

Sen. Bala NaAllah

The good people of Kwara State have been yoking under the tyranny of the Saraki Family for several decades.  They have yoked for so long that it seems that suffering in subjugation has become their second nature.  Others often joke about their supposed docility and assume that this has been responsible for their inexplicable acquiescence to brutal subjugation, enslavement and endless denigration by a single family that has held them to ransom for so long without them being able to revolt or do anything about it.

While it could be easy to pillory the people of Kwara State, especially the Yoruba majority, for not having found a way to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the Saraki family, it would amount to intellectual masturbation to divorce their dilemma from their unfortunate history in which treachery and perfidy has played a prominent role. That part of their history which is better wished away but ought not to be forgotten for them to be able to chart a way forward for themselves and their future generation.

Records show that, the fate of Kwara people has stubbornly remained stagnant as far as the struggle for freedom from tyranny of the Saraki family was concerned, not because they have not put up any resistance, but because the Nigerian State had collaborated with a political carpetbagger and his scions to exploit and manipulate the system to hold them down. This was in return for loyalty to the despicable oligarchy that has fostered corruption at the center, moralized immorality and ensorcell the rest of Nigeria and as a result, checkmated the crossover of a fully endowed country to greatness in the comity of nations.

The nature and character of the Nigerian state – structurally and psychologically antithetical to progress and development – has not experienced any fundamental change by the advent of President Mohammed Buhari.  Buhari’s second coming has been made possible by a disoriented, confused, incompetent and kleptomaniac Ijaw man thrusted into power and greatness but found himself utterly unprepared  and as such fumbled woefully. His name is Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ). This man unwittingly created the template for the issues that were used to campaign against him, the most important of which was and still is corruption against which Nigerians have declared a war and mandated President Buhari to lead same.

saraki tribunal2What has this got to do with the enslavement and subjugation of the Kwarans by the notorious Saraki family? The functional relationship of the above antecedents to the current possibilities for the freedom of the subjugated Kwarans lays in the fact that the Saraki family has grown comfortable in its heinous acts of shepherding Kwarans. The family, by the time of 2015 elections, feels unassailable and invulnerable. It could not fathom that anything could happen that could change the tide against it.  The mechanics of the Saraki family’s domination still remained essentially the same: kowtowing to the North who had always helped its patriarch to maintain his hold on the State and its unfortunate people.

With the coming of President Buhari,  the scion of the family and the current “godfather” of the family, “Senator” Bukola Saraki, did not anticipate that he (Buhari) could be different. His calculation was conventional that President Buhari being a Fulani would play the usual game, condone his (Bukola’s) excesses and allow him to continue to ride roughshod on the laws and the fortunes of the people of Nigerians as his father did, and he had also done for long in Kwara. His confidence appeared to have been buoyed by the reported intervention of Emir of Sokoto to facilitate his emergence as the Senate President as publicly attested to by Speaker Yakubu Dongara.

Absent in Bukola’s calculation was the dynamics of the milieu outside the confines of Kwara which were crying for change and seeking an end to kinetic kleptomania, conspicuous consumption and contumelious corruption that had turned the country into a laughing stock. The dynamics which were appropriated by opportunistic and corrupt politicians were used to convince Nigerians that Buhari was the answer. Their objective was not really to fight corruption but to gain power and further enrich themselves. In the course of this, they failed to take cognizance of what is called the X factor. All of these politicians are now contending with, and may still contend with, unintended consequences. But unknown to the purveyors of greed, while greed could be enormously rewarding, it also destroys devastatingly.

Thus Bukola, working with the old assumptions, aligned himself to another odiously corrupt Fulani man and an international criminal wanted in the United States of America for money laundering and corruption, in Abubakar Atiku, the Vice President under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-Onyejekwe. Bukola allegedly conspired to forge the Senate rules to install himself as the Senate President. But his luck ran out because his greed befuddled his thinking process, fueled his arrogance, primed his impunity and seeped into his inebriated consciousness. He did not know when to stop and think of others. He was still thinking in the context of the mechanics of his domination of Kwara State where he had used the system to subjugate everyone. He misfired. The rest is now history.

Late Olusola Saraki
Late Olusola Saraki

But the trajectory for this history despite being long, has yet to conclude. This struggle to seek liberation from the Saraki’s family tyranny started between the first generation political “godfather” , the father of Bukola, the late Oloye Olusola Saraki and late Governor Adamu Atta who spearheaded the first rebellion.  He was unsuccessful because Saraki knew how to beg his enemy to defeat another enemy, the usual Afonja style. But it was this same President Buhari that ended that victory of Oloye Saraki in December 1983 when the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari was overthrown.

