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By: Tope Adaramola.  
 Published  June 5th, 2012

Many years ago, precisely as a pupil in one of the then public primary schools in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, this writer had grown to realize two personages who commanded the respect- and for fear of sounding heretical- the deification, of most citizens of the state, notably those that are domiciled in Ilorin. The duo were the immediate past Emir of Ilorin, Late Alhaji Sulu Gambari and the Turaki of Ilorin, Dr Olusola Saraki, whose sobriquet- Oloye- actually mollified his real name in many quarters. Understandably, Sulu Gambari’s towering status and his subjects’  adoration for him stemmed from the tradition of giving utmost reverence to men in such traditional positions, as enshrined in the Hausa- Fulani feudalism, under which the Ilorin emirate falls.

This writer reminisces how his mum, a commodity trader at the then Oja Ago ( police barracks turned market) would join other teeming crowd in saluting the emir by chanting Sheeuuuu, in squatting position, each time the traditional ruler passed by. Any attempt to do otherwise or demonstrate any obvious recalcitrance amounted to irreverence for the exalted emirate traditional institution and must be resisted with the full force of traditional law. The dreaded varicolored garmented Dogaris (traditional palace policemen) were readily on hand to whip anyone into submission. An act of irreverence to the emir was the least to be condoned from any citizen, regardless of the person’s age, or station!

Oloye was apparently the other figure that had such imposing or venerated personality. In those years, this writer would damn the dire consequences of shunning domestic chores to catch a glimse of Oloye, who usually passed through his area, en-route his expansive GRA home. The electrifying chants of Oloyee takes over the air, giving a lucid impression that an “avatar” had just arrived town. It remains an understatement that the people, especially the down trodden admired Oloye, not only as a leader, but because of his deep pockets. The generosity of Oloye and his readiness to assist those in distress was legendary. In the words of a native, “all your problems have an expiry date the day you providentially set your eyes on the political leader”. Naturally, like the wild fire, the fame of Oloye went places in Kwara and even in other major parts of the middle belt of the country, becoming an infallibly strong platform upon which he built his political empire, which has lasted for close to four decades. The thoughts of many skeptics that the popularity of the political demagogue would soon vapourize was short-lived as Oloye bestrode the political landscape of Kwara like a colossus.  It is worthy of recollection how Oloye  wielded his indomitable political will in installing Governors for the state and in the same token, plot their inglorious removal. It is most auspicious that in 1979 General elections, Oloye single handedly sold the candidature of Late Adamu Attah to electorates, despite the former’s remote nativity and antecedents. Attah, from the Ebirra minority ethnic group in the old Kwara state won the election convincingly under the platform of the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He defeated strong opponents like Late Samuel Olawoyin of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). However, Attah’s manifestation of the natural human crave to “keep the teeth on the sweet pie longer than necessary” later became his archilehills. He had desired and pursued a second term in office, a step regarded as an attempt to rock the well orchestrated political calculus of Oloye. Against all political maneuverings, Oloye, being a Machiavellian utilized the platform of the opposition Unity Party of Nigeria to launch his resistance to the aberrant ambition of Attah who recontested under the banner of the National Party of Nigeria. Oloye found a suitable disciple in the  then young and ebullient Cornelius Adebayo who was used to put a painful end to Attah’s perceived “inordinate ambition” in the 1983 election. Unfortunately, the military interregnum championed by the Buhari- Idiagbon regime cut short that regime barely three months in its course. Notably, while the military regime lasted, Oloye maintained his political machinery intact, unlike what many of his ilk usually fail to do, buoying popularity amongst the people.

Again, on inception of the third republic in 1991, Oloye railroaded Alhaji Shaba Lafiagi, a Nupe man, to the consciousness of Kwarans.  Inspite of Lafiagi’s obscure pedigree, Oloye saw to it that he clinched the governorship ticket in what was described as a “landslide victory” at the gubernatorial polls, before the Abacha junta rudely interrupted that regime.

