In Kwara State, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, is both a sinner and saint, depending on your relationship with him. It has always been so, even though seemingly aggravated by his current travails with the Nigeria police. Just as there are not a few die-hard Saraki people, there are also several dye-in-the-wood anti-Sarakites. BIODUN OYELEYE reports
Also, just as there are thousands praying for him to escape his current travails unhurt, there are others seeking divine intervention that it would be his downfall. In essence, Saraki is the centre of Kwara; in politics, political administration and current public discourse.
Little wonder, since the police announced few days ago that some of the suspects in its custody over the dastard Offa robbery of April 5, have confessed to be political thugs allegedly on sponsorship by the Senate President, it has become a tale of daily protests in Ilorin, the state capital as well as Offa, the epicentre of the tragedy and its unravelling revelations.
Newsmen have their hands full covering the protests and briefing as everyone seems eager to jump into the fray, either to defend Saraki and wish him well, or deride the Senate President and pray that he falls.
The series of protests was kick-started by a group, Kwara Agenda, which went to Governor AbdulFattah Ahmed on the ground that it was informed there were plans to frame Saraki over a murder case involving one Lanre Mohammed Soliu, the son of a former Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, who was recently paraded by the police over his alleged involvement in cult related murders.
The protestors carried several placards with various inscriptions such as “Fresh plot to frame Saraki uncovered”, “stop intimidating Saraki”, “we stand with Saraki” among others. They were received at the forecourt of the Government House by Governor AbdulFattah Ahmed.
Leader of the group, Taofiq Olateju, told Ahmed that the suspect was being transported to Abuja while his crime was allegedly committed in Ilorin and appealed to men of conscience across the country to prevail on the Federal Government to stop intimidating and humiliating the Senate President.
The Kwara Agenda leader expressed concerns over the sudden twist introduced to the investigation of Lanre, arguing that having allegedly committed the offence in Ilorin, his trial should also be within the jurisdiction.
His words:”As concerned youths of Kwara State, we want to appeal to men of conscience across the country to prevail on the Federal Government to stop intimidating and humiliating our God – sent leader, the President of the Senate. No Senate President in the history of this country has been so humiliated and vilified as Senator Bukola Saraki, for no just cause.
“Saraki is our leader and a law abiding citizen, whose passion is to improve the lots of the common man. He should be left alone to continue the good job he and his colleagues are doing at the National Assembly. We are using this forum to warn those behind this fresh plot to frame and tarnish the image of our leader to retrace their steps. We have no doubt in our mind that this fresh plot like the ones before it shall fail woefully.”
An advocacy group- Kwara Must Change also urged Nigerians to be cautious and resist the temptation of wanting to politicise the Offa robbery incident, following the invitation of the Senate President by the police over the incident.
The group, in a statement by its coordinator, Abdulrazaq Hamzat, asked all Nigerians to follow the police investigation with all sense of responsibility, devoid of any political sentiments.
Hamzat said:”This is very important because, the tragic invasion of Offa community in Offa Local Government Area of Kwara State in April 2018, which claimed over 33 innocent lives must not be confused with politics and the police report on such a scary development must be monitored very objectively.
“According to the report credited to police Spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, Saraki was invited after he was mentioned by five of the suspected armed robbers, who confessed to being part of the robbery gang that operated in Offa and killed over 33 people.
“The police claimed that five gang leaders indicted Saraki after they confessed that they were political thugs of the Senate President and the Governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed, under the name Youth Liberation Movement a.k.a “Good Boys” and were sponsored with firearms, money and operational vehicles.
“Kwara Must Change wishes to state very clearly that, we are still watching the development and would react properly after more information is revealed. However, we urge all Nigerians to be cautious and resist the temptation of wanting to politicize an important matter like the Offa robbery incident.”
