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Reuben Abati: Saraki vs. Abdulrazaq – “O to ge”



On January 24, at the Federal High Court in Ilorin sitting over the matter of Asa Investment vs. Attorney General of Kwara State, the counsel representing the plaintiff – in this case, the Olusola Saraki family –  informed the court that both the family and the state government have agreed to “an amicable out-of-court settlement.” At a previous sitting, the Court had advised that this option should be explored, in the interest of peace. So, obviously, both feuding parties heeded the advice of the Court. Counsel to the Saraki family confirmed in open court that the State Government had, in fact, written a letter to the Sarakis and that a meeting had been scheduled for January 27. The presiding judge commended both parties and adjourned the case till March 2, 2020, for a report on the “amicable out-of-court settlement”.

There is nothing wrong with the Court’s proposal, and it is most reasonable that the parties in the dispute have agreed to settle the matter of the “legality or illegality” of the possession/ownership of the stretch of land known as “Ile Arugbo” amicably. An amicable settlement simply means what it suggests: the resolution of a dispute or a disagreement before or after court action, in a friendly manner and in an atmosphere devoid of conflict or rancor. It is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, involving mediation and conciliation. It saves time, and in a potentially volatile matter such as the conflict between the Olusola Saraki family and the Kwara State Government, heavy politicized as it is, the resort to amicable settlement should bring the matter to a happy ending for all concerned. A little face-saving, doing the right thing and locking out the mischief-makers who could exploit the matter to cause havoc and disrupt public peace would ensure that all ends well indeed.

What are the facts of the case? On January 2, 2020, the Kwara State Government deployed a team of state officials at 4am to take possession of a plot of land known as Plots 1, 3, and 5 along Ilofa road, Ilorin, and displace whoever is occupying the land. The occupant of the land is the Olusola Saraki family, which allegedly took possession of the land, under the name of Asa Investment, and subsequently put the land to use as a waiting shed for visitors and a holding place for political meetings.

The shade or shelter on the land was reportedly demolished. The position of the state government was that the land, which adjoins the state secretariat is meant for the building of a parking lot and a state civil service clinic and that it had been illegally acquired by the late Olusola Saraki when his son, Bukola Saraki was Governor of Kwara State in 2005. The State Government insisted that it has no record that the Sarakis ever paid for the land, or were issued a Certificate of Occupancy, or that any documentation was done on the land beyond a letter of application for right of occupancy which required the claimants to the land to pay a certain sum which was never paid. The State Government added that it was determined to take over the land, because it belongs to the people, and then put it to use in the public interest as originally intended. We were further informed that the State Government has the backing of a State House of Assembly Resolution and the relevant laws on Land Use.

The Saraki family kicked against it. Bukola Saraki – eldest child of Olusola Saraki, Governor of Kwara State, 2003-2011, and Senate President, 2015-2019 – protested that the demolition and revocation of access to the plots of land, known as Ile Arugbo, was an assault on his father’s legacy – an attempt at vengeance and a deliberate attempt to embarrass the Saraki family.  He pointed out that a bill had also been initiated by Governor Abdulrazaq to change the name of the state university which had been named after his father, Abubakar Olusola Saraki. He told Governor Abdulrazaq that he had “crossed the line” and that he must be “delusional” to think that his will be the last administration in Kwara State, or that his “act of vengeance” will stand. Bukola Saraki was obviously angry.  He told the State Governor that he was also being victimized: “Perhaps I should let it be known that if Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq thinks he is taking all these actions to get at me, he is only deceiving himself. There is no basis for competition between us. Our paths cannot cross because the status that he is struggling to attain, Almighty Allah has given it to me many years before now. I became Governor 16 years before him and served out my constitutional limit of eight years.” Thus, everything went haywire in due course.

When Saraki referred to “all these actions”, he was also probably referring to the fact that the State Government had also taken away from him an Alimi Chalet property in Ilorin GRA which was said to be a government property which he, Bukola Saraki, acquired illegally. And the fact that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigating his tenure as Governor, with the alleged co-operation of the Kwara State Government, and the endorsement of the APC-run Federal Government had also attached his properties in Ilorin and Lagos. But the biggest action was the displacement of the Saraki hold on Kwara State politics in the 2019 general elections. Bukola Saraki, who had inherited his father’s political influence in Kwara State, failed to sustain it in 2019. His candidates were outsmarted, out-rigged and beaten in the 2019 general elections in the state. He himself was chased out of the town literally and symbolically as the people chanted “O to ge” – a Yoruba phrase that means “Enough is Enough”. In reality, “O to ge” was an APC-invented, propagandized assault on the Saraki legacy in Kwara state politics. For decades, Abubakar Olusola Saraki, a medical doctor turned politician and statesman held Kwara State politics in his grips. As Senate Majority Leader in the Second Republic, he was the ally of Northern Nigerian politicians, who helped to hold Kwara State and parts of the North Central against the overwhelming politics of the Awoists in the South West.

Indeed, in the Second Republic, the Unity Party of Nigeria, Awolowo’s party, managed to assert itself through the impact and influence of J.S Olawoyin in Kwara politics, but it wasn’t until 1983 that the Awoists had a foot in the door through Cornelius Adebayo, who was civilian Governor for a short period of three months (October – December 2003). The most dominant force in Kwara politics was unarguably Senator Abubakar Olusola Saraki, who, with the return to civilian rule in 1999, was more than amply rewarded for his alignment with the politics of the North. He became the Godfather of Kwara politics. He was a great tactician and strategist who pitched his tent with the people. He understood the dynamics of power and he used that to the fullest extent.  He had allies in every part of the country, in the media especially and among the grassroots who worshipped him literally. I mean, they adored him. He installed Mohammed Lawal as Governor in 1999. When Lawal tried to assert himself and disobey the now fully established Godfather, Saraki replaced him in 2003.  He installed his own son, Bukola Saraki as Governor in 2003. Saraki, the son, served for two terms – by which time he had become a political juggernaut in his own right. When he completed his second tenure in 2011, he had become strong enough to install his own protégé as Governor. He defied his father and emerged as the new Godfather of Kwara politics.

