By Bukola Saraki
Distinguished colleagues, as we come to the final plenary and the last few days of the eighth Senate, it is a victory in itself that we are seeing the journey to its momentous end. That I am here today, that you are here today, is a victory for democracy. It is a testament to what people can do when they come together for the greater good. This is also one of those occasions when the Supreme Creator reminds us, once again, that power does not reside in any one person.
Before I proceed, let us pause to honour the memory of colleagues with whom we started this journey but who sadly are not here with us today. We lost the late Senators Ali Wakili (Bauchi South), Isiaka Adetunji Adeleke (Osun West) and Bukar Mustapha (Katsina North) in the line of duty in this Senate. I ask that we observe a minute’s silence for the continuing repose of their souls [Minute’s Silence]. May the Almighty grant them eternal rest.
Distinguished colleagues, let me thank each and every one of you for your contributions towards making this the historic Senate that it is. When I think of the many trials and tribulations we have faced as an institution, and my own personal travails particularly at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, I am humbled, because none of our achievements would have been possible without the support and cooperation of the entire members of this chamber.
The invasion of the National Assembly by armed security operatives in August 2018 will live in infamy. This way down the line, however, I realise that the day of that invasion was the saddest – but in many ways it was also a good day for asserting the independence of the legislature and the triumph of democracy. It also turned out to be a showcase of the special relationship between this chamber and the House, as Honourable Members stood in unison with their Senate colleagues in defiance of the invaders. I thank the House of Representatives for the remarkable unity of the two chambers of the 8th National Assembly, for it was only in unity that we could withstand the storm.
The pieces of legislation we passed in the crucial areas and arenas affecting the daily lives of citizens – on the economy, in education, security, anti-corruption, health and so on – will remain a benchmark. Working together, we clocked many firsts in the 8th Senate, and we should rightly be proud of these, especially as they are imperishable legacies we are leaving for the people.
Our many firsts include the National Assembly Joint Public Hearing on the Budget, which we started with the 2016 Appropriation Bill. The engagement of the private sector and other stakeholders in crafting the economic legislative agenda was a watershed. For the first time, there were meetings and interactions with members of the public which were not previously the norm. One such interaction was the Public Senate, which gave youths the opportunity to spend a day with me as President of the Senate. I have pleasant memories of my reading to an audience of small children inside my office, where – in the true spirit of Children’s Day – the kids themselves were the dignitaries.
It was during this Senate that we patented the concept of the Roundtable. This was groundbreaking. We left the centre of power in Abuja to tackle pressing social issues at the very heart of the communities most affected. Notable among these were the Senate Roundtable on the Drug Use Crisis held in Kano in December 2017, and the one on Migration and Human Trafficking held in Benin City in February 2018. At both events, we not only dialogued for solutions with the relevant government agencies, international partners and community leaders – we heard from the victims themselves.
In Kano, we heard the harrowing story of Zeinab, a recovering drug addict. In Benin, we listened to the account of a young woman who was rebuilding her life after being trafficked to Russia for the sex trade; and we heard from Victory who had been being sold into slavery in Libya. We let these people know that their voices count. Indeed the voice of every Nigerian counts, and the 8th Senate lent its ear to them. We were alive to our responsibility to those whom we serve, and we engaged with them on their own terms.
It should be a matter of pride to all 109 senators and to our offspring that, in this chamber, we put humanity first. I will always be proud of the humaneness of the 8th Senate. Ours has been legislature with a human face, the personal touch, moved by the milk of human kindness. Whenever the situation demanded, we left the imposing edifice of the National Assembly to reach out to the person on the street. We showed that parliament belongs to the people, and that there should be no barrier between lawmakers and those they represent.
