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Olawoyin, the Saraki nemesis in political rivalry

*Offa, like Olawoyin, has always led in ‘Progressive Politics’

From Suraj Oyewale

Growing up in Kwara State and spending the first 18 years of my life without passing five consecutive nights outside of the state, it is only natural that I heard about the name, Olusola Saraki at a very early age, perhaps before I hit five years age mark.

Coming from Offa – the traditional seat of opposition politics in Kwara state – it is also almost natural that I am not a big fan of Dr Olusola Saraki. From my study of the history of Offa politics, starting from the pre-independence era, I reached a conclusion that the Saraki versus Offa political battle was only a historical co-incidence. Saraki came to the scene in the late 70’s, Offa has been in opposition since 50’s.

Chief Josiah Sunday Olawoyin, the strongman of Offa politics and our greatest political personality, was one of the leading disciples of Action Group’s Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was also jailed with him in the aftermath of the political crisis of the early 60’s. Offa, being classified as part of northern Nigeria where Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) was dominant meant Olawoyin and his Offa people, including the patriarch of our own family, Alhaji Salawu Oyewale (a dyed-in-the-wool Awoist, even at close to 100), were opposition figures in the North.

When Saraki burst into the scene in the late 70’s, he pitched his tent with the conservative National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the strongest party in the North. Offa people, expectedly, continued from where they stopped in the first Republic – teaming with Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). That was the beginning of the Offa/Saraki political rivalry. The point here is, it may not be about Saraki initially, it was more of clash of historical ideologies and affiliations.

Unfortunately, due to the numerical strength of Saraki’s strongholds of Kwara Central and Kwara North, Offa was always coming back with bruises anytime we took the war to the Ile l’oke landlord. In 1979, our attempt to produce the civilian governor of Kwara State could not survive the Saraki force as our Chief Olawoyin of UPN lost to Saraki’s NPN’s Adamu Attah in the guber polls.

In 1983, when Olawoyin gave another shot at the seat, internal party arrangements saw him conceding the ticket to Chief Cornelius Adebayo of Oke-Onigbin, also of Kwara South. This time, Attah had fallen out with Saraki, and in the latter’s attempt to unseat his estranged godson, he threw his weight behind UPN’s Adebayo. Adebayo won and the rest is history.

Adebayo lasted only three months in office before the Buhari and Idiagbon sacked the civilian government and put virtually all the Second Republic politicians – including Saraki, Idiagbon’s townsman – behind bars. Like the political juggernaut that he was, Saraki re-oiled his political machinery and resurfaced during the aborted third Republic. The Offa and Saraki polarity still played out.

Saraki was a key figure in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) while Offa was mainly dominated by the National Republican Convention (NRC). The events of 1999 to date are very recent and I will not bother to rehash them in details here. In 1999, Saraki’s All People’s Party (APP) controlled Kwara, Offa went the way of Alliance for Democracy (AD).

With the crash of AD in the 2003 polls, Offa was not spared, as the town, for the first time in its more than five decades of opposition, found itself under the control of mainstream party – the PDP. The whirlwind of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the South-West has however returned the community to its traditional opposition politics – Offa is today ACN-controlled while Bukola Saraki’s (now the son) PDP controls every other place.

A cursory look at this chronicle only shows that beyond the Saraki personality, the polarity arises more from ideological differences. Saraki is always finding himself in conservative parties, most of which metamorphosed from their forerunners. For example, political analysts see a historical trend in the politics of NPC, NPN, SDP and PDP on one hand and AG, UPN, AD and to a less extent, ACN, on the other hand. Offa people are more comfortable with ‘progressive’ parties.

There is also this unspoken issue of Fulani-Yoruba rivalry in the matter. Saraki saw himself as a Fulani and Offa man far from the Sardauna days before he burst into scene. In our characteristic manner of holding our own against any subjugation, real or perceived, we have always seen Saraki as the face of Fulani rule in Kwara.

In fact, this factor played openly in the Lawal-Saraki tug of war ahead of 2003 elections, where Offa people preferred and voted for Lawal, who was seen as face of Yoruba in the state. Our votes were not able to secure victory for the retired Air Force officer.

Oyewale, chartered accountant and public commentator, lives in Ajah, Lagos.

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