Dr. Olubukola Abubakar Saraki, the astute political tactician

By Joseph Inokotong, Abuja

Dr. Olubukola Abubakar Saraki, President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, is one politician whose name has been on the lips of political analysts in the 4th Republic, ostensibly for roles he played at different times in deepening Nigeria’s Democracy.

He has remained in circulation since the beginning of the republic in 1999. He served the Obasanjo administration as an adviser, served two terms as Governor of Kwara State, elected as a Senator and rose to the enviable position of Senate President, the office he occupied with different strides.

Nigerians of different shades and opinions view his Senate Presidency with mixed feelings.

While many admire his leadership style and ability of controlling the Senate without bulging under subtle attacks and political persecutions, some others criticised Saraki for his stance against the executive arm of government.

Saraki, no doubt, paid dearly for daring the Presidency on some National issues which to many Nigerians have placed the parliament on war path with the Buhari Presidency.

But to a very large extent, he was able to win for himself the admiration of Nigerians within and outside the country as an astute political tactician, administrator and influential leader.

His foray into the 4th republic politics started in 2000 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Saraki as Special Assistant to the President on Budget.

During his tenure, Saraki initiated the Fiscal Responsibility Bill. Saraki also served on the Economic Policy Coordination Committee, where he was responsible for the formulation and implementation of several key economic policies for Nigeria.

Leveraging on his late father, Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki’s political dominance, he contested and was elected Governor of Kwara State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2003 and re-elected in 2007 to complete a two term in office in 2011.

As governor of Kwara State, he led reforms in agriculture, health, education, finance and environment policies. One of his major achievements was inviting displaced white farmers from Zimbabwe to Kwara State and offering them an opportunity to farm. This led to the establishment of Shonga Farms programme, which is now being replicated across Nigeria.

Under Saraki, Kwara became the first state to complete the Nigeria Independent Power Project.

In collaboration with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. Saraki re-energised the Ganmo Power Station at Ilorin, and connected over 3750 rural communities to the national grid through the development and installation of 725 transformers and 7 substations.

Kwara also completed 4 electrification projects which meant power became stable 18–22 hours a day. 90% of people living in Kwara have access to electricity, compared to a national average in Nigeria of 30%.

Saraki led significant and statewide infrastructure development, including improvements at the Ilorin International Airport Cargo Terminal, extensive road construction, and development of new sporting facilities such as Kwara Football Academy.

Saraki became chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum in 2007 where his leadership qualities were once again displayed.

Under Saraki’s Chairmanship, a reformed Forum was established, with a fully resourced secretariat, with a technical and administrative division that was entirely focused on delivery.

Under Saraki’s chairmanship, new processes such as the State Peer Review Mechanism were developed to ensure closer working and collaboration, and that best practices could be shared between states.

The mechanism allowed case studies to be shared between states in a number of policy fields including power projects, primary healthcare centres for villages and other rural locations, roadworks, water, solar schemes and the construction of specialist hospitals and state universities. Projects such as these had previously remained undisclosed.

In April 2011, he climbed the political ladder upward when he was elected as senator on the platform of the PDP, representing the Kwara Central senatorial district.

As a Senator, he made meaningful contributions to parliamentary proceedings and National development.

He was appointed as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology and also a member of the Senate Committee on Capital Markets and Finance.

As a senator, he was proactive in introducing nationalistic bills. Notable among his parliamentary interventions was a motion in the Senate to end the fuel subsidy regime in Nigeria, which has been an excessive waste of the country’s national resources.

Senator Saraki has campaigned extensively on health, food security, education and the environment.

He has argued for strengthened laws on the cleanup of oil spills. His National Oil Spill and Detection and Response Agency Amendment Bill seek to ensure oil companies pay appropriate levels of compensation to communities affected by oil spills.

Saraki intervened in the lead poisoning crisis in Zamfara State in 2010, and has supported the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which ensures safe and healthy methods of cooking for millions of Nigerians while conserving the environment through reduced deforestation.

He has been a lead campaigner in the areas of desertification and climate change in the Senate and across Nigeria.

Saraki sponsored a motion on the floor of the Senate to end Nigeria’s fuel subsidy regime. Other motions and private member bills he has sponsored include the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency Amendment Bill 2012, which was aimed at putting a halt to oil spills in the Niger Delta, the Gas Flaring Prohibition Bill 2012 and the Climate Change Commission Bill 2013.

The high point of his career in the Senate was in 2014 when he decamped from the PDP with 14 other Senators to the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) on which platform he contested and won a seat back to the Senate in 2015.

At the peak of his face-off with the Presidency and fallout with the APC, he decamped back to his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on July, 2018.

These, however, did not come without a price as Saraki faced persecution believed to be political witch-hunting which includes his trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Bukola Saraki became the first Senate President in Nigeria to be issued with arrest warrant, when Danladi Umar, Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, issued an arrest warrant against Saraki on September 18, 2015.

But on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) sitting in Abuja discharged and acquitted Saraki in the 18 count charge of corruption in the false declaration of assets charge brought against him in September 2015 by the Federal Government.

On Friday, July 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria dismissed all 18 charges of corruption and false asset declaration brought against the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, by the Federal Government, following his election as Senate President.

In a judgement on July 6, a five-member panel of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Dattijo Mohammed, held that the decision of the appeal court to agree with the tribunal in one breath and order Saraki’s return to the CCT in another, amounted to a “judicial summersault.”

Therefore, the court affirmed the June 2017 decision of the Code of Conduct Tribunal which ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the case against Saraki.

Saraki was on June 9, 2015 elected unopposed as President of the Senate by an across the party alliance comprising PDP and APC Senators. Saraki had faced stiff opposition from Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan who was a preferred candidate by a group of senators-elect within the APC.

The Nigerian Senate under his leadership has surpassed all Senates in Nigeria’s history, passing 201 bills and clearing 138 public petitions.

Recently, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill which was passed by the Nigerian Senate was rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari, stating that it reduces the President’s powers.

The bill had been passed by the Nigerian National Assembly to promote transparency and accountability in the industry.

Saraki declared his intention to vie for the Office of President of Nigeria, under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but lost to Atiku Abubakar. He was subsequently announced as the Director General of Atiku’s Presidential Campaign Council.

In the February 23, 2019 elections, Saraki lost his Senatorial seat to APC’s Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe. He polled a total of 68,994 votes against Oloriegbe’s 123,808 votes in the four Local Government Areas of Kwara Central Senatorial District, leaving a margin of 54,814 votes.

Though he will be out of political scene in the next four years, the name Bukola Saraki can never be forgotten in a hurry.