To borrow the practice of academics, let me define my terms. Room 4.01 in the New Senate Building in the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, is the office of the President of the Nigerian Senate who doubles as chairman of our bicameral parliament. And the present occupant of the office is Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, a University of London trained medical doctor, scion of the prominent Saraki family of Ilorin, Kwara State, where he had served as elected Governor for eight years and also doubled as chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum between 2006 and 2011.
As the man marks his 54th birthday today, what defines him is the silent reforms he is working with his colleagues to introduce into the operations of the Upper legislative chamber in the country. The changes span the small issues to the key legislative process which makes the chamber performs its law making, advocacy and oversight functions effortlessly.
For instance, he has been able to persuade his colleagues to ensure that plenary proceedings commence exactly 10 am as stated in the Senate Standing Order, unlike what obtained before now. There is also an order as to what issues come on the floor on each of the three days the Senate sits at plenary. On Tuesdays, the Senate focuses on motions which are intervention instruments on issues of national importance. Wednesday is now devoted to first and second reading of new bills while Thursday is devoted for consideration of reports from committees working on bills to be passed into laws. Reports on petitions investigated by the Committee on Ethics, Public Complaints and Petitions are also considered on Thursday. Again, the other two days are devoted to constituency visits and committee sittings.
This new system has given order, methods and direction to the work of the Senate. It also makes monitoring of the performance of committees easier. And with the setting up of a Compliance and Monitoring committee headed by Sen. Babajide Omoworare, the work of the
The incumbent Senate President had on resumption last September from the annual recess led his colleagues in making the most fundamental intervention ever made in the history of the law making chamber. With all signs being obvious that the nation’s economy was sliding into a recession, Saraki called some of his colleagues during the recess and they held series of meetings with people in the private sector, the academia and some development partners.
On resumption, he declared that the new agenda of the Senate is now economy, economy and economy. The Senate then held a two day debate broadcast live on television on the economy after which it came up with a 21-point suggestion presented to the executive. As part of the 21-point plan, 11 bills were selected as priority economic bills. By today, four of the bills had been passed into law while six others are about to be submitted for final and third reading before passage into law. All the economic recovery bills are to be passed with the 2017 budget and submitted for presidential assent early next year.
A committee led by Senate Leader, Muhammed Ali Ndume, has submitted a report on how to radically reform the budget process. Some of their recommendations will help to make the passage of the 2017 budget easier. There are others that will take effect during the preparation and passage of the 2018 budget.
From the ASUU strike, the proposed policy to punish those who possess foreign exchange, the hike in telecom data price, the plan to raise electricity tariff, the forex policy preventing people from paying in money into their domiciliary accounts, the overcharging of Nigeria by the operator of the platform for collection of public funds into the TSA and the growing cases of mob killing, the Senate intervention, often decisively and timely, saved the day.
Many have wondered what is the man’s staying power even in the face of the distraction he has experienced as he moves to provide solid, remarkable and unforgettable leadership for the Senate. The answer perhaps lies in his acceptance of the fact that in the Senate, unlike in his former position as Governor, there is no chief executive. What you have is a primus inter pares. Saraki is also lucky to have as colleagues Senators who realise that the strength of the institution is in members staying together and resisting any externally-induced division.
At 54, his work rate has continued to increase by the day. He is working so hard and reading so often that I always have the feeling that he is bent on setting such a high standard that who ever comes after him to occupy Room 4.01ill have no option than to sustain the standard.
Yusuph Olaniyonuis Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the Senate President