This Senate thinks, works Nigeria
The Eighth National Assembly clocks one year today. As part of activities marking the anniversary, Senate President, Bukola Saraki fielded questions from journalists in Abuja. He spoke on the experiences, achievements, restructuring of Nigeria, among others. ALIFA DANIEL of the Abuja Bureau was there and reports:
Experience as Senate President
I give a lot of thanks to our Creator, mighty God for giving one the opportunity. I believe this is a new challenge. The change in bringing about this government, one played a very key role. At the beginning a lot of people used to tell me, why are you wasting your time? Have you ever heard of anybody defeating a sitting government? They would advise me not to waste my time. They would say, you can’t win, you are just going to endanger yourself, you are going nowhere. Even a lot of our friends in the media, out of respect they would listen to me. But they would say this, “Oga, you are so optimistic. You will defeat a sitting government, with what?
But we achieved that with the commitment of Nigerians. I feel one is carrying on his shoulder a lot of responsibility. I know what people sacrificed in making this happen. I believe that motivates one to see that we make a difference. Everyday that is what drives me. I wouldn’t say I underestimated what is happening.
I expected the challenges when you are trying to make a change. This is more on the legislative angle. That is where the change is because Nigerians have been used to the Executive and Judiciary. The youngest arm of the three arms is the Legislature. The one that people don’t understand the most is the Legislature. The one people cannot see how it connects to their daily life is the Legislature. An average man or woman in Nigeria knows how the Executive affects his or her life. It is so for the Judiciary. They know that this judge can rule for or against if they have a case. They do not understand what the lawmakers are doing. That makes our work more challenging. I am very hopeful that by the time we are done, we will be able to change this perception.
Confidence in the current Senate
I was in the 7th Senate for four years, I followed the activities of the National Assembly. The Senators we have now are focused, patriotic and they are committed to solving Nigeria’s problems. They are patriotic because this is the first time we have a Senate that is very divided, the margin of majority is very slim. You can’t really compare it to the previous Senate.
But in the last one year, anytime we discussed national issues, issues that have to do with the economy, Senators have jettisoned their political leanings and have presented themselves as Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Right from the time we screened ministers, looked at the Budget, they acted like Senators of Federal Republic of Nigeria and not that of APC or PDP.
Legislative arm believes in processes. Sometimes the substance might be good but once you miss it, you derail. If you miss the process it is out. The senators have shown a lot of maturity, patriotism and support. Nobody would even know that there is a slim majority. Without that support, that unity, majority of the issues we want to discuss especially those that border on reforms of this country cannot take place. They think of Nigeria first. I am happy and honoured by the support they have given me. I am confident that as we move ahead we would build on our achievements. We would ensure that major issues that ordinarily should be discussed on party lines because of their controversial nature are looked at from nationalistic point of view.
If you see the work we have done in the last one year despite a lot of distraction, it shows that it is a Senate that has a roadmap. We are not just coming to the Senate to jump from one issue to another. We are focusing largely on the economy, how we can address things that would make Nigeria a better place, create jobs for our people, improve the economy and make the country investment-friendly.
Looking at things we have tackled you can see a clear path that we have created. This is different from what was in place before. Some of the issues that people were not ready to touch in the past we have touched them. We are opening up the Senate to public participation. We are not afraid that anybody would come with criticism of our activities. Of course people should express their own mind.
We told ourselves, look let’s open up, we are ready to take whatever that comes with it if it will help make the country better. I don’t think the Senate has ever had this kind of openness that is in place now. You can’t do it alone as Senate President; it is because the Senators wanted it and believed in that agenda. If I don’t have the type of Senators we have now to work with some of the things we are doing would not have been possible.
CCT trial’s distraction
I agree that anytime the history of this period is written the aspect of CCT will be there. From what we are seeing in the court, not my words, even the words of the witnesses support what I said earlier that my trial is political. Remember the day the chief witness said the first time they wrote to the committee on federal government implementation of property sale was in August 2016, which was like two months after I emerged. To me, that was further confirmation to what I said. It means that prior to then there was no investigation done.
Be it as it may, it is a distraction. We could have done more. There are a lot of hours that we are losing when we do go to court. We have to do that; I want to clear my name as soon as possible so that we can move forward. It is an unfortunate distraction. I think it was ill-conceived by those that started it.
However, it has not deterred us. We have been able to address and push along our own agenda. It is something that after the case is over, as an institution, we must look at how to strengthen our judiciary and how to ensure that political battles that are lost in the political arena do not find themselves into the judicial arena. It is not good for the system.
Sometimes you hear people use the word corruption trial but when you actually look AT the issue, at best you call it administration misdemeanor. There is nowhere at anytime we are talking about government funds missing somewhere. When we start to paint the fight against corruption and people begin to be unsure whether it is corruption fight or politics we do more harm to the war on corruption. The fight against corruption should be very transparent so that when you find somebody guilty Nigerians will know.
But you see, sometimes people are found guilty even on the so-called corruption; the society will still embrace them. And this is because people do not have belief in the system. When we do things like these we taint the system.
I think it is something we must address. It has not deterred us. Yes it may have weighed us a little down, stopped us from moving at the pace we wanted to move but I still believe that we are doing much better than previously. I am confident that at the end of our term we would have made a lot of great strides, that we would set Senate and National Assembly at a level much higher than we met it.
Amendment of CCB Act
I have not seen details of what they have passed. There is a process, when they pass it. They will send to us for concurrence. When we get it we will look at it and see what they have done.
We have set up a committee headed by the Deputy Senate President. They have started meeting. We gave them a clear mandate. As you are aware, in the 7th Assembly a lot of work was done, the National Assembly passed it but it did not get the assent of the former President. We have told them to break the work into two phases. Let us first agree quickly on things that most people agree that should be amended. In two weeks time they are going to have a retreat in Lagos to review all the areas where people have common position. Secondly, they will get new areas.
Restructuring of Nigeria and constitutional amendment
Constitution amendment is based on the feedback you get from the people, general consensus by the people and stakeholders. It is not in my place as a presiding officer or chairman of the National Assembly to say this is what is going to happen. What we want to focus on now is the areas that we have all agreed on. Restructuring I think will involve arguments to and fro, pros and cons. These are the kind of thing I think at this first stage will pretty much distract us.
We have been doing constitution amendment for many years, yet we don’t amend it. Let us amend the ones that we all agree that need to be amended. If not that the former president, for whatever reason, did not assent to the last amendment, we have been done with that. My view is that let us do those less controversial ones. After that, the second phase of the amendment we will bring new issues, possibly issue like restructuring.
Peace in the Niger Delta
We have had this kind of problem before, that was during the period of President Yar’Adua. We were able to find a solution that restored peace to the region. Clearly, there is need for all of us to put hands on the deck and bring peace to the Niger Delta.
I was chairman of NGF when we did it in the past. I know the role we played at that time to ensure that Yar’Adua government work out the amnesty programme that restored peace at that time. The National Assembly is there and available to play our own role in bringing about peace in the region. It is a priority and I don’t believe any price is too high in restoring peace.
Yar’Adua’s amnesty model
There is an amnesty programme already in place, so it might not be the issue of amnesty. Whatever the issues are, what I am saying is that we must be able to bend backward and find solution. No price is too high to pay for peace to reign in this country.