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(Opinion) Saraki and the race for Senate Presidency

Senator Bukola Saraki
Senator Bukola Saraki

Kunle Akogun

The 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections gave the All Progressive Congress (APC) a clear majority in the new National Assembly with the implication that the party would certainly produce the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Barring the interplay of unforeseen political intrigues and last minute review of intra-party zonal arrangement, the representative of Kwara Central Senatorial District in the upper legislative chamber, the Most Distinguished Senator Abubakar Bukoka Saraki, is most favoured to grab the coveted position of President of the incoming 8th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

To me, the Distinguished Kwara Central Senator is eminently qualified for the coveted post.A combination of factors – such as his impressive political antecedent as former Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum for eight solid years, his robust membership of the 7th Senate, his pioneering efforts in the formation of the largest and most vibrant opposition party in the country’s political history about a year ago – will almost certainly ensure his emergence as the nation’s Number Three Citizen when the new National Assembly is inaugurated on June 4 this year, or thereabout.

Political analysts had projected that the Senate President would have automatically emerged from the South East if the APC had won a senatorial seat in that region. However, it is now clear that extant political expediency does not favour such arrangement, as other regions that voted massively for the majority party would likely feel short-changed if the party fails to reckon with their numerical strength to bypass them in sharing top political appointments. It is in view of this that political pundits believe that the best any APC senator (if eventually there is any) from the South East could get is the position of Deputy Senate President. In this case, the coast appears very clear for the North Central Zone to produce the next Senate President. And the Senator representing Kwara Central, Abubakar Bukola Saraki will most likely get the plum job.

Another touted candidate for the Senate Presidency from the North Central Zone is the current Senate Minority Leader, Senator George Akume. Like Senator Saraki, Senator Akume is also a ranking senator, being a second term member of the Red Chamber too. He also has impressive political credentials like Saraki, having also been a former two-term state governor too. But again, political expediency may not favour Akume for the post of Senate President since he is from the same Benue State as the outgoing occupant of the position, Senator David Mark.

Although not very compulsory, it has become an established convention in the National Assembly that an aspirant to the position of presiding officer in any of the two chambers should be what is called a “ranking member” in legislative parlance. In other words, the position is not for a legislative green horn. And Senator Saraki is definitely a ranking Senator, as he is going for his second term in the Senate, a reality that makes him eminently qualified to aspire to the position of Senate President.

Another factor that would favour a Saraki Senate Presidency is his visible contributions/sacrifice towards the resounding victory of the APC in the last Presidential and National Assembly elections. It is on record that the ebullient Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology literally took the entire Kwara PDP machinery, which include all but one state legislators; all members of the House of Representatives from the state; two of the three senators representing the state; all state commissioners; all special advisers to the governor, all local government chairmen and other political appointees in the state, to the APC at the risk of dire consequences including persecution, denial of personal comforts and federal patronage. Although some people may not want to agree with this assertion, no other political personage than a Saraki could have achieved such feat in Kwara State’s political milieu. It would, therefore, not be entirely out of place for the APC to show a token of appreciation to this astute political enigma by conceding the position of the President of the 8th Senate to him.

But beyond political patronage, Saraki is eminently qualified for the position in all ramifications. His legislative antecedents at the 7th Senate give practical credence to this. Not only is he a very audible voice on the floor of the Senate, his robust contributions to Senate proceedings, sponsorship of impactful bills and scooping of people-oriented and public-spirited motions are factors that would eventually stand him in good stead when it is time to elect a new Senate President. From my personal experience while covering the Senate for THISDAY Newspaper until late 2012, I can attest to the fact that Senator Saraki is one of the few among the 109 members of the upper legislative chamber whose contributions to the making of positive legislations cannot be easily wished away.

One particular motion that is generally acknowledged as a truly people-oriented legislative intervention sponsored by the Kwara Central Senator is the one seeking to probe the management of the fuel subsidy scheme of the Federal Government. The 2011 Motion was generally acknowledged to be one of the best propositions ever brought before the Senate in terms of the quality of research that went into its formulation and the quantity of reactions it elicited from both the floor and the gallery. To the lawmakers, the motion was a veritable wake-up call to their statutory duty of acting as checks on the executive arm of government. And for the members of the public, the motion had invariably renewed the hope that the legislature could yet be awake to its responsibility, given a little notch. And with the passage of the motion, the nation’s fuel subsidy regime was not to remain the same.

I was also a witness to the historic anti-gas flaring bill sponsored by Senator Saraki in 2012. The bill, cited as the Gas Flaring (Prohibition and Punishment) Act, 2012, was the first comprehensive and sanction-specific legislation in the country, which environmental activists believe would end the impunity and barefaced wastages associated with indiscriminate flaring of gas by multinational oil companies in the country. And so, in defiance of the typical Nigerian officials’ connivance with multinationals to fleece the country and its citizens of huge sums of money and wreak unimaginable environmental hazards on Nigerians, Saraki sought to be different by sponsoring the anti-gas flaring bill not minding whose ox is gored! If such a personage could be encouraged to take up the position of Senate President, the nation would be the better in terms of quality and people-centred legislations.

Another factor that could ensure the emergence of the former Governor of Kwara State as the next Senate President is his dynamic leadership of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) between 2003 and 2011. The Forum, which came into being after a seminar organised for the first set of 36 governors in the Fourth Republic on April 26, 1999 in Abuja, was largely a mere convocation of state chief executives – a mere assemblage of “gubernatorial senior boys” – without much group relevance on the national political space. But the status of the Forum changed substantially positively with the emergence of Saraki as its chairman in 2003. Not only did Saraki set up some administrative structures, he also gave the organisation a more authoritative voice in the polity. Probably as a result of his insightfulness in lifting the NGF from near obscurity to an organization to reckon with, Saraki became so powerful and influential among his peers who also deferred to him on many issues. This is indeed another plus for him in his bid to become the next Senate President, especially now that at least 10 members of his NGF will be sitting in the 109-member Senate. To be sure, most of these former governors who cut across the two major political parties (APC and PDP) will not forget the good old times when Saraki fought tirelessly to make the Governors’ Forum a vibrant political force to reckon with in the nation’s political matrix.

Above all, Senator Saraki’s administrative acumen, garnered over the years both in public and private sectors, is a veritable testament to his capability to successfully conduct the affairs of the upper legislative chamber. Since his first inauguration into the Senate in June 2011, Saraki has been a veritable shining star in the Red Chamber, having built a robust relationship with his colleagues across party lines. He will indeed be our ideal Senate President. I think he should not encounter much problem clinching the plum job.

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