By May 29, when the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Mohammed, administers the oath of office on Muhammadu Buhari as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and June 11, when the National Assembly would be inaugurated, another era in democratic governance would begin. The same person would be president, for a second term, but it is a new government, where a fresh cabinet would be constituted, even if the same people or some of them are appointed. There may be a new policy direction. There could be a consolidation of the existing one. However, one thing that is for sure is that this is a new mandate to those who would be in authority.
To get to this point, elections were conducted nationwide to select those who would call the shots in the Executive and Legislature, at the federal and state levels. Winners have emerged. There were also losers, who could not actualise their dreams of being elected. No doubt, the elections that produced those who would be at the helm were not perfect, but their outcome will subsist until the tribunals and courts adjudicate on suits challenging them. While the cases are going on, the nation must progress.
In retrospect, I have been looking at governance in the last four years. I have examined the actors in government/polity and have come to the conclusion that there are those who played major roles in governance from 2015 to date, but would not be in office in next dispensation, who would be greatly missed. These are people whose actions had a strong effect on others and the nation. There are also others whose conduct caused amusement, and yet others who were strong voices. We will always remember and miss Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State for his razzmatazz (and his iberiberism theory), Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State for making legion of Obas in Ibadan (and the “Constituted Authority” story), Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos for his big projects (and failure to solve simple waste disposal and traffic crisis in Apapa), etc.
However, one of those who would be greatly missed is Senate President Bukola Saraki. A two-term governor, who has functioned at the Executive and Legislative arms of government in his political trajectory, he has shown leadership, doggedness and courage, which put him on a high pedestal. By his political feats, he has proved that leadership is about trust and whenever those we lead trust us, they would stand by us at all times.
Saraki was governor of Kwara State for eight years, between 2003 and 2011. He was elected senator in 2011 and went ahead to become Senate President in 2015, in his second term as senator. The story of his emergence as Senate President is a study in political astuteness. He was not the candidate of his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), but he was popular among his colleagues and had their confidence. Against all odds and projections, he got senators’ mandate to become Senate President.
Like him or hate him, Saraki has earned respect as a politician. I praise his tact in leadership. As Senate President, he had mines around him, but he navigated through them successfully. He survived plots to engineer or ginger senators to move against him. He had his days in court, as he faced charges on assets declaration violation before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He was embroiled in a number of allegations, including being accused of having some links with armed robbers that attacked a bank in Offa, Kwara State. He was not only harassed by security agents but also threatened by his political party and the Executive. He came out unscath, standing tall.
Saraki may not be a saint, but I do not think he is the worst sinner in the polity either. He has contributed in the deepening of democracy and respect for the principles of separation of power. His leadership of the Senate underlined some fundamental things, which are germane in governance and democracy. The independence of the Senate was pronounced under him, from the selection of the leadership of the legislature to the job of the legislature. The Senate under him proved that it was not a “rubber stamp” of the Executive, as shown in the confirmation saga of acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the handling of annual national budgets, among others.
The Senate Saraki leads has not been docile. In fact, it has done well in the passage of Bills, with a record of passing the highest number of Bills since democracy started in 1999. By early May, the Senate had passed no fewer than 293 Bills, as against 129 by the 5th Assembly, 72 by 6th Assembly and 128 by the 7th Assembly. Some of the Bills passed are critical to the running of government as well as socio-economic and political development of the country. They include the amendment of the Constitution in 29 areas; Police Reforms Bill, Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill, Not-Too-Young-to-Run Bill, as well as National Minimum Wage Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, among others.
There were other Bills aimed at improv- ing governance, which were also passed but not assented to by President Buhari. They include the Electoral Amendment Bill, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Amendment Bill, Immigration (Amendment Bill, Maritime Safety Operation Bill, Bankruptcy and Insolvency Bill, Small and Medium Enterprises Agency Bill, Energy Commission (Amendment) Bill, Ajaokuta Steel Company Completion Fund Bill, National Housing Fund Bill, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria Bill, National Oil Spillage Detection and Response Agency Bill, etc.
Saraki may not be your everyday fan, but his salient contributions must be acknowledged. Even though I feel strongly that his defection to the APC in 2015 was a wrong move that contributed in bringing about the current plague in the polity and the country’s governance, I consider the renewed onslaught against him as inappropriate. Opposition is part of democracy. Also, dissent is legitimate. They strengthen democracy, because through them government is corrected, for the good of all. If opposition voices are suppressed, the country would be heading for outright dictatorship. As United States President, Harry Truman, said in 1950: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of op- position, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
This should serve as a warning to Nigerians, especially those who stand aloof or cheer as the likes of Saraki are being dealt with. Repression and suppression of the opposition will do our democracy no good. In politics and governance, people can disagree on principle and conviction, but it does not make them enemies. If we silence and eliminate our political icons in the name of politics, we will end up having a nation of mediocrities, which will not compete with others or earn respect among comity of nations.
Saraki is the target today. From all indications, his battle has not ended, with fresh investigation opened by the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC). Tomorrow, it may be another person. Next tomorrow, it would be yet another. With this, only the “yes men” would stand. A country of only “yes men” will not get anybody’s commendation.
The anti-opposition movement is unconscionable, vexatious and antithetical to democracy. It is condemnable, just like the anti-Saraki push.