Alhaji AbdulGaniy Folorunsho Abdulrazak, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, claims to have met the father of Dr. Olusola Saraki in Abidjan in the sixties. In this interview with BAMIDELE JOHNSON, he tells the story of his friendship with the older Saraki, whose origin he gives as Abeokuta
Q: What do you know about the background of Dr. Olusola Saraki?
Well, in 1962, I was appointed Ambassador of Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire and one of those who met me at the port as part of the Nigerian community in Abidjan turned out to be the father of Olusola Saraki, Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki.
As an ambassador there, my second secretary in the embassy, Ignatius Olisemeka, who later became Foreign Affairs Minister, led officials of the embassy to come and meet me. That was around September or October 1962. In those days, there was only one flight from Lagos to other West African countries.
Ships plied the coast of West Africa, carrying somepassengers. One of the ships named General Mangaine travelled on the West African coast, stopping at principal ports. After leaving the Cameroons, it came to Lagos, where I went aboard together with Ado Ibrahim, who is now the Emir of Kano. Both of us were appointed the same day as ambassadors; he to Senegal, I to Ivory Coast.
We went with our respective families, stopping at several ports along the way until we finally disembarked at Abidjan. So, I observed that the crowd that came to meet me at the port was divided into two and members of each group had flags of different colours,
saying: “Welcome, our ambassador.” One group had white and the other, green. And they were supposed to be a Nigerian community welcoming their ambassador. Then, Olisemeka, my secretary, took me to my official residence.
He was more like a permanent secretary to me. He was like a permanent secretary is to a minister. When we got home, he showed me the rooms along with my children and wife. Later, I called Olisemeka and asked why members of the Nigerian community that came to meet me were waving different banners and were standing apart, not mixing. He said I was very perceptive. I asked if they were divided and he said they were. He explained that the division was caused by a fighting over who would lead the Nigerian community. When I asked who the contenders were, he said one was called Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki, while the other was Emmanuel Alabi.
So, I told Olisemeka that one of my first duties would be to see Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki and Emmanuel Alabi. And I said I would see only the two of them and not their supporters at 10a.m. the next day. On getting to the embassy in the morning and settling down in my office, Olisemeka came to tell me that the two gentlemen had arrived.
He then brought in Muttahiru Saraki, who sat on my right, Alabi on the left. I thanked them for welcoming me on my arrival and told them that my secretary, also present, told me that the two of them were fighting over the leadership of the community. I said I was not prepared to work with a divided community. I also told them that I had not invited them to the embassy to hear why they were fighting.
I said from their looks, Muttahiru Saraki would be the older person. And
because of that, I said I was recognising him as the leader of the community. And against my expectation, Alabi stood up and prostrated before Saraki, holding his leg and saying: ‘I accept you as my leader.’ And I told him he would be Saraki’s deputy.
Alabi then asked for permission to say something and I asked him to go on. He said nobody ever called the two of them together and it was only their followers who were treating the matter that way. And Alhaji Saraki also said he accepted him as his deputy.
I later thanked them and they went away together. About a week later, Olisemeka came to me saying he wanted to thank me for the resolution of the problem between Muttahiru Saraki and Alabi. He said it was like a miracle and that within a week, he had seen a reduction, to about one per cent, in consular problems like fighting between Nigerians, going to police stations and so on. From then on, throughout my stay there as ambassador, I went to the mosque to say my Friday prayers with Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki. I’d go out of my way to take Alhaji Saraki from his house and we’d drive to the mosque together. After prayers, I also brought him back. Naturally, the relationship between the two of us blossomed. Then one Sunday, my guard, a policemen, came and said there was an old man who wanted to see me and his name was Saraki.
He then brought in Muttahiru Saraki and we started to talk. Then he 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 of reputed for Islamic scholarship. The man, with his own mouth, told me he was an Egba man from Abeokuta. And as of that time, I knew of no existence of any member of his family. This was in early 1963. So, we carried on like that.
The fact that I resolved the problem between him and Alabi helped us a great deal for our consular cases. As the leader of the Nigerian community and being older than me, Saraki, at my request, always sat by my side wherever I went in my my capacity as Nigeria’s representative. At a point, members of the Nigerian community were calling him deputy ambassador and he enjoyed that. Anywhere I went officially, I took him along. When I was going to present my letters of credence to the head of state (Houphouet-Boigny) I took him along, too. Incidentally, President Houphouet-Boigny was a medical doctor and had been Saraki’s doctor before he became President. They knew each other before I came on the scene. After the man entered politics and he became minister and later, president, they saw less of each other. So it was a great reunion for them on that day. Of course, the news quickly spread that the “deputy ambassador” was a friend to the president. We carried on like that and had a good personal relationship.
