Ile-Arugbo: Beyond the Politics of Saraki-Abdulrazaq Feuds in Kwara
By Yushau A. Shuaib
Since his election as governor of Kwara State, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq has endeared himself to the people by his unassuming disposition, gender equality initiatives, developmental programmes and the prompt payment of the remuneration of workers.
In fact, in October 2019, Kwara ranked third on the list of states that had attracted huge foreign investments, recording an accumulated inflow of $1.14 billion. It was next to Lagos and Abuja.
It was therefore surprising that the gender-friendly and youth-centric administration of Governor AbdulRazaq would commit a public relations blunder within a year of its first tenure by destroying Ile-Arugbo, a popular charity home for the aged (particularly old women) established by late Abubakar Olusola Saraki, the father of the former governor of the State and Senate president, Bukola Saraki.
The compound of the home had served as a constituency office where old and young beneficiaries converged to receive relief materials, financial support and health care services, as part of the philanthropy of the late politician’s family.
The government should have considered several factors before taking such a delicate decision in an environment riven by mutual suspicion and political sentiments that could easily revive the alleged old rivalry between the major patriarchs in the power elite of the Ilorin Emirate, including the Belgores, Gambaris, Akanbis, Oniyangis, Gobiris, Sarakis and AbdulRazaqs.
There is no denying the fact that the AbdulRazaq and Saraki families have huge influence in Kwara because of their very rich credentials and huge contributions to the development of the State. Nevertheless, there has been a seemingly strained, no love lost, relationship between the two families, reputed to have been passed down by their patriarchs, Alhaji AbdulGaniyu Folorunso (AGF) AbdulRazaq, an iconic legal luminary and the late Dr. Oloye Olusola Saraki, a renown political juggernaut in his days.
Born on November 13, 1927 in Onitsha, Anambra State, Alhaji A.G.F. AbdulRazaq is a Pan-Nigerian who attended secondary school in Buguma, Rivers State, obtained a law degree from the University of Ibadan, Oyo State and established his law firm in Zaria, Kaduna State. In fact, he was the first legal practitioner in Northern Nigeria, who subsequently became appointed as national legal adviser of the Northern People’s Congress.
Meanwhile, Dr. Olusola Abubakar Saraki was born on May 17, 1933 in Ilorin and attended Eko Boys High School, Lagos, before proceeding to University of London, and St George’s Hospital Medical School, London, for his medical training. On his return to Nigeria, he worked as a medical officer at the Lagos General Hospital and the Creek Hospital.
Apart from serving as Nigeria’s Ambassador to Cote D’Ivoire and a Member of Parliament in the Northern Regional House of Assembly, the senior AbdulRazaq was equally Minister in charge of the railway in the First Republic, and the first Commissioner for Finance in Kwara State. He also established the first private secondary school in Kwara State, Ilorin College (now Government High School, Ilorin), which provided affordable education for the children within the immediate and surrounding communities.
Although the senior Saraki failed in the 1964 parliamentary election for Ilorin as an independent candidate, he was nevertheless elected a senator in 1979, and became the Senate Leader. He was re-elected into the Senate in 1983, before the military took over political power shortly afterward. Subsequently, the elder Saraki set up a bakery and other ventures for empowering people in the state
Alhaji AbdulRazaq, who holds the traditional title of Mutawali of Ilorin, has groomed young people who became successful administrators and businessmen. He is also blessed with children that have excelled in different fields of endeavours, notable among who are the immediate past Chief Finance Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Isiaka AbdulRazaq; Senator Khairat Gwadabe; Barrister Alimi AbdulRazaq; Hajiya Aisha Lawal; and the current governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq.
On his own part, elder Saraki, who held the traditional title of Wazirin Ilorin, was instrumental to the elections of many of the former governors of Kwara State, including Adamu Attah in 1979; Cornelius Adebayo in 1983; Shaba Lafiaji, 1992; Mohammed Alabi Lawal, 1999; and his son, Bukola Saraki in 2003. His daughter, Gbemisola Rukayat Saraki was also elected as a member of the House of Representative in 1999 and a Senator in 2003, while his son emerged Senate President in June 9, 2015.
