#8thSenateAt1 We Have Achieved A lot in One Year– Saraki
By Thursday, it would be one year that Senate President Bukola Saraki took over the mantle of leadership in the senate. Despite all the challenges, Saraki believes that the 8th senate has lived up to expectation. He also said the upper legislative chamber had put in motion a mechanism to ensure that the executive complied with its resolutions, and dismissed the insinuation that the upper legislative chamber was a “toothless bulldog”.
The senate president, who is facing a 13 count charge of graft at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), told select journalists in Abuja that he does not want to end his tenure with regrets.Below are excerpts from the interview.
How would you describe your experience in the past 365 days?
Well, I think, of course at different times and at different moments all the words you used can fit in, in one way or the other. Most importantly, I give a lot of thanks to our creator for giving one the opportunity because whatever you say, it is an honour, it is an opportunity; it is not the story of many… and to have been able to achieve that, I think one is honoured. So, based on that, every day one is grateful for the opportunity and it always reminds me of when I was governor of Kwara state, I used say that every day… what was driving me was that I was counting the days when the job will end, and I wanted to say when the job does end I will be able to say- that I did this, I did that. I don’t want to end the job and say I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that. So, I am focused on what needs to be done and I believe this has been a huge challenge.
I believe that motivates one to see that we must make a difference, we must make a difference. And every day, that is what drives me to say; what do we do today to make a difference; so from that point of view, we will work. I expect this kind of challenges when you’re trying to make a change, especially in the legislative arm, which is where the change is the most because Nigerians are used to the executive. Nigerians are used to the judiciary. The youngest arm of government is the legislature and it is also the one people don’t understand and the one that people cannot see how it connects with their daily lives. An average man or woman in Nigeria knows how the executive affects his or her life.
When a minister makes an announcement that we have now raised the duty on car importation or the exchange rate has gone to this and you’re paying school fees, you know how it is, so people appreciate and understand the executive, of course the judiciary too, they know that this judge can rule against or for, when you have a case. So, they wonder why this over 400 and just under 500 Nigerians, what are they doing there? How does that affect me? They’ve passed laws, that makes it more challenging and of course that’s where the challenge comes from.
But I am very hopeful that by the time we’re done, Nigerians will see the difference.
What’s the difference between the senate you are presiding over, and the one when you were a member?
I think I have been in the seventh senate for four years. I have followed the activities of the national assembly; I believe that where we are now, the group of senators that we have are very focused, very patriotic and have a commitment to Nigerians; very patriotic because this is the first time that you have a senate where the majority is very slim, so you can’t really compare it to the previous senate. So, when you have a senate with this kind of slim majority, every day really should be chaotic, every day should be up in arms and this and that… when you go and watch over the last one year, any time we have discussed national issues, issues that had to do with the economy, senators have come there as senators of the federal republic not as senators of APC or PDP.
When there are issues right from the time we looked at the screening of ministers, we looked at the budget, and they have also behaved like senators of the federal republic of Nigeria, because it is their right as opposition that any little thing that does not follow… because the legislature is something that is all based on processes. Sometimes, the substance might be good but like the judiciary, if you missed the process, it is out. But the senators have shown a lot of maturity and a lot of patriotism and you’ll not know that the senate has a slim majority. I am very happy because without that support, majority of the issues we want to discuss in this country cannot. So, I am very happy, very honoured by the support they’ve given me.
If you look at the supplementary budget, that supplement budget under normal circumstance would not have been passed if the senators should go on party lines and platforms which they were elected. If you see what we have done in the past one year despite a lot distraction, you’ll see that it is a senate that has a roadmap. We are not just coming to the senate and just jumping from one issue to another, you can see, this is a senate that is focusing largely on the economy, we are focusing on how do we make Nigeria a better place.
I don’t think any senate has had this kind of openness; the people have access to what is happening in the senate there and there. People know what is happening in the senate. And to have that happen, you can’t do it alone as senate president, you don’t even have a vote… because the senators themselves want it and believe in that agenda. If I don’t have this kind of colleagues to work with, some of these things that we are doing we will not be able to do.
To what extent is your trial at the CCT affecting your job as senate president?
From what we’re seeing in the court, not my own words, even the word of the witness some of the comments there support what I said. Those of you who were in court, you remember the day the chief witness said that the first time they wrote the committee on federal government implementation of property sale was in August 2015, that’s like two months after I emerged, and to me that was further confirmation of what I said. Which means that prior to then, there was no investigation. As that may be, I see it as a huge distraction because there is more we could be doing in the hours we were losing when we go to court. We have to do that, I want to clear my name as soon as possible, but it is an unfortunate distraction, I think it was ill conceived by those I talked about at that time and of course, as I said it is a huge distraction.
