Who is afraid of Bukola Saraki? -By Chinedum Nwajiuba

Filed under: Political Issues |
Senate President, Bukola Saraki

Senate President, Bukola Saraki


I am moved to write this piece after reading an article in the VANGUARD of Thursday, August 6, 2015 by Is’haq Modibbo Kawu titled, “Bukola Saraki in Maiduguri: Tentative first steps for 2019 Presidency”. It is evident that the article reeks of hate and seems aimed at either getting President Buhari to regard Saraki his enemy, or fortifying whatever grievances might exist, if that is the case.

That is sad, because in no way does that motive contribute to nation-building, and in no way does it help Buhari whom history will ultimately hold responsible for what becomes of Nigeria from May 29, 2015. It is true we are in a democracy and people should have freedom of communication, but I believe we should exercise some self-control in the enjoyment of the freedom. I do not know the author in person or even by reputation, but I bet he seems to have some personal ‘agro’ against Saraki.

I met Saraki sometime in 2011 after he became Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Environment. I as well as others in the civil society engaged with environmental issues in Nigeria were pleasantly surprised to be invited by that Committee for interaction. Saraki sat through the meetings with a note book in which he took copious notes as people made contributions. He also enriched the conversations by asking poignant questions. He was very civilized and we had the impression that he is educated in the real sense.

It was this very positive impression that Saraki made upon my colleagues and I that encouraged my organization and others to take a closer look at the state he had just left as governor. About that time, some international organizations asked us to advise on states towards which they could direct their interest in development activities. From our analysis, Kwara was highly recommended. The points that counted for Kwara included accessibility by air from Lagos/Ibadan and Abuja, having minimal security challenges, and a very positive civil service and receptive government.
I am not sure how much of these were put in place by the governments before Saraki became governor of Kwara State. We subsequently took specific projects into rural communities in the state. Before doing that we approached his office in the Senate, and were introduced to an officer who took responsibility to lead us into Kwara. The government of that state received us in a very professional manner. Kwara was one of six states in which we unveiled the National Adaptation Strategy on Climate Change. During this period, Saraki’s name resonated so much in urban as well as rural areas of the state.

With respect to the article I read which I consider unfair, there are some specific observations to make and I itemize few out of the lot of them as they appear in that article.

The first is the title of the article: “Bukola Saraki in Maiduguri: Tentative first steps for 2019 Presidency”. My reaction would be that if truly Saraki’s Maiduguri trip is part of his seed planting towards the 2019 presidency of Nigeria, then it is commendable. Nigeria can ill-afford a reluctant President in 2019, or whatever other year for that matter. We’d rather an aspirant that has his sleeves rolled up and is tirelessly working towards actualizing his dream than one that suddenly wakes up one morning in 2019 to tell us that he is running for presidency in response to pressures from his people. Better to have presidential aspirants with hunger in their bellies and fire in their eyes which are fixed on a faraway goal than have 2019 overnight microwave presidential aspirants that treat the race to our much-cherished Aso Rock Presidential Villa like an after-thought.

The author had complained about the fact that “…most newspapers carried a syndicated picture of the ‘august visitor’ waving to the IDPs.” To that I ask, is that strange? Isn’t that what you see in governments including more mature democracies? What is wrong with this, one dares ask?
The author further inveighed that Saraki’s ultimate goal “remains presidency and he can’t even wait for 2019 before beginning to show his hands”. To this I say only a fool interested in 2019 presidency will wait till 2019 to start showing his hands. Is the office of the President of Nigeria not serious enough to warrant long-term thought and work? President Buhari provides a good and recent example of a long-distance runner in the presidency race and if, as the writer of that article tried to portray, Saraki’s Maiduguri trip was indeed his first step in a four-year marathon, then it should be a plus, not a minus as the writer inveighed. People with political ambitions should be encouraged to show their hands early. That way, the society gets them to act with a greater sense of responsibility than might have otherwise been the case.

Another difficult assertion to accept is to the effect that the distinguished senator “is fighting a battle against public perception because in many quarters in Nigeria, he has not been able to live down the feeling that he betrayed his party”. To this I say perhaps “many quarters” but certainly not majority of Nigerians share this sentiment. I believe majority of Nigerians prefer inclusive broad-based governance that reflects the country’s diversity, rather than governments that are highly skewed and based on an ideology of exclusion of sections of the country.

The writer’s anger was revealed the more when he stated that Saraki “remains defiant and continues to ignore the APC and PMB’s openly expressed preference that APC senators bow to party supremacy; he fills positions with members of his own group, daring the party and PMB to do the worst!” I see this as simply meant to incite. Sensible Nigerians remember President Buhari’s statement after the election of the Senate President and Speaker House of Representatives on June 9, 2015. Our much respected President took the view that a constitutional process occurred. He accepted those elected, and said that he did not have any preferred candidates for the Senate and the House of Representatives leadership, and that he was willing to work with whomever the lawmakers elected.

