Saraki’s Humane Persona

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Chuks Okocha

Senate President Bukola Saraki means many things to many people. To some, Saraki is a consummate medical doctor, a banker extraordinaire, an astute sports lover, and a skilful politician. Many others see Saraki as a humanist with rare inclination to cater to the welfare of the people.

No matter the lens with which you view the personality of the Kwara Central senator, Saraki is not in any way diminished. The former Kwara State governor’s ascendancy in all spheres of human endeavour continues to baffle even his closest allies. His ever increasing political profile in the country has expectedly made him an issue in the Nigerian political landmark. But nobody can, no matter what the case may be, deny the fact that Saraki is a leader per excellence. Little wonder President Muhammadu Buhari last year described him as the most influential politician of our time.

By dint of hard work, Saraki distinguished and proved himself a politician with unassailable knack for raising the bar to deliver exceptional results. It is true that Saraki does not believe in working from the answer, he confronts issues as they arise to achieve an answer.

Saraki’s cherry score card is loaded with accomplishments that could make even his archenemies scorch with envy. On many occasions he has confronted issues that seemed impossible, and this has been a huge plus for him. By all standards, Saraki is one of the few privileged Nigerians born with a silver spoon. It may be appropriate to conclude that the circumstances of his birth are never lost on him in every step he takes.

Saraki did not disappoint as a medical doctor. After his graduation from the prestigious London Hospital Medical Collage of the University of London in 1987, where he obtained M.B.B.S (London), Saraki worked as a medical officer at Rush Green Hospital, Essex, from 1988 to 1989. On his return to Nigeria, Saraki’s versatility projected him to emerge as the executive director of   Societe Generale Bank (Nig) Ltd from 1990 to 2000.

Following his abiding desire for the improvement of sports, Saraki has not only provided a lifeline for many sports organisations, but has also established the popular Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) football club.

Saraki, who was unanimously elected senate president on June 9, 2015, was governor of Kwara State from 2003 to 2011. After his meritorious service as chief executive of Kwara State, Kwarans honoured him with election to the senate in April 2011, to represent Kwara Central senatorial district. He was re-elected in March 2015.

Saraki’s tenure as Kwara State governor saw massive transformation and reforms in agriculture, health, education, finance and the environment. One of his most outstanding achievements was the invitation of displaced white farmers from Zimbabwe to Kwara State to offer them opportunity and expanses of land to farm. The invitation of the white farmer led to the establishment of the Shonga Farms programme, which is now being replicated across Nigeria with improved farm yields. Saraki’s charisma among his brother governors had led to his election as chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum

It is on record that under Saraki, Kwara State became the first state to complete the Nigeria Independent Power Project. In collaboration with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, the Saraki administration did not only revive the Ganmo Power Station in Ilorin, but also connected over 375 rural communities to the national grid through the development and installation of 725 transformers and seven substations.

The state further completed four electrification projects, which meant power became stable between 18 and 22 hours daily in the state. Ninety per cent of people living in Kwara State have access to electricity, compared to a national average in Nigeria of 30 per cent.

When Saraki became chairman of NGF in 2007, he ensured the establishment of a reformed and fully resourced secretariat for the forum, with technical and administrative divisions that were focused on delivery. It was under Saraki’s chairmanship that new processes, such as the State Peer Review Mechanism, were developed to ensure closer collaboration among the governors and the sharing of best practices 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, road works, water, solar schemes and the construction of specialist hospitals and state universities.

Perhaps, one of the most widely celebrated achievements of the NGF under Saraki was its patriotic intervention in the assumption of power by then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan following the illness of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The NGF worked with the National Assembly to implement the celebrated Doctrine of Necessity, which was then passed as a resolution by the National Assembly.

The Doctrine of Necessity allowed Jonathan to take over as acting president until Yar’Adua’s return. It was a novelty packaged by the NGF to save a dicey situation that had the capacity to derail the democratic process in the country.

The humanity in the Kwara Central senator has continued to rise. Saraki is at the forefront of the campaign for health, food security, education and environmental regeneration. He promoted vigorously the campaign for strengthened laws on the clean-up of oil spills. With his National Oil Spill and Detection and Response Agency Amendment Bill, Saraki seeks to ensure that oil companies pay appropriate compensation to communities affected by oil spills.

He did not shy away from intervening in the lead poisoning crisis in Zamfara State in 2010 and he supported the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which sought to ensure safe and healthy methods of cooking for millions of Nigerians while conserving the environment through reduced deforestation. Saraki remains a lead campaigner in the areas of desertification and climate change in the senate and across Nigeria.

Perhaps, one of the most outstanding motions in the seventh senate was Saraki’s motion to end the Nigeria’s fuel subsidy regime. Other motions and private member bills he sponsored include the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency Amendment Bill 2012, which was aimed at ending oil spills in the Niger Delta, the Gas Flaring Prohibition Bill 2012, and the Climate Change Commission Bill 2013.

It is difficult to forget how he blew the whistle on irregularities in the oil sector at the seventh senate. Though that tended to cause some friction between him and the Jonathan administration, it is not in doubt that he did that in the overall interest of the country. Some have referred to that incident as a class suicide very few privileged Nigerians would be ready to commit.

Saraki’s profile has continued rise as a champion of popular opinion. He ensures at all times that the position of the downtrodden remains his main prerogative. He led the senate to tackle the National Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) plan to increase electricity tariff and the plan by the National Communications Commission (NCC) to increase data tariff.

At all times, the milk of human kindness in him comes out when issues concerning the masses are on the front burner.

––Okocha is Special Assistant to the Senate President on Print Media