In Offa, scene of the tragedy, some youths in the ancient town, under the aegis of Youth Agitators Nationalists Forum led by Comrade Peter Kayode, vowed to trek from Offa to Abuja if the police continued to harass Saraki, who they described as a great benefactor. They went round the palace carrying placards that condemned the invitation of the Senate President. Some of the placards read: “We are one with Saraki in Offa”, “Do not politicise Offa robbery”, “OGA IG, this is too much, don’t boil Offa over robbery.”
Leaders of several community groups such as artisan association, students, market men and women as well as the umbrella body for Offa indigenes, Offa Descendants Union (ODU), took time to condemn the invitation and pleaded with the authorities not to mix politics with the trouble the community had undergone in the last few months.
“We want police to go after the real culprits”, Oba Muftau Gbadamosi, who was represented by two High Chiefs, Bayo Akinola, the Ojomu of Offa and Adebayo Shittu, the Asalofa of Offa, to receive the protesting community members said.
“As a community, we do not believe that Saraki had anything to do with the incident. We believe it is not so. We do not agree. We are taken aback and we ask that whatever is connected with the Offa robbery should be dealt with on its own right and not joined with other issues”, Akinola said.
A day after, the Olofa himself issued a statement where he identified with Saraki in his plight and asked the police to thread softly on the matter at hand. The Olofa, a first class traditional ruler, gave this verdict in a statement signed by his Principal Private Secretary, Dr Tajudeen Oloyede. He also called on the police to be alive to their responsibility and avoid unnecessary sensationalism in the handling of the investigation into the robbery incident
He added:”The Senate President always heeded to our call anytime we approached him on any issue concerning the progress and security of our ancient town.
“The Offa people are well bred citizen of Nigeria and we are appreciative of people who have extended hands of fellowship to us. Dr. Saraki is one such persons and thus, we hold him in high esteem.
“When the Offa robbery incident happened, the Senate President was the first top public official to pay a visit to our town and right there in the Palace in the glare of the High Chiefs and other well-meaning personalities, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Saraki put a call to the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, requesting him to make necessary security arrangement which our people has long been yearning for.
“The Senate President also donated substantial money to help some of our people who were in distress as a result of the robbery incident and he also made substantial contribution towards the building of a new police station. We wish to state that the Senate President is a former Governor of Kwara State and by the grace of God the number three citizen of this country. We will therefore not be a party to any attempt to ridicule, embarrass, denigrate and disgrace him. We know his antecedent, family and political beliefs.
“We therefore call on the police to be alive to their responsibility and avoid unnecessary sensationalism in the handling of the investigation into the Offa robbery incident. We will appreciate that this case is thoroughly investigated devoid of media trial and unnecessary and undue publicity. Our interest remains in the law taking its course against those who unleashed mayhem and violence against our people in order to prevent recurrence of such crime in our society.”
In Ilorin, elders of Ajikobi Central Ward in the Ilorin West Local Government Area of the state, where Saraki hails from, expressed shock over the invitation of their son by the police in respect of the unfortunate Offa armed robbery attack.
The elders, in a statement signed by their coordinator, Alhaji Salihu AbdulWahab Agbaji, said that, “it is illogical and unthinkable that the Senate President and the political leader of Kwara State will ask bandits to kill the citizens that he leads.
“‘The plot against our son is as a result of his growing popularity across the country, a situation which is making some of his political rivals uncomfortable. We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently call the Inspector General of Police to order, so as to allow our hard earned democracy to blossom.”
Members of the coalition of Kwara youths in their hundreds, carried placards with various inscription during a peaceful protest from the hinterland of Ilorin metropolis to the Press Centre of the NUJ in GRA, to condemn the invitation.
They warned those they claimed were behind the move to frame Saraki to desist.
Some of the placards read, “Stop evil politics,” Be professional”, “No to over politicisation of Offa robbery”, “Saraki is not an armed robber’, “Don’t implicate Saraki.”
Coordinator of the group, Haruna Yakub Kannike, said members were surprised by police invitation of Saraki over Offa robbery, adding that, “nothing can be farther from the truth!”
