At the end of the 2nd legislative year of the 8th Senate President, Bukola Saraki spoke on the journey so far and controversies on devolution of power, ex-governor’s pension and salary, anti-corruption and constitutional review. He also spoke on the politics of his home state of Kwara.
The senate just adjourned after its second legislative year. How has the journey been so far?
I think we are satisfied with what we were able to accomplish in the past 24 months. When we compare what we have been able to do in this 8th Senate to the senate before us, I think we have done very well. For example we have done about 125 bills compared to the 5th, 6th and 7th senate. I think the 5th senate did about 129 in four years and the 7th did about 125. So we have been able to do what the others have done in four years in two years.
We also need to look at the quality of bills that we have passed. A lot of them have to do with the economy and infrastructure issues. We passed bills to do with making us have more credible elections and improving our electoral process, and of course the constitutional review that we have just been able to do. We have addressed the jinx that has to do with the Petroleum Industry Bill. We have been able to make the National Assembly more transparent in some of the things we are doing like Open NASS. So, by and large we have not done too badly
One of the trending issues now is the Constitutional Review. What made the Senate to take so many sections of the constitution for review. What informed that decision?
I think we learnt from the experience of the past, on some of the things that need to be done to make it a success. You know it is not an easy task to review the constitution. Of course you know it is two thirds, even in some cases it is more than two thirds. So you have to have consultations, engagements, discussions in trying to make those changes that are necessary and some of these changes have been long overdue. Many of them are not things that we just thought about now.
What we have been able to do is have the political will to make it happen. They are not new amendments.
In the 7th National Assembly some of those amendments were made but unfortunately they never got implemented and one of the things we learnt was not to keep the process till very late. One of the mistakes we made in the 7th senate was in the dying hour of the tenure. So this time around we promised we do early to have time to see it to conclusion.
Also what we did was to consult a lot with state assemblies, and get them involved. They were part of the process and we ensured that we had a kind of joint report with the House of Representatives. You can see that we tried to consult widely so that we can get the support of everybody.
So like I said, some of those amendments have been around, like the separation of the office of the Accountant General, and the independence of the office of the Auditor-General.
You said you have made a lot of consultations with the state houses of assembly. The last experience we had was that many of the amendments were rejected by the state houses of assembly because it was alleged they were influenced by some state governors who may not like the amendments. Have you taken care of that?
I can’t say we have taken care of it, but we have consulted widely. In fact that is why we split it into bills. We are hopeful that we will score 90 per cent success. If we do, fine. To say which one will pass or fail will be difficult for me to say, but we will do our best to consult and discuss with them to see that we pass the bill.
However, the state assemblies are aware of the bills we are sending to them because they attended the last retreat that was held in Lagos where the last document was prepared. But as you rightly said, it goes beyond the state assembly members. By the time it goes to the state, they too must consult with their constituents, governors, traditional rulers and different politics might come into
place. I am hopeful the Local government autonomy, others bills sent to the houses of assembly will pass in the interest of Nigerians and the country at large. I hope they will see it from that point of view and also give it a blessing.
There were things that Nigerians were really looking forward to. They are devolution of powers, state creation, state electoral commissions, Land Use Act. All these didn’t find favour in this review. Would you like to throw light into why they were discarded?
I think we all need to understand the process. First of all constitutional review by its nature is not a bill that will just pass through the normal process. It needs two thirds majority. So that means they must be issues that a majority of Nigerians want. Secondly because of the net effect of it, it is important that wide consultations are done and in a process like that, lawmakers are representing their people, so if a senator or member house of representative says this amendment I will like to consult more with the people, I am not against it but if I have to vote I will vote against it. My view is that we must respect that. When you say all Nigerians want something, well if all Nigerians want something you will see it in the vote.
The ones that all Nigerians wanted, you saw it in the vote. The fact that it did not pass through, means that there are some Nigerians that are not sure and a lot of people equated the devolution of power to mean restructuring and that is why I said when I was in Ilorin that we should all blame ourselves because I think the commentaries have built a lot of mistrust. If the constitutional review had come like eight months, ago devolution would have passed. saying I want to go and another part is saying I want to stay-all that created this mistrust, people not sure what it is all about and insinuation whether some people want to play a fast one.
So, those who were sceptical said I am not ready to support this and as I keep on saying, we were a country of multiple religions, multiple ethnicity. We are a diverse country, you cannot stampede me out of here, I can’t stampede you out of here. Once we understand that, then the rhetorics have to calm down. You can’t bully people to go one way because that is the way you want it.
The constitution has said two thirds, if you say two thirds that means you must have the buying of more than majority of the people.
So, as I said, it has failed now, do I think if it is presented again it will fail? Probably not. As I said, if it had been presented a few months back, it probably would have gone.