Did you meet his wife?
He was a polygamist. He had about three then, with some children, some older than Sola Saraki, and some younger. When I got to the house every Friday to take him to the mosque, I saw them. One Sunday, he came again through the policeman at the gate. And after entertainment with drinks, he told me he had come that day to thank me. He said he had never met any human being, not even his own children, who had honoured him as I had done and that he did not even know how to show his appreciation. I said there was no need for all that. That was in 1963. He then said that he had a son who was studying to be a doctor in London and whenever he came home on holidays, he’d like us to meet.
One Sunday during the summer holidays, Alhaji Saraki brought Sola to introduce him to me. And after they took their seats, Alhaji Saraki started talking by saying ‘Sir’. I asked him to cut that out because he was as old as my father. He then reminded me about his son he said was in London. I stood up to greet Sola and he stretched out his hand for a handshake. The father got up and slapped his face, saying: That’s my god you want to shake hands with. You should prostrate.
But I said we were both young men, within the same age group. I made light of it, saying we knew how to greet each other. That was how I met Sola Saraki.
Did you relate with him at all?
I will get to that. So, the father now said he was putting him in my care. ‘Take care of him for me,’ he said. Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki, the father of Sola is dead now, and is in the right place. If I am telling lies, he is hearing. That was how I met Sola Saraki. And I told him that it was good that as a young man, he is a professional. I advised him to return home to participate in politics. I am talking of 1963.
I remained in Abidjan till 1964, when my party, the Northern Peoples Congress, through my leader, the Sardauna of Sokoto, sent for me. He said I had to resign because they wanted to appoint me a minister in the cabinet of Tafawa Balewa. So, the Sardauna sent for me and said I was going to be a minister in the next government. He said he would tell Ilorin people that I’d be returned to the parliament unopposed. I was appointed minister in charge of Nigerian Railways and I performed other functions, like being a confidante to the Prime Minister.
Back to Sola Saraki. When I then went back to campaign in 1964, to go to parliament, with a view to be appointed a minister, Sola surfaced. That was two weeks to the election. He told me that he had decided to heed the advice I gave him in Abidjan to go into politics. I asked where he wanted to contest and he said Asa. Asa is a local government that shares a boundary with Ilorin Central. When I replied Sola, I admitted that I advised him to come into politics, but he had come too late. In Asa, there was a member of parliament, Mr. Babatunde, whom the party had decided to return unopposed. However, he said he would contest.
Did you raise the issue that he was an Egba man when he said he was going to contest?
That didn’t arise at that time. It is now that the sort of question is being raised. He said he would contest. He went to Lagos and brought some packets of medicine and he put up a mat and a hut in Asa and started giving people injections. These were for people who lacked medical attention. The whole of Asa local government had no hospital at all. If anybody fell sick, they had to take the person to Ilorin.
He started giving them cheap medicine, thinking that it would win him their votes. He did not take into consideration that one, there was a member of parliament on ground. Second, the same man was being presented by my party. Also, he was going to be an independent candidate. Naturally, he was defeated. That was his entry into Ilorin politics. Then, he started visiting Ilorin, sharing money to people; money that he had made from medical practice through the retainership he had with the Nigerian Ports Authority and Ministry of Defence. At that time, the army did not have a hospital or a medical department. The Air Force also did not have any. So, whatever bills he sent to them, they paid him.
So, he was making constant visits, and building himself up. And that was the situation in Ilorin. If he says he is an Ilorin man, ask him where the home of his father is.
He will point to Agbaji. Agbaji was the place his father schooled. That is
the only connection he has to the place. He knows I know this and he cannot face me and say it is not true. There was one time he wanted to change his identity, claiming he was from Mali. If the father of Bukola is not an Ilorin man, how can Bukola be?
Who is the mother of Bukola?
We know she is not from Ilorin. It is even doubtful that she is a Nigerian. The wife that I know with Sola Saraki, that he brought to my house in 1964, when he became a doctor, did not have a job. I was then a minister, living at No 2 Thompson Road, Ikoyi. He brought his wife, saying they had just come together from England. And I got the wife a job through my friend and colleague in the cabinet, who was the Minister for Establishment. That was the first job of Morenike, the mother of Gbemi. And the mother of Gbemi is not the mother of Bukola.
