SARAKI, THE SENATE STABILIZER AT 55
Today, the Senate will resume plenary sitting. The gathering inside the red chamber has been suspended in the past two weeks to enable members attend committee hearings on the defence of the 2018 budget proposals by ministries, departments and agencies. It is the tradition of the legislative house to announce on the floor the birthday of members, which falls on a particular sitting day or within the immediate past week.
However, it will be interesting to see how Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, while presiding at the plenary, will handle the announcement that he is 55 years old today. On his last two birthdays, he did not have to preside, as they did not fall on plenary day. He usually joins family members, friends, supporters and well-wishers in his home town in Ilorin for early morning special prayers and breakfast.
Today, with the committees ready to submit report on the budget, there will be no celebration of any sort for Mr. Senate President. He is ready to rally his colleagues towards achieving early passage of the budget.
The role of being a rallying point, mobilising his colleagues either to attend to requests from the Presidency, pass critical legislations aimed at improving the standard of living of the people or make Nigeria comply with international best practices, take patriotic and non-partisan position on national issues and ensuring that consensus is built on critical issues has been one that this ‘birthday boy’ has played so well in the last 30 months that he has been serving as the nation’s chief lawmaker.
For many of his colleagues, the greatest achievement of Saraki as Senate President has been his ability to bring stability to the Senate, in particular, and the National Assembly in general. The 8th Senate has some unique characteristics, which set it apart from the preceding ones. Some of these unique traits have infused in it inflammable tendencies, which are capable of frequently exploding.
For example, it is the first Nigerian Senate (with the exception of when the military decreed two parties into existence) to have only two political parties providing all the members. And, at inception, the membership sharing was so close as APC had 60 members (one died before inauguration) to PDP’s 49. With this arrangement, no decision of constitutional consequence can be taken by the party in the majority as it lacks the two-third strength required on such issues.
It is also the first time that the two parties to which members belong are sharing the two posts of presiding officers without having an accord between them as it was the case between 1979 and 1983. Again, It was the first time that members of the party in power became so polarized that they formed the “Unity Forum” and “Like Minds” as pressure groups to sponsor candidates for different offices.
In an unprecedented manner, the division in the Senate enjoyed support from unlikely places, a section of the leadership of the party in power. Thus, the fuel with which the Senate was to be set ablaze was being provided from outside. Similarly, the senators present a reverse situation from the past when senators took instructions from state governors who sponsored their election. Now, you have senators like Danjuma Goje, Ahmed Sani Yerima, Abdullahi Adamu, Godswill Akpabio, Ike Ekweremadu, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, George Akume, Adamu Aliero, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamako, Saraki himself and many others who dictate the pace of the politics in their respective states.
With these ‘firsts,’ the prediction and expectation in many informed quarters was that the Senate would be a house of confusion at all times. The pundits, however, did not know the stabilising skill and networking acumen of the man who emerged as Senate President.
Saraki is a man who believes that the Senate President is merely a primus inter pares, first among equals, and, therefore, must earn and sustain the confidence of his colleagues. From the beginning, he set out to reassure all senators that he would be fair to all and do justice on all issues.
His doors, both at home and in the office, are open to all his colleagues, at all times. That is why when critical, national issues come up for discussion on the floor or at committee level, he ensures all senators abandon partisan or ethnic interests in preference for patriotic stance.
This consensus building and the tendency to always carry all members along have helped to stabilize the Senate and neutralise the centrifugal forces. This unity of purpose has helped the 8th Senate to record more achievements than its predecessors and even break the jinx around some bills. For example, the 8th Senate has passed 138 bills in 30 months as against the 128 passed by the 7th Senate in four years or the 72 and 129 passed in four years by the 6th and 5th Senate, respectively. The present Senate has also successfully treated 112 petitions from members of the public in 30 months while the 7th and 6th Senate attended to only six petitions in four years.
The present Senate has broken the 17-year jinx around the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) by passing, before its second anniversary, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill ((PIGB), which is a component of the original bill. It equally completed work on amendment to the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act, two years before the 2019 polls. This early approach ensured that the debates on the issues were devoid of the usual partisan and political colouration.
The 8th Senate had early in its tenure announced that its focus was on the rebuilding of the national economy and getting it to comply with global standards so that international investors would find it easy to operate here. That is why it has passed bills like the Ports and Harbours Bill, Secured Transactions Bill, Credit Bureau Reporting Services Bill, PIGB, Public Procurement (Amendment) Act Bill, Electronic Transaction Bill, Warehouse Receipts Bill and the Railway Authorities (amendment) Act Bill, among others.
It is on the basis of some of these bills, which have been signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari that the World Bank in its annual Ease of Doing Business report rated Nigeria as one of the 10 most improved countries worldwide.
It is also to the credit of the 8th Senate that it has passed four bills to strengthen the fight against corruption. These bills are the National Financial Intelligence Unit Bill, Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, Witness Protection Bill and Whistle Blowers Protection Bill.
Definitely, Saraki has demonstrated what leadership can do in terms of turning around the performance rate of an institution. It is for these and many other reasons which space cannot allow me to state that I join all the 107 senators in saying happy birthday and many happy returns to Mr. Stabilizer.
• Olaniyonu is Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the Senate President.