One of our major acts upon inauguration was the Senate visit in August 2015 to Maiduguri, Borno State – the first ever National Assembly delegation to see first-hand the living conditions of thousands displaced by the insurgency. A Senator from the South moved the motion that led us to Maiduguri, one of the many times we showed the world that senators act as Nigerians first, and not as southerners or northerners. The three senators representing Borno State were among the delegation on that memorable visit, as we called on the Shehu of Borno to assure him that rebuilding the North East was high on our agenda. We visited IDP camps, spoke with the people, carried their babies, comforted them, letting them know that their well-being was a priority for the Senate. Today, the North East Development Commission is a reality, and the people are being resettled into their normal lives.
Borno was by no means our only spotlight on the conditions of our people in IDP camps. We visited the Kuchingoro IDP Camp in Abuja during the holy month of Ramadan in 2017 and donated essential supplies to the inhabitants, while assuring them of our commitment to getting them back on their feet. A year later, we were at the Abagena IDP Camp in Benue State. Instead of bringing the children to Abuja for Children’s Day, we went to the children in Benue. We gave assurances that we would build on work already done on the ground by the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Review of Security Infrastructure to bring an end to killings and restore peace in the state.
There was a very moving encounter with Ali Ahmadu, the six-year-old Boko Haram victim from Chibok. Our joy knew no bounds when he returned, walking and smiling, after life-transforming surgery in Dubai. Little Ali from Chibok was one of many individuals whose lives were directly touched by the 8th Senate. We stood with families and communities across this country in times of trouble. I remember the case of Linda Igwetu, the NYSC corps member killed by a SARS operative here in Abuja. On behalf of the Senate, I placed a call to her sister to offer our condolences and to speak to the need for justice in the matter.
When Miss Hilda Eva Amadi tragically died at an NYSC Orientation Camp in Ilorin, Kwara State, we as the Senate were there to condole with those grieving her loss. We made donations towards the renovation of facilities at the camp and for topping up the medicine supply, to ensure the health and well-being of corps members there. Every single Nigerian life matters, and we demonstrated that in the symbolism and actuality of our actions at all times.
When Nigerians cried out for help, we did not turn deaf ears. Many will remember the case of Miss Monica Osagie who accused her lecturer of demanding sex for marks. As a responsive Senate, we backed up the Sexual Harassment law we had enacted by passing a resolution on the issue, and conducted an investigation into the allegation. Responding to the needs of Nigerians was our calling, and by so doing, I believe we made a real difference in people’s lives.
Where there was contention or strife, we were agents of peace and helped find a way forward. Through meetings with the Minister of Health, the Minister of Labour and Employment together with leaders of the Joint Health Sector Unions, we were able to bring an end to the biting six-week long JOHESU strike which had crippled the health sector in the country. We said we would help end the deadlock, and we kept the promise.
A Senate resolution was the critical factor in ending the two-year impasse at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) in Ogbomoso, which had kept the 34,000-strong student body in limbo, due to the closure of the institution. The students were able to resume their education in September 2017. Another promise kept.
We promised transparency in the National Assembly Budget and kept our word, subjecting NASS Budget to public scrutiny for the first time since Nigeria’s return to democracy.
We engaged with a delegation of nurses and midwives led by my wife in her capacity as a Global Goodwill Ambassador to the International Confederation of Midwives, and listened to their concerns about high infant and maternal mortality rates in Nigeria. We promised to review relevant laws and pass new ones to make for better conditions of service for nurses and midwives, as one way of bringing about an improvement in mortality rates, in particular, and the health sector as a whole. We kept that promise, too, and one notable outcome was the setting aside of one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund. This gave a massive boost to health funding in the country, allowing access to basic healthcare for thousands more Nigerians.
Just the other week the Minister of Health called the 1% CRF a “game changer”, no doubt because, by our activities in this chamber, we are touching the lives of Nigerians and even those unborn. Speaking of commendations, our interventions on health also won plaudits from international philanthropists Bill Gates and Bono, as well as the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Similarly, our amendment of the Universal Basic Education Act, guaranteeing free education for children aged nine to twelve, won praise from education rights activist and Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzai.