In 2014/2015, Bukola Saraki further helped to sabotage the Goodluck Jonathan government when he and others became the arrow-head of a new PDP, (n-PDP), as it was called, and helped to form what is today known as the All Progressives Congress (APC). He dumped the PDP and joined the APC. He was clearly an architect of the APC plot against the PDP in 2015, but he would soon have issues with the APC when he outsmarted the party leaders to grab the Senate Presidency through his own machinations. He practically ran an anti-APC Senate and before the 2019 general elections, he ended up in the same PDP that he left in 2014. He supported Atiku Abubakar against President Muhammadu Buhari. Whatever is happening in Kwara State is, therefore, not so much about the legacy of Abubakar Olusola Saraki, the father, but more about the politics of Bukola Saraki, the son. Saraki, the father would probably have played a different kind of politics. The son, in seeking to become the father, should be asked to study again “the wisdom of Silenus”: how does a son become the father?

What has been played out in the politics of “Ile Arugbo” in Kwara State is very complex politics at various levels. One, the family level: this is being seen as an Abdulrazaq family vs. Saraki family affair. Perhaps. The Abdulrazaqs and the Sarakis have dominated Kwara politics and specifically Ilorin public space for decades. The current Governor’s father was active in the politics of the First Republic, but he was also highly regarded for another reason – for a professional reason. He is the first lawyer from the old Northern Nigeria. Abdul Ganiyu Abdulrazaq emerged as Northern Nigeria’s first lawyer in 1957, and he happens to be Yoruba after Sapara Williams, the first Yoruba-Nigerian lawyer who was called to the Bar in 1879, and Louis Mbanefo, the first Igbo man who became a lawyer in 1937. In the North Central, the Abdulrazaqs have maintained the path of educational achievement and distinction and have rarely politicized their identity. One of them, Khairat Abdulrazaq ended up as a Senator, even at a time the elderly Saraki held sway in Kwara politics. Her brother, Abdulrahman is now Governor. The emergence of an Abdulrazaq is seen as one rival family taking over from the other. This is not helped by the fact that there is serious politics within the Saraki family that dominated Ilorin and Kwara politics for decades and suppressed the likes of the Abdulrazaqs. Another Saraki, Gbemi Saraki – a member of the APC and a former Senator, who is now a Minister of State – also had to speak up to defend her father’s legacy.  But she sounded more like she was saying: “Brother Bukola, see what you have caused with your funny politics? I speak up because I don’t want you to destroy my father’s legacy.”

Two, there is ego conflict involved: a my-family-is-better-than-yours, my-children-are-better kind of primitive African family politics. Three, there are also party politics in the matter. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – the same party that Bukola Saraki abandoned and later went back to – wasted no time in attacking the APC government to say that Saraki is being persecuted because of the politics of 2019. The APC, having engaged in an “O to ge” campaign, seems determined to crush and rubbish the Saraki influence in Kwara state politics. Bad politics on all fronts.

Still, the key issues are as follows: Was the Ile Arugbo land properly allocated and assigned? Is there a document of title available which can establish ownership? Can anyone appropriate land – family or state-owned – without proper assignment and rights of alienation? Can the Governor of a State, by virtue of the Land Use Act, revoke the right of occupancy, and re-assign land in overriding public interest? If the Sarakis have the title documents to the said land, is the onus on them or the state government to prove same? Can any citizen, no matter how highly placed, just take land as he or wishes, either for public or private interest without recourse to due process, as stated in extant law?  And can anyone, in good conscience, justify the problematic acquisition of public property under any guise? And can the government retrieve such property?

These are some of the issues to be determined by the courts, if the case were to proceed to full trial. But to take the legal option is to roil the waters of Kwara politics and encourage such politics of revenge that may survive generations. I commend the wisdom that has prevailed: from the courts to the feuding families to the state government and the community. Two days ago, Kwara APC Elders supported the peace and reconciliation moves initiated by the Court.  The Afonja Descendants Union of Ilorin also asked for peace.

But whatever comes out of the January 27 meeting, any other mediation meeting and the eventual report to the Court on March 2, observers of this Kwara state elite-family-crisis can learn a few lessons from the narrative so far.

One, the government is very powerful. Whoever is in charge of government at any time can look at the books and use the rule book against anybody, no matter how privileged or powerful they may be. Governor Abdulrazaq has just shown the Sarakis how vulnerable they are individually and collectively. And in case they don’t agree, he just wants them to know that he is in charge. Point well made!

Two, Nigerians take everything for granted. When they are in power, they do as they wish. In Kwara, we have just been told that due process is important. If you overlook due process, the day you are no longer powerful, you may be asked to give account and you could find yourself in very difficult circumstances. Who could ever have thought that a king who would disregard the Sarakis and call them to account would ascend the throne in Kwara State?

Third lesson: nothing lasts forever. You may be the king in the ring today and end up as the little end of the stick tomorrow. The laws of nature are ever so immutable.

But there is one more lesson and that is for Governor Abdulrazaq of Kwara State: while it is not so difficult to figure out the party that may have eaten the humble pie in this case, he too should resist the temptation to “show” power. The Abdulrazaq government will not be judged on account of how it humiliated the Saraki family and turned “O to ge” into state policy. It will be judged on the basis of its actual performance.

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