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When Saraki Stormed Ilorin



Bukola Saraki

Oladipo Magaji, recounts the triumphant entry of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, shortly after he was cleared by the Supreme Court of any corruption charges.

For the second time in three years, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, President of the Nigerian Senate and Turakin Ilorin last Tuesday returned to Ilorin, his hometown, to a tumultuous welcome from thousands of his supporters and admirers.

The first time was the weekend following his surprise emergence as President of the Senate. Given the intrigues that preceded the emergence, not a few came to the Ilorin International Airport to catch a glimpse of his arrival, and establish if indeed he had ascended the throne as chairman of the National Assembly.

They came in their thousands and they saw as Saraki emerged from the Presidential plane with the seal of the President, Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His supporters went literally haywire, bursting into different songs eulogising his political sagacity.

Then came his trial over alleged false asset declaration at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Although he never ceased coming home to hold regular consultations with his people, he however did not allow any noise around most of his activities. Sometimes in the course of the three years that the trial lasted, Saraki would come quietly, do his meetings and at times, leave back for Abuja the same day.

But not on Tuesday, July 17, 2018. This date would be the second time Saraki rode into town in a blaze of glory. It was more than a popularity test; it was a weighty statement of his influence and political spread. It was a show of acceptance. It was a show to mock his political enemies who had condemned him into oblivion with the CCT trial.

As early as 8.00am his supporters had besieged the Ilorin International Airport and it’s adjourning surroundings to await his arrival.   Expectedly, motorists and other road users plying the Ilorin-Ogbomosho road  had a hectic time  as Saraki’s supporters occupied  the road with vehicles stretching for about five kilometres on both sides.

Security men at the airport had a tough time controlling the sea of heads that were there. At a point, they blocked them from entering the airport, directing them instead to wait outside and observe events from there.

What they were told was that Saraki would arrive by 1.00pm, so many of them had arrived quite early to secure vantage positions to view his arrival.  And although the flight didn’t arrive until about 4.17pm, they kept themselves alive with dance and music from various live bands. Several  who were hungry didn’t mind buying bread and soft drinks at double the normal prices from the airport. There were several false alarms of his arrival during which the crowd from various directions would surge here and there.

When his plane finally landed, it was joy and excitement for the supporters. More importantly, it was time to celebrate a relief over the trial the Senate President himself would later admit to newsmen was a ‘tough’ time.’

He was accompanied on the flight by Speaker of the state’s house of assembly, Dr.  Ali Ahmad,  Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, former Speaker of the state assembly and chairman House Committee on Judiciary, Barr. Razak Atunwa as well as former presidential spokesman,  Dr.  Doyin  Okupe.

While fielding questions from newsmen, Saraki described his three-year trial as tough but expressed satisfaction that his followers never doubted his innocence as he had told them severally.

But he refused to comment on what he would do over pressure by some of his followers to lead them out of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He only asked newsmen not to ‘worry’ or ‘push’ him over the matter.

“As I said, don’t worry, don’t push me,   I will call at a time and I will tell Nigerians”, he said.

On his trial and the visit he said: “It’s been a long journey for all my own people in the state, and today we thank the Almighty God for this. I want to thank all of them who did not at any time waver. They believe in my innocence and supported me throughout those three very tough years and it was a great feeling for all of us.

“It is my first homecoming to thank them for all the support they have given me and the victory and for the fact that the truth prevailed and justice was done.  Today is a day for me to visit and more importantly thank the people for the support they have given for years.

“As I always say time will come for everything,  a time will come I will tell people where I am,  what I’m doing. For now it is just to thank the people of the state because the last three years have been tough and they are still committed and remain and I have to appreciate that.  I appreciate that.”

It was after the talk with newsmen that the real journey actually began. The Senate President’s entourage spent over three hours from the airport to the Emir’s palace, a journey that ordinarily shouldn’t have taken a convoy more than 15 minutes. The elated Senate President stood in his car acknowledging cheers from supporters and onlookers.

At the Emir’s palace, it was another show of solidarity from the royal palace. An obviously elated Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu- Gambari was full of praises to the Almighty over Saraki’s victory at the Supreme Court and he still offered prayers for him again. And the Emir gave him a beautiful gift; the Holy Qur’an, as a symbol of the spiritual source of his victory.

From the palace, the team went to ‘Ile Arugbo,’  the meeting point for his supporters at the headquarters of the Saraki political dynasty. Ile Arugbo is where decisions about the politics of the structure are broken down into chewable formats for the hordes of supporters, particularly the elderly women. At Ile Arugbo, it was dancing and singing, and thanking God. Everybody was relaxed; there was no indication anyone wanted the party to stop.  Saraki himself left the venue about 10 P.M and that was when engagements shifted to Great Hall; the official secretariat of the structure.

There, another round of meetings started between Saraki and the several layers and cadres of his lieutenants and supporters.

Yet untiring, Saraki led other political big wigs to the fidau prayers for  Hajia Ayisat Omo Agba Baraje, mother of former national chairman of the new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP), Alh Abubakar Kawu Baraje in Ilorin, Kwara state .

The Senate President arrived the Baraje family residence, Baboko, Ilorin, venue of the prayer in company of Kwara and Benue states governors, Alh Abdulfatah Ahmed and Samuel Ortom respectively. The Rivers state Governor Nyesom Wike later joined them.

Other dignitaries that graced the event included the deputy national chairman of the APC (North), Lawan Shuaib and his South counterpart, Niyi Adebayo, Senators Barnabas Gemade, Sha’aba Lafiagi, Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr Ali Ahmad, representatives of the Emir of Ilorin, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, members of the Kwankwansiya in the state and former presidential spokesman, Dr Doyin Okupe.

And still the same day, Saraki later organised a luncheon for National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus and other high ranking members of the party who had come to Ilorin to attend the fidau of Abubakar Kawu Baraje’s mother.

Others who were hosted by Saraki included former Jigawa state governor and PDP presidential hopeful, Alhaji Sule Lamido,  Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike, Sokoto state governor, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwa, his Benue state counterpart, Samuel Ortom, governor Abdulfattah Ahmed of Kwara as well as Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, National Publicity Secretary of the PDP.

For Secondus, the meeting was his second time of coming to Ilorin within five days. He had earlier visited the Baraje family house on Saturday where he warned against rigging in the now concluded gubernatorial poll in Ekiti state.