The former Nigerian Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Alhaji AbdulGaniy Folorunsho Abdulrazak, claims to have met the father of Dr. Olusola Saraki in Abidjan in the sixties.
In an 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 some passengers.
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.
Q: 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.
Q: 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.