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Saraki: Persecution of a misunderstood patriot

Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, representing Kwara Central Senatorial District has always wanted good things for the country but appears to be misunderstood in one way or the other.

Born December 19, 1962, Saraki was elected in the April 2011 elections, after having previously served two terms as Governor of Kwara State. Before joining the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), he was a staunch member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

As a two-time governor of Kwara State, one of his major achievements was inviting displaced white farmers from Zimbabwe to the State and offering them an opportunity to delve into agribusiness. This led to the establishment of the Shonga Farms programme, which is now being replicated across Nigeria. His charisma among his fellow governors got him elected as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum.

Under Saraki’s governorship, Kwara became the first state to complete and energise a Nigeria Independent Power Project. In collaboration with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, Saraki re-energised Ganmo Power Station in the state capital, Ilorin, and connected over 375 rural communities to the National Grid. He did this through the development and installation of 725 transformers and seven substations. Kwara also completed four electrification projects that meant power became stabilised for 18 to 22 hours a day. No fewer than 90 per cent of people living in Kwara have access to electricity, which compares to a national average in Nigeria of 30 per cent.

While in office, Saraki introduced a range of new health programmes including a state-wide campaign in 2008 to reduce maternal and child mortality with regard to Malaria, including distribution of insecticide-treated nets and free malaria drugs to pregnant mothers and to children under the age of five. A state-wide programme of hospital development was also implemented, leading to the redevelopment of hospitals in Afon, Patigi and Lafiagi.

Other measures implemented by Saraki included improved training and re-training for medical staff; refurbishment of hospitals and staff living quarters; and employment of qualified medical doctors and other health workers. Many of the primary care programmes were sponsored by international agencies such as World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

In agriculture, Saraki introduced a range of reforms to agricultural policy to increase the commercial viability of farming, and to increase exports to international markets. The New Nigerian Farmers Initiative was designed to improve the technical capability of farmers and to ensure farmers had a significant financial stake in new investment in agriculture. The scheme utilised the under-used resource of agricultural expertise in the Zimbabwean farming industry, and worked with the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union to identify high-skilled farmers able to support the State’s farming industry to move to Kwara and develop the industry.

Under his administration, a commercial hub was also developed to build capacity support training of the indigenous farming community. He led a number of significant and state-wide infrastructural developments, including improvements at the Ilorin International Airport Cargo Terminal; extensive road construction; and the development of new sporting facilities such as Kwara Football Academy. The State also has an ongoing aim to become a logistics and cargo hub in Nigeria and the region.

Saraki became the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum in 2007. 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. There was a range of new processes, including the State Peer Review Mechanism, and these were developed to ensure that closer working and collaboration could take place between members of the Forum, and best practice shared between states.

One of the most widely recognised achievements of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum was its intervention over the problematic assumption of power by then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, following the illness and subsequent death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He was not seen in public again and his absence created a dangerous power vacuum in Nigeria. The problem was that, for the Vice-President to succeed the President, the constitution demanded that the latter write a letter to the National Assembly making clear the appointment of the former. But as President Yar’Adua was constantly in and out of intensive care, this letter was never written and the succession therefore came into question.

Then, the NGF, led by Saraki, and working with the National Assembly, devised the ‘Doctrine of Necessity,’ which was then passed as a resolution by the National Assembly. The ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ allowed the Vice President to take over and become the acting President until such a time that the President returned.

The Forum has been credited with the development of better and more extensive polio immunisation in Nigeria. A key part of this was the introduction in 2011 of the Immunisation Leadership Challenge. The Challenge was designed to reward states in Nigeria that made significant improvements in polio and routine immunisation coverage by the end of 2012.

Also, observing the effects of the election cycle, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation drove the Immunisation Leadership Challenge – launched in partnership with the NGF – which pledged to award US $500,000 to states that met a pre-defined threshold of improvement. The overall objective of the Challenge was to fast-track the achievement of the global milestone of interrupting further transmission of the wild polio virus in Nigeria. The grant was to be used to support Governors’ top health priorities, including malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV prevention and treatment, as well as safe drinking water and hygiene programmes.

Under Dr Saraki’s chairmanship a number of Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) have been signed, including but not limited to the World Bank, DFID, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GAVI, UNICEF, UNDP. He was the first Nigerian Governor to be awarded the National Honor of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). Ceremonially, he also serves as a tribal nobleman of high rank in his capacity as the Turaki of the Ilorin Emirate.

He also pushed 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. He moved the motion for National Oil Spill and Detection and Response Agency Amendment Bill to ensure oil companies pay appropriate levels of compensation to communities affected by oil spills.

The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency Amendment Bill 2012 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. Dr. Saraki has also intervened in the Lead Poisoning crisis in Zamfara State in 2010, and has supported to 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. Dr Saraki sponsored a motion on the floor of the Senate to end Nigeria’s fuel subsidy regime.

