Everyone who isn’t a victim of the current fascist mass hypnotism in Nigeria knows that Bukola Saraki was the target of a carefully executed and well-funded rigging assault by the Buhari presidency. For instance, a few days before the February 16 election, which was suspiciously canceled at the last minute, the Directorate of Security of Services swapped some State Directors of Security (SDS) in some states for what a source told me was a plan to manipulate the electoral process in favor of Buhari and against Buhari’s opponents.
I shared screenshots of the postings on my social media handles and on my blog on February 13. I pointed out, for instance, that, “Bassey Eteng, who is the DSS’ Director of Operations (equivalent to DIG Operations in the police) is going to lead election operations in Kwara State. (They decided that they must wrestle Kwara State from Saraki in view of his centrality to the Atiku campaign).”
Again, three days before the rescheduled elections on February 23, at least two security sources told me Rafiu Ibrahim, Saraki’s protégé who represents Kwara South in the Senate, would be arrested a day prior to the election, among other things that came to pass, which the sources wanted me to publicize on Facebook and Twitter. At that point, frankly, my enthusiasm in the election had waned considerably because I’d known at that point that it was all a grand, prodigal charade, so I didn’t share it.
Saraki was the object of a vast, single-minded, concentrated federal assault. Nevertheless, he became an even easier target because of his own avoidable vulnerabilities. They are two.
The first is Saraki’s arrogance. His notoriety for overweening hauteur, particularly toward the people of Kwara State, is legendary. He routinely humiliated even people old enough to be his father out of pure, perverse self-conceit. One of my townsmen who was a professor here in the United States and who returned home to “give back to the community” a few years ago shared with me an experience he had with Saraki that captures Saraki’s imperiousness.
He said Saraki asked to meet with elders of the Baruten community in Kwara State, which included the area’s four emirs, over a contentious issue regarding political representation. In light of his age, education, and exposure, the professor was prevailed upon to be a part of the delegation. He said the delegation arrived at the venue of the meeting on time but that Saraki didn’t show up until several hours later.
When he arrived, he didn’t apologize for his lateness, didn’t establish eye contact with anyone in the delegation, and proceeded to tongue-lash every one of them in the most humiliating manner because he was miffed that they had the impudence to oppose his political choice for the area. Then he stormed out in a huff. The professor said many old men in the group felt so humiliated and so crushed that they literally wept.
I don’t recall if this incident happened when Saraki was governor or senate president, but this sort of insufferably overbearing arrogance and cultural insensitivity defines the contours of his relational dynamics with the people of the state—when he is not seeking their votes, that is. Someone also called my attention to the fact that Saraki’s political associates from Kwara State are often so subdued and so intimidated in his presence that they don’t even sit on the same chair with him. In several photos that I’ve seen, they either squat obsequiously or sit flat on the floor while he sits alone on the chair with imperial airs.
To be fair to Saraki, this attitude of elite superciliousness toward people thought to be socially subordinate is a Nigerian malaise. Nigerian “big men”—and “big women”—seem to derive the cultural basis of their superiority and dominance from inferiorizing people who are below them. The degree of severity to which politicians inferiorize others may vary, but none is exempt from it.
Nevertheless, Saraki’s own arrogance is aggrandized in Kwara State, particularly in Ilorin Emirate, because it complements a strong, well-oiled, if reactionary, nativist delegitimization of his Ilorin bona fides. His political opponents from Ilorin have caused to percolate in Ilorin a narrative that he isn’t really from Ilorin and that he isn’t even a Muslim. Many Ilorin people have come to see him as a Lagos Yoruba carpetbagger who is only masquerading as an Ilorin man but who nonetheless can’t help but evince the age-old contempt southwestern Yoruba people have toward Ilorin people.
When Premium Times reported Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, director-general of the National Broadcasting Commission and Ilorin native, to have said in a closed WhatsApp group that the ancestral provenance of the Saraki family isn’t locatable in Ilorin, I wrote a two-part series on August 18, 2018 and on August 25, 2018 titled “Ilorin is an Ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu’s Anti-Saraki Ilorin Purism” to point out the historical inexactitude of his claims.
Most Ilorin people who responded to my interventions agreed with my historicization and sociological characterization of the Ilorin identity and saw merit in my condemnation of Kawu’s ahistorical Ilorin nativism, but almost all of them said what delegitimizes Saraki’s Ilorin bona fides isn’t so much the notion of his ancestral provenance as his cultural disaffiliation from the people.
They pointed to the fact that when his child got married recently, he did a wedding ceremony that was completely culturally alien to Ilorin. It was an avoidable self-delegitimization that rankled a lot of Ilorin people. They also say he doesn’t speak the Ilorin dialect of the Yoruba language and that, in spite of his vast wealth, he neither has any investment in Ilorin nor even a home outside his family house and the post-governorship house built for him by the Kwara State government.
I have not independently verified the accuracy of these claims, but they circulate widely and fuel a simmering discontent against him among Ilorin people who are hypersensitive both about the cultural boundaries of their identity and any hint of snobbery toward them particularly from southwest Yoruba people. Olusola Saraki, Bukola Saraki’s dad, artfully navigated these unspoken but nonetheless consequential cultural minefields.
People who wanted to shake off the senior Saraki’s grip on Kwara politics also called to question his ancestral connection to Ilorin. AbdulGaniy Folorunsho Abdulrazaq, northern Nigeria’s first lawyer and father of the current APC candidate for governor of Kwara State, famously said he knew Olusola Saraki’s father, known as Muktar Saraki, to be from Abeokuta. But his nativist delegitimization of the senior Saraki didn’t stick.
It didn’t stick because although the senior Saraki also studied medicine in London and grew up partly in Lagos, he immersed himself in the Ilorin cultural universe. He spoke the idioms and vernaculars of the people. He was modest, down-to-earth, and generous. His religious piety didn’t come across as forced and politically motivated. In short, he was indistinguishable from the very Ilorin people Abdulrazaq wanted to divorce him from.
Bukola Saraki didn’t learn this basic skill in what I call protective cultural mimicry, that is, the skill to embody and reflect the cultural singularities of your immediate community so you don’t stand out like a sore thumb. That was what rendered him vulnerable to the electoral onslaught of the hawks of the Buhari presidency. In other words, Saraki’s Ilorin cultural immunity was weak, which made him susceptible to an opportunistic presidential infection during the election.