The deceased controlled Kwara politics for decades, making him one of Nigeria’s most effective political godfathers
Olaolu Saraki, the last child of the deceased, told reporters at the late politician’s residence in Ikoyi, Lagos, that his father battled cancer for years.
“He has been battling with cancer for about 5 years. He was fine this morning. He said his prayers but he died around 6a.m.,” Olaolu said.
The late Mr. Saraki was a philanthropist who was very popular among the poor people of Ilorin, the state capital, where he was referred to as “Baba Oloye.”
Very few politicians since the return on democracy controlled their state politics the way Mr. Saraki had firm grip on that of his native Kwara.
An effective political kingmaker
The deceased was the leader of the Nigerian Senate between 1979 and 1983. He was elected under the National Party of Nigeria.
Since then, he and his family had dominated the politics of Kwara State installing various public officials from councillors to governors; and ensuring the exit of those who refused to do his bidding.
In 1999, upon the return of democracy after several years of military dictatorship, Mr. Saraki ensured that his party, the All Peoples Party, won the state’s gubernatorial election and installed his protégée, Mohammed Lawal, as governor.
But it was not long before the governor and his godfather fell out. Mr Saraki acted swiftly, ensuring the late Mr. Lawal was not reelected. He then dumped the APP for the Peoples Democratic Party.
Despite Mr. Lawal’s acumen and military background, the deceased proved his control over Kwara politics was no fluke when he ensured that his erstwhile unknown son, Bukola Saraki, emerged the candidate of the PDP and defeated the incumbent in a fiercely contested election.
The younger Saraki would go on to lead the state for the next eight years, after winning a re-election in 2003, with the support of his father.
Father, Son battle for control
A crisis, however, began between father and son as the deceased wanted his son to be succeeded as governor by another child: his daughter, Gbemisola Saraki, who was then Senator.
The governor, who had spent his maximum two terms in office, would have none of it.
The family disagreement, which surprised many Nigerians, led to the deceased and his daughter leaving the PDP for another party to actualize Gbemisola’s ambition.
By the time the election came in 2011, the deceased was too old and sick to effectively challenge his son’s growing political influence on the state. When he returned from abroad shortly before the election, his efforts to rally support for his daughter with campaigns round the state were unsuccessful. The PDP candidate and protégée of Bukola won the governorship election.
The godfather was floored by his own son.
That was the first time a candidate supported by the elder Saraki would lose elections in Kwara in almost two decades.
Senator eulogises father
Bukola Saraki, who contested and emerged a Senator after two terms as governor has confirmed his father’s death.
Mr. Saraki said the family will “take solace in knowing that our father lived an exemplary life of service, and selfless devotion to development of his people and nation.”
“Baba will be sorely missed,” he added.
The deceased is expected to be buried on Wednesday at 4.00 p.m. according to Islamic rites.
The Kwara State Government has also declared three days of mourning for the deceased.