New Telegraph

Saraki: The visionary on the sixth floor

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What is usually mentioned is his privileged background. Reporters of his sojourn so far hardly give an account of his checkered history of challenges and tribulations and how he has emerged from each of them stronger, smiling, and smoother.

Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki who turned 60 today is no doubt privileged from birth. As a secondary school student in Kings College, Lagos, his family owned a bank with international affiliation and his father was one the most influential lawmakers in the country. However, he has over the years proved to be a higher notch above others like him born with silver spoons in their mouths.

He had sustained and surpassed the legacies bestowed on him at birth. He has over the years proved that while his family name helped in his development, he has produced personal brilliance, sheer guts, the courage of convictions, the ability to withstand tribulations, and the ingenious capacity to think outside the box as a way of tackling the challenges that have often been thrown at him.

Unlike children of other aristocrats, Saraki has proved over the years to those who deliberately go out to hurt him because of their disdain for the opportunities that nature had bestowed on him, that when you take him for granted you do so at your peril. When he emerged as one of the very few among his mates in Kings College that made it to medical college and became a medical doctor, it was because he was brilliant enough to earn good A-level credits at Cheltenham College, London and that he could survive the rigours at the London Hospital Medical College.

After practicing as a medical doctor at the Rush Green Hospital, Essex, he had planned to relocate to the United States and become a specialist doctor before family duty fell on him. The bank which had been the prime investment and pride of his family had been enmeshed in an ownership crisis.

It was a case that jolted the implicit trust of his late father, Dr. (Oloye) Abubakar Olusola Saraki usually had friends. When he won the case, he was happy that Bukola agreed to abandon his career in medicine and returned home to take charge of the bank.

One could see the glint of pride and satisfaction when the late Second Republic Senate leader narrated the story to this writer in an encounter some times in the year 2000. He was happy about some of the innovations that Bukola had introduced into the bank. For example, the SGBN was the first bank to introduce the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in Nigeria.

The bank was doing well as it was the favourite of the well-to-do traders in Lagos, Maiduguri, Kano, and other commercial centres in the country. When SGBN had its challenges with participation in the consolidation policy of the Obasanjo/Soludo era, it was also the lot of the younger Saraki to struggle to ensure the legacy did not die.

With the intense battles in the courtrooms and the board rooms, the Sarakis got the bank’s license restored first as a regional bank, and later when they came back under the aegis of the Heritage Bank, it got the approval of the regulatory authority to operate nationwide.

That was another instance that the younger Saraki is not the regular daddy’s boy. He is a fighter, thinker, strategist, visionary, and natural leader. It is for these qualities that he had been selected as one of the young tigers identified by those who envisioned the Vision 2020 project and was selected to be part of the think tank on developing a sustainable development agenda for the country.

The experience of that assignment came in handy when he became Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo on budget matters in 2000. It was an assignment where he proved his mettle in policy formulation and sought to use the instrument of legislation to entrench such policy.

The younger Saraki again became the standard bearer and upholder when his father’s political group chose to punish treachery and remove the incumbent governor of Kwara State in 2003. It was an election in which the supporters of the incumbent administration deployed all weapons, tricks, and tactics in their arsenal. There was palpable fear that the young banker could be assassinated.

Yet, many were surprised by his resilience, adaptability, and courage. He was elected as Governor of Kwara which was then a backwater state. The challenge was daunting, discouraging, and depressing. Yet, he remains unfazed. He set his focus on attracting industries, people, investments, and more federal presence into the state.

Thus, his administration invested heavily in infrastructure development projects like undertaking a complete overhaul of the disused airport in the state and partnering with Overland Aviation Company to sustain flights in and out of Ilorin even when the government had to subsidise the operation. The airport was also equipped with an Aviation Training College to train pilots and the road to the airport was reconstructed and dualised.

These were deliberate efforts to attract people and businesses into the state capital. Soon, people going to Osun State also found Ilorin airport the place to fly into while continuing the journey by road. Then, many housing estates named Mandate Housing Estate I to V were constructed to further improve urban renewal and development.

A power station was constructed and rural electrification commenced on a large scale to light up the state. In the health sector, the Harmony Diagnostic Centre became the destination health check Centre serving people across the Southwest and North Central States. Only one or two private laboratories in Abuja had an array of modern equipment in the Centre.

The government also introduced the Community Health Insurance Scheme which enabled the poor access to healthcare. Public education had a radical reform that ensured not only the quantity content was taken care of but that quality services were provided. Enrollment increased and better-trained teachers were engaged, international assistance was sought in reviewing the curriculum, and continuous training and performance monitoring systems were put in place.

The administration established the Kwara State University, Malete-Ilorin, Kwara Football Academy, and the new School of Nursing to produce world-class professionals for the national and international markets.

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