On September 28, 2021, Kwara State found itself once again in the national limelight following the uproar that greeted the demolition of a library complex named after the late political icon, Dr Olusola Saraki.
The action has since rekindled the supremacy battle between the Saraki’s family and the state governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq.
The emergence of the governor in 2019 ended decades of the reign of the Sarakis in Kwara State. It further pitched their supporters against each other.
The demolition of the facility, located along Kuntu Road in the Agbo-Oba area of Ilorin, which was built by the Ilorin West Local Government in 2002, is coming about 20 months after the pulling down of Saraki’s Ile-Arugbo (Charity Home) by the Kwara State Government.
The home was considered one of Late Saraki’s legacies, famous for hosting political meetings. The demolition has been a subject of litigation between the Sarakis and the government.
Expectedly, the latest development has been situated in the realm of political victimisation by the loyalists of the Saraki dynasty, accusing the governor of making frantic efforts to erase Late Saraki’s legacies, using political vendetta.
However, the governor’s aides and supporters have denied such allegation and accused the children and supporters of the Late Saraki of whipping up sentiment to score cheap political point ahead of 2023.
Explaining its reason for the demolition of the library, the Chairman of the Transition Implementation Committee (TIC) of Ilorin West Local Government, AbdulGafar Omotosho, said its action was in response to the community’s plea to save it of criminal elements, who have vandalised and turned the place to their hideout.
“The property has been in disuse and in a state of horrible disrepair over the years. It was serving as a haven for criminal elements, thereby posing threats to public safety.
“We have received several public appeals to do something over it to give it a face-lift and put it to good public use. The plan is to make it an ICT/e-Library centre for the benefit of the people,” he said.
The Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy Affairs and Community Development in the state, Aliyu Saifudeen, an architect, whose ministry oversees the council, told Daily Trust Saturday that, “There was a lot of misinformation bandied about over the demolition. The property belongs to Ilorin West Local Government; it was only named after Saraki as a mark of honour. They only want to reconstruct it and it will still retain the name after completion.”
But the TIC chairman, Omotosho, said the decision on whether the place would still retain the name of Saraki or not was subject to the view of the people since it belongs to the local government.
“The late Saraki is someone we all benefitted from and I don’t think it is bad to name it after him. But if the public wants something else, it is strictly their choice,” Omotosho said.
Reacting, a scion of the Saraki dynasty and former Senate President Bukola Saraki attacked the governor over the development.
He tweeted, “I just got the news that the major official assignment carried out by the governor of my state, Kwara (Tuesday) is the demolition of an old public library named after my late dad, Dr Olusola Saraki.”
Saraki’s reaction was followed by that of his younger sister and Minister of State for Transport, who is also a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gbemisola Saraki, condemning the demolition.
“Yet again, today we find that the governor of Kwara State’s focus is not on building up Kwara but on demolishing buildings owned or named after my late father, the Waziri of Ilorin. No matter how many structures are demolished, Baba Saraki’s legacy can never be destroyed because it lives in the hearts and minds of the great people of Kwara,” she stated.
Following their responses, top Kwarans from both the political camps of Saraki and the governor have weighed in on the matter in support of their leaders.
For the former majority leader of the council, during whose time the facility was constructed, Abdulrafiu Abdulrahman, “The reason (by government) for the demolition of the library begs for a convincing answer.
“The news of the demolition will be a rude shock to all well-meaning and responsible citizens. The construction of the library, along with other capital projects like the Mohammed Lawal Clinic and Maternity, Oko-Erin and Emir’s Palace Clinic, among others, was aimed at improving the lives of the people. Specifically, the concept of the establishment of the said library was based on the fact that the Agbo-Oba/Kuntu area has a larger percentage of student residents.”
A former chairman of the Kwara State Local Government Service Commission, Hajiya Sarat Adebayo also said, “If the governor likes, let him demolish the Government House and the Governor’s Lodge constructed by Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki or close the numerous boreholes sunk by the late Oloye for his people, Saraki lives on, and nobody can erase the goodness of the dynasty.”
Also, the senator who represented Kwara South during the 8th Senate, Rafiu Ibrahim, described the demolition “as a pointer to the governor’s obsession of the name, Saraki. Government should not be about vendetta but geared towards development. The name Saraki lives in the people’s hearts, not physical structures.”
In his remarks, the immediate past speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly and onetime member of the House of Representatives, Dr Ali Ahmad, said, “Like a fiery tale, we were told again how Governor Abdulrahman demolished a public library named after the Kwara sage, Baba Saraki. Oloye resides in the hearts and minds of Kwarans.”
But the Special Adviser (Political) to the governor, Alhaji Gidado Alakawa, rejected such claims during a chat with Daily Trust Saturday.
“As far as I know, the state government does not have a policy to demolish anything that belongs to anybody,” he noted.
The pioneer chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State and a staunch ally of the governor, Kunle Suleiman, a lawyer, said the uproar generated over the issue only showed “how low we have sunk in the name of politics.
“Advancing that line of opinion is just madness. Does it mean that a property named to honour someone belongs to him or cannot be tempered with? We have airports and monuments named after our national heroes – the likes of Murtala Mohammed, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello. Is it that the government can no longer touch them?
“If the council in this case decides to demolish its own library named after the late Kwara icon and reconstruct it to do whatever it wants with it, how is it vendetta?
“The council has the right to either continue or not to retain the name, and they don’t need to explain their decision to anybody because nobody was consulted in the first place before it was named in Saraki’s honour,” he said.
Ruling out politics, Suleiman said, “If the council feels that what they are doing is the right thing, let them continue. They can retain the name of the late Baba Saraki after reconstruction since he did nothing negative to our community. In any case, the council has said they are not even contemplating changing the name.”
Saraki’s sympathisers have also accused the government of not being “politically smart” to have handled the latest issue to its advantage, just like the demolition of Ile-Arugbo, accusing it of insulting Kwarans’ intelligence with the council’s explanation.
But some of the critics of the Sarakis said if the children were really concerned about sustaining the structure as one of their father’s legacies, they should have fixed it when the edifice was in bad shape
The issue has gained national and international attention, especially after the commentary of the Sarakis. But what the council decides to do with it at the end of the day will determine the direction the next narrative will go, especially taking cognizance of the fast approaching election period.