Saraki: Leading the Senate to Prosperity

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In spite of his travails, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki is leading an enviably prosperous senate, reckons Nathan Ajene Paul

In a few days, the National Assembly will resume duty after the summer recess and the legislature will be fully back on the radar of public attention. In the upper legislative chamber, the high profile persecution of Senate President Bukola Saraki has been the defining feature since APC became the ruling party on May 29, 2015. What is not so well known, however, is that the Saraki Senate, despite the controversies, has managed to notch up some significant successes since assuming office.

The Senate President has endured over twelve months of attacks and political bombardment from within a party he helped to create, while retaining a strong focus on his role as Nigeria’s number three citizen.

This is truly remarkable because since his election by his colleagues as the Senate President against the expectations of some APC big wigs, Senator Bukola Saraki has been, literally speaking, in the thick of the storm. He has been battling organised and openly hostile resistance within and outside the Senate by those that lost out in the leadership tussle.

Saraki has been the target of well-choreographed public, political and legal attacks fueled by powerful elements within the party, who have sworn to make him pay a huge price for no crime other than pursuing a justified ambition and accepting the mandate of his colleagues to lead them.
Yet, even the strongest critics of Saraki would agree that in his response to the series of attacks, provocations and humiliation that he has endured over the past one year, the Senate President has demonstrated uncommon humility, maturity and inclusiveness.

It is difficult to think of any other person in the political space right now who has been consistently mature and balanced in the face of such provocations. And the best part, perhaps, is that, beyond the noise and intrigues of politics, the Saraki Senate is leaving some strong legislative landmarks as its legacy.

Saraki knew early enough that despite the party’s initial refusal to accept his emergence, it will be unwise to engage the party in a public dog fight in spite of the overwhelming support from his colleagues. He has kept faith with this line of action. The Senate President has been reaching out to traditional rulers, opinion and thought leaders, respected political leaders, and individuals of repute both home and abroad with access to party and power circles to help intervene and mend fences so that an amicable and peaceful solution could be found to resolve the crisis.

Will this strategy work? The jury is out with regard to how effective these diplomatic overtures will be. But even some of his enemies within the party are grudgingly accepting that Saraki holds the party and its elders in high esteem even in the face of clear provocation. He has established beyond doubt that he is a loyal party man, who prefers to respect the platform in spite of how poorly it has treated him.

This is the essence of Saraki’s high minded and principled politics. Given his experience in the hands of a powerful cabal within the party and government, nobody would have been surprised if he left APC since it is an open secret where his travails are coming from.

The Saraki style is also fully on display in the generally civil and non-vengeful manner he has handled his legal battles at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and the Federal High Court. He has endured the unprecedented humiliation of being the first number three citizen to be placed in the dock, the trauma of his wife being investigated and quizzed by the EFCC, his arraignment at the Federal High Court for alleged forgery with the kind of strength and dignified composure only few can muster under similar circumstances.

Instead of drawing battle lines, he has shown a unique capacity for inclusiveness by reaching out to the ‘enemy” camp through several strategic actions which he has taken lately. The most significant recent example was the re-shuffling of the leadership of the 17 Senate standing Committees and offer of important Committee Chairmanship positions otherwise tagged ‘juicy’ to key members from the opposing camp. Mr. Saraki’s most outspoken critic, Kabiru Marafa, was appointed chairman of the Petroleum (downstream) Committee. Before now, he was chairman of the Committee on National Population.
Suleiman Hurunui, also a staunch critic of the senate president, was appointed to the Chairmanship of the Committee on National Identity.

Furthermore, Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu, a key member of the anti-Saraki Unity Forum, was named Chairperson of the Committee on Environment. Previously, she headed the Committee on Women Affairs. Mrs. Tinubu’s appointment against the backdrop of earlier misunderstandings with Saraki and recent public altercation with a close ally of Saraki, Senator Dino Melaye reveals a lot about the political pragmatism of Senate President and his capacity to stay focused on the job that needs to get done over sentiments.

In spite of the clear differences between Saraki and her husband, the former Governor of Lagos State and chieftain of APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Senate President refused to make her an enemy. Instead, he embraced her for peace to reign and as a signal that he is ready to accommodate the interest of the party as basis for total reconciliation.

The rapprochement in the upper chamber is a confirmation that Saraki’s insistence on taking the highroad and his refusal to get into the gutter with those who have been trying to destroy him is beginning to yield good dividends.