But it has no deterred us, I believe that we have been able to address and push along our own agenda, after the case is over, I believe that as an institution too we must look into how to strengthen our judiciary and how to ensure that political battles that are lost in the political arena do not find themselves into the judicial arena, it is not good for the system, I think even as you hear people use the word ‘corruption trial’ when actually look at the issue the best you’ll call it is administration misdemeanour… there is nowhere at any time you’re talking about government funds missing somewhere… and when we start to paint the fight against corruption and people begin not be sure whether it is corruption or politics, we do more harm to the fight against corruption.
Now that the house of representatives has amended the Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal Act, will the senate concur or not?
Whether senate will concur or not, I’ve not seen the details of what they have passed, as you know there is a process, when they passed it, they will send it to us, when we get it we will look at it and see the rationale of what they’re doing.
What’s the status of the process of amending the constitution?
On the constitution amendment, we have set up committees headed by the deputy senate president, and they have started meeting, we have given them a very clear mandate. As you’re aware in the seventh national assembly, a lot of work had been done, even though it was passed in the national assembly, but did not get the accent of the former president.
We have told them to break the work into two phases, let us first agree quickly and push for the amendment of things that would really be agreed on by most people, and in two weeks, they are going to have a retreat in Lagos to review all the areas where there are common positions.
Secondly, new areas will also be looked at it… but the purpose is that the areas that we have agreed where there is little or no controversy or disagreement…. They will also consult with the speakers of the all 36 state houses of assembly, and also with the house of representatives and try as much as possible to see that before the year ends, we can pass the constitutional amendment.
The eighth senate in the past one year has passed quite a number of resolutions, but without teeth, what are you doing to stop the senate from being a toothless bulldog? Also, are we going to see this nation restructured through the constitutional Amendment?
The second phase of the constitutional amendment will bring in issues like this, whatever new issues that people have will come in.
Going into the first question on resolutions, we have made it clear that we are not going to be a national assembly that will be effective. Some of the resolutions that we have passed, we have already featured what we call compliance committee to oversee some of the things that we have made and see that the executive arm complies.
Rest assured that, we have always said this, that this national assembly is not afraid of anybody, this senate is not afraid to say the truth when it is necessary, we’re not afraid of taking on anybody when he or she is not doing the right thing. There are no sacred cows in this business, we know that by doing that the system will come back, this is the promise we made to Nigerians, unless we do this right thing nothing will happen.
To us, at the national assembly we’ll make sure that our resolutions will have substance and are transparent, and we’ll ensure that the right thing is done.
On many occasions you promised to make the breakdown of national assembly budget available to the public, have you changed your mind?
No. I have not changed my mind. I’m sure they’re in the process of making it available, there is no going back on that, I have already released the figures, I think there is a need for greater awareness, there is no going back on it. That is the minimum… because you can’t be shouting transparency and inside your own house there is no transparency, there is need for a wide coverage and have the documents out there… put it where people can assess it. I think on our website, I’m sure in the next weeks that will be done.
What is your take on take on the executive-legislature relationship in this dispensation? Secondly, if you have the opportunity will you seek a second term as senate president?
In terms of relationship between the legislature and the executive, in all honesty, I think we need to improve on it. There is no doubt about that, I think, in all democracy the relationship between the executive and the legislature is very important but again, don’t forget this is the beginning of a new government; it takes time for people to understand each other and to work best in the interest of country. I think that is important, it is better than how it was about 365 days ago and I’m confident that as time goes on that will happen.
I think is too early to talk about seeking a second term as senate president, because the issue is not in my hands, you decide at the end of your period. First of all, you assess yourself before you put yourself forth, you have to ask yourself, have I done well enough to deserve the confidence of the people, and then other factors can come into it.
Our focus now is to leave a very good legacy to be able to say that this eighth senate was different from the way things were done in the past. This eighth senate has positioned the national assembly the way it should work, that is our primary aim, the rest is secondary.
What is the senate doing in contributing to the fight against corruption?
We must make sure the process of fighting corruption is transparent. When I received the NEITI report, in one year close to N1trn is lost to government. Meanwhile, all the people that work in these agencies have never visited the EFCC or the ICPC.
The eighth senate will not protect any corrupt fellow, and we are in support of the president’s fight against corruption by blocking the leakages.
My take is that the institutions should be very strong such that, whether the president, Magu or I are no longer there, the fight against corruption would continue.
Our focus again is to make laws that will strengthen these institutions… don’t let them believe they have to play to the gallery by making one person happy and the other person sad. They should not politicise issues, they should be very clear cut cases, we have not got there yet we need to be clear with ourselves.
How do you think that peace can be restored in the Niger Delta?
On the issue of the Niger Delta, well, we had this kind of problem before in the time of the late President Yar’ Adua and we were able to find a solution that brought peace to the Niger Delta, clearly there is a need for us all to put all hands on deck and bring peace to the Niger Delta. It has been done before, I remember then, I was also chairman governors’ forum, we know the role we played as of that time to ensure that the Yar’ Adua government worked hard towards an amnesty programme to sustain peace in the region.So, the national assembly is available to play its own role to bring about that peace, but it is a priority, and I believe no price is too high for peace sake.