All through this time, were you still in touch with his father whom you left in Cote d’Ivoire or you broke off?
I maintained my friendship with his father. His father was writing me letters. In one of the letters, he told me he was very sick. And at that time, Sola was in private medical practice at Offin in Lagos and I went there to rebuke him. I said he was a useless doctor if his father was suffering in a foreign country. I said he should be his number one patient at his clinic. And he brought him back. It was in that hospital that the man died.
If you were that close, you must have met some of Muttahiru Saraki’s family members. Do you recall running into any of them in Ilorin?
None at all. Even up till now. There was one Iya Alaro. But Iya Alaro was a daughter of Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki, married to an Ilorin person. And that is the root of Sola Saraki coming to Ilorin. When he came to Ilorin, he stayed with Iya Alaro at Agbaji. But Iya Alaro’s relationship with Ilorin was that of a wife of an Ilorin man. I know Alhaji Saraki had a male child in his house in Abidjan. He was older than Sola. He did not have Western education. And I think he must have settled back in Lagos or Abeokuta.
Dr. Olusola Saraki’s claims to Fulani ancestry and Ilorin indigeneship are challenged by disclosures that he is an Egba man from Abeokuta in Ogun State-BAMIDELE JOHNSON
At a press conference in Abuja in August 2009, Dr. Olusola Saraki told his audience that he is essentially of Malian origin. His great-grandfather, allegedly a Fulani, he said, migrated from the West African nation to settle in Ilorin about 200 years ago.
“My great-great grandfather originated from Mali and I am talking about some 150 to 200 years ago. And they are Fulani and that is where we got our Fulani connection from. My great-grandfather settled in Ilorin preaching the religion of Islam…My great-grandfather brought our own Qur’an to Ilorin from Mali to Agbaji, where we settled,” he claimed.
His mother, Saraki added, hailed from Iseyin in Oyo State. His father, he declared, hailed from Ilorin. The last claim has for long been a subject of muted dispute in Kwara, where Saraki has been the major determinant of political fortunes for decades. His hold on political affairs has delighted and riled in equal measure. Saraki’s already declared intention to instal his daughter, Gbemisola, a senator, as the next governor of Kwara State has angered more than a few people in Ilorin–for a variety of reasons. To the indigenes of Ilorin, a city reputed as a centre of Islamic learning and culture, the attempt to instal a female governor is a desecration of Islamic injunctions on the position of women. Also, the incumbent gover•nor, Dr. Bukola Saraki, is his son.
This has provoked allegations that Saraki has enslaved indigenes of Ilorin and the state in general. It has also re-invited public attention to his origin. Mrs. Sarah Jubril, a Peoples Democratic Party presidential aspirant, recently rekindled public interest in Saraki’s claim to Ilorin indigeneship. “Please, check the roots of the Sarakis…Did he not come out one time to say he is from Mali? Please, check the magazine where it was published because I • Saraki: Is he really from Abeokuta?. of the community would be. The contenders, Olisemeka explained, were Muttahiru Saraki and one Emmanuel Alabi, both of whom were present when Abdulrazak was welcomed at the port.
The next day, on Abdulrazak’s orders, the two men were brought to the Embassy without their supporters. The objective was to find a solution to the feud. “I thanked them for welcoming me on my arrival and told them that my secretary (who was also present) had told me that the two of them were fighting over the leadership of the community and that I was not prepared to work with a divided community. I also told them that I had not invited them to hear stories about why they were fighting,” said the ambassador.
Given that Muttahiru Saraki looked considerably older than Alabi, Abdulrazak told the two men that the older man would be the leader, while the younger would be his deputy. The directive, said the former ambassador, worked like magic. “Emmanuel Alabi stood up and prostrated before Saraki and held his leg, saying: ‘I accept you as my leader.’
“Alabi then requested my permission to say something and I asked him to go on. He said: ‘Sir, nobody ever called the two of us together. It was only our followers that were treating the matter that way,’” the lawyer said.
The resolution of the feud engendered friendship between Alhaji Saraki and Abdulrazak. They started attending Friday prayers together. “I usually went out of my way to Alhaji Saraki’s house to take him in my car to the mosque and brought him back after prayers,” he said. One Sunday morning in 1963, the policeman attached to Abdulrazak came to tell him that an old man wanted to see him. The policeman gave the guest’s name as Saraki–Muttahiru. After swapping pleasantries and a few banters, Alhaji Saraki asked where Abdulrazak hails from. “I told him I come from Ilorin,” he replied. “Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki said: ‘I am an Egba man from Abeokuta, but went to a Quranic school in Agbaji.’ The man himself, with his own mouth, told me he is an Egba man from Abeokuta,” the former ambassador added.