But the struggle to overthrow the tyranny of the  Saraki family got a new lease of life in1999 when another hitherto political “son” , Muhammed Lawal, itched seriously to come into his own, at least so it seemed. This struggle for liberation in Kwara had many facets to it:
I.                   The questions of physical development of Kwara State as it were.
II. The empowerment of average Kwarans and other Kwaran elites or the lack of it
III.             The question of whether a single family was entitled to all the plum positions that the state had.
IV.             Stemming from the latter was what appeared to be the most serious and important facet of this – the contest between political, social and economic subjugation by Saraki family and the unceasing desire for freedom and liberty by Kwarans.

For those who have followed the developments in the State of Kwara since 1979, this struggle was not new. It has been repeatedly waged between Oloye Olusola Saraki on one hand and other Kwarans who reportedly, seek to liberate their people from Saraki’s alleged stranglehold, on the other. The first time this battle was fought (at least openly) in the second republic (1983 elections) as pointed out above, Oloye Saraki won a psychological one by aligning with his traditional enemies in the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) to defeat the rebellious Governor Adamu Attah who contested for a second term on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). This realignment brought Chief Cornelius Adebayo, whose brief era was described as “one of the most progressive in the history of Kwara State,” into office, regardless of the fact that it only lasted for a few months.

This facet of the contest between “servitude and liberty,” also appears to be the most interesting, and seemingly most volatile of all the facets. It is this facet that had and still has larger and more durable ramifications for the future of Kwara State and its people. The fact that the arrow head of this “struggle for liberation” at the advent of this republic in 1999 was Mohammed Lawal, a Yoruba man from Ilorin, brought new equations, old intrigues and silent yearnings into the struggle. It not only brought into the open, the question of identity and loyalty of the Saraki family to the Yoruba community and their interests in Kwara State, it also brought into the question why the state has not progressed as it should all this while when Oloye Saraki controlled the destiny of the Kwaran people, at least politically.

During the Babangida inspired era of abracadabra politics, Chief Olusola Saraki himself started a controversy when he said he was not a Yoruba man. He flat out denied the Yoruba for whatever it was worth. He told the world that he was a Fulani man, and that the fact that his name was “Olusola” had nothing to do with his “Fulaniness” but more to do with the sojourn of his parents somewhere in the neighbourhood of Iseyin in Oyo State.  This, under normal circumstances, should not have mattered. But that declaration or denial, happened at a time of a serious crisis, when questions of emancipation of the Yoruba in Kwara from Fulani imperialism, in a manner that would forestall inter-ethnic upheaval were being considered.

His continued frustration of the dreams of the Yoruba people of Ilorin to have their own Oba as opposed to an emir and his admission of his membership of the minority Fulani “overlords” might have made it easier for Saraki’s political detractors to cast him as the perpetuator of the servitude of the Kwara people. But unfortunately for him too, though not uncharacteristic of a feudalized, selfish and opportunistic politician, he had also played into the hands of his detractors by his demonstrated lack of vision in terms of serious development in the state. For over 35 years, late Oloye Saraki had nothing concrete or tangible he could point to on the ground as being his handwork that has advanced the social and economic progress of the Kwarans.

Gbemi and Bukola
Gbemi and Bukola

To worsen his case, he exhibited political greed (that would later consume him when he was betrayed by his own son, now Senator Bukola Saraki) by sponsoring his daughter, Gbemisola for the Kwara Central senatorial seat while at the same time nominating his son Bukola, for the governorship of Kwara State. This gave the impression that Saraki was seeking the imperial control of the state to the exclusion of those who consider themselves the “real Kwarans.” His opponents insinuated that he (Sola Saraki) was a “Fulani agent” being used to hold the Kwara people in perpetual servitude. Some Kwarans were making “fundamental connections” between this “threat of Saraki family control” of Kwara politics and the way and manner most emirs in the North have their lineage linked to the Sokoto throne and “elective” offices.

Some of the Kwara “freedom fighters” have also sought to establish the “character of Saraki politics” as being a replica of “most Northern States where the Fulani are in the minority but maintain political control.” The fact that Saraki had publicly called himself a Fulani also fueled this fear as being very real. Saraki’s political opponents also recalled his role in the installation of the present emir (who incidentally has also dropped his Yoruba middle name on ascension to the “throne”) using it as evidence of their allegation that he (Saraki) wanted to keep Kwarans in servitude for his Fulani people. His opponents were quick to point to Sokoto and adjoining states where the Fulani held and still hold sway and compared the “misfortunes” of the Kwarans in terms of ‘education, economic empowerment and political freedom” to those of the people in those states.

