Senate President Bukola Saraki sat down with Pulse recently and he had a lot to get off his chest.
You notice that now from how he crafts his tweets and how much he’s been able to assemble a young team to manage his social media accounts.
On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, Saraki invited online publishers and social media influencers to his office at the National Assembly, for a chat.
He wanted the meeting as informal as possible.
He just wanted to meet the guys who make news go viral and who had no qualms bashing him or the Senate he superintends over, whenever they put a foot wrong—like they often do.
The feeling you get from scrolling through your favourite social media app is that Saraki’s Senate is one of the most despised and immoral bodies in Nigeria’s checkered democracy.
And it's not out of place to say the lawmakers brought the disdain upon themselves.
At this meeting, the Senate President acknowledged that the legislature has received the most flak.
“The difference between democracy and tyranny is the legislative arm of government”, Saraki lectured with a knowing smile.
He was wearing native attire with a trademark cap on a warm Abuja afternoon.
He was also sounding articulate and knowledgeable.
“It is very easy as an individual to recognise the values of lawmakers, basically because the actions and inactions of the executive arm of the government have an immediate impact on the citizens, unlike the legislative arm of the government”, he added.
In Saraki’s Senate, the Comptroller General ( CG) of Customs has been asked to wear his uniform or be damned, a Senator has done a dance video to mock his perceived traducers and the National Assembly has often been accused of a lack of transparency and corruption.
As Saraki took questions pertaining to these topics from a relatively younger audience, he made sure not to look ruffled or flappable.
At some point, you could actually hear a pin drop.
He was as cool as you’d like. All questions were welcome.
“An Open National Assembly (#OpenNASS) will eventually happen. People talk as if it is not going to happen but that's not true. It will only take time but it is going to happen”, Saraki offered with a shrug.
He was choosing his words carefully; as you would when dealing with an audience former presidency aide, Reuben Abati, described as “the children of anger”.
CG of Customs Hameed Ali fell out with the Senate for refusing to don the uniform of the agency he leads.
The debate over the constitutionality of a uniform dominated public discourse for weeks on end.
Pushed to the back burner was the more germane issue over which Ali was summoned—excessive duties on imported cars.
Saraki looked really pained by it all.
He didn’t understand why the media and just about everyone else focused on uniforms instead of what he considered a detrimental Customs policy.
“We should have focused on the substance of the issue instead of the uniform”, Saraki said ruefully.
The Senate President also admitted that the National Assembly lost focus as well and took its eyes off the ball.
The lawmakers have kept the nation waiting with their refusal to pass the federal budget.
The last anyone heard, the 2017 appropriation bill had gone missing from under the nose of the national assembly, twice in quick succession.
“The delay with the passage of the 2017 budget has its own reasons”, Saraki said without offering very much.
Again and again, Saraki said he wants to lead a Senate that is transparent and accountable. This became his favourite talking point throughout the discourse.
“We want to manage the budget process better”, Saraki assured.
He also said he’s been unfairly judged from his time as Governor of Kwara State.
“As Governor, I entered into an investment pact with a Zimbabwean agricultural firm, which at inception was criticised with all sorts of insinuations”, Saraki said. “Today, that investment which used to earn N18M as revenue now rakes in over N400M.
“Imagine that I didn't have a strong focus then...I would have backed out of what will soon become one of the biggest poultries in Africa”.
The meeting was over in under an hour. There was plenty more on Saraki’s desk.
As we ushered ourselves out of the conference room adjoining the Senate President’s office, another group of persons was waiting to file in.
As Yusuph Olaniyonu, Special Adviser on Media to the Senate President would later explain on the foyer of the complex, Saraki had series of meetings lasting into the night on the day--without breaks in between--waiting for him.
“It’s like that on most days”, Olaniyonu explained. “Meetings, meetings and more meetings”.
Almost everyone in the complex was waiting for a session with the Senate President.
We drove out of the National Assembly complex minutes later; with the Abuja skyline now receding into a ball of dark clouds and traffic bottlenecks--the kind of traffic Lagos will call a joke.
Nigeria’s capital city was packing up and closing shop for the day.