The friendship between the two men grew, with the ambassador taking Muttahiru to many places, including where he performed official duties. Soon, people started referring to his friend as deputy ambassador. “Anywhere I went officially, I took him along. So, when I was going to present my letters of credence to the head of state (the late Houphouet-Boigny), I took him along. Incidentally, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny was a medical doctor and was Saraki’s doctor before he became President,” Abdulrazak said.
The former ambassador also met Muttahiru’s three wives and some of his children. One of the children was said to be one Iya Alaro. It was through her that Dr. Saraki was said to have come to Ilorin. Iya Alaro, said Abdulrazak, was married to an Ilorin man with whom she lived in Agbaji, the quarters Dr. Saraki claims as his root. On another Sunday in 1963, Muttahiru, who was a trader in Abidjan, visited his ambassador friend. He told Abdulrazak that he would want him to meet his son, Olusola, who was then a medical student in Britain. When the holidays came, the younger Saraki have it. We are not sure of the indigeneship of Dr. Saraki. So, in the name of Allah that he worships, let him be fair to Kwarans,” she said.
While Saraki’s claim that his father studied the Qur’an in Ilorin’s Agbaji Quarters has not been contested, many contend that the one advertising him as a Fulani of Malian origin was invented, first to establish his hold on Kwara politics, and then, tighten it. One of those convinced that the identity Saraki is claiming is a concocted one is Alhaji AbdulGaniy Folorunsho Abdulrazak, Northern Nigeria’s first lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Abdulrazak, a former Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, claims that Saraki is of Egba (Abeokuta) and not Malian origin. Saraki, he says, hails from Ago-Ika Quarters in the Ogun State capital. The former ambassador bases his claim on his interaction with one Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki (now dead), whom he met in 1962 and became friends with. Muttahiru Saraki, according to Abdulrazak, was the father of Dr. Saraki.
The interaction began in Abidjan, capital of Cote d’Ivoire, where Abdulrazak was posted as Nigeria’s diplomatic representative. On his arrival, the new ambassador was met by the Nigerian community at the Abidjan port, as he got off the ship that brought him from Nigeria. Even in the jubilation that greeted his arrival, the new ambassador could see that members of the Nigerian community that met him were divided. One group, he recalls, waved white flags, while the other waved green. He wondered why he would be received by members of the same community waving different flags, but bearing the same message: “Welcome, our Ambassador.”
The answer came when he got to his residence. It was provided by Ignatius Olisemeka, who became Foreign Affairs Minister in 1999. Olisemeka was then the under-secretary at the Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan. “I called Olisemeka and asked why members of the Nigerian community that came to meet me were carrying different flags and were standing apart, not mixing,” he recalls. The under-secretary explained that the community was divided and that the division was caused by a dispute over who the leader visited his father in Abidjan and one of the places he was taken to was the home of the ambassador. At the ambassador ’s residence, Muttahiru prefixed every reference to Abdulrazak with “Sir”. It was something Abdulrazak was not comfortable with and he registered his disapproval by requesting that his guest should cut it out because “he was as old as my father”.
Alhaji Muttahiru introduced his son– Dr. Saraki–and a drama ensued. “I stood up to greet Sola have a job. I was then a and he stretched out minister, living at No 2 his hand for a Thompson Road, Ikoyi, handshake. The Lagos. He brought his father got up and wife, saying they had just slapped Sola’s face, come together from saying “That’s my god England. And I got the you want to shake wife a job through my hands with. You friend and colleague in should prostrate,” the cabinet who was Abdulrazak claimed.
Minister for Establish-The slap unsettled ment. That was the first the young man and job for Morenike, the the ambassador had mother of Gbemi,” the to find a way to former minister said. defuse the tension by Gbemi, the aspiring saying something to governor, and Bukola, the effect that as the incumbent, added young people of Abdulrazak, are not about the same age, from the same mother. they knew how to • Omo-Iya: Saraki not from Ilorin • Alabi: Saraki is from Ilorin. Abdulrazak said Alhaji greet each other. “The father now said: ‘Sir, I give you Sola. Take care of him for me.’ Alhaji Muttahiru Saraki, the father of Sola, is dead now, and is in the right place. If I am telling lies, he is hearing it,” he stressed.
