OPINION: Saraki@54: A gladiator in political theatre. By Ahmed Lateef

Date: 2016-12-26

As the President of the Senate, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, turns 54 today, AHMED 'LATEEF chronicles some aspects of his sojourn in public sphere, making him all time adorable bride in social, economic and political discourse.

The inroad to 2015 general elections was laced with anxiety, uncertainty and uncontrollable fears. All these laid ambush on the way of arrowheads of opposition prior to the polls, of which the President of the Senate was one.

For pundits, the pre-election came with it acrimony and animosity, and thus turned brothers and sisters to sworn enemies, primarily, on account of differing ideologies and political leanings.

At the time, emerging pictures from the political arena indicated that Nigeria was on the precipice and many might be sacrificed, especially the dissident voices, on the altar of politics.

With obvious threat to life and politically motivated ambush, those who literally held the belief like Femi Osofisan's "Red is the Freedom Road" and on the side of the divide politically, that Nigeria must change the governance style with plausible reasons advanced ahead of the elections, became subjects of target.

Their major sin was transition from the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition, which later gave birth to the All Progressives Congress (APC) following a rainbow collation at the instance of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP), a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and a faction of the PDP known as new PDP. One of the arrowheads of new PDP was Bukola Saraki, who insisted that it was time for "A New Dawn" in the Nigerian polity.

Before deflection, Saraki and his colleagues saw ominous signs that the tide was about to change and it was better to align with the cause of the people who apparently perceived the former ruling party as "plague".

Taking such decision could be very costly and that was how it all went, thereby accentuating scepticism over the possibility of the opposition to dislodge the ruling government, particularly in Africa where sit-tight-syndrome has become synonymous with leaders.

As a gladiator in the political theatre, the President of the Senate who was then gunning for second term in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly stood as a combatant soldier in the last election and delivered all his strongholds.

If he had decided to be in the then ruling PDP, Saraki would still be dictating pace because of his prowess and political clout that literally rendered those opposing him impotent. This did not go without the use of state institution and federal might that had since become siamens twins with the incumbent. He stood gallantly alongside other juggernauts with same ideology and principle to show the incumbent the way out.

With his background as political 'magician' from Saraki dynasty, the Senate President has not just excelled politically but other areas of endeavours where he has continued to be ahead of his contemporaries.

To call him a revolutionist is not an overstatement with track record of achievements in all aspects of governance that stood him out among many during his stint as Governor of Kwara State. Within his eight years in office, the mundane approach to governance was altered and innovations were embedded with new ideas encouraged.

Not oblivious that Kwara was condescendingly referred to as 'civil service' state, Saraki used his 21st century innovation to effect surgical operation in the governance and turned the state to a hub of industrialization.

A cursory look at the feats he recorded in various sectors of governance while in office as helmsman of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011 with carryover impact to the 8th Senate as its President is apposite.

GOVERNANCE

In view of Saraki, governance is about practice not living within the realm of illusion of theory. His ascendancy into the seat of power was birthed with lots of hope using his antecedents and exposure as a precursor.

For eight years, he governed the "State of Harmony", there was a paradigm shift and hitherto approach was tossed to the dustbin of history. No doubt he is fondly referred to as architect of modern Kwara.

His intervention at the national scene as a governor could not go undocumented. This is because his chairmanship of Nigeria Governors' Forum became an indispensable platform and rallying factor in the nation's political discourse. Saraki's magic prowess turned the forum to a formidable group that was frequently consulted on major national issues.

EDUCATION

The coming of Saraki into the affairs of Kwara State signaled a dawn in the state's education sector. The administration began revolution in the sector by redesigning policy thrust and direction. The policy framework changed the status of the sector as Kwara became a leading light with others following suit.

At basic level of education, his government's policy in the sub-sector was unrivalled. It came with every child counts. This made it mandatory for all children residing in Kwara regardless of class or status to be educated. The policy was the driving force that revolutionized the educational status of the state ditto post-basic and tertiary education levels.

With his desirous to completely overhaul education sector, the former Governor also embarked on training and retraining for teaching staff at all levels as a way of providing them the knack required in the modern world.

Before the administration of Saraki came into being, campuses of the tertiary institutions, for instance, were turned to havens of fiendish cult groups with maiming and killings the order of the day. Piqued by the ugly trend and the adverse effect on the educational development of the state, Saraki mooted and forwarded anti-cultism bill to the state House of Assembly, which prescribed penalty of imprisonment to anybody found guilty of membership of the outlawed group. The bill was swiftly passed and assented, thereby making it serious offence for the guilt.

In line with his vow to make life unbearable for blood thirsty cult members, several of them were escorted to the prison yards after court pronouncement that convicted them of various crimes and cult related offences. The wise among them retraced their steps and renounced membership of the underworld society.

HEALTH

Health is wealth so says a common saying. With his determination to improve health of the people of the state, Saraki's administration initiated numerous health scheme for the benefit of commoners who could not afford the growing cost of access to quality health services. As a way of bringing health care to the masses, Saraki pioneered community health insurance scheme in collaboration with Hyegia organization. In the health policy also was the refurbishment of health centres and construction of new ones across the 16 Local Government Areas of the state. The existing hospitals were provided state of art equipment to meet the contemporary needs of the health industry.

ROAD CONSTRUCTION

The history of Kwara would not be completed in the area of provision of infrastructures without the name of Saraki ringing bell. The eight years of his government witnessed massive road construction and rehabilitation across the state away from what it used to be. Some federal roads were also funded in anticipation of reimbursement.

Since the creation of Kwara in the 60s, there was nowhere it existed that a flyover bridge was built. Such gigantic projects could only be seen in Lagos and other big cities. But Saraki altered history and gave the capital city of Ilorin an overhead bridge that became cynosure of all eyes at the commissioning.

INDUSTRIALIZATION

Prior to the administration of Bukola Saraki as governor, Kwara was scornfully regarded as 'civil service' state. Obviously it was because apart from government offices, the number of private firms was abysmally few. Except for few of the companies that complemented government in terms of job provision, many skillful youth depended much on government to provide them employment after schooling.

However, within a twinkle of an eye, cottage industries, factories and companies began to spring up. And this development led to employment of many of the youth who graduated to town from gown with little or no hope of getting decent job.

Among industries that came on board were Dangote Flour Mill, Tuyil Pharmaceutical, financial institutions and other big companies that turned pessimism to optimism as far as job was concerned.

However, since his election into the senate in 2011, Saraki has continued to provide leadership by example and intimated those with consciousness to read between the lines that politics is about serving humanity while accountability, transparency and openness should be the watchword.

With his intolerance for social vices in governance, which saw his exit from the then ruling PDP, Saraki exposed what could be regarded as mind-boggling fleece in the oil industry, particularly subsidy payment that became cesspool of corruption for certain cabal.

In politics, under-estimating the influence of the scion of Saraki dynasty could be costly. His emergence as the President of the 8th Senate in June 2015 against the wishes of some forces within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) attested to his political magic and astuteness.

The subsequent scenarios that played out in the apex political arena showed that nilly-willy Saraki has literally become a fly that perches on one's most cherished possession that could only be persuaded to be gentle.

At 54, he still has a lot more to offer. Certainly, Nigeria has not seen the best yet of this marathoner on the field of politics and leadership.

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