BY MUYIWA OYINLOLA AND AHURAKA ISAH
…….Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, in this interview speaks on how the legislative arm of government has impacted on Nigerians since he assumed its leadership two makes. He also gives a mid-term report of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration since 2015.
president, how has the journey been?
It has been very eventful and it has been very challenging. It has also been very rewarding. We have made some giant strides and we have taken the eighth Senate to certain levels of achievements that has not been done before, that the people can be proud of as a country; that is going to strengthen the institution. We have redefined our engagement with the public and we have been a very focused senate, we have clear agenda, legislative agenda and we have done differently from the past and positive things.
And I believe that we are laying a very good foundation for the future. It’s been two years and I think we have done a lot in these two years and we can be proud that we have surpassed the previous assembly before us. We focus on the collaboration with the civil society, we try to focus on the needs of Nigerians, how do we impact on the lives of Nigerians if we rarely hit the ground running, and we can to point to many things that we can say these are remarkable achievements of this senate.
The eighth assembly started on a rowdy note but today, it has become a very vibrant institution, how did you placate the people on the other side? And how did you resolve the whole thing to ensure that the senate is now one?
From day one, the issues were issues of principles, principles on the independence of the three arms the government. The process that led to an election and the emergence of leadership which had the support of the members. So, from day one, majority of us were already on the same page. Unfortunately, a few were not, and I think if the senate was left on its alone, we would have resolved those issues much earlier on but unfortunately due to the differences here and there, it was prolonged. But you see, because whether it’s in the ward election or the local government election or in the state house of assembly, it is natural that there will be losers there will be winners. The disposition of the loser, most of the time might not be positive towards the leadership. The responsibility of the winner is to make sure that everybody comes on board and that was the plan but unfortunately, there were a few distractions here and there but luckily, one was able to bring everybody together and let them understand that we have bigger responsibility beyond election, which is to make a difference to Nigerians that voted for us. And I think, with time when it was clear, a lot of our colleagues see in us leadership, sincerity of purpose and we’re focused on issues. We gave opportunity to every sector, everybody was able to contribute, to add his own voice and we are not discriminating against anyone, whether you are from the ruling or opposition party or what part of the country you belong to, and with time people realized that we should all come together.
And of course, another thing is about the challenges of the country, the difficult times people are facing. We quickly realized in the senate that the most important thing is the economy and our focus is on the economy. If you look at all our works in the last two years, 90 something percent of our work has been on the economy. We took up the challenge of the country in recession, we came back, we met we debated and we came up with a roadmap that we felt the executive needed to take. We also gave ourselves assignments on what we needed to do, and today, we’re beginning to see signs of recovery. In one word,mine has been able to provide leadership and bring unity. I was in the seventh senate. But the eighth is more united. We think of the country, we’re not easily divided. Have a common agenda and the agenda is the interest of the people. Even though people spread rumour, sponsor propaganda, but we take the issues. And what are the issues? Our primary agenda is legislation. We are here to make laws.
The eighth senate doesn’t seem to have the goodwill of the average Nigerian, Nigerians seem to be unhappy with the senate, does that bother you?
When you are in position of leadership, you have to try and stay focused on what you planned to develop. And sometimes, it takes a while for people to come round and understand where you are trying to go. If you don’t stay focused and you get distracted by some of the comments, you will derail. I say this because, for example, you hear the senate and executive are at logger heads then you ask yourself, how are we at logger head? Mr. President has presented to us 196 requests for confirmation but approves 185 is that a logger head? I don’t see that as loggerhead. Mr. President is fighting corruption, we after so many years are the first senate to do open NASS, is that not fighting corruption? The bill before the national assembly on corruption which has to do with mutual assistance on the food around the pipeline is that not fighting corruption? You talk about some of the corporations we’ve had, and some of the interventions that we have shown in helping the executive to move forward. Sometimes, I believe that we should be judged by our results, There are a lot of commentaries out there but I always ask people that they should tell us where they believe that senate is not doing well.
There are some issues that are historical in the sense, that is there something that the senate is doing now that the previous senate did not do? And I think what we are doing is actually turning things around. Look at the budget process. In the past, nobody used to have public hearing on budget process so we are doing innovative things that are different from the previous senate. When I say that, I sometimes say to myself and you will see as time goes on that I always say overtime have I don’t have to be in the public service to know that if you have a sincerity of purpose, you have an agenda and the agenda is the interest of the people even those that spread rumour or sometimes sponsor propaganda, people with political interest, people that have their own agenda and try and spread false news just to incite people.
If we take the issues, what are we meant to do? We are here to pass bills and legislation. The first two years, I think we have been able to pass close to 90 bills. There is no senate before us in the last two years that has hit that figure. The last one, I was in seventh senate, we passed 125, one of the highest and out of that 125, we passed 46 on the last day. So, there is no senate since we have been in democracy that has beat our figures. Look at petitions that we have treated, no senate and I can challenge anybody. So, in that area, nobody can match us. If you go to the area of oversight, I also ask people the question, I have been in senate, you have covered the National Assembly; today in Nigeria, there is no MDA that can believe that it can do any corrupt act or any malpractice in their agency and believe that a report will come to the senate and it will be swept under the carpet, it’s not possible. We have shown it; if one of the most senior persons in government, we are now afraid, so the message we are sending to Nigerians, is that we will hold to the constitution. If we have to step on toes, we will step on toes, in terms of fighting corruption or exposing any unscrupulous act.
NAITI Report had been on the floor, gathering dust for many years because nobody wants to go there; we are talking of billions of dollars, powerful agencies, and powerful people. I always say, whey they say fight corruption, I always say it is always easier to fight corruption with smaller agencies. That is why I say that under President Buhari, we have looked at agencies that were before untouchable, before, nobody will go to NNPC to go and check their books, I mean that is the truth, instead they will be disturbing one chairman of a council in a state.
So, the point I am making is that when I hear that, I say what is it based on, what are the issues? So, if you list the issues and you go by their facts, and what I will Nigerians is, not to be based on sentiments because some people are pushing those issues based on their political agenda. Let us base it on the assignments because it’s like somebody you vote for and on the the executive, it’s always easy, if you say I’m going to do roads, provide water, I am going to do health, I am going to do education, you assess him like that. The national assembly has its bills, oversight. So, I have given you the statistics now. Bills, since the beginning of democracy in Nigeria, no senate has made that record. Oversight as well and what we have done,