Very few, if at all, would remember that the boat of Dr. Bukola Saraki took a shaky turn almost immediately after he assumed office as governor of Kwara State in May 2003. Saraki had engaged then managing director of the state-owned Trade Bank, Mr. Are Kolawole, in what some observers believed had to do with financial matters but which a major national newspaper had feasted and promoted into a controversy that shook the young government like a tremor.
Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, who had months earlier worked as arrowhead of Saraki’s campaign media team, had also assumed office as Senior Special Assistant (Media) hours after Saraki was sworn in as governor. It immediately became his task to douse the tension generated by the newspaper report. He virtually relocated to Lagos, touring the major media organisations where he deployed his exceptional intellect and wide contact as a renowned journalist to explain the state government’s position. The success thereof had paved the road that Saraki would tread to govern the state for eight years, the first four years of which Abdullahi remained as the governor’s main media anchor before he was appointed as commissioner for education in the second four years.
It was as a commissioner that Abdullahi became his own man, as it were. And Kwara State education has not remained the same, thanks to his revolutionary zeal and the total support he enjoyed from his boss. As had not happened several years before, he used military dispatch to execute his tasks to lift the state’s education from doldrums. He did not stop at drawing up measures at improving standards and infrastructure. He also motivated school teachers and ensured that they appreciated the dignity in their profession. He introduced daily distribution of free milk to primary school pupils to, in his words, sharpen their brains. He also made great efforts leading to redesigning the curriculum of Kwara State colleges of education such that products of the colleges would be equipped to teach in primary schools effectively. In addition, he established the Quality Assurance Bureau that would monitor performance and exact reward accordingly.
Abdullahi’s loyalty to Saraki has never been in question. He would proceed to Abuja with his boss at the end of their tenure in 2011, Saraki to become a Senator and himself to become minister of youth development. He was not to last long in the youth ministry before he was appointed as sports minister where his reforms, particularly on talent development, have remained indelible, even as they were rewarded with considerable success.
But his loyalty to Saraki soon landed him on a bad patch. Soon after Saraki left the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), Abdullahi became a marked man. He was relieved of his position promptly, without regard for his great efforts at positioning Nigeria’s sports continentally and globally. In any case, he had also decamped to the APC with his boss.
Abdullahi would bounce back again at the national level as he was appointed spokesperson for the APC. Recent political turmoil took another turn, forcing Saraki to return to the PDP. It did not take long before Abdullahi also decamped to the PDP. To rub in his loyalty, he resigned his position as chairman of the Nigeria Sugar Development Council. But he had other plans, which manifested recently as he formally declared his intention to contest for the Kwara State governorship election next year with his cardinal objectives listed as empowering the youth for growth, as well as encouraging competitiveness and economic transformation.
Abdullahi was at his articulate best at the carnival-like declaration in the state capital. Not a few believe he had arrived at point where his near-two decades of loyalty to Saraki, regarded as the godfather Kwara politics, would begin to yield fruitful dividends. To his honour, he did not fail at the event to declare proudly that he would not be where he is politically today without the helping hand of his mentor.
Therein lies Abdullahi’s predicament, however, considering the reactions that have trailed his adoration of Saraki at the declaration. A growing number of Kwara youth are in tune with Abdullahi and his plans for their future. Nonetheless, they have become increasingly opposed to the style of Saraki’s politics that tilts towards dominion and which they contend has left them befuddled in recent times. They would rather Abdullahi proceed on the governorship race without claiming any link to Saraki. He was also said to have incurred the ire of some teachers upon whom he unleashed his revolutionary venom during his time as commissioner for education and those could ambush his election campaign with scathing remarks. It remains to be seen, though, how Abdullahi, who launched his bid in a glorious fashion at his Ubandawaki Ward in Ilorin, would convince the youth as well as the aggrieved teachers to invest their trust in him as the election approaches.
Insiders in Kwara State however believe that Abdullahi, who is from Kwara Central, stands a good chance at succeeding the incumbent Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed. The fact that APC and PDP are pushing for a central candidate supports this trend, in addition to the reality that Saraki still holds the aces in Kwara politics, despite lately decamping from APC to PDP. The opposition are regrouping, as expected. But with about five months to the election, their push cannot be anything but limited.