Saraki: A distinguished legacy built on the sands of time
On the 6th of June 2019, Dr. Bukola Saraki presided over the 8th Senate for the last time and took a graceful bow from the red chamber. Four years ago, Dr. Saraki upset permutations and predictions to edge out his former party, All Progressives Congress (APC) anointed candidate, Ahmed Lawan, for the coveted Senate President seat. That singular event, however, loomed large in the frosty account of his relationship with the APC, and his eventual exit from the party.
Different narratives with criticisms of Dr. Saraki's leadership of the Senate were frequent and in most cases, they blamed him for the failing of the government. Fortunately, much of what happened in the executive-legislative relations in the last four years is nothing but pure political posturing.
Already, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the same fashion it employed in 2015 has anointed one of its senators to take charge of the 9th Senate. However, this time around, Dr. Saraki would not be part of the upper legislative chamber as he lost his reelection in the February 2019 National Assembly elections.
I have listened and read some of the commentaries on the Senate under the leadership of Dr. Saraki but sincerely, many can be easily dismissed as mere sentiments to rob the former Kwara state governor of the impressive strides recorded under him. In the past four years of his leadership of the Nigerian Senate, they have passed important bills and also made several important interventional policies and it's surprising when some ignore this glaring facts and instead spread frivolities.
A detailed look at the books solve any confusion that deliberate falsehoods and spins created in the mind of ordinary Nigerians. To be blunt, Dr. Saraki stand tall and his legacy as the President of the Senate are too glaring to be twisted by small minds, who usually see everything from the prism of partisanship.
Nigerians, too often adjudge a man, not by his array of impacts but by the twist of his adversaries. But that playbook can hardly work in the instance of Dr. Saraki because his resounding impacts and legacy informed a range of critical changes in legislative functions and also supervised a Senate that made the most contributions, whether in term of bills or interventions. Since the return to democracy in 1999, the number of bills passed by the three previous Senate stood at 329.
But in four years of the 8th Senate under Saraki, the red chamber had passed 318 bills, most of which have direct bearing on Nigerians. Of course, Dr. Saraki early days as the Senate President was buoyed with challenges and needless distractions from his former party, APC, he, however, weathered the storm and ensured that the demands of his exalted office didn't suffer.
While he was subjected to unwarranted witch-hunt and harassment– an unjust treatment never visited on any Senate President in the nation's history, Dr. Saraki remained undaunted and kept to his mission of working for the ordinary Nigerians. While his persecution lasted at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCT) on trumped-up allegations, Dr. Saraki galvanized the Senate for the important task– focusing on legislations and interventions that have direct and meaningful impact on the ordinary citizens.
Even when armed security operatives invaded the National Assembly in 2018, Dr. Saraki was unshaken and that infamous event went on to be a showcase of the depth of acceptability of his leadership among his colleagues as well as members of the House of Representatives, who stood defiant to assert the independence of the legislature.
That explains why he was able to achieve so much with his colleagues in just four years, leaving a daunting benchmark for whoever succeeded him as the leader of the Senate in the 9th assembly. Under his leadership of the Senate, Dr. Saraki supervised a legislation that focused on touching matters that affects the day-to-day affairs of Nigerians. From economy to education, anti-corruption to health and so on, the imprint of Dr. Saraki-led Senate are too obvious to be ignored.
In fact, the 8th Senate under Dr. Saraki brought so many revolutionary changes that were never seen before in the upper legislative chamber. Over the years, Nigerians have sounded the need to be part of the national budget process and policy formulation. But it was Dr. Saraki that heeded the call when in 2016, he introduced public hearing in the process of formulating policy and national budget consideration. That initiative gave civil society organizations and other concerned Nigerians the ability to attend hearings on national budget and were able to make contributions before their passages.
This was never a practice under the previous leadership of the Senate and the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, who apparently was moved, described the initiative as "a testament of the leadership and foresight of the Senate President (Saraki), and the commitment of the 8th Senate as a whole to ensure that the budget is passed transparently– with adequate feedback from the general public."
