By Femi Salako
The name Bukola Saraki needs no introduction in the political and economic spaces of Nigeria. He is to a large extent a clearly misunderstood personality whose underling achievements has not been given due credits. However, the fact of his knack for uncommon successes against all odds and relentless giant strides has never been in doubt. He has manifested undeniable achievements in all the responsibilities he so far been saddled with. He is a Senate President and the Chairman of the 8th National Assembly. Saraki is poised to achieve success where others have failed. He has set out at the beginning of his leadership of the National Assembly to break the jinx of inconclusive constitutional amendment that has been plaguing the country for some years. Dr. Bukola has ensured the immediate commencement of work on the constitutional review after the proclamation of the 8th Assembly and he has assured Nigerians that the current efforts at amending the 1999 Constitution would not be an exercise in futility.
Saraki is resolutely determined to pull through the current amendment to the nation’s constitution. He had set out to avoid the past mistakes of lumping all the amendments into one, thereby breaking it into about 33 bills. He had further explained that the avoidance of making the amendment process dovetail into election period was what informed early commencement of the exercise. Saraki has also ensured that extensive consultations with state houses of assembly were carried out to guarantee a successful constitutional amendment.
The strong man of Kwara politics has been able to muster the needed courage and political will to attain the feat of achievements recorded by the 8th National Assembly despite the prevailing distractions. Aside the ongoing constitutional amendment, the Bukola Saraki led National Assembly has so far passed over 96 bills and 72 petitions since the day it was promulgated till date. This figure is clearly the highest to have been recorded by the Nigerian Senate since the return to democracy in May 29, 1999. Besides, the Senate has moved 35 other bills to the second and third reading stages. It is on record that a total of 54 bills had been passed with the concurrence of the House of Representatives. A total of 64 other bills are already at their second reading stages, while 11 economic recovery bills have gone through public hearing stages. Achievement of the Saraki led Senate in the last three months has obviously been utterly impressive.
Saraki has always inspired the upper legislative chamber to achieving a meticulous and fast tracked consideration and approval of proposed annual budgets to address the economic problems 1facing the country.
The Senate under the inspirational leadership of Dr. Bukola Saraki has assured Nigerians that the upper chamber would soon be done with very crucial bills like the Anti-corruption Bill, the Petroleum Industry Bill and other Bills that are of urgent importance to the general public. It is particularly commendable that the Senate President has so far ensured a harmonious working relationship with the executive arm of government thus far.
The 54 year old product of King’s College, Lagos and Cheltenham College , London stepped up his academic pursuit at the London Hospital Medical College of the University of London from 1982 to 1987, where he bagged his M.B.B.S degree.
The useful experience of Bukola gathered at the Société Générale Bank as a Director got him sufficiently prepared for a higher responsibility as a Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Budget. The Fiscal Responsibility Bill was initiated by Saraki during his time in this office. He was later to serve on the Economic Policy Coordination Committee, where he was responsible for the formulation and implementation of several key economic policies for Nigeria.
Bukola Saraki had previously served as the Governor of
Kwara State from 2003 to 2011.
He led reforms in agriculture, health, education, finance and environment policy while in charge as the governor. He established the Shonga Farms programme in partnership with Zimbabwean white farmers. The instant success of the arrangement made the farming concept a model that is now being replicated by other states across nation. An agricultural policy reforms that increased the commercial viability of farming and also the volume of exports to international markets was developed by Bukola Saraki while in charge as Kwara governor. He designed the New Nigerian Farmers Initiative that improved the technical capability of farmers and ensured that farmers had a significant financial stake in new investment in agriculture. Bukola also created a commercial hub that was developed to build capacity support training for the indigenous farming community of Kwara.
Saraki also did excellently well in the area of power generation and electricity while he held sway as the Kwara state governor. Kwara became the first state to complete the Independent Power Project under the leadership of Bukola. Also, Saraki had collaborated with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria to re-energised the Ganmo Power Station at Ilorin. He ensured that over 375 rural communities got connected to the national grid through the development and installation of 725 transformers and 7 substations. Bukola had also ensured the completion of 4 electrification projects which guaranteed power stability for between 18–22 hours a day in Kwara state. Close to 90% of people living in Kwara had access to electricity, compared to a national average of 30% in other parts of the country.