And even in the midst of all the trials, politically organised distractions – within and outside the Senate – the Senate President stayed sharply focused recording significant milestones in the execution of his Legislative Agenda which aims to improve governance, improve business and improve the quality of life of Nigerians, especially those at the lower rung of the ladder.

On his one year in office, he had recorded 15 major economic reform bills and 7 business environment bills. While some of the bills like the long delayed Disability Bill have been passed into law, others such as the Electronic Transaction Bill 2015, the Debt Recovery and Insolvency Bill 2015 and the Railway Bill are making steady progress. All these proposed legislations, when they become reality, will represent significant landmarks in tackling the economic and business challenges confronting the country.

The Disability Bill marks an important legal milestone for Persons with Disability (PWDs) in Nigeria and their search for appropriate laws to ensure their full social integration into society particularly through provision for their economic, social, educational, emotional and psychological needs. The first was passed by the National Assembly during the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo which he never assented to.

Although the 6th and 7th National Assembly also passed the Bill and sent it for mandatory assent, former President Goodluck Jonathan, either by omission or commission, also failed to sign the bill into law thereby putting the plight of over 19 million Nigerians, who suffer one form of disability or the other in precarious circumstances. The 8th Senate re-introduced and once again passed the Disability Bill in June 2016. It is hoped that President Buhari will assent to it this time around.

The Electronic Transaction Bill 2015 will be the first legal framework in our country that provides the legal foundation for electronic signatures and guarantees predictability in contracts made electronically. One of the key benefits of this bill when signed into law is that it will offer full protection to contracts entered into via emails, and transactions conducted with online shops, electronic commerce and services platforms, which are currently not provided for in our laws.

Another important bill is the Bankruptcy & Insolvency Repeal and Amendment Bill 2015, which seeks to address the low rating of the country in terms of Ease of Doing Business. It has the potential to transform the Nigerian financial landscape by enabling consistent supply of credit, attracting new capital and expertise into business revival; improving creditor recoveries and lowering the cost of credit.

Other examples include the Railway Bill which will open up the subsector and attract the required private capital into this segment of our transport system that has appeared stuck in the past; the Review of the Public Procurement Act which is inspired by the need to guarantee government patronage for local manufacturers so that a substantial percentage of the N6 trillion in the national budget is retained in the local economy and put in the pockets of our people.

Of course it may be early days yet, as a former British Prime Minister remarked that 24 hours is a long time in politics. The expectation is that the Saraki Senate and the House of Representatives will keep focus on these and other key legislations so that they leave strong legacies for Nigerians beyond controversies. Given the serious challenges that the country is facing at the moment, Nigeria deserves no less.

On the political front, it is possible that the diplomatic overtures and peace efforts of Saraki may flounder, the chasm between the APC and PDP Senators may further widen, and those who prefer constant fighting to a peace based on compromise and tolerance may yet win.

But whichever way it goes, the gentleman’s example is a remarkable one. He has shown great humility in the face of vicious political attacks, even when he has both the capacity and support to fight back. He has shown that to lead, one must learn to accommodate and factor in the interest of all parties, and above all, show respect to those whose views are diametrically opposite to his.

Whilst acknowledging that as human beings we are bound to err, the Senate President has proven that he is an astute politician and a bridge builder, who believes that Nigeria is worth the investment in patience, loyalty and dialogue. He has demonstrated that accommodation, inclusiveness and mending fences are some of the most effective keys to crisis resolution especially within a democratic setting. Such a temperament is admirable and it makes him an asset to the party and the country.

At such a critical and delicate moment in our embryonic democracy, Nigeria needs leaders like Saraki, who epitomise dignified self-restraint and accommodation even as they work towards achieving important things for the country.
It should be the hope of all well-meaning Nigerians that the distracting troubles aimed at the Senate President, would quickly be confined to history, so that the task of proper governance can continue in order to make quick progress in fixing the many problems confronting the country. Enough time has been wasted on unproductive and vengeful politics.
-Paul, a public policy analyst, wrote from Lagos

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Even the strongest critics of Saraki would agree that in his response to the series of attacks, provocations and humiliation that he has endured over the past one year, the Senate President has demonstrated uncommon humility, maturity and inclusiveness…It is difficult to think of any other person in the political space right now who has been consistently mature and balanced in the face of such provocations. And the best part, perhaps, is that, beyond the noise and intrigues of politics, the Saraki Senate is leaving some strong legislative landmarks as its legacy