The greatest test of Oloye’s political popularity and sagacity came under the governorship of his one time political surrogate, Late Governor Alabi Lawal, a retired Navy Commodore and accomplished soldier.  Lawal had earlier served as the Military Governor of Ogun State under the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Like some of his predecessors, Lawal, this time in the tradition of the jackboots, waged a well coordinated “political war” against his discipler, giving him a good run for his money and influence. Political watchers rationalized that Oloye had an uphill task dousing the rampaging powers of Lawal unlike his predecessors based on three clear reasons. One: that Lawal was the first Ilorin indigene to be sponsored to the Government House by Oloye, a situation that became an albastors of some sort for the king maker, giving the fact that Lawal  most times flaunted the fact that he was a “blue blooded Ilorin man like Oloye” who would not blink first for anyone. Sometimes, the sensitive and inflammatory Afonja and Fulani legendary acrimony was played up to gain political advantage on either sides of the divide. Second: unlike previous protégées of Oloye, Lawal had enjoyed a robust military career with considerable pecks, including holding the position of a state governor which exposed him in no small measure to fame, power and money. But like the irrepressible powerhouse that he was, Oloye pulled all his political strings  to drown the political warship of the Naval warlord by capitalizing  on his long term entrenchment in the heart of Kwarans. At the aftermath, Bukola, the medical doctor biological son of Oloye emerged as Governor in the epic 2003 general elections.  In the same tradition of proving that his personality is greater than any political party as far as Kwara was concerned, Oloye had vacated the  ANPP which he founded with all his supporters to raise the then “sagging umbrella of the PDP” in the state, under which Bukola contested and won. The emergence of Bukola silenced the venomous criticisisms in many quarters about the propriety or otherwise of Oloye installing his son as the governor, a scenario they quickly likened to happenings in the banana republic.

Perhaps the only difference between Bukola and other of his predecessors or beneficiaries of his father  was that Bukola exhausted his two term in office, albeit not with serious combustion in the dying days of his regime. Whilst the game of choosing a successor for Bukola heated up, Oloye, had preferred the perpetration of his political dynasty through Gbemi, another of his biological upspring and younger sister of Bukola. The ambition was stoutly resisted by Bukola who had a contrary position to Oloye on Gbemi’s candidature. Bukola was believed to have taken the position in a bid to save the image of the Saraki dynasty for generations to come. But be that as it may, it was a bitter “fratricidal political war”. Rather, Bukola pitched his tent with incumbent Governor Abdulfattah Ahmed, a long term crony that had served in his cabinet as commissioner. Discovering that the ruling PDP had been ossified under Bukola, Oloye in tandem with his usual style energized the comatose ACPN as an alternative political party platform for Gbemi to contest the election. But alas, Bukola and his camp had their way as Abdulfattah,  a native of Share in Ifelodun Local Government won the election to become governor in 2012 general election. It was believed that the choice of Ahmed from the Yoruba speaking non Ilorin side of Kwara worked the magic, considering the fact that most of the non Ilorin electorates desired a change in who occupies the government house, other than an Ilorin indigene.  Although the victory of Abdulfattah apparently signified a diminishing marksmanship and influence of Oloye, it  was not lost on Bukola’s camp that it could be “politically suicidal” for them to row in opposite direction to Oloye. Hence, Bukola acted like a good crisis manager by reconciling his camp with his father’s camp, albeit with remnants of misgivings smoldering underground and waiting for expression.

It is noteworthy that, even though it is barely one year into the only civilian regime in the state that was not whole heartedly endorsed by Oloye in the last 30 years or so, and less than one year for Oloye himself to join the prestigious “league of the Octogenarians”, his relevance and personality imprint in the hearts of the average kwaran has remained indelible. The question that constantly agitate the minds of some political analyst and watchers is: What exactly gave Oloye the type of undying influence that he wielded, especially in a turbulent political clime like ours where many so called political titans of his ilk have long vapourised from the scene. Definitely, one thing that stands out clearly is that Oloye remains a study in political relevance, based on his superb understanding of what motivates each electorate and how to satisfy them for long term personal advantage. He has mastered the act of establishing “covenants” with the people by meeting them at their points of different needs, even when it appears that they would not offer a comparable reward on the short run. This appears to be the missing link in the political behavior and career focus of many of the nation’s politicians of today. They have the impression that the electorates are nothing but “food is ready people” that could always be courted before election and quickly discarded afterwards. No wonder many of them run out of the radar of public significance, in a short space of time after office. 

‘Tope Adaramola is a public affairs analyst of Kwara origin, based in Lagos.

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