During the tenure of Saraki as Kwara governor, he introduced a new health programmes that included a statewide campaign in 2008 to reduce maternal and child mortality from malaria. A statewide distribution of insecticide-treated nets and free malaria drugs were equally extended to pregnant mothers and children under the age of five in Kwara. Another statewide programme of hospital development was also implemented by Saraki which led to the redevelopment of hospitals in
Afon, Patigi and Lafiagi. Bukola Saraki also implemented improved training and re-training for medical staff; refurbishment of hospitals and staff living quarters. This effort was followed up with the employment of qualified medical doctors and other health workers in the state. Performance of Saraki had encouraged WHO and UNICEF to sponsor many of the primary health care programmes in Kwara state.
A significant and statewide infrastructure development was engineered by Saraki during his time as Kwara governor. The infrastructural initiatives included improvements at the Ilorin International Airport Cargo Terminal, extensive road construction, and development of new sporting facilities at the Kwara Football Academy.
Saraki was appointed the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum in view of his achievements and charisma among his fellow governors. The Forum under Bukola Saraki developed a better and more extensive polio immunisation in Nigeria. A key part of this was the introduction in 2011 of the Immunisation Leadership Challenge. The Challenge was designed and rewarded states that made significant improvement in polio and routine immunisation coverage by the end of 2012. This challenge was driven by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the Nigeria Governors Forum. Dr Saraki’s chairmanship of the NGF brought about the signing of quite a number of Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) which included but not limited to the World Bank , DFID, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation , GAVI, UNICEF , UNDP.
Dr. Saraki was first elected to the Senate in April 2011, representing Kwara Central senatorial district, and subsequently got re-elected in the March 2015 general elections. He was appointed as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology and a member of the Senate Committee on Capital Markets and Finance. He was the senator that pushed a motion in the upper legislative chamber to end the fuel subsidy regime in Nigeria. It would be recalled that the fuel subsidy regime had constituted an excessive drain on Nigeria’s national resources. The first outing of Bukola Saraki in the senate was devoted for an extensive advocacy for improved health, food security, education and the environment. He had also worked relentlessly for strengthening of laws on the clean up of oil spills. To this effect, Senator Saraki sponsored the National Oil Spill and Detection and Response Agency Amendment Bill to ensure that oil companies pay appropriate levels of compensation to communities affected by oil spills. Saraki had intervened in the lead poisoning crisis in
Zamfara State in 2010 and supported the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which ensures safe and healthy methods of cooking for millions of Nigerians while conserving the environment through reduced deforestation.
Senator Bukola Saraki is a philanthropist of note who will never shy away from rewarding excellence. He had in view of his resolved to reward merit with the founding of Kwara Class of Honor. It is a program aimed at awarding Post-Graduate scholarship for First Class students of the state to continue their study at any institution of their choice across the federation. Over 71 First class graduates had been awarded during the first phase of this scholarship program.
Saraki experienced a major distraction at the early stage of his Senate presidency. He was arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on a 13-count charge which include anticipatory declaration of assets, operation of foreign accounts and false declaration of assets while he was the governor of Kwara state. The trial dragged for almost two years before he was eventually discharged and acquitted of all the 13 charges.
Saraki as a responsible family man has won many awards in the course of his public service. He was the first serving Nigerian governor to be awarded the National Honor of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 2010. The Outstanding Leadership Award was also conferred on Saraki by the incumbent Governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed on 27 May, 2017.
Dr. Bukola Saraki today stands out as a leader who is largely misunderstood with a vastly under appreciated achievements. Although the doyen of the 8th National Assembly has dwarfed the achievements of all his predecessors in offices as a governor and a Senate president. The Kwara politician has manifestly delivered much to overreach himself in leadership and he is determinedly poised to do more in higher responsibilities.