But that is not all. Right from his time as Governor of Kwara state, Dr. Saraki always place much emphasis on youth developments and involving them in nation building. Definitely, Dr. Saraki demonstrated is interest in the youth. Not only did youth dominate his team, he was also the first Senate President to give youth the opportunity of spending a day with him and listening to them. In his valedictory speech, he cherished the moments he had with youth as "pleasant memories", recalling that "my reading to an audience of small children inside my office, where — in the true spirit of Children’s Day — the kids themselves were the dignitaries."
A crucial feature of Dr. Saraki everlasting impact on youth, called the #NotTooYoungToRule bill, was an unprecedented opportunity for youths by removing age barrier that have prevented them from aspiring for elected office. With the passage of the bill, the age limit for Nigerians seeking for the office of President was reduced to 35 from 40; age limit for governorship contestant is now 30 from 35, hence, brought about an unprecedented number of young contestants for the 2019 general election. That is a legacy!
Details of how Dr. Saraki led the Senate to resolve a protracted strike at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), which returned students to their classrooms after nearly two years at home, was solid, if not entirely glowing. While the intervention drew widespread commendation, I'm sure that students who received the gesture will forever cherished it and have one name stuck at the center of their hearts– Dr. Saraki.
Under the leadership of Dr. Saraki, the Senate passed laws and moved motions that directly benefits the public. While those interventions may be too many for this piece to contain, it will be a great disservice not to mention the resolution of the Senate which mandated the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) "to immediately abolish fixed charges on electricity consumption, and bulk marketing of villages and communities." That legislative move relieved millions of Nigerians from unnecessary burden and exploitation.
Even more, Dr. Saraki-led Senate complimented the executive fight against corruption by exposing abuse of import duty waivers on rice and saving the country a fortune. This is aside the N25 billion saved for the country by detecting fraudulent activities in the implementation of TSA in 2015.
When all is said and done, one of the most important remarkable accomplishments of Dr. Saraki is how he channeled legislation to the fight against corruption. Notably, was the passage of the NFIU (Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit) Bill, which was a strategic and bold move to strengthened the fight against corruption by making the agency autonomous and also returned Nigeria to the EGMONT Group that had earlier suspended the country.
Shortly after the passage of the bill, Dr. Saraki stressed that the NFIU bill is "in-line with our (Senate) commitment to support the fight against corruption through legislation", pointing out that the benefit of the "passage of the Conference Committee Report of the Bill (NFIU) is aimed at ensuring that we (Nigeria) comply with international best practices, so that we will be able to access the financial intelligence data of the EGMONT Group." And as highlighted by Dr. Saraki, the NFIU bill is becoming a critical instrument to fight corruption, especially at the grassroots, as the Federal Government recently announced move to route allocations of local councils through their accounts and not the state governments, which is fraught with corruption allegations.
Primary healthcare got its major boost from the Senate. Under Dr. Saraki, the Senate legislated the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCFP) and in 2018, approved 55 billion naira to cater for healthcare in Nigeria. Similar gesture was extended to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as Senate allocated ten billion naira considering their dire situations and recently, passed a law for the establishment of a North East Development Commission (NEDC) to concentrate on their welfare and rebuilding process.
Though, security is the prerogative of the executive but the legislature, especially the Senate under Saraki has shown enormous commitment in ensuring it is resolved. From regular resolution on security-related issues to swift approval of funds for the purpose of buying ammunition, the Senate have demonstrated uncommon patriotism to consolidate the effort of the executive. Recently, the Senate passed the Police Reform Bill (2019) and the Nigerian Police Trust Fund Bill, in order to improve the service and security for Nigerians.
Conclusively, Dr. Saraki stood for democracy and guaranteed the independence of the legislature. Even though his stand drew a wedge between him and powerful forces, which eventually, played a role in his loss of the February National Assembly election, but when the account of how he ensured that the Senate, and by extension, the National Assembly, was not reduced to a rubber-stamp of the executive, history will be kind to him. As he bows, I salute Dr. Bukola Saraki for his uncommon bravery and the imprint he left in Nigeria government sphere.
Oke Umurhohwo is a Political Analyst and Strategist. He tweets via @OkeStalyf and can be reached via [email protected]com