By Jimoh Sulyman
The much awaited Peoples Democratic Party presidential primary to choose who will fly the party’s flag at the next general elections, is here and it is set to take centre stage on Saturday in Abuja.
One of the leading aspirants who many believed is in pole position to clinch the party ticket is the former Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki.
The quality that put him ahead of the queue is that, Saraki has achieved a blend of Executive and Legislative experience.
He was elected governor of Kwara State in 2003 after serving as Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2011 he was elected to represent Kwara Central Senatorial District in the Senate and in 2015, on his second term emerged as President of Senate.
When Saraki said he always leave everything he’s ever occupied better than he met it, it calls for a thoughtful person to truly check the veracity of such a bold statement, but putting things in retrospect, the truth is there for all to see.
Many who knew Kwara of pre-2003 will still have perhaps faint memories of how mundane things were, it is safe to say that was nothing was really happening in the state.
As the Kwara State Governor, one thing that most people in the state still thank Saraki for is how he redirected Kwara state from a ‘civil service’ state to setting the state on the path to being one of the most improved states in the federation.
In those years Education in the state was nothing to write home about but upon his assumption of power, Saraki Pushed up the state gross Enrollment Rate for primary schools from 78% in 2006 to 115% in 2009, with a gender disparity of less than 1%, a thing that was unprecedented in the history of the state across all prior dispensations.
He also doubled the pass rates in primary school examinations from 24 percent in 2006 to 49 percent while that of Secondary school was improved from 32 percent in 2007 to 50 percent in 2009.
Saraki also constructed numerous classrooms which resulted in the ratio of pupils per classroom decreasing from 76:1 in 2003 to 32:1 in 2009, providing better access to education for children.
In his bid to improve agriculture, the jugular of the state, Saraki Implemented Fertilizer Voucher Scheme (FVS) to ensure that fertilizer gets to genuine farmers across the state, this scheme was the forerunner of the Fertilizer e-wallet scheme implemented nationally under the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
He also provided subsidized inputs and guaranteed credit facilities to small-scale farmers creation of 50,000 new jobs in agriculture by attracting private investors to invest in commercial agriculture.
As an innovator, he initiated and developed the Shonga Farms Agriculture Programme a production capacity of 50,000 litres of milk and 10,000 birds for poultry daily. Shonga Farms achieved maize, rice and cassava yields above the national average, a legacy that still stood till date.
The National Assembly under Saraki in 2017 published the National Assembly budget. which was happening for the first time since 2010 when former Senate president, David Mark, blocked disclosure.
Intervention in Primary Healthcare: In May 2019, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, said 22 states showed interest in accessing the (BHCPF). This would not have been possible without the intervention of the Senate under Mr Saraki.
The Senate in May 2018 approved the #55 billion fund to cater for healthcare in Nigeria through the Basic Health Care Provision Fund BHCPF which is one per cent of the federal government Consolidated Revenue and contributions from donor grants set aside to fund the basic health needs of Nigerians.
The House leadership under Saraki’s watch also gave live to the initiative for Budget public hearing In March 2019, it was introduced in 2016. At such hearings, Nigerians, represented by interest groups, are given the opportunity of contributing to the national budget before passage.
The highly celebrated Not-too-young-to-run bill can’t be easily forgotten, passed by the National Assembly in 2018 and signed into law by the President in May 2018. The law reduces the age limit for Nigerians seeking the office of president from 40 to 35; governorship from 35 to 30. It saw to an unprecedented number of young contestants for the 2019 general election.
Saraki’s Senate also had the record number of bills passed having passed 293 bills, above the numbers passed by the three previous Senate since the return to democratic rule. The 7th senate passed 128 bills; 6th, 72 and 4th senate 129.
Also on Security which was ordinarily an executive responsibility, Saraki’s Senate showed interest in responding to the nation’s growing security crisis. In one of such measures, the Senate held a security summit.
Apart from the summit, the legislators, almost every week, passes resolutions on security-related issues although few of those were implemented by the executives.
Also, in order to cater for victims of insurgency in the North East, the Senate passed the North East Development Commission bill.
At a point in time, Kwara state was getting drowned in the scourge of cult and gang related killings and violence, but He fought the problem across our institutions to a stand still and political henchmen were not spared either.
Despite his achievements, he wasn’t insulated from political woes ,as the third citizen of the country, he survived a State orchestrated probes where he was dragged to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), for discrepancies in his asset declaration forms when he served as governor.
He stood up in the face of intimidation that could have threatened fidelity of our nation, whereby the executive and the puppeteers that stand in the shadows wants to reduce the respected house of Assembly to mere rubber stamp.
Despite being the number three citizen of the country, He submitted himself to scrutiny.
Going under barrage of vilification and name dropping,the ironclad Saraki still remained unbroken.
The two-term governor of Kwara State is running is making his third attempt for the office of the president, having contested in 2011 and 2019. He withdrew for the “northern consensus candidate”, Mr Abubakar, in 2011 before the primary and came third in the 2019 edition. He later selflessly served as the Director-General for Mr Abubakar’s campaign.
Taking a look at his chances, Saraki’s blend of experience in the Executive and Legislature will definitely come as an advantage for him in the race.
His geopolitical background, could as well play to his advantage. While he is North Central, his roots are usually well connected to Southwest. He is perhaps, the most urbane and flexible in terms of blending Nigeria’s complex structure.
He will also be looking forward to make a strong play for the 130 votes from his home North-central zone, especially from Kwara, Kogi and Nassarawa delegates,being the leading aspirant from a zone that is yet to produce a president.
The former President of the Nigerian Senate will most likely share the votes from the North-east and North-west with his rivals from those zones like Abubakar Atiku and Aminu Tambuwal.
Where Saraki will definitely have a field day is with delegates from the South western states, talking of Osun, Ekiti,Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and of course Lagos.
Saraki is close to the party’s governorship candidate for Osun, Ademola Adeleke, who will control most of the delegates from that state also, sharing a maternal affinity with the people of Ondo, Saraki may play on the bond to garner massive votes from Ondo delegates, as a matter of fact, his mother is a princess of Owo town in Ondo state.
He was the leader of the party’s reconciliation committee that played a huge role in maintaining the unity of the party and making the party to go into the convention on a united front.
While occupying the role of party’s mediator, Saraki was hailed by the leadership of Ogun PDP for playing a key role in resolving the internal crisis which almost tore the party in the state apart.
According to Ogun PDP chairman,Sikirullahi Ogundele ,“Saraki has done well for us in Ogun State as he was instrumental to the unity of the party after long and protracted crisis,”
In Lagos, he is a very familiar face with the leadership of the party in the state, recently, he was the one that welcomed the massive crowd of the political movement, Lagos4Lagos whose leader, Olajide Adediran ‘Jandor’ became the party’s gubernatorial candidate into PDP.
At a time when the unity is being threatened at every instance, Saraki, a man of many worlds could definitely be a bridge.
For Nigerians, the last decade has been one to forget, several killings and kidnapping to the extent that it has become the norm.
It is quite ironic that a military General couldn’t break the back of insurgency despite many promises made, perhaps the medical doctor’s Midas touch could return the country back to tranquility that the country once known.
Jimoh writes for National Pilot newspaper, Ilorin.
By Jimoh Sulyman