Still on promises kept, we were at the Made In Aba Trade Fair held in Abuja in 2016, and that was to be the springboard for legislation – The Public Procurement Act (Amendment) Bill – in fulfilment of our vow to manufacturers at the fair. We maintained the focus with our Made-In-Nigeria initiative, which saw the Nigerian Army ordering 50,000 pairs of boots from Aba manufacturers that same year.
We cracked the code of several Bills that had eluded Senates before us. We broke the decade-old Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into a quartet of workable bills including the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), whose passage stands as a major achievement of the 8th Senate. The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) was the most comprehensive reform law governing Nigeria’s business environment in nearly 30 years. The Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Bill was one of the major anti-corruption laws we passed; and it saved the country from being expelled from the global body of the Egmont Group. And as recently as May 22, we passed the Nigerian Football Federation Bill which had been caught in the legislative bottleneck for 15 years.
In these four years, we were fully engaged on the state of insecurity in the country, and spearheaded many initiatives to bring sustainable peace, and secure and protect the lives and properties of citizens. The 8th Senate organised a National Security Summit which made recommendations for bringing an end to the problems. Moreover, the Senate engaged with security chiefs for proper understanding of the issues; and urged them to make presentations to us on their requirements, so we could facilitate the needed special appropriations.
We constantly engaged with the international community on the need for them to not only support the war against insurgency but to also lift the ban on sale of arms to Nigeria. The Senate had to cut short one vacation in order to receive a U.S. Congressional delegation and persuade them on the need to canvass for the lifting of the arms sales ban, for more effective counter-insurgency strategies. We assured them that human rights complaints had been addressed, and that we would ensure that any related issues would be thoroughly probed and appropriate actions taken. The U.S. delegation was able to leave with Senate’s guarantee, and the arms embargo was reversed.
At every turn, the Senate utilised every opportunity of courtesy visit, foreign visit, participation at international conferences and meetings to rally world powers behind the fight against Boko Haram and the need to bolster the arms, equipment and training capability of Nigeria’s security forces.
The Senate that passed the landmark Not-Too-Young-To-Run law to bring more young Nigerians into the governance framework, was also a great supporter and enabler of youthful aspiration and innovation. We met with members of the Not Too Young To Run Movement and promised to do our bit to help realise their dreams of assuming the mantle as leaders. The resultant law opened the pathways for the inclusion of fresh young faces in the 2019 elections, in a victory for participatory politics and democracy.
The 8th Senate has been there for Nigerians of every social class and in every field of endeavour. It gives me a sense of fulfilment to know that we did something worthwhile in this venerated space. My advice to whoever succeeds me is therefore along the same vein: be there for the people. Act in the interest of the average Nigerian, keep the legislature always at the behest of the citizens, let it be a people’s parliament. Whoever succeeds me, that person will still be a product of the 8th Senate. We did it together. Let there be continuity.
And as we say all the things we have done, we must also be reflective and candid enough to acknowledge the things we didn’t do. It is my hope that the 9th Senate will improve on our performance and deliver on those areas that we were not quite able to touch.
It is also important that I make some comments about Legislature-Executive Relations. My own take is that if the Executive sees the National Assembly’s work on the budget as interference despite the provision of the constitution, then there will continue to be problems between both arms of government. If the presidency refuses to have engagements and consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly before the President submits the budget to the legislature, then there will continue to be frictions. If the Executive sees the failure of a few of its appointees to secure confirmation by the Senate as a disagreement, then the relationship will not improve. If the Executive encourages its appointees who fail to secure Senate confirmation to remain in office, then there will continue to be disagreement. If the Executive believes the Legislature is a rubber stamp without the right to question its actions, then it will be a subversion of the Principles of Separation of Powers and Checks and Powers. My advice is that both arms of government have a role to play in our quest for good governance and their leadership should work for co-operation and fruitful engagement. At this juncture, I must express my gratitude to the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu. History will be kind to you and providence will shine upon you. I am sure you never thought you would be Deputy Senate President in an APC majority parliament, but it happened. Nobody made you Deputy President of the Senate, the Almighty willed it.
