Nigeria: Will Bukola Saraki run for president in 2023?
An unlikely player in the 2023 presidential elections could be former senate president Bukola Saraki.
But his potential journey to Nigeria’s Aso Villa – the workplace and official residence of the president of Nigeria – will be very rocky at best. As is common in Nigerian politics, he has made some enemies on his way to the top.
His star has also been on the wane. On 24 February 2019, the electoral officer in charge of the Kwara Central senatorial district announced the results of the senatorial elections. Bukola Saraki, the senate president, lost his reelection campaign to the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Yahaya Oloriegbe.
The loss signified an endpoint of the so-called Saraki dynasty – a political power base started by Olusola Saraki, a politician who was a senator of the Nigerian Second Republic between 1979 and 1983. The dynasty produced nearly every governor in Kwara State since 1979. But the election loss in 2019 was a culmination of several loses for Saraki in the Nigerian election cycle.
After defecting to People’e Democratic Party (PDP) in 2018, Saraki launched his presidential ambitions, which ended as he lost the primary to former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, who later lost the national election to Muhammadu Buhari.
Saraki’s defection to the PDP was full circle.
- He had left the PDP in 2014 to join the APC.
- According to Saraki: “When we left the PDP to join the then nascent coalition of APC [in 2014], we left in a quest for justice, equity and inclusion; the fundamental principles on which the PDP was originally built but which it had deviated from. We were attracted to the APC by its promise of change. We fought hard along with others and defeated the PDP.”
But his ascension to the role of senate president in 2015 ultimately tested his popularity. Saraki had a well-documented thirst for taking on political battles and ultimately besting his opponents.
- He ambitiously fought his dad, his sister, the presidency, several impeachment plots and even the APC – and won.
- He had been described as an aggressive and power-hungry politician known for making alliances and partnerships, even with his opponents.
- Saraki had taken over the leadership of the senate in what the APC dubbed the “highest level of treachery, disloyalty and insincerity within any party”.
- Saraki defeated his party’s preferred candidate, current senate president Ahmed Lawan, to emerge as the senate president. He was nominated by Sani Yerima and was elected unanimously by 57 senators present at the session. The remaining 51 senators were at the International Conference Centre waiting for a truce meeting reportedly called by the leadership of the APC and President Buhari.
Can he make a comeback?
These days, Saraki is living a muted life away from the public eye. For his loyalists in Kwara, he will return. But, the general consensus in Kwara is that he is done politically. Several policy experts argue that Saraki had one shot at staying in public office but ultimately lost it.
“Leaving the APC to rejoin the PDP exposed him politically, and he couldn’t defeat the federal might at the polls. He managed to stay till the end of his tenure as senate president despite the court cases that were manufactured against him by the APC to remove him,” Ugochukwu Ikeakor, a Lagos-based policy researcher and volunteer for the Saraki campaign team, tells The Africa Report.
Despite joining the APC to work for the Buhari presidency in 2015, his role in the senate put him at loggerheads with Aso Villa. If his ascent to the senate presidency hurt his relationship with the APC, his opposition to Buhari’s policies was a nail in the coffin.
Home in Kwara
Saraki has a strong following in Kwara. But in December 2019, governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq announced a decision to revoke the late Olusola Saraki’s property owing to alleged illegality in its acquisition. This was presumably to stamp his authority and mark the finality of Saraki’s political defeat in the state. Despite protesters who kept vigil, the demolition of the home was carried out.
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“Saraki might be able to get back into local politics in Kwara if he plays his cards right. He has a great following on the ground, and he can make a case for himself against the current government of the state,” explains Damilola Adebayo, a Lagos-based policy researcher. “Saraki cannot enter any serious conversations about the presidency anymore. Losing his senatorial seat will remain a dent in his record forever.”
Ikeakor disagrees: “I think he still has a shot. He is young and educated, and he has both executive and legislative experience. That will always be an added advantage to him. He still has his political connections. He is a key stakeholder in PDP and party politics in Nigeria. Saraki’s greatest undoing in the last election was joining PDP, same thing with Atiku.”
But some other political commentators argue that many people have gotten burnt by following Saraki. Despite Saraki’s reputation for being able to work even with his opponents, the political rumor mill says that he has lost many friends after losing those recent elections.