The Gov. Abdulrazaq/Sen Saraki Land Imbroglio
On January 2, 2020, a piece of land in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, dubbed Ile Arugbo, and deployed by the late Olusola Saraki to cater to the monetary, food and health needs of elderly people was demolished by the state government after it revoked whatever rights anyone might have to it. Senator Saraki was senate leader during the Second Republic. Before the revocation, the state government had announced that it could find no legal claims by anyone to the land, either by right of occupancy or certificate of occupancy, and not by any other payments that substantiate allocation. The demolition was done shortly after the revocation was announced. But months earlier, a government committee headed by Suleiman Ajadi, a former senator, to recover illegally allocated state assets had found that Ile Arugbo was one of those properties illegally allocated. It was originally acquired by the state government in the 1970s to serve, among other purposes, as an extension of the state secretariat.
As a result, Bukola Saraki, son of the late former senate leader, has predictably joined issues with the governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, describing the demolition as targeted and vindictive. And just like her brother, who is the immediate past senate president (2015-2019) and also former governor of the state (2003-2011), Gbemisola Saraki, also a former senator and current Minister of State for Transportation, has condemned the demolition as a clumsy attempt to exacerbate family feud between the Sarakis and Abdulrazaqs. Though both siblings do not see eye to eye, they have united in deploring the demolition of Ile Arugbo, describing the action as malicious and unprovoked. In fact, Ms. Saraki sees it as capable of distorting the value and utility of the o to ge movement that led to the uprooting of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government in the state. O to ge, roughly interpreted as enough is enough, was the mantra and banner behind which the political effort to uproot the PDP in the state successfully coalesced.
But o to ge, contrary to Ms. Saraki’s arguement, was also the banner unfurled to unseat her father’s dynasty, having held the state in a vice grip, either as political office holders or kingmakers, for decades. She may pretend not to understand the full import of the o to ge movement, or of the dilemma she faced when she backed it against her family’s, and more directly against her obstreperous brother’s, hold on the state. Notwithstanding this, both she and her brother, Dr. Saraki the Younger, are within their rights to suspect that Gov. Abdulrazaq might be trying to settle old scores and to foster whatever family feuds the Sarakis and the Abdulrazaqs have noticed and exclaimed.
The demolition of the property, a nearly vacant land where the Saraki dynasties hosted and catered to the needs of aged Kwarans, was anchored on the need by the state to reclaim assets improperly allocated over the years. On the surface, the government followed due process. First was a panel to review those allocations, though it is not known now whether the allottees were invited to support their claims to such properties. Then followed the standard revocation through an enactment by the State House of Assembly. And then, finally, the demolition. But the devil is in the detail, not to talk of the many snags embedded in both the revocation and the demolition. Ile Arugbo was probably the most famous of the cases dealt with by the Senator Ajadi panel, and obviously now the most contentious.
Dr. Saraki was overly emotional in reacting to the demolition. Straightaway he attributed the demolition to vendetta, undiluted malice and jealousy. Gov. Abdulrazaq, he maintained, could never parallel his achievements, particularly considering both the number of posts he as a Saraki scion had reached in life and the simply elegant and enthralling fact that his achievements predated those of the new governor. He even insinuated that the governor was unlikely to equal his achievements, seeing how many years it took him to attain those heights, and how many years it would take the new governor. Finally, after expending so many paragraphs in bitter recriminations, Dr. Saraki finally indicated that the family was in custody of documents to prove their ownership of the disputed land and the legality of the allocation. He did not say whether he was ever invited to defend the family’s claims.
Ms. Saraki’s reaction was by far more temperate but no less vigorous. She had wondered why as a member of the ruling party in the state, especially one who broke ranks with her brother to give fillip to the o to ge movement against both the PDP and the Saraki dynasty, she was not taken into confidence in dealing with the controversial land matter. Her father, the Late Dr. Saraki senior, did not deserve the opprobrium the governor was trying to drag him into. She further argued that if care was not taken, the governor’s careless political actions could derail the purpose of the change that took place last year in the state, especially seeing that many Sarakites, as she put it, also broke ranks with their party to support the APC. It is hard to fault her logic.
But for now, in the eyes of the public, the governor has done the right thing by demolishing privilege and lawlessness in matters relating to public patrimony. The state insists there is nothing in their records to prove that the late Dr. Saraki properly acquired the land — no documents whatsoever. Since the matter is in the courts and both the government and the Sarakis appear confident of their positions and standing before the law, there may be no point in second-guessing the outcome of the case or the genuineness of their claims. But even if the state government felt vindicated by the law and the legality of their case in regards to Ile Arugbo, it was probably not expedient for them to have taken the abrupt course of actions executed on January 2.
In matters as delicate as the Ile Arubgo demolition, which is susceptible to being sentimentalised, the governor should have been wary of opening himself to needless accusations. The Saraki political family, despite their loss, is still fairly sizable, especially among the elderly Kwarans to whom he catered extravagantly. Then, too, the Saraki siblings may be squabbling now, as it were remorselessly, but such a demolition was always capable of uniting them, if not physically, then at least in terms of objectives. Issues relating to their father never simmered too far from the surface. Had the governor announced the revocation, and sensibly set a date for the demolition, it was almost certain that the Sarakis would have headed for the courts. It may take a year or two, or even more to get a judgement, but once the case is determined and it is proved that the Sarakis had no claim to the land, the demolition would have been justified even in the eyes of the worst sceptic.
Now the case is set to drag on for a little longer than probably necessary. It is already poisoned by diluted public perceptions, with those in support of the demolition hailing the government’s actions, and those on the other side denouncing the suspected malice undergirding the state’s actions. One way or the other, however, the courts will adjudicate. If the Sarakis win — and it is hard to see them running away with victory — they will encounter herculean obstacles in building a property they had failed to build for decades. But if the government wins, especially considering the original purpose for which the land was acquired, they will still stand accused of acting mala fide. They must now hope that, in consequence, the case would not steadily poison the political atmosphere in the state and concretise into a cause celebre.
Worse, they must hope that it would not win sympathies for the Sarakis and help the deposed dynasty find the fresh pedestals upon which to hinge their fight to regain their political standing both in the state and nationally. After all, the chastening that comes from political defeat is sometimes so potent as to instigate superhuman feats in a remorseful politician. While wilderness experience and political adversity may prompt Dr. Saraki and Ms. Saraki into unaccustomed unity, Gov. Abdulrazaq should in fact hope that he and his advisers can inspire the right mix of policies and formulae, and more importantly the ideological underpinnings for their o to ge movement, to elongate their political success and help restructure the state away and perhaps permanently from the feudalism they had accused the Sarakis of enthroning. The mismanagement of the Ile Arugbo demolition does not, however, give hope that Gov. Abdulrazaq and his advisers quite have the temper and depth needed to concretise the change that took place last year.
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