I thank Majority Leader Ahmed Lawan; you have made your mark here and the record reflects it. I also thank former Majority Leader Ali Ndume; you also made your mark. Between the former Majority Leader and the current one, it is clear that one of you will be President of the Senate. Whoever emerges, I wish you the very best of luck. This I know: whatever the capacity, we should always do our best to serve the interest of the people. We should also have it in the back of our minds that power is transient.
I must not forget to pay tribute to my predecessor, the Distinguished Senator David Mark, for his quiet dignity and fine example to us all in this chamber. I will be forever grateful for your support and wisdom.
I am thankful for the strong and purposeful Senate leadership that has steered us through and guided this chamber for high performance and stability. Many thanks to Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan; Minority Leader, Biodun Olujimi; Chief Whip, Olusola Adeyeye; Minority Whip, Phillip Aduda; Deputy Majority Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah; Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha; Deputy Chief Whip, Alimikhena Asekhame; and Deputy Minority Whip, Emmanuel Paulker. Indeed, the entire Senate is grateful for your service.
There is no way I can end this speech without recalling a certain injunction which goes thus: If we speak the truth, we will die; and if we lie, we will die, so we might as well tell the truth. I am, of course, paraphrasing the inimitable Dino Melaye whose flamboyance, catchy turns of phrase and songs meant that the 8th Senate was never in danger of becoming staid. Dino and Senator Kabir Garba Marafa made sure that there was always just enough colour and exuberance to keep us chuckling now and then. They kept us from taking ourselves too seriously, and that too, had its place.
I thank the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Ataba Sani-Omolori who helmed the parliament’s administration admirably. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Samuel Anyanwu, did a fine job of reviewing and ensuring due diligence with all the petitions. We cannot thank the Committee enough for the hard work they did, which will be a favourable reflection on the 8th Senate.
None of the day to day activities of the Senate would have been possible without the unsung people who ensure that all parts of the great machinery of this institution are kept moving and ticking. The Clerk to the Senate, the ever dependable Nelson Ajewoh, comes up for mention. Commendations too, to the Clerks at Table, the Sergeant at Arms, the Rapporteurs and the Technical Team. The mace bearer carried out his duty with diligence – though I recall that at one point some other persons wanted his job, but sanity prevailed.
I thank all staff – the ushers, the Senate Press Corps who ensured that everything we did here was communicated to Nigerians on all platforms. Last but not least, my heartfelt thanks to the tenacious and committed Staff of my Office who worked tirelessly to ensure that many of the visions now being celebrated were turned into reality.
In closing, distinguished colleagues, let me say that I am quite proud of the fact that there was not a whiff of scandal in this Senate. You carried yourselves with the bearing and sense of probity worthy of the office. You played your part in strengthening Nigeria’s democracy. May the work we have done here bear bountiful fruits in the length and breadth of this great country of ours, and may it be so for years to come.
And so to the question: how do we define the 8th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? We can define ourselves by the record number of bills passed, motions cleared, resolutions adopted, petitions treated. We can also define ourselves by the belief that we fought for democracy, held government to account and made personal sacrifices. For some of us, sacrifices are still being made, owing to the fallouts of some of the decisions taken. I have no regrets because, as first among equals, we bear collective responsibility for those decisions. As a leader, however, I take responsibility. The buck stops with me.
In doing all that we did in this chamber, we always used to believe that poverty knew no party, religion, tribe or region. We came together in response to the needs of Nigerians as a whole, and we got the job done. It will be said of us that we were truly representative of all our constituents. As we conclude the last plenary and the few more days of the 8th Senate, therefore, we should nurture the relationships we have built.
Once again, I thank you all for your support to me in this position. Above all, I thank Nigerians for the great privilege of service as President of the Eighth Senate. It has been my life’s goal to serve Nigeria, and I shall serve her always, in whatever capacity.
I thank you all.
Saraki, President of the 8th Senate, made this valedictory speech on June 6, 2019