The Presidency is a serious office and cannot issue public statements that are meant for nothing. It is an honourable office and Nigerians want to believe it ended with that. If the President goes on after that date and that statement to antagonize Saraki, that is a minus for Buhari among honourable people. I refuse to believe the hidden insinuation of that writer that our President who is noted point above is another vexatious one which stated that Buhari publicly ignored the Senate President at the Abuja Eid praying ground. To this I wail, the Nigerian President publicly ignoring the Nigerian Senate President elected within the laws of Nigeria as acknowledged by the Nigerian President! Who loses? Who becomes a smaller man by that, if that was really the case? Anyway, I doubt that it’s fact.

He further asserted that Saraki missed the photo-op with President Barack Obama by not accompanying Buhari to the United States. This can’t be serious. How many times have we seen Senate Presidents going on foreign trips with a country’s President?

That “…Bukola Saraki, unable to secure an audience with PMB, was corralling the Emir of Ilorin to service to find every opportunity for him to get to see the President.” This is commendable. He who seeks peace means well.

That “…he nevertheless continues to defy the same President and party in respect of the extant problems arising from his demarche on June 9.” Shaking my head in disbelief, I ask: But where is the proof of defiance to the President? Has Buhari asked Saraki to resign as Senate President? Or is this suggestive of a possibility that the statement issued after the election of Saraki as Senate President was not with the knowledge of the President? Is there a crack in the Presidency?

The apparently angry writer complained that Olisa Metuh of the PDP had asserted that they were working for Saraki’s return to the PDP. Now, I wonder what is strange about that. I would expect PDP to work for the return of not only their former members, but other senior APC members as well. Recall that APC lured them away from PDP. What is wrong with PDP doing the same?
The writer also accused Saraki of “… embarking on the next chapter of his own personal agenda for presidency…” But who, among the big names in Nigerian politics, does not have a personal agenda? Is it Buhari, Tinubu, Atiku, or who? What is peculiar with Saraki having a personal agenda?

The following comment in the article is perplexing: “…instead of working to further enhance the North-Southwest alliance, these shortsighted and opportunistic Northern politicians who bought into Bukola Saraki’s anti-Tinubupropaganda endanger PMB’s CHANGE Agenda and willy-nilly, have become as disruptive as Bukola Saraki and are working for his personal agenda NOT the interest of Northern Nigeria or those of our country, in the long run.” This, to say the least, is scandalous. Is Mr Kawu by any means implying that the whole essence of Buhari’s government is to exclude two of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones? Federal Character and inclusiveness are products of Nigeria’s political history, and Constitution which the President swore to uphold. Is he stating that Buhari is implementing a policy of exclusion? That frightful comment forces one to compare what PDP did for geopolitical zones in which they did not do well in presidential elections with what the author appears to certify the APC as doing now. Is it possible that a trend has emerged with two contending visions/ideologies – those who want an inclusive Nigeria (PDP and APC elements like Saraki and Dogara), versus the APC apostles of exclusion?

The writer had asserted that, in his own words, “By getting Ike Ekweremadu into the loop as Deputy Senate President, and contrary to the norms of Senate in respect of ranking, also making Godswill Akpabio Minority leader, Bukola Saraki will claim his political IOU in 2019”, Not done yet, he added that Saraki will “posture as having given the South-East and the South-South recognition and platforms of relevance, when they ordinarily would have lost out in 2015, for voting against the APC and PMB.” This line of writing and, particularly, the reasoning that produced it are as unfair as they are scary. If that writer represents the view of the anti-Saraki APC, then it is saddening to note that APC still has not appreciated that the votes secured by former President Goodluck Jonathan in South-East and South-South could have been higher if it were not for the hardwork and determination of APC leaders and members in those zones. Now these valiant men and women who fought for their convictions appear to have been made to lose their voices by the emerging scenario in their otherwise beloved APC. People are asking what Ogbonnaya Onu, Rochas Okorocha, Chris Ngige, Rotimi Amechi, and others who were very vocal in asking the South-East and South-South to come along with the APC have to offer as explanation for what is happening. What sin has the South-East, the South-South and Saraki committed? If the elements of the Change Agenda of the current government is good for all Nigeria, why the fear of persons from the South-East and South-South being around even in minor positions?

A curious accusation against Saraki in the writing is that he “… has been appointing legislative aides from different parts of the North and beyond…” If that is the case, then he is a new generation Nigerian leader indeed. A multi-ethnic, multi-everything country such as Nigeria can no longer afford political office appointments that are skewed in clear favor of one group to the exclusion of others.
The writer’s vituperation to the effect that Saraki’s trip to Maiduguri was presented as a humanitarian trip to give succor to people displaced as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency was curiously meant to reduce the person of Saraki. To the contrary, it has ended up improving the person and persona. A politician must be known for something. Buhari brand appeal is in his anti-corruption posture. If Saraki’s is humanitarianism, then that is desirable in the hard times Nigerians all over the country are in.

The simple conclusion to this is encapsulated in the question we employed as the title of this piece: Who is afraid of Bukola Saraki? It has to be fear of the man that is generating the level of antagonism contained in that article. Once again, that has no place in national development.