Chairman Senate Committee on Ecology and one of the contenders for the Senate presidency, Senator Bukola Saraki in this interview discusses among other issues, why he is on the net of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) and why he is the man to lead the 8th Senate. ADESUWA TSAN and JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH interviewed him for LEADERSHIP Sunday
Can you please avail Nigerians what you have in store for them in the event of your emergence as the Senate president?
The most important agenda before us is our country Nigeria. A lot of us, over the last few years, have raised alarms and raised a lot of observations, stressing issues that will affect the country. The direction it was going had very great consequences on the development of the country and they have been raising this alarm for over three and half years. Then it became clear to some of us that we needed to change directions.
They way the economy was going, the way revenue was going down, the accountability and transparency of government and the fact that if we continue like this, the country would be in a position where it would not be able to meet its obligations. If you go back to my interviews since 2011, I have been saying that, and raising the need for us to review these issues and start doing the right things that the country need and this is just a continuation of where we started few years ago.
So, when you talk about what one would be able to contribute, it is to be able to see that at the legislative arm of government, we can begin to have an impact on how the country improves and I think one of the major concerns by Nigerians is that they do not feel the impact of those of us in the National Assembly and that is the reason people ask what we are doing?
We have to begin to reconnect with the Nigerian people to see the reasons we are here. It is time we began to have a national agenda that addresses the major issues such as infrastructure deficit, accountability and transparency, security issues and how to ensure inclusive growth because whether we like it or not, the government has a serious obligation to meet the needs of the people.
Look at the area of the fuel issues today, you can see that the oil marketers have obligations that they think the government will not meet and government cannot meet them and then, you have the kind of crises we have today. You have states and federal government agencies that cannot pay salaries not to talk about ongoing capital projects that cannot be completed.
These are major issues and I think that the National Assembly has to begin to address the three areas of oversight functions, passing of laws and accountability to our people. We must connect for Nigerians to see the reasons we were elected to represent them and I think that does not exist as of now, that is what is going to be the point of departure. It is key for people like myself to see that we begin to play that role for Nigerians to understand the reason we have the National Assembly.
On the policy direction, I do not want to sound like, ‘we said so,’ but that is what leadership is all about. We should find leaders that have vision and can work. not because of what they stand to gain but can stand up to say what is right. It is good for all of us to talk about change or about interest that we have. It is about beginning to look at trying times when people had to choose between comfort and standing for what was right.
Part of leadership is having principles and commitment to be able to stand for the things that are right despite discomfort. If you look at my comments, my views have been that the issues that have crippled us are the inability to manage our revenue effectively. Other countries that are producing oil are not passing through what we are going through because when oil was $100 per barrel, they used the money effectively because it was clear a day like this was coming. No matter what is happening now, if you go back to look at it, the major issue that dwindled us was the subsidy management. We are talking about a minimum of over $32billion over five to six years. That is the difference between where we are now and that time. It has impacted on our exchange rate; it will impact on our infrastructure, there is no money for capital budget. It is like acting on the crises we have today. When you have surplus money, people do not feel the impact. So, the party continued; not that the party is over, every body is beginning to see the after effect.
If you are talking about leadership, whether in the executive or the National Assembly, you must have people that have the grasp or understanding of what is required. It is not just being there for being in the position. You must think of the value the person brings to the people and I believe that in the area of oversight, we can improve on our relationship with the executive. The Senate has done well in the past to stabilise the polity, but beyond that, it must have a national agenda or laws. There must be laws that transcend both sides of the party to address unemployment, diversification of economy, level of oil spill and other environmental issues. Both political parties would be on the same page on that.
I do not understand how, till today, the NNPC will continue to say that there are certain funds they need for recovery. All revenues should go to the central account, but if you do not do that, you pay. These are major policy issues that the National Assembly must be seen as playing a key role in supporting. There should also be better cooperation between the House of Representatives and the Senate. As a bicameral legislature, if one passes a law and the other chamber has to wait for a year or so before passing the same law, it results in inefficiency.
Also, there are many laws that are outdated. Again, it would be the responsibilities of committees to look at some of them and make them applicable. There is a lot of work that needs to be done but in doing it, the fundamental would be the person with the capacity to provide leadership.
It does seem your party is playing politics of discreet endorsement. Is this not the case?
What Nigerians voted for in voting for APC was change, trying to do things a different way; trying to allow people express their desires. The change has been a departure from what we used to see in the other political party. If you look at it from the times of our presidential primaries, you notice where the tide turned. Majority of Nigerians saw what we did there, in allowing internal democracy; in allowing people to make their choices and at the end of the day, it was easier to be able to get unity within the party. It is the same process. The president has spoken and the end of the day, it is the National Assembly that should be able to pick who they want.
The party can only be of advisory role and it is to decide which route to take, whether to do business as usual, the way it used to be done in the other party or to move away from that to what is more favorable in today’s dispensation – allowing due process and internal democracy by making people to choose. I feel it is always easier at the end of the day to achieve unity and progress when people are given the choice and there is fairness and equity. Where you begin to see problem is where you see injustice, where 16 is greater than 19 in as much as the party has not put its foot down. I think that within the APC senators, there can be internal democracy or within the 109 senators, there can be a process. The key thing is as a country, we have to move away from those things as seen before. They are the problems of our democracy.
Could you shed light on your case with the EFCC?
We have raised it many times. When I was a governor of a state, around 2006- three and half years- after I was a governor, the then chairman of EFCC went to the floor of the Senate and said there were six states that had a clean bill of health and that my state was one of them. I finished my tenure in 2011. From 2011 and 2013 June, nobody ever wrote to me, but three months after I raised this subsidy thing on the floor of the Senate, all of a sudden, I was invited. And till today, nobody has charged me for anything.
The only place I was in court was SFU (Special Fraud Unit), and as judgement came out last week, it was a civil matter and has nothing to do with a criminal case, but again, it was one of the things one has to go through for not cowing in. If one has decided to cow in and stand with the government and not raise this issue, all these supposed spurious charges will not emanate. For some of us, it is a sacrifice we have to make. But again, if the former president will tell you about those of us he believed were against him, I am sure that if he names three, my name will be there. I do not believe that if government is after somebody and I have skeleton in my cupboard, I will be here today with the strength of government and the capacity it has. Those that have skeleton in their cupboard did deals and the things collapsed but nobody has asked them questions.