For late Mohammed Lawal to have successfully characterized the face – off with Oloye Sola Saraki as that of the quest for “freedom against servitude and bondage” was a very smart political move. Though, the ingredients for this view and genuine basis for this feeling have been there all this while, Lawal appeared to have been able to articulate this and encapsulate it as the plank for his struggle against Oloye Saraki. It was a master stroke on the part of Lawal Group.

There is a history of political horse trading and dealings on the platter of expediency that has no bearing on the lives, hopes, aspirations and dreams of the ordinary people of Kwara by the Saraki family. Though some Saraki family apologists point to the “progressive era” of Chief Adebayo as the “handiwork” of Oloye Saraki, others were quick to contend that it was not done for the interest and progress of the Kwarans but to “spite his political challengers, ” especially the rebellious Governor Adamu Atta.  The Saraki family political history in Kwara is a history that would bring the chickens home to roost and would likely cost the Sarakis their “political enterprise” sometime in the future.

Therefore, while the raging battle might seem to be for the Ilorin State House, and the desire of the Yoruba people in Kwara to have their own traditional Oba as opposed to an Emir (which in a way it still is), the underpinning tones have always been of more serious nature. The “combatants” appreciate the implications and are willing to give everything for it. The untimely death of Mohammed Lawal had scuttled the resurgence of the “freedom fighters” and their ability to sustain their struggle which has evidently engendered the subsistence of the status quo to the extent that even, Bukola Saraki has appropriated the political machine of his father and reinforced the servitude of the Kwaran people. He did not only inherit the political machine of his father, Bukola actually disgraced his father Oloye Olusola Saraki, also a Senator in the Second Republic, and humiliated his sister Gbemisola, to become numero uno  in the politics of Kwara state.

In some quarters in Ilorin, it has been repeatedly whispered that his father was so pained about the treachery of his son that he laid a curse on Senator Bukola Saraki that he (Bukola) would also meet his own waterloo in opprobrium. But treachery in the Yorubaland of Kwara is nothing new. It started in 1817, when Aare-Ona Kakanfo Afonja, seceded Ilorin from the control of Alaafin Aole (sometimes written as Awole) who also put a curse on Afonja just the way Oloye Sola Saraki put a curse on Senator Bukola Saraki. When Afonja was murdered six years after by his Fulani ally,  Alim al- Salih (also known as Shehu Alimi) in 1823, Jagunjagun Solagberu, another Yoruba war General who was a traitorous co-conspirator with Field Marshal Afonja against the Alaafin Aole and Oyo kingdom became a victim of assassination by Alimi’s son to give complete control of a part of Yoruba land to the Fulanis.

This was the year, according to a Hugh Clapperton 1929 Journal, when Ilorin became part of the Sokoto Caliphate, as a result of this assassination of Jagunjagun Solagberu. The belated effort of Alaafin Majotu who succeeded Alaafin Aole to seek the help of the British and Oba of Benin to retrieve Ilorin from the non-native Fulani impostors came to nought. Ilorin later served as the launching pad of the Fulani imperialism against the Yoruba kingdoms until it was effectively repelled in 1840 at Oshogbo. The betrayal of Sola Saraki by his son, Bukola is only a manifestation of an odious practice that has become a character of politics in Yorubaland of Kwara State.

The present troubles of the former Governor of Kwara State now trying to hold on to his position as the President of the Nigerian Senate has stirred the hornets’ nest of those seeking to disentangle the Kwaran politics from the stranglehold of the servitude, subjugation and kleptomania that Bukola Saraki and his family represents, reportedly on behalf of those who are regarded as “neo -colonialists” in Kwara. It is not clear how the present legal imbroglio would affect the struggles of the freedom fighters who are sensing an opportunity in the corruption war that seems about to engulf the “godfather” of Kwara politics.

The “freedom fighters” who are presently lamenting the absence of a powerful political figure to champion their course believed that they would not remain perpetually in servitude. They are expressing the belief that the lessons of history had insisted that “the battle for freedom is never done, and its field is never quiet.” Hopefully, in the not distant future, the determined Kwarans would be able to say in the words popularized by the famous American Civil Rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr.: FREE AT LAST! FREE AT LAST!! FREE AT LAST!!!

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it.”
– John F. Kennedy, in his Inaugural Address January 20, 1961
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