In spite of these landmark achievements, Saraki is facing serious political castigation and trial from his party. It’s believed that he was misunderstood, though some party members and Nigerians still believe that the trial of Saraki amounts to paying a good man evil for good and witch-hunting.

Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Timi Frank, who is of the opinion that the Code of Conduct Tribunal of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is tantamount to betraying a man who devoted his ‘time, personal resources and energy’ to ensure the election success of the party.

Frank wondered why leaders of the APC chose to keep quiet while Saraki’s flawed trial continues at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. According him, in a recent statement, the outcome of Saraki’s trial will be detrimental to the progress of the ruling party.

The statement reads in part: “I sincerely hold that the current trial of Saraki is not only underserved, but amounts to paying a good man with evil. I also want to say that the leaders of our great party have unfortunately remained quiet in the face of evil.

“I don’t believe we have forgotten that the victory of the APC during the last general elections could not have been possible without courageous strategists like Saraki who lent their political weight in favour of the APC at the risk of their own lives and personal survival.

“I don’t think we have forgotten how Saraki as a Senator in the 7th Senate brought the attention of Nigerians to the fraud perpetrated by the last administration in the name of fuel subsidy. I don’t think we have forgotten so soon how Saraki led five other governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into the APC – a development that successfully turned the political tide against the PDP and eventually tipped the electoral scale against them during the 2015 general elections.

“I don’t think we have forgotten how Saraki led scores of Senators to cross over to the APC on the floor of the Senate. I don’t think we have also forgotten what he gave of his time, personal resources and energy to ensure that the APC emerged victorious both at the National, State and Local Government level.

“I want to ask why Saraki’s case is different? Why is the judiciary suddenly giving in to apparent blackmail from a section of the media by refusing to do their job as required by law? Already, the Senate President has told the world that the trial has nothing to do with corruption but that he is being persecuted for emerging as the Senate President.

“To me the ominous silence of our leaders since the day he was arraigned up till now serves to validate the claims of the Senate President that he is being persecuted. Or where else in the world will the number three citizen of a country be hurled before a tribunal over alleged irregularities in his asset declaration forms 13 years ago, and the hierarchy of the ruling to which he is a bonafide member will not come out to show solidarity or defend him?

“If it is true that the trial of the Senate President is not borne out of a genuine desire to fight corruption but is being carried out for selfish political ends, then who is next? I think the party need to be courageous enough to speak out against this unwholesome trend whose outcome will definitely not augur well for the overall development of our party and by extension the country at this hour.

“Even the holy scriptures admonish us not to muzzle the (ox) that thresh the corn. Saraki has paid his dues at a time it was suicidal for anybody to stand up against to the then ruling PDP. I believe it is time for all of us to act to save our party. It is time to rally round our generals who have fought valiantly and led us to victory. To abandon Saraki is to abandon a worthy comrade.”

In the same manner, a commentator, Olalekan Alabi, said, “To say that a large percentage of socially and politically conscious Nigerians have followed keenly the continued persecution of Saraki, for simply defying the odds in clinching the highly coveted position will not be an understatement.

“The Senate President himself has stated categorically the very reasons he continues to be victimised and treated as such. Hence, one cannot but wonder that if one person who holds such a sensitive position as this can have his colleagues on the political field deliberately tilt things against him and shift the goalpost, then what fate awaits ordinary Nigerians. In recent times, two matters have come up that once again question the credibility of the supposed war against corruption as bordering more around the precincts of overall political persecution.

“First, was the rumoured withdrawal of the services of the prosecuting counsel in the matter, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, for no just reason other than the fear that he will be compromised having reportedly cut his legal teeth under the tutelage of the defence counsel, the vintage former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Kanu Agabi, SAN.

“The second was the noticeable flaw leading to the apparent withdrawal of two out of the 13 count charges brought against the Senate President. These developments show that the government is indeed under enormous pressure to deliberately ensure the prosecution and political persecution of the Senate President without any due regard for the rule of law. The Danladi Umar-led Code of Conduct Tribunal for reasons best known and unknown remains a major tool toward achieving this end.

“It remains visible to even the blind and audible to the deaf that a script is in play with very strict instructions to nail, shame and even jail Dr. Bukola Saraki through any and all means possible. This trial has proven to be a manual on getting your enemies by hook, or by crook! We have seen the law bent in the course of the determination of the pretrial matter of jurisdiction particularly regarding salient conditions precedent to arraignment before the tribunal.

“I will not end this piece without a word of advice to the learned prosecutor that it remains trite that he maintains and respects the rule of law by allowing the defence to all legal aid he might require in the pursuit of his proving his innocence. As a concerned Nigerian, it is best for the Federal Government to simply tow the path of honour by withdrawing the matter against the Senate President quietly, apologise unequivocally to him, and take a step further by removing all traces of the currently visible fingers of politics, witch-hunting and politicking in order to validate its posture and war against sleaze, graft and corruption.”

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