The rivalry between the two powerful Kwara families manifested in an interview granted by Alhaji AbdulRazaq to TheNEWS magazine in 2010, where he claimed that the Saraki family was not from Ilorin. The distinguished diplomat then said that Dr. Olusola Saraki’s father, the late Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki, who was a businessman across West Africa, had informed him about their ancestry during a discussion.
In Alhaji AbdulRazaq’s recollection: “He (Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki) asked me where I come from. I told him I am from Ilorin. Alhaji Saraki said he was an Egba man from Abeokuta. By this time, I did not even know the existence of Olusola Saraki. So, the man told me he was from Abeokuta, but he went to a Quranic School in Ilorin at Agbaji, an area reputed for Islamic scholarship. The man with his own mouth told me he was an Egba man from Abeokuta, not an Ilorin man. This was in early 1963.”
Alhaji AbdulRazaq also disclosed that Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki had later introduced his son, Olusola Saraki, to him, at a time when he was studying Medicine in London. He recollected that at their first meeting, as the younger Saraki had stretched out his hand to shake him, but his father slapped him instead. However, he managed to calm the elder Saraki down. After the meeting, the father informed him that he was putting the younger Saraki in his care, stressing that he should, “Take care of him for me.”
Meanwhile, the families have always been on opposing sides of the political spectrum, contesting against each other in elections for decades. In 1979 Alhaji AbdulRazaq contested the gubernatorial election under the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), while Saraki sponsored Adamu Attah under the National Party of Nigeria (NPN); also, in 1999, Dr. Alimi Abdulrazak contested for the Kwara governorship under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) against the Saraki sponsored retired Admiral Mohammed Lawal of the All People’s Party (APP).
In 2003, Bukola Saraki contested for governorship of Kwara State under the PDP, against AbdulRazak’s in-law, Mohammed Lawal; and in 2011 AbdulRahman AbdulRazak constested under the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) against the Bukola Saraki sponsored Fatai Ahmed of PDP. Later in 2015 AbdulRahman AbdulRazak contested for the Senate under the PDP against Bukola Saraki of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
It was only in the year 2019 that Sarakis were defeated as the AbdulRazaq family won all the seats they sponsored and supported under APC, including that of AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq as governor, against Saraki’s sponsored candidate, Razak Atunwa of the PDP. In fact, it was the year that all the candidates sponsored by Bukola Saraki were defeated woefully at various levels of election.
Meanwhile, since the interview of the patriarch of the AbdulRazaq family about a decade ago, neither Dr. Olusola Saraki nor his children responded or showed any sign of the rivalry between the two families, until after the demolition of Ile-Arugbo.
In a statement he signed, Senator Bukola Saraki described the revocation of the family’s land as ‘the height of vengeance’ against his father, adding that quite unfortunately, Governor Abdulrahman had been attacking his father’s legacies from the moment he came to power.
“This action is clearly a manifestation of vengeance … in his narrow-mindedness, the governor believes his victory at the polls is an empowerment, entitlement and enablement to settle scores, provoke and pursue inter-family rivalry… His open antagonism against my late father and his legacies is unwarranted and will not be tolerated,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, the Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki accused Governor AbdulRahman of using security agencies to settle old generational family political scores in what she described as an ‘unwarranted assault on her late father’s heritage.’
While stating that that “revenge cannot be a policy thrust of governance,” she rounded off by saying that, “We must stand up against vindictive politics, driven by envy, motivated by jealousy and practised without integrity.”
My take in this family feud is that both patriarchs had been pathfinders, pacesetters and philanthropists who not only inspired and motivated younger generations to excel in their different endeavours, they had also provided employment opportunities, scholarships and financial support to their people.
In this regard, therefore, the children of these distinguished patriarchs and families should sheathe their swords and embrace dialogue to enable mutual understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
Kwara State should not be turned to a battlefield through heightened tension, like a state in Nigeria where due to a slight misunderstanding, the leader of a religious sect was shot and arrested, his properties destroyed, while his family members and followers were equally killed and nothing happened because of the powerful position of the aggressors in the polity.
Yushau A. Shuaib
Author, An Encounter with the Spymaster