In Defence of Saraki

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Despite the blistering attacks on his person, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki has remained focused on handling the affairs of the upper legislative chambers, writes Samuel Adakole

For most of the past two years, Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki has been the subject of a vicious attack. This multi-dimensional campaign has one central objective: to destroy the personal reputation, public standing and political career of the country’s third most powerful man.

The anti-Saraki campaign has many strands but the most common one is the baseless and unproven allegation that he is corrupt. In the recent past, there have been orchestrated efforts to link his name with the mismanagement of the Paris Club refund funds, the controversial purchase of a very expensive vehicle by the National Assembly and other ‘scandals’. As subsequent events and facts have shown, the Senate President had nothing to do with the contrived scandals.

But the more his innocence is proven, the more desperate the anti-forces become and the wilder the allegations get. The miracle is that he has not only maintained his dignity, he has retained an unimpeachable and robust patriotism. Perhaps most incredibly, the Senate under him is doing a very good job of its legislative functions and has focused on the areas that are most important to Nigerians such as job creation and strengthening the economy.

These are six key things the Saraki-led Senate is doing that the anti-Saraki forces don’t want Nigerians to know.

Boosting Job Creation and Entrepreneurship through Made in Nigeria Campaign

First is the Senate’s historic passage of the of the 2007 Public Procurement Act. The amendment makes it mandatory for all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies to give preference in their procurement decisions to locally produced goods before patronizing imported ones. It also makes it compulsory for a good percentage of the contract sum to be paid up front and in good time to contractors.

A major benefit of this initiative is that a significant portion of the over N2 trillion budget that government spends every year on procurement would go into the pockets of Nigerian enterpreneurs. The expected increase in demand for local goods will lead to business expansion that will create jobs and provide employment for millions of unemployed youths in the country.

On the back of this act, the Senate President has also embarked on the Made In Nigeria campaign to encourage patronage of locally manufactured goods. He has been very active in advocating for a shift in focus to strengthening local production capacity. Giving local businesses a greater stake in the government’s multi-trillion naira annual procurement budget is a great achievement by the Saraki-led Senate that every well-meaning Nigerian should be proud of. For this, the Senate President deserves commendation.

Passing the Long-delayed Petroleum Industry Bill

Under Saraki, the Senate has acted with dispatch on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). The critical legislation has now been passed as he promised at the start of the year. The bill was stuck in parliament for seventeen years due to political disagreements by stakeholders and vested interests. This has cost the country heavily. The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu says the country has lost a whopping N3trillion in delayed investment as a result of the failure to pass the bill.

The PIB is widely considered as a game changer in the oil and gas sector because it will define the overall framework for regulating all activities in the Nigeria oil and gas industry in a way that opens up the industry to massive investments and give the country good value for its resources.

Championing the Search for Solutions to the Power Crisis

Under Saraki, the Senate is playing a leading role in seeking solutions to the unending power crisis. Earlier this year it convened a 2-day Power Sector Dialogue for stakeholders on the issue. The event provided a high-level platform for power sector operators and players in the public and private sector to have an honest and solution focused discussion of the key issues that are making it impossible for progress to be made in the power sector.

At the event, Saraki delivered a frank speech that exposed the real issues that had held down growth in the sector. He took direct aim at the inefficient generating companies (GENCOS) and distribution companies (DISCOS). He described as fraudulent the privatization process under which the country’s power assets were sold to GENCOs and DISCOs. He also spoke about how vested interest groups hijacked the process, threw transparency to the winds and sold the assets to people who had neither the technical nor financial muscle to turn them into real value and run them for the people.

But the overall focus of Saraki’s speech was on finding solutions. The Saraki-led Senate is working with the executive branch to accord top priority to fixing the problem. The Senate has been vocal and strong in applying pressure on the generating and distribution companies to deliver on their promise to provide steady power to Nigerians.

Enacting a Fairer, Technology Friendly Electoral Act

Another important achievement of the Senate is the speedy and historic passage of the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010. Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Mahmood Yakubu described the amended law as the most extensive and technologically friendly in the history of the country. With the amendment, all the legal issues regarding the use of technology in elections have now been addressed. INEC now has the free hand to fully employ appropriate technology in the conduct of elections.

Other highlights of the new bill include provision for the use of electronic voting by INEC during future elections and the use of Card Reader. It also gives INEC power to modify the voting process if there is a challenge. The Senate also approved a provision to enable INEC transmit the result of elections electronically in an encrypted and secured manner to prevent hacking.

It also gives political parties power to adopt direct or indirect primaries in choosing their flag bearers, while qualification of disqualification of candidates for elections will be solely based on the Constitution.

This no doubt marks a significant change in the way all future elections would henceforth be conducted in the country. In the immediate term, it would help INEC to improve on the conduct of the 2019 elections to be make them more transparent, credible and fair.

Making the Budget Process More Transparent and Faster

Another signature initiative of the Saraki-led Senate is the move to reform the budget process to bring more transparency to the budgeting process. The reform will also ensure that Nigerians get value for money budgeted for, reduce legislature and executive d and above all break the jinx of late budget passage by the national assembly.

To do this, the Senate is at an advanced stage of amending the 58-year-old Fiscal Responsibility Act with the submission of the report by the budget reform committee. The report recommends that the government present the budget to the national assembly in the first week of September and the national assembly will have two months to consider the budget so that it is passed not later than 30th November each year.

The aim of the reform is to improve budget formulation, enactment, implementation, and monitoring evaluation with a view to improving budget performance.

Breaking Government Monopoly on Railway Services

To catalyze growth in the railway sector where government has maintained a non-progressive monopoly, the Saraki-led Senate has successfully opened it up for private sector participation by repealing the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act of 1955. The significance of the move is that for the first time in over 61 years of the railway system in Nigeria, the private sector can move into the sector to build rail lines and operate them as businesses. This will promote competition and better performance as witnessed in the telecommunications sector.

These are only a few of the very important, ground-breaking work the Senate is doing for the good of the country. It is sad that those who are only bent on pursuing narrow political interests are trying so hard against the overwhelming body of evidence to detract public attention from them. The Senate President is notching up a strong legacy of outstanding performance as the leader of the 8th Senate. This is why despite all the orchestrated attacks, history will be kind to him.

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The Senate under him is doing a very good job of its legislative functions and has focused on the areas that are most important to Nigerians such as job creation and strengthening the economy.