SARAKI, LIKE FATHER LIKE SON
Again, the world stands up for Senate President Bukola Saraki, the Turaki of Ilorin as he clocks 55 years. It is a significant milestone in the evolution of the medical doctor who became a banker before turning his full attention into politics. Since he was picked as a Special Assistant on Budget to then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, which marked the beginning of his foray into the political landscape, Saraki has not looked back; climbing the political ladder in his state of Kwara where he holds the record as the first governor to serve a two-term tenure and now, at the centre as President of the Nigerian Senate.
Many things have been said and written about Saraki, who has fully taken over the leadership of the political structure left by his father, the late Dr. Olusola Saraki; the man noted for his consensus philosophy in political arithmetic as well as his profound philanthropy.
On a day like this, many are wont to compare Saraki, the son, with Saraki, the father. While this is plausible because the son mastered the father, it may also not be totally right, particularly where differences exist in methods, although not in principle. In principle, Saraki is still Saraki: the consensus philosopher, the philanthropist, the dogged fighter, the committed son of Ilorin and proud apostle of the Ile Alimi heritage of the ancient city, the man committed to the welfare and well-being of Ile Arugbo; that melting pot of the old and aged whose care he inherited from his father.
But, Saraki, the son, has upscaled. He has added issues of youths to the agenda inherited from the father. Or, may be, he has refined the commitment of the Saraki political dynasty to issues affecting youths across the country. Whether in the area of personal support for their educational pursuits or in his role as a legislator, Saraki, the son, has shown the world that he is youth-friendly politician who can be counted upon to advocate and defend their rights at all times. His support for the #NotTooYoungTo Run Bill is just one clear testimony to this dimension of his politics.
At home, we look at his personal intervention in the school fees controversy that rocked the Kwara State Polytechnic where the Senate President took time to listen to complaints by students through phone calls, examined documents they placed before him and publicly supported the state government’s effort at providing quality education at minimal discomfort to the people despite prevailing economic distress in the country. Or, consider the number of young people of unknown background who have risen to limelight through his political structure.
But, Saraki is still Saraki; the bridge builder who has ears and is well received in virtually all sections of the Nigerian political system, a detribalised Nigerian who will not place religion or tribe at the forefront of his political agenda, relationships and decision-making. Can we forget his decision to dispense of his own presidential ambition in favour of the incumbent President in 2015 without being lobbied or pressured by any and to the consternation of his supporters across the land?
His understanding of the country’s political landscape is awesome and his political networking is phenomenal. But, Saraki is still Saraki; the depoliticised politician, the man who sets aside political affiliation in the overall interest of the common goal for a better and greater nation. That perhaps was a great factor in his emergence as President of the Senate, his survival of a dire political trial and his ability to continue in the office without falling for the banana peel that swept away many before him in that office. All these were also the hallmarks of the late Saraki.
Saraki the son may not smile or laugh as much as Saraki the father did. He might have a suave personality unlike his father’s boisterous nature, and this Saraki might not mix well with the crowd and sit in their midst as his father was wont to do, but that has not disrobed him of the sobriquet Ilorin people gave his father and which he inherited, Agoro bogun bolu; the man who has capacity to take care of a community’s military force and still feed the entire community itself. I am sure many in Ilorin and across the country today will testify of the generosity of the Waziri Ngeri, Baba Oloye Saraki, the late Waziri who spent for the masses like he never worked for it; but the one who gazed the ground knows what he wanted. And Saraki got what he wanted; his today is sweeter than his yesterday. Few politicians are that blessed; his demise has not diminished his relevance.
Saraki is still Saraki; a devotee of traditional institution. Like his father, Saraki courts traditional leaders like a man would court a beautiful damsel. In the northern part of Nigeria’s politics, religion and the traditional institution are interwoven and Saraki is not one to offend any. Little wonder he has a close rapport with both traditional and religious leaders, not only in his state but across the nation.
His pragmatic leadership of the National Assembly, especially the Red Chamber, can be described as years of significant bills. Despite several political odds and mudslinging, the Senate under Saraki has been one of the most productive, breaking many grounds and setting many records.
Three of such bills have introduced significant differences to the ways things are done in Nigeria. First, there is the Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets Bill. This bill which was passed in May has created a new ‘specie’ of capital that can now be used in our financial system. With the bill, everyday Nigerians can now use invoices and receipts for loans and for creating working capital, the market woman can go to the registry and convert her receipts into loans or capital, formalizing transactions become more important and we now have more accessibility to loans that will encourage the informal sector to come into the formal sector – because more people will now be engaged in startups.
Another significant bill is the Credit Bureau Services Bill passed in May. With the passage, the bill will help to reduce the risk of lending or engaging in business with individuals or companies with a financial history of not paying back. Also, it must be noted that credit reporting scheme reduces the risk of lending for everybody and reduces the potential for all the non-performing loans. The bill on its own is a fundamental behavior-changing bill. For employers, it cuts down the risk of employing people with questionable financial histories, while for banks and people that lend others money, it helps to show the pay-back record of the ‘borrower’.
There is also the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill SB237 (passed May) which had been in the works since the Olusegun Obasanjo era but continued to meet dead walls until the Senate under the current leadership fashioned a pragmatic approach to its enactment and got it done. The bill aims to introduce new operational and fiscal terms for the management of the revenue that is accrued from the sector. It will allow the Nigerian government to retain a higher proportion of the revenue that is derived from oil industry operations. The bill will create a conducive business environment for petroleum operations and other SMEs, enhance the exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources for the benefit of Nigerians and provide for the inclusion of more local content in the petroleum industry.
There is also the Customs Service Management Act (Repeal and Re-Enactment) which scaled legislative hurdles and was passed June. It provides penalties for violation of customs and excise laws as it has significantly increases penalties for violations. It is argued that stiff penalties for infractions would help enforce compliance by traders. The bill provides an alignment with global best practice for Nigeria on trade facilitation, trade reviews and dispute resolution. It will help the Customs block leakages and generate revenue for the government and it can open and create more employment. Another inherent benefit of the bill is in the area of transparency and accountability: In the past, excise duties were fixed without reference to the National Assembly. Now, all such changes are backed by law, because a legislative framework that entrenches transparency and efficiency in our customs operations has been established.
Then we must not forget the Witness Protection Bill, Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill and of course, the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill. The last bill, as a matter of fact, has enabled Nigeria to rake in billions of naira in public fund that would have gone into private pockets. It is perhaps the most celebrated bill today in Nigeria. These bills are 2017 bills.
As the Senate President marks his 55th birthday, it is an opportunity to toast a dogged and focused politician, a great and reliable leader and mentor to many, a successful husband and father and above all, a true son of Ilorin.