Legacy of Saraki’s 8th Senate

Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the 8th Senate chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, last Sunday said their 8th Senate “remains the highest performing senate in the history of the country”. Abdullahi, who probably forgets that in an age of internet and social media, history as the past expressed with written documents cannot be shaped by temporary political office holders, wants the 8th Senate, Saraki and his ‘like-minds’ senators judged not by sentiments but by their achievements. He listed them as including “128 bills in 26 months weighed against the 5th Senate that passed 129 bills in four years; the 6th Senate that passed 72 bills in four years; the 7th Senate that passed 128 bills in four years.”; clearance of 82 petitions ‘juxtaposed against the 6th and 7th Senates’, the ‘review of the Public Procurement Act and the passage of one out of the three Petroleum Industry Governance Bills (PIGB). Beyond this, he also wants the 8th Senate given credit for the 2017 derailed constitutional review exercise.

Since not all Nigerians suffer from collective amnesia, I am not sure many Nigerians share Abdullahi’s sentiments. Indeed many, including Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption believes “the 8th Senate is by far the worst in Nigerian history”. He justified his position by what he described as its attempt to “grab executive powers; it’s confrontation with the president and vice-president as well as love of self-serving legislation and total insensitivity to the common interest of Nigeria”.

But first, what are the documented facts of history? Nigerians still remember Saraki secured the leadership of the senate through a civilian coup described by Sagay as “‘a victory for impunity, a victory for fraud and a victory for political desperation and indiscipline”.

To pull off the fraud, it is also on record that an interim police report confirmed that the senate standing papers were forged.   And to sustain the fraud, Saraki and his ‘like-mind’ senators adopted self -help tactics that reduced the senate to a house of deals where majority had their say and minority carried the day.

The result of this was that as against a senate as a chamber of “sober second thought” populated by  men of honour, saddled with making laws, amending budget or repealing public policy and guaranteeing  freedom and preventing tyranny, Saraki’s  8th Senate  gradually descended into a chamber of corruption, greed, treachery impunity and vileness.

At the end, Saraki’s 8th Senate served none but its members. First, the senate ignored the recommendation of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC to fix for themselves outrageous salaries. Senator Shehu Sani’s revelation that members of the 8th Senate earned N13.5m monthly immediately made Saraki’s Nigeria’s 8th senate a record breaker as the highest paid lawmakers in the world. Sagay who claims “What they are earning “exceeds the minimum wage by 1,666 percent” could not help dismissing the lawmakers as “all ‘come-and-chop’ characters, with no sense of service” or thoughts for the country.

Their periodic padding of budget seems to further validate Sagay’s thesis. In fairness to Saraki’s 8th Senate, budget padding did not start with them. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Minister of Finance under the Jonathan administration had told Nigerians how National Assembly during the David Mark/Ekweremadu 7th Senate coerced the Jonathan administration to part with an additional N17 billion before passing the 2015 budget.

But despite the 2016 Technology Organisation-BudgIT’s revelation that about N350billion appropriated by the National Assembly in respect of about 2,516 projects spread across the country in the last five years never took off even after full payment had been made, Saraki’s 8th Senate according to Audu Ogbeh, the agriculture minister, returned the 2016 budget to the ministry after five months with 386 “strange” projects worth N12.6billion inserted by the National Assembly after reducing the ministry’s budget proposals from N40,918 billion to N31.618 billion to accommodate their own constituency projects. The Minister of Transport raised similar alarm about the cancellation of the Lagos –Calabar rail project to accommodate N3b National Assembly constituency projects such as provision of tri-cycles, town-halls and bore-holes.

In the 2018 budget, the National Assembly, according to President Buhari, had made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.

Not a few respected Nigerians also believe the 8th Senate was driven by greed. For instance, Col. Dangiwa Umar (rtd) in fact believes the 8th Senate, besides being driven by greed, was also “on a mission to crash the federal government’s war against corruption using the power of ‘oversight’ as cover.” As proof, he cited the case of a powerful senator whose company imported 1,200 metric tons of rice in 30, 40-foot containers, fraudulently declared as yeast to evade payment of appropriate duties. There was also a parallel to this when an imported SUV jeep which carried forged papers to evade tax payment was traced to the senate president by Customs.

It is also a documented fact of history that out of sheer greed, some members of the 8th Senate, especially former governors, for a period earned double salaries according to EFCC. The testimony of the Secretary to the Kwara State Government, Alhaji Isiaka Gold, during court proceedings that Senate President  Saraki was only collecting a pension of N578, 188.00 which increased to N1, 239,493.94 monthly from October, 2014 as other past governors in the country did not invalidate such fact as such practices is against public service rules.

Obasanjo, who was godfather to leading members of the 8th Senate including Senate President Saraki and Dino Melaye who at different times worked for him as special assistant on budgeting and on youths have the final verdict on the 8th assembly. According to him: “The National Assembly stinks to high heavens. It needs to be purged. The National Assembly cabal of today is worse than any cabal that anybody may find anywhere in our national governance system at any time…The National Assembly is a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers.”

And now as for the 8th Senate’s celebrated achievements, what Abdullahi did not tell Nigerians was that most of the bills including the one that attempted to change the sequence of the 2019 elections were self-serving. While Nigerians had thought the 8th assembly will advance the course of federalism through the 2017 constitutional review by ensuring LGAs become responsibilities of their states, they were more interested in promoting injustice in the name of equity with Sokoto which once enjoyed the same status with Lagos but now carved into four states with about 87 LGAs drawing revenue from the federation account as against Lagos’ 20.

Some of the 8th Senate’s other self-serving  bills include Bill No. 4 – Financial Autonomy of State Legislature which allows states houses of assembly to be funded directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Bill No. 5 – Distributable Pool Account for Local Governments which abrogate the State Joint Local Government and Bill No. 8 – Immunity for Legislators for Acts in Course of Duty. These along with their other selfish anti-people proposed alterations of the constitution, according to Sagay, “demonstrate their contempt and disdain for federalism and women, and their inordinate self-love and self-indulgence, amounting to narcissism, at the expense of all other Nigerians”. [THE NATION]