Has Saraki Served the People of Kwara? BY OLAWALE SAKA
Growing up in Kwara State, I had always heard the name ‘Saraki’ echoed around the state. In the marketplace; at the mosques; on the street corners; and even at the dinner table, the name ‘Saraki’ was and still remains a topic of conversation in every home, and to every family.
For my family and I, Saraki’s name resonated in our household because my second cousin from Asa had benefitted from an Olusola Saraki sponsored-scholarship in the mid-80s. Family members who were petty traders had amped up their business enterprises from SME intervention projects provided by Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, during his time as Governor. A childhood friend of mine, Abdul from Baruten, had been one of the first pilots to graduate from Ilorin’s Aviation school, which was one of the keystone projects of Dr. Saraki, when he was Governor.
As turbulent as the political atmosphere may seem today in Kwara State, if you ask around, even today, the name Saraki is synonymous with politics and governance in Kwara State, because there is virtually no family who has not benefitted from the positive impact of Dr. Saraki and his family.
These days, in living rooms across our State, there is still a vibrant debate being propagated because of the advent of the political season. The question of which direction Kwara should turn to in the forthcoming elections is on everyone’s lips. Should we, as a people, turn to the promises of Lagos-sponsored politicians who are promising ‘heaven and earth’ — as most politicians do in the political season? Or, should we stay the course, build on the foundations of our past, and trust in the leadership of a politician and his followers whose singular promise over the years has been to always put Kwara first?
As a young man who is versed in the day-to-day intrigues of Kwara State politics, I made the decision to immerse myself in the politics of the State, back in 2011, when Saraki was running for Senator representing Kwara Central constituency, following an 8-year stint as Governor. At this time, the question of which direction to go or which party to follow in the general election was a no-brainer, given the performance of Saraki as the governor of the state.
To paint a careful picture of how things stood when Saraki left office in 2011, I’ll use the example of my step-brother, Hassan, who was 12-years old, but still in primary 4 in 2006 — three years into Saraki’s governorship. Hassan, right from an early age, was clearly a bright child. He was funny, witty, and clearly clever, however, he was not what we used to call ‘book smart.’ Hassan had repeated primary 4 twice, because he had failed his exams. To those of us who knew him, we knew it was not for the lack of trying.
However, by the mid-2000s, there was an announcement by the state government through the Ministry of Education, that there would be a new policy in place to train more teachers in order to reduce class sizes across the state. I remember that back then, Hassan’s primary 4 classroom had over 80 students in it. Young children from different backgrounds and social classes. Anyone who has ever dealt with one preadolescent knows the amount of energy that it takes to get them to focus on anything. Now, imagine being a teacher, having to teach eighty children aged nine to 11-years for six-hours a day, five days a week.
By mid-2007, Hassan, who had repeated primary 4 twice, graduated in the middle of his class, due to the new Kwara State government policy to cut down class sizes in primary schools across the state. By 2008, when Hassan finished primary 5, he was 7th out of about 40 children in his class. When he finished primary school, Hassan graduated as the best student in English and Social Studies — while coming eighth in Mathematics in his entire set of over 200 children.
I’ll give you another story. Between 2001 and 2009, my uncle’s third wife, had miscarried more than three times. Each time she tried to have children, the pregnancy would be prematurely terminated. Our people being who they are, began to ascribe spiritual connotations to these matters. Even I, a pragmatist, turned to prayer, because frankly, there was nothing I could do to help the situation.
However, in 2010, when Dr. Saraki signed the Safe Motherhood Bill, healthcare practitioners began to sit up. This Bill, which was designed by Saraki’s administration to cut down on infant and maternal mortality, set up higher standards for pre and post-natal child-bearing. In 2012, my niece, who is now 7-years old was born to a mother that had lost four children due to safer healthcare methods promoted by the enforcement of strategically drafted legislation that was started by Saraki.
As a consequence of this, to me, both politics and governance will never be about who can make the most noise, or spew the most propaganda. It is not even about likability, it is about responsibility and impact. Responsibility while in public office and impact in my life. Responsibility for the people that you serve and impact in the lives of your state’s men and women, their children, and their families.
Looking around today, I see many fair-weather politicians across Kwara who have not sunk one borehole in their immediate communities, complaining about Saraki and his political associates who have struggled to build roads; construct bridges; and provide jobs despite the limited resources that are available in our state. I see many people who have never launched a five hundred Naira-worth empowerment project, promising to take Kwara to the ‘Next Level.’
To me, public service is about facts as it is about presence. When there were floods in the Oloje, Oko-Olowo, Eruda Alapata, Oja-Iya and Alagbado/Ayegbami areas in Ilorin, Kwara State, I saw Dr. Saraki donate N10million of his own money to the 600 victims that were affected, while his constituency office mobilised temporary shelter for the families. Just this October, traders from the Market Men and Women’s Association in Kwara; Kwara State Taxi Drivers Association; and Association of Motor Spare Parts Dealers in Kwara State came to Dr. Saraki, asking for funds to build their state secretariats for better administration of their associations, I saw Saraki donate N15million to these organisations.
Similarly, earlier this year, when a Corps member died at the Yikpata NYSC Camp in Kwara State, Saraki personally visited the camp to commiserate with the corps members, and donated N5.7million to the State Coordinator, Mrs. Toshin Ikupolati for the renovation of the camp. Where were other opposition politicians when Saraki did these things?
Recently, I have seen my state, being commended by the prestigious African Report for being seventh in internally generated revenue per capita amongst Nigeria’s 36 states; 10th in the Ease of Doing Business; 10th in Nigeria’s internal poverty index; and second, after Lagos State, in ‘The State of the States’ released by Africa Report in its July/August, 2018 issue. Even BudgIT — the financial NGO — who often does not have anything good to say about Saraki, earlier this year, ranked the Kwara State government high in the timely payment of salaries and pensions — despite a few setbacks experienced at the local government level.
Again, to me, these are the success stories that matter. These are the personal impact accounts that families across our state will remember when the time comes to vote in February 2019. For my family and I, despite never knowing Dr. Saraki personally, we have seen our communities being made better by himself and his followers.
We have seen our brother’s education improve; we have seen our aunt give birth; we have seen our cousin’s education being funded; and our extended uncles and aunt’s starting and sustaining their businesses through projects initiated by Saraki’s political organisation. Now, with this, I acknowledge that everyone’s story is different, however, as I end this personal account, I challenge anyone else in Kwara to name a politician who is alive today, who has positively impacted more lives than Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki.