Alhaji AbdulGaniy Folorunsho Abdulrazak (AGF), former Nigerian Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, holds the enviable record of being the first SAN from the northern region. Against the backdrop of his son’s victory as the governor-elect of Kwara state, TOPE SUNDAY chronicles past efforts by the family to halt the Saraki dynasty’s political dominance in the state.
After over 40 years of political dominance in Kwara politics, the popular Saraki dynasty was upstaged by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led sweeping revolution. Unknown to many however, this feat is a product of years of long battle by many Kwara indigenes who felt their right to willingly throw up themselves for political offices without recourse to a certain godfather was being denied.
In this class were late Josiah Sunday Olawoyin, late Adamu Attah, C.O Adebayo, late Mohammed Alabi Lawal, late General Abdulkareem Adisa, and the Abdulrasaks, among others.
At different times, they led the struggle to pull down the ‘Berlin wall’ in Kwara but they didn’t succeed during the lifetime of Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki, father of the incumbent Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The history of competitive politics in Kwara state dates back to the first republic, when Alhaji AbdulGaniyu Funsho Abdulrasak, popularly known as AGF, father of Kwara state governor-elect, Abdulrahman, was the acclaimed political leader of the state.
He was the Nigerian Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire and later served in the Northern People’s Congress-led government of late Tafawa Balewa as minister of state for railways. With time, he was upstaged by Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki, who later became the widely acknowledged political leader of the state until his demise in 2012. While the senior Saraki was alive, two members of the AGF family namely; Alimi, a doctorate degree holder in law, and Abdulrahman, as well as his son in-law, late Lawal, who governed the state between 1999 and 2003, variously attempted to end the Saraki reign in the state of harmony.
The first attempt
For instance, the first major attempt from the AGF family was in 1991 when Alimi contested the governorship ticket of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) but lost to Alhaji Muhammed Sha’ba Lafiagi, Saraki’s preferred candidate who ultimately became the governor between 1991 and 1993.
Also in 1999, he was the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and again, he lost to the late Lawal, his brother-in-law and the defunct All Peoples Party (APP)’s candidate, who governed the state between 1999 and 2003. And with the second failed attempt, Alimi appears to have given up the fight to further seek political leadership in the state.
The AGF’s in-law’s attempt
Preparatory to the 2003 general elections, the Saraki dynasty faced one of its fiercest political battles when Lawal, the governor it enthroned in 1999, fell out with his godfather. The political environment became so suffocated for Saraki that he forcefully exited the APP, thus clearing the way for his estranged son to seek a second term without any stress on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, a new name the APP changed to.
He contested against Bukola, the late Saraki’s eldest son in 2003 and lost. While their battle for political survival lasted, Kwara and indeed, Ilorin, the hometown of the two gladiators was divided between the duo. Their political battle took another dimension with the allegation that Lawal was deriding the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, a direct descendant of the Usman Dan Fodio.
This, however, pitched some prominent Ilorin indigenes and clerics against him(Lawal), and in the end, he was defeated. The younger Saraki was to enjoy a two-term tenure which ended 2011.
But Lawal, while warming up to stage a comeback in 2007, died in faraway London November 15, 2015.
Abdulrahaman’s first attempt
Like his brother, Alimi, Abulrahaman also made an attempt to rule the state in 2011, but his desire did not materialise as he lost to the incumbent governor, Alhaji Abdulfather Ahmed, who won his first term ticket on the PDP platform. At that time, he contested under the banner of the defunct Congress for Progressives Congress (CPC), a party then led by Muhammadu Buhari, the incumbent president.
Though his first outing was not eventful, his impact was felt across the state because he erected billboards in major towns and villages.
According to political observers in the state, his first outing did not receive much attention because two sons and one daughter of Ilorin Emirate were governorship candidates at the poll.
While the first daughter of late Saraki, Senator Gbemisola contested the election on the platform of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Mohammed Dele Belgore flew the flag of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and Abdulrahman was CPC’s flag bearer.
However, the three of them lost to the incumbent governor who hails from Share in Ifelodun local government area of the state.
His second attempt
And in 2015, Abdulrahman returned to the trenches to contest the Kwara Central Senatorial seat after the demise of the patriarch of Saraki dynasty. He contested on the PDP platform against Bukola who was seeking re-election to the Senate on the platform of the newly formed APC.
Like his first outing, Abdulrahman lost out in the contest to Saraki, who later emerged the President of the Senate. And upon challenging the outcome of the contest, he lost again.
His last attempt and Oto ge’s gains
Undeterred by the string of losses he had previously suffered, the oil magnate was back again for another political challenge. At the end of the highly rancorous APC governorship primaries, Abdulrahman emerged the party’s standard bearer.
And without much ado, he emerged victorious at the end of the rescheduled March 9 governorship and House of Assembly elections, eight years after he took his first shot at the plum job but failed.
He dusted off the younger Saraki’s anointed candidate, Hon Abdulrasak Atunwa of the PDP.
The O toge factor
Some political pundits have however attributed his success to the gains of Otoge (enough is enough)revolutionary wind of change in Kwara.
Commenting on the development, an Ilorin indigene, Mr Bayonle Abdulkadir, says the Otoge mantra consumes Saraki and his inherited dynasty because of his many ‘sins’.
Abdulkadir in an article titled: “The Rise and fall of Saraki dynasty,’says, “The O to ge slogan, translated to mean ‘enough is enough’, was a masterstroke that resonated among the electorate and it became very popular through various radio programmes. It was a ‘quit notice’ to the Saraki dynasty that has brought untold hardship on people of the state.
“For all those who have been following events in the state, the Saraki dynasty won elections when it enjoyed the ‘protection’ from the government at the centre. That was not so in 2015, but it rode on the popularity and wide acceptance of Muhammadu Buhari to triumph over the opposition.
“In 2019, alas Saraki had no federal might. The heavy security presence and clampdown on political thugs including the re-deployment of INEC officials and security agents he consistently bought over with his deep pocket, meant Saraki had no machinery in place to manipulate the outcome of the election.
“The April 5, 2018, Offa bank robbery incident is one sin many Kwarans will for many years hold against the present administration and Saraki. Not that anyone is accusing Governor Ahmed and Saraki as the perpetrators, they created the environment for such dastardly act…..
“He also failed to create employment opportunities for the youths in the state. They became easy recruits for cultism and robbery. Saraki appeared to have incurred the wrath of the people of Offa when he boasted on radio last December that he donated N10million to the families of the victims without minding the unquantifiable value of the 33 lives lost to the unfortunate incident.
“The defeat of Saraki in his bid to return to the Senate as the sitting Senate President was excruciating, signalling the end of the dynasty. He lost the election with an unimaginable margin. “Flying the PDP flag, the seemingly invincible Saraki lost in all four local governments (Asa, Ilorin West, Ilorin South and Ilorin East) that make up Kwara Central, his senatorial district, scoring 68, 994 votes as against 123, 808 votes garnered by his main challenger, Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe.
“Prior to his defeat, the Senate President believed he had Kwara in his grip and that the state was impregnable for any challenger on the political turf. Saraki preferred to dominate the scene, deliberately avoided picking smart and popular candidates for elections. He held the fortunes of the state hostage for the last 16 years but Kwarans have had it all; the elastic limit of patience and suffering was overstretched here.
“Another undoing of Saraki was his preference for consistently appointing same set of self-centred individuals into government positions. Some of them have been in government even before Saraki became the governor with no traceable impact in government and their community.
“For Saraki, he mostly preferred this set of people based on their loyalty to the dynasty and not for their competence or performance. It was therefore not a surprise that virtually all Saraki’s foot soldiers were defeated at their polling units.
“For several years, many Kwarans especially the aged and unemployed youths were satisfied with receiving handouts from the dynasty in the name of empowerment. Not anymore as people of the state have now realized that for every plate of food or N1,000 worth Ankara they received from Saraki, he earns N100,000 from the state treasury’’.
Victory as product of perseverance
Also in a reaction, an indigene of the state, Comrade Olatilo Abegunde says though Abdulrahman benefits greatly from the O toge’s mantra, his family’s resolve to upstage Saraki’s dynasty is commendable.
“Truly, the Otoge movement in Kwara state, which was conceived to upstage the age-long Saraki’s dynasty in the state, really helped and was responsible for the emergence of Abdulrahman Abulrasak as the governor-elect of Kwara state. But one fact that can’t be taken away from all this is the determination of the Abdulrasaks to wrestle power from the Sarakis over the years.
“At least, two of Alhaji AGF Abdulrasak’s sons tried to be governors and today, one of them is now the governor-elect of the state. This is a fact that can’t be taken away from the family.”
With the victory, the challenge is now before the awaiting governor to meet the people’s expectations. Analysts are of the view that the change people desired must be pursued with vigour. For Abdulrahman, it is believed his persistent shot at power was informed by the desire to serve, and now the opportunity is here.