Senator Baba Ahmed Suruk represented Kwara North between 1999 and 2003, and in this interview with Adebiyi Adedayo, he bares it all
You are one of the more experienced politicians from Kwara State, how has the journey been so far?
I came to national limelight in 1999 when I became a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and that was my first elective contest. Before then, I was a member of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), as far back as 1983, I was the Youth Leader in Kwara State and I will like to say I was a very active member of the party. During that period, the party had three main organs; we had the Elders’ Wing, the Women Wing and the Youth Wing. Each of the wings had very strong affiliations and were interrelated. Activities of the party were well coordinated and controlled to the national level.
I was very lucky, by that 1983, when I was Youth Leader, I had the opportunity to work directly under our leader, late Senator Olusola Saraki, who was then the Turaki of Ilorin and later became the Waziri of Ilorin till death. He was the state chairman of the party; the party was controlled such that anything you do in the ward translated to the local government chapter and to the state chapter. But as we all know, by 1983, the military struck and the ruling party was thrown out. So, with all the efforts put in by people like me, there was really not much to say that we enjoyed, but thank God at least, some of us are still alive and we have stories to tell.
I have been a community leader since then, not only because I was involved in politics at a younger age, I enjoy meeting people and leading a group, so I am very dear to the youths in my place. They are always around me, I enjoy talking to them and I enjoy discussing issues that concerns their growth, educationally or otherwise.
You were in the Senate from 1999 to 2003, what would you say are the major differences between the National Assembly then and now?
I will consider the 1999 to 2003 service as laying the foundation for real democracy, we did the rough road working, mind you, there was no so much money then, but we were absolutely dedicated. We lived up to our responsibilities, and I think it is the same even now; senators are all responsible people. But the luxuries available now were not available during our time, and yet I don’t think we disappointed Nigerians. We may not have all the good returns, but we gave an impression that we did our best.
You seem to have good insights into the Saraki’s political dynasty. From your vantage position, would you say Bukola is following Baba Saraki’s path, especially as he is in the opposition contrary to your analysis of his father’s style of maintaining relationship with the centre?
I don’t think his movement to APC is a matter of the interest of Kwara State. I think what prompted him to move away from the PDP is more of a personal thing than a collective decision. He decided to move and those that are his cronies moved with him to achieve his own aim. For those of us that did not move and will continue to remain in the PDP, there is no gain saying that we are going to beat any other political party in Kwara.
I am not saying this because I am in the PDP. There has been only one formidable political structure as far as Kwara State is concerned and that structure is Baba Saraki’s political structure, which is now divided into two. Mind you, Bukola as a former governor would have certain advantages, but you have the daughter, Senator Gbemisola Saraki who was two times a senator, and also a member of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003. By any calculation, Senator Gbemisola’s structure is incomparable. She is very strong. She has taken all the attributes of the father and she commands a very strong followership. Whether you like it or not, she is not someone that anyone can push aside in Kwara politics today.
The APC government in Kwara is very good in propaganda, using the media to say so many things they have not done. I will give you an example. Look at the agricultural sector, they claim that the farm they have at Shonga, in Kwara State, the Zimbabwean agricultural project, is a huge success. All we read about is on the paper, how many of the foods produced under the project are found in Kwara or even in Ilorin main market or any market in Nigeria? I am from the Nupe community; I have not seen any of their food produced in our market. We still eat our own local rice. If it is for export as they sometime claim when they are challenged, which countries are they exporting to? How much are they making yearly? How much is coming to the purse of the state in form of tax and other charges?
The last governorship election was won by Bukola’s candidate, whereas Baba Saraki supported Senator Gbemisola against the incumbent governor who enjoyed Bukola’s support. It was believed that the purported fight between them was stage-managed and that Baba Saraki only wanted to transfer power to his son. What is your view?
There was nothing like transfer of political dynasty from the father to anybody for that matter. What happened is exactly as we saw it.
Who would you say inherits the political structure of Olusola Saraki?
The two of them inherited it, because the followers of Bukola are from his father and those of Gbemi are also from the father. But the Bukola side has the advantage of the machinery, which belonged to the government, that is a weaker one, take the government interference out of their own group, then nothing is left.
What do we expect in the next election?
Whether Bukola goes to any other stronger party or whatever, that is irrelevant, as far as we are concerned, we in the PDP will defeat APC hands down. The people they have are people who will do what he wants to be done, we in the PDP are collective and we have decided to work for the success of the party, money or no money.
With the exit of Baba Saraki, how would you describe the state of politics in Kwara State now?
I will not say that there can never be the likes of Baba. Only God has that attribute. But I can tell you that things can never be the same. As we are in the PDP, we are out to tell each other nothing but the truth, and we will work together and deliver the state together. On the APC side, they have only one leader who they cannot tell the truth. They only tell him what he wants to hear. On our own side, it is totally different. Baba was always ready to listen to everybody, Baba was never bias, he was never a dictator, he worked for the interest of everybody, at least for the interest of the majority and that is why people like me and others will work the way Baba would work if he was alive.
There are various groups within the PDP in Kwara; do you foresee a divided PDP after the party’s primaries?
In politics, there has to be this kind of division, we think differently, but there is one thing that stands clear, and we are committed to that, we will deliver Kwara for PDP irrespective of the diversity and operational values.
Which of these groups do you belong to and what is your aspiration?
I belong to one solid group which people know, I need not to mention it, but those who understand politics know it.
Who in Kwara politics now best captures those attributes that made Kwaran people to love Baba Saraki that much?
All the good things that you know Baba for till he died, there is none you will not see in Senator Gbemisola Saraki. She has taken virtually everything of her father. She is accommodating, understanding, and she is a listening mother. I am close to the Sarakis and I am judging her from that point of view.
Given the religious inclination of the people of Kwara State, some people believe it will be difficult to have a female governor, what is your take?
It is only God that gives and takes anything, including power; if God decides to make Gbemisola a governor, who can stop it? In some years back, if they told you that a female would be a senator representing Kwara Central would you say yes or no? She was an elected senator twice from the same people, the same people are still there and I believe by my own judgment that these people can do more for her, not only because of her father, but because of her own character. And it will not be a mistake; rather, people will say if they knew, they would have given her the opportunity a long time ago. She is the person to beat when it comes to elections in the state. Senate election in Kwara Central is more rigorous than the other two senatorial districts, and I don’t think the two times she represented Kwara Central in the Senate, her people were disappointed. I can see the love for her is on the increase, day-in-day out, she is commanding more followership and I pray that God touches the heart of everybody to see that she is worth taking that number one seat of power in the state.
What have you been doing since you left the Senate and what is your next political aspiration, if any?
I was supposed to contest for another term, but I withdrew on my own. Baba Saraki reasoned with me and Senator Muhammed Ahmed took over from me in Kwara North. I have no regret at all, because after my tenure, I became federal commissioner serving in the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, representing Kwara State, and I think I did the best I could for five years.
I have never asked for any elective office for myself, people have always asked me to come and serve. If they deem me fit to come and serve again and I am still alive and healthy, I will be glad to do so. If they don’t, whoever they give the opportunity, I will give my advice and pray for the person.