The end has come for the 8th Senate, but its impact will live on.

Saraki's uncommon national leadership agenda

The 8th senate under the leadership of Senate President Bukola Saraki pushed for collaborations in the public and private sectors to pass common sense legislation aimed at reforming the healthcare, business and infrastructure milieu of the Nigerian state.

It was a task Saraki took to with single minded determination and zeal from the moment he was elected leader of the Red Chamber in June of 2015.

"At inception, the 8th senate adopted the Senate Legislative agenda focusing on three broad areas: improving livelihoods, improving governance and improving business. Over the last three years we have been focused on driving this agenda by undertaking a comprehensive review of business-related legislations in Nigeria with a view to improving Nigeria’s ease-of-doing-business ranking as well as improving the general operative environment for business in Nigeria, increasing access to funding for healthcare and education and building social safety nets for the most vulnerable in our society including those ravaged by war and conflict", Saraki says.

Saraki’s senate arrived the national assembly complex as Nigeria plunged headlong into its worst recession in 25 years and at a time when Nigeria trod the pathway towards the unenviable destination of the 'poverty capital of the world’.

For the senate under Saraki, getting more people out of the poverty loop inevitably meant passing legislation that would create employment and bolster the private sector. It was a no brainer, essentially.

At every fora, Saraki never failed to state that the business of the senate on his watch was to increase the private sector’s participation in the economy by reducing government intervention in sectors that are traditionally guided by market forces. Nigeria’s dream of having a pro-business senate steadily came to fruition on Saraki’s watch.

The 8th senate was particularly passionate about the Made in Nigeria Agenda. On January 2, 2017, Saraki’s office launched the #MadeInNigeria challenge with the aim to connect investors to manufacturers who produce goods that could rival imported variants.

The Saraki senate championed and encouraged the patronage of #MadeInNigeria goods as a way of jump starting the economy. The senate also amended the Public Procurement Act to support this agenda.

Saraki’s media aide, Bamikole Omisore, said of the challenge at the time: "In 2017, we intend to take #MadeInNigeria further by using legislation to discourage importation of goods that can be produced locally, take the advocacy directly to Nigerians, work with government agencies to create enabling environment and encourage Nigerians who have eyes for local production i.e. goods that are ready substitute to imported ones.

"From January 2nd 2017, using hashtag #MadeinNigeria manufacturers can post 45 seconds to 3 minutes video of a product we are importing but that they can produce using at least 80 per cent local content.

"Those shortlisted will be invited to a roundtable with investors and government agencies such as Bank of Industry (BoI), Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and so on."

The Saraki led senate also engaged the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the Aba Trade Fair as a way of encouraging local production and boosting indigenous production hubs. To the senate’s credit, ‘Made in Aba’ no longer became a derisory label and the shoe making industry in Aba was soon hired by the Nigerian army to produce quality boots for soldiers on the frontlines.

The Saraki led 8th senate has also played key roles in institutionalizing the fight against corruption. Among the bills passed to facilitate the fight against corruption is the National Financial Intelligence Agency Act, which, in-line with international best practices, created an autonomous Financial Intelligence Unit in the country now called the National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).

The NFIU now allows Nigeria access to information relating to financial investigations in the 152 member countries of the EGMONT Group. The Senate received commendation from the Financial Intelligence Database Agency (ultrascan) for passing the NFIA Act. This has enabled Nigeria to be readmitted into the Egmont Group.

The latest directive by the NFIU preventing State Governors from accessing local government funds and banning banks from allowing transactions from State Joint Local Government Accounts without monies first reaching the accounts of the particular local government, is a derivative of the NFIA law passed by the 8th National Assembly.

Senate President Bukola Saraki in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly [National Assembly]
Senate President Bukola Saraki in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly [National Assembly]
On April 9, 2019, the co-founder of the ONE Campaign, lead-singer of the Irish multi-award winning rock-band and philanthropist, Mr. Paul David Hewson, better known as Bono (U2), paid Senate President Saraki a visit and thanked the 8th National Assembly for including a clause in the 2018 budget that guarantees the use of 1% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation for primary healthcare.

"You made it happen," Bono told the President of the Senate in Abuja. "People were, and have been talking about it for many years, but nobody was doing anything about it.

"But you made the 1% for healthcare happen. Nobody wants earmarks, but you made it happen. It’s going to be really important for people’s lives. The decisions made in this building are decisions of life and death in this case, so, we thank you for making the decision for people that we may never even meet."

In his response, Saraki said, "The issue now is to get the 1% allocation out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) operational, so that we can begin to improve our primary healthcare system across the country."

Saraki also displayed uncommon national leadership when he defended democracy as operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) invaded the national assembly in August of 2018 on the orders of the executive arm of government. The senate president remained resolute in his defense of democracy as chieftains of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) schemed to install parliamentary leaders who were going to do their bidding and turn the national assembly to a rubber stamp.

It is also to Saraki’s credit that plenary senate sessions are now aired Live on Facebook and on Twitter, in order to enable Nigerians follow proceedings and make their own deductions. That way, everyone is carried along in the legislative process because Saraki believes that the national assembly is called home of the people’s representatives for a reason. Saraki has always believed in the right of journalists to operate unhindered in order to promote transparency and for the people to have access to non-doctored information.

Apart from the Police Reform and Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), the Saraki led senate passed some important pieces of legislation like The National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Bill, 2019; the National Research and Innovation Council Bill, 2019; the Stamp Duties Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019; the National Agricultural Seed Council Bill, 2019; and the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

Saraki wore pro-business reforms, leadership and the defense of democracy on his sleeves as the 8th senate went about its business; and in the face of partisan attacks on his name and person. The departing senate president and the house he led as first among equals, would surely come in for some kind and fond mention when the story of Nigeria’s nascent democracy is told.

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