Abdulrazak and the younger Saraki also became friends. He advised him to return home after his studies to participate in politics. Olusola Saraki took the advice. In 1964, Abdulrazak left Abidjan for Nigeria to campaign for election into a seat in the parliament, the route to a ministerial appointment. Two weeks to the election, he met the younger Saraki, who said he had returned home to take part in the election as advised. He also had his eyes on a parliamentary seat for Asa, which shares a boundary with Ilorin. Abdulrazak, who was a member of the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, said he warned the younger Saraki against contesting the election because the NPC had decided to give the man representing the constituency–one Mr. Babatunde–an automatic ticket back to the parliament.
The ambitious Saraki contested as an independent candidate and lost. That, however, did not affect the friendship between him and Abdulrazak, who said he used his position as a minister to assist Dr. Saraki’s wife, Morenike, to get her first job. “The wife he brought to my house in 1964, when he became a doctor, did not Muttahiru told him that while schooling in England, the younger Saraki had written a letter stating he was confused over the two women in his life. The first, a non-Nigerian, had borne him a child, while he had just met the other–a Nigerian–that he was considering settling down with. Even then, there was a snag: the new woman (Morenike) is from a Christian home. The Sarakis are Muslims. Muttahiru was also worried and sought Abdulrazak’s advice. “I said the question should be resolved between the girl Sola wanted to marry (Morenike) and Sola himself,” said Abdulrazak, who claimed that Bukola was brought to his house by Morenike in 1964. The woman also had another child strapped to her back. That child, he said, is Gbemi.
Abulrazak also maintained contact with Alhaji Muttahiru through letters. In one of those letters, Muttahiru had written that he was very ill. It came at a time that his son was already a practising doctor in Offin, Lagos. “I went there to rebuke him. I said you are a useless doctor if your father is suffering in a foreign country. He should be your number one patient at your clinic,” Abdulrazak said of his reaction to the news of his friend’s illness. Muttahiru was brought to Lagos for treatment and it was in the hospital that he died.
Another man who disputes Dr. Saraki’s indigeneship of Ilorin is Dr. Sa’ad Omo-Iya, a politician and lecturer at the Department of History, University of Ilorin. While he does not claim to know exactly where Saraki hails from, he is convinced that the politician is not from Ilorin. According to Omo-Iya, when Saraki came to contest the parliamentary election in 1964, he contested in Asa and not Ilorin. And before 1974, when he started his politics-inspired philanthropy, added the lecturer, there was nothing link•ing him to Agbaji Quarters, where he claims to be his family compound. Saraki was said to have lived in a place called Popojiwa. But when he was given the traditional title of Turaki of Ilorin in 1974–on account of his generosity–the traditional institution found a place for him in Agbaji. Many people, said Omo-Iya, did not oppose him because he was spending money and presented him•self as a defender of Ilorin people, who felt oppressed by the Igbomina. One man, however, rejected Saraki’s gesture. The man, who also once lived in Abidjan, was resident in Agbaji. Saraki was said to have claimed he was the man’s nephew and offered to rebuild the man’s old house in Agbaji. The man was said to have turned down the offer, saying no brother of his told him he had a son named Olusola. The house remained that way until the man died and his children got seduced by Saraki’s wealth.
Omo-Iya insists that the Sarakis are the only Ilorin family that does not have extended family members or a family house. A similar claim was made by Abiodun Kolawole, author of Kwara: A State In Bondage. In the book’s first chapter, the author contends that Saraki’s origin is hazy. While he agrees that Saraki’s mother may have hailed from Iseyin, his paternal roots do not lend themselves to such a declaration, as there is no Ilorin indigene that does not have extended family spread from one quarter to another, either through marriage or relocation from one part of the emirate to another. “Saraki’s family is one of the very few exceptions that do not have any claimed relations or historical family house in Ilorin,” writes Kolawole.
On Page 16, the author describes as fallacious Saraki’s claim that his great-grandfather, an alleged Fulani, got to Ilorin 200 years ago.
According to the author, historical records show that the arrival of the Fulanis in Nigeria is just a little above two centuries. On account of his residency of Ilorin for more than four decades, the Ni•gerian Constitution regards Saraki as an Ilorin man. Section 42 of chapter IV of the Constitution provides for the right to freedom from discriminations.
Specifically it states: “ A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.”
Dr. Saraki is said to be out of the country for medical attention.