He added:”Prominent Nigerians have blamed the wanton killings of harmless citizens in Offa on that BLACK Day on the inefficiency of men and officers of the Nigeria Police. We are also pleased to note that the suspected gang leader had during an interview with newsmen in Abuja confessed that “one ex -dismissed police officer Michael Adikwu was the one that comes with ammunitions.”
“We want to use this forum to make it clear to the police hierarchy that Saraki is our leader and a law abiding citizen whose passion is to improve the lots of the common man. He should be left alone to continue the good job he and his colleagues are doing at the National Assembly.”
The Forum of Board of Parastatals Chairmen in its own intervention also cautioned against implicating Saraki and Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed in the April 5 Offa banks robbery incident.
Chairman of the forum, Lanre Aremu, said it was wrong for anyone to link Saraki and the governor who both have noble and humble background to the dastardly act.
Aremu urged the Inspector General of Police, not to politicise a sensitive issue like the Offa banks robbery. He said that ploy by the Police was totally condemnable; pointing out that the Senate President has remained committed to the welfare of the people of Kwara and Nigeria at large.
The Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Kwara State chapter and a group of women in the state, also organized a prayer session for Saraki, for God to grant him victory in his current political travails.
The ALGON, in a statement by its chairman, Joshua Omokanye, condemned reported linkage of the Senate President and Ahmed with cultists’ activities in the state and Offa bank robbery.
Kwara women in their hundreds at a special prayer also recited verses from the holy Qur’an and prayed to God to protect the Senate President, whom they described as their benefactor. Addressing journalists during the prayer session, leader, of the group, Hajia Ramat Oganija, said they resorted to prayer because they were convinced that Saraki who they said was being implicated in the recent Offa bank robbery incident had encouraged entrepreneurship by empowering women and youths in the state to be economically self reliant.
But it was not all about pro-Saraki. In Offa, during a peaceful protest round the town, spokesperson of the Association of Concerned Offa Indigenes, Home and abroad, Chief Muideen Babalola, called on police authority to ensure that justice prevailed, no matter the level of personality involved in the matter.
The protesters walked from Iyeru Okin African LGA Primary School, Offa through Ibrahim Taiwo road to Idi Ogun, Olofa way, Ijagbo junction near Yidi praying ground to the popular Owode Market, Offa and terminated the walk at the Olofa’s palace. At the Olofa’s palace, the protesters were addressed by one of the high chiefs, the Asalofa of Offa, Chief Isiaka Adebayo Shittu, who stood in for the Olofa of Offa.
Yet another group, Concerned Citizens of Offa minced no words in condemning what it called ‘surreptitious and dubious means and moves’ to divert attention from the Offa robbery as it commended the police for what it had done so far with the ‘some significant arrests.’
The group, which vent its anger through its President, Tunde Yusuf and Secretary, Segun Balogun, deplored the position of the umbrella body of Offa indigenes, ODU, as well as the Olofa’s palace on the issue, arguing that it was wrong for the two bodies to have absolved Saraki of complicity in the crime when investigation was still in progress.
There was also a personal protest by one Prince Yemi Whyte in ‘defence of the integrity of Offa community’ and ‘on behalf of Offa sons and daughters.
“It is pertinent to state without any ambiguity that the entire Offa people are totally against the shameless and conscienceless rally that took place in Offa yesterday”, he said and went ahead to assure the police that all well meaning sons and daughters of the ancient city were fully in support of its efforts to unravel the Offa robbery mystery in full.
Also throwing stones into the pro-Saraki rallies were members of Offa Youth Vanguard, who want Saraki and others to be thoroughly investigated and even prosecuted if there were sufficient proofs. President of the group, Femi Oyeleke and his Secretary, Saliu Bello even asked that Saraki resigned his position as they condemned the position of the ODUU and the Olofa-in-council on the travails of the Senate President.
“There is no doubt that the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies are on the right path and we are totally declaring our unflinching support on their effort to unravel the truth over this unfortunate incident,” the duo said.
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