By Chuks okocha
The President of the Eighth Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, is constitutionally the number three citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Yet, he is, perhaps, the most vilified by organs of the government. He is hardly allowed to settle down to direct the affairs of the Senate and, indeed, the National Assembly.
But Saraki is undaunted. He has continued to move the Senate from one height to another. The eighth Senate under his leadership has broken many grounds when compared to other times in the National Assembly.
Saraki means different things to different people. To some, he is a consummate medical doctor, a banker extraordinaire, an astute sports lover, and a skilful politician. Many others see him as a humanist with unwavering inclination for the welfare of the masses. But both his friends and foes admit Saraki’s resume is intimidating. No matter the angle from which you view the Senator representing Kwara Central Senatorial District, he is not in any way diminished.
The former Kwara State governor’s ascendancy in all spheres of human endeavour continues to baffle even his closest allies. His ever increasing political profile in the country has expectedly made him an issue in the Nigerian political landscape. But nobody can deny the fact that Saraki is a leader per excellence. Little wonder President Muhammadu Buhari last year described him as one of the most influential politicians of our time.
By dint of hard work, Saraki has proved himself a politician with unassailable knack for raising the bar to deliver exceptional results. He does not believe in working from the answer, he confronts issues as they arise to achieve an answer. His impressive scorecard is loaded with accomplishments. He has a record of confronting even the most difficult tasks, and that has been a huge plus for him.
By all standards, he is one of the few privileged Nigerians born with the silver spoon. But he never flaunts it. Saraki did not disappoint as a medical doctor. After his graduation from the prestigious London Hospital Medical Collage of the University of London in 1987, where he obtained M.B.B.S (London), Saraki worked as a medical officer at Rush Green Hospital, Essex, from 1988 to 1989.
On his return to the country, Saraki’s versatility projected him to emerge as the executive director of Societe Generale Bank (Nig) Ltd, a bank owned by his family, from 1990 to 2000. Drawing from his taste for the improvement of sports, Saraki has not only provided life wire to many sports organisations, but he has also capped it all with the establishment of the top flight Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) football club. Saraki, who was elected unopposed as Senate President on June 9, 2015, was governor of Kwara State from 2003 to 2011. After his meritorious service as Chief Executive Officer of Kwara State, he was elected into the Senate in April 2011 and was re-elected in March 2015. Saraki’s tenure as Kwara State governor saw massive transformation and reforms in agriculture, health, education, finance and rural development.
One of Saraki’s outstanding achievements was the invitation of displaced white farmers from Zimbabwe to Kwara State, where the government offered them opportunity and a large expanse of land to farm. The invitation of the white farmers led to the establishment of the Shonga Farms programme, which is now being replicated across Nigeria with massive investments in poultry, dairy production and crop farming with improved farm yields. Saraki’s charisma among his brother governors led to his emergence as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. It is on record that under Saraki, Kwara State became the first state to complete the Nigeria Independent Power Project. In collaboration with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, Saraki did not only re-energise the Ganmo Power Station in Ilorin, but he also connected over 375 rural communities to the national grid through the development and installation of 725 transformers and seven substations.
The state further completed four electrification projects, which meant power became stable 18–22 hours a day. 90 per cent of people living in Kwara have access to electricity, compared to a national average of 30 per cent. Saraki became chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum in 2007 with focus on the establishment of a reformed and a fully resourced secretariat, including a technical and administrative division that was entirely focused on delivery. It was under Saraki’s chairmanship that new processes, such as the State Peer Review Mechanism, were developed to ensure closer collaboration and ensure that best practices could be shared between states. The mechanism allowed case studies to be shared between states in a number of policy fields, including power projects, primary healthcare centres for villages and other rural locations, road works, water, solar schemes and the construction of specialist hospitals and state universities.
Perhaps, one of the most widely acclaimed achievements of the NGF under Saraki was its patriotic intervention in the problematic assumption of power by then-Vice President Goodluck Jonathan following the illness and subsequent death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The NGF, under Saraki, pushed intellect to its limit, worked with the National Assembly to implement the celebrated Doctrine of Necessity, which was then passed as a resolution by the National Assembly. The Doctrine of Necessity allowed Vice President Jonathan to take over and become acting President until the President returned. It was a novelty packaged by the NGF to save a dicey situation that had the capacity to derail the democratic process in the country.
The humanity in the Kwara Central lawmaker has continued to rise. Saraki is at the forefront of the campaign for health, food security, education and environmental regeneration. He promoted vigorously the campaign for strengthened laws on the clean-up of oil spills. With his National Oil Spill and Detection and Response Agency Amendment Bill, Saraki seeks to ensure oil companies pay appropriate compensation to communities affected by oil spills. The profile of Saraki continues to blossom as a champion of popular opinion and the people’s representative.
Happy birthday to the people’s senator. The best in you is yet to come.