The Senator representing Kwara Central at the National Assembly, who is also one of the two Senators angling to emerge as the next Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has stated that the National Assembly would be more open and transparent under his leadership as the President of the Senate.
Mr. Saraki spoke exclusively to PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja.
PT: We are aware that you are aspiring to be the number three man in our country by leading the Senate. Why are you aspiring to be the Senate President?
Saraki: Thank you very much. I believe that it gives me a great opportunity to contribute to the development of our great country. I have consistently insisted that we must begin to change how Nigeria must move forward. I believe that one can provide the leadership that is required for the National Assembly to play that role. A lot of Nigerians sometimes wonder why there is a disconnect between the legislative arm and the people of Nigeria. People tend to ask what are these people doing? How does it have impact on my life?
I belief we must begin to pass laws and carry out oversight functions that have impact on people’s lives. Laws that will address the key issues in our environment today; issues such as unemployment, poverty and how to get the economy up and running; how to address the fiscal challenges that we have today and we must have a National Assembly that would be able to do that both on oversight; because the oversight function at present is very weak, we have to admit that and we must also redirect the image of the national assembly.
I believe that being a former governor, I have both knowledge and experience, its all about carrying people along in the Senate.
I also believe that one should be there to consolidate on some of the things we have fought for in the last two years and use his experience to bring result to Nigerians.
The expectations of Nigerian are very high and the challenges that we would have in the next few years is not one for us to again make the mistakes of going without our best hands.
PT: There is a lot of scheming within your party, how are you sure that you will come out victorious against the other candidate?
Saraki: I have spent time in the last few weeks, since winning re-election engaging with my colleagues, I am very encouraged, first looking at the calibre of the people coming to the 8th Senate, they are people who have been successful in whatever they are doing before. I see a lot of national interest and colleagues who are really committed to make Nigeria work. So with that, one is encouraged that majority of the Senators would be going for merit, they would be looking for a leadership that can drive the Senate and with this type of criteria and with the candidate on ground, I am confident that one is way above in terms of capacity and merit.
If you asked the Senators, majority of them would tell you that let’s forget the sentiment, lets forget the politics, at the end of the day we need a Senate president that has the capacity and ability to be able to do it.
PT: How do you feel now that the president has refused to endorse a candidate and your party has refused to announce zoning to this position?
Saraki: I think the problem with some of us is that we are used to having things done the way they were done before. This is one of the problems we had even during the last election, people never believed that an incumbent president could be defeated. We are so used to some of the ways of the past, we should begin to move into greater, wider participation. Yes, I like zoning, but let there be internal democracy.
Election has worked in our presidential party primary and I believe it would also work now, it is not a do or die affair, if we go into the election and the other candidate wins, I will be there to support him, and if I win, I am sure he too, will support me. All of us have only one interest, Nigeria. Everything else is secondary. We are all offering ourselves; there is nothing wrong in our democracy and I don’t think we should shy away from that. What is wrong is to try and scuttle it.
That is why the president took the position he took, whoever wins, he can work with him. That is the kind of leadership we should be providing at all level.
PT: You talked about reforms and bringing back the image of the Senate and the National Assembly. One issue that has bothered Nigerians is the secrecy of the budget of the National Assembly. How are you going to address this if you become the Senate President?
Saraki: We have to be more open and transparent; we have to make sacrifices. Under me you can definitely see these things happen because if you talk to other Senators, you will see that, that is where everybody is today. People are willing and ready to make sacrifices and as the apex chamber, we would lead by example.
Times have changed, it’s not just about the National Assembly. After the last election, the whole country has changed and we cannot continue to do things like before. It is a no brainer. Anyone that is not ready to change will just find themselves by the side. I have been at the forefront of this, saying that we can’t continue with business as usual. I have been doing that consistently since 2011 go and check. I saw where the country was heading and I shouted, some thought it was about ambition, it was never about ambition; it was about us doing the right thing. I am not ready for us to lose sight of all these promises we made to the Nigerian people. There are things that we must have to change, there is no alternative.