Full text of address delivered to the Eighth Senate, on resumption from recess on Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Distinguished colleagues, I heartily welcome you back from our annual recess. I hope you had a very rewarding time with your families and your constituencies. I also hope that the period of recess has afforded you opportunities to reflect on the enormous task before this Senate in the months ahead. I believe that we have all resumed today with greater vigour and higher commitment to serve our fatherland and serve the cause of democracy. In the face of the great challenges that our country faces on different fronts, which urgently demands our attention, we must be prepared to put in the long extra hours to make up for the precious time we have lost for sundry reasons. As we resume today, we must demonstrate clearly to Nigerians that we are prepared to fulfill our mandates and put Nigeria first in all that we do, no matter how we feel about anything else. To behave contrary will amount to a betrayal of the confidence repose on us by our constituencies and our country as a whole.
Let me seize this moment to register my deep sadness over the death of yet-to-be-determined number of pilgrims who lost their lives in the tragic events that happened in Saudi Arabia during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage. May the Almighty Allah grant them eternal salvation and comfort their families. Even though the incident in Mecca has global ramification, we must pursue a Nigerian angle to it. By so doing, we would begin to demonstrate to Nigerians and to the world that Nigeria cares about its people and will take care of its people wherever they may be. Pursuant to this, the Senate shall seek to determine the exact number of Nigerian lives lost in the incidents and through the Federal Government of Nigeria, work with the Saudi authorities to determine the remote and immediate cause of the tragedy with the general aim of averting such occurrence in the future.
On the September 17, 2015, we woke to the shocking news of a military coup in Burkina Faso. This is a monster, which we thought has been wiped off the West African political landscape forever. I therefore, commend the prompt response of the leaders of ECOWAS, not only in unanimously condemning the coup, but in pushing hard to ensure that the constitutional order is restored in that country. A threat to democracy anywhere, is a threat to democracy everywhere. We must therefore remain vigilant and leave no one in doubt that only democratically elected government would be accepted on our Continent and our Sub-region.
During the recess, I attended with some of our colleagues, the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference in New York, United States. The high point of that visit for me was the conversation on Boko Haram and mobilisation of global support for Nigeria, especially in dealing with the serious challenges of Internally Displaced Persons and the overall development of the North East of our country. I argued that the significant military success that has been achieved under President Muhammadu Buhari must now be complemented by a robust economic strategy in form of a Global Infrastructure and Development Fund that can deliver the vital services needed by the IDPs today, and the key infrastructure they would need to live a more meaningful and more secured life in the future: homes, hospitals, schools and, of course, jobs. Even though the evolution of Boko Haram has been regional and it is primarily a Nigerian problem; the consequences in human catastrophe implicates the whole of humanity and therefore demands a global scale solution, which can only happen with the support of our richest global partners and the biggest companies around the world. The call for a Global Infrastructure and Development Fund for the North-East of Nigeria, is not only an appeal to our common humanity, but a call for a global platform that would demonstrate to Boko Haram and other terrorist groups everywhere that the whole world is united against them, and will ultimately defeat them.
The biggest challenge faced by our country today is the state of our economy. The dwindling oil revenue has brought enormous shock to our economy and greatly limited the capacity of government at various levels to meet even basic commitments. Our country has gone through periods of recession in the past. What we face today is however unprecedented in ramification and potential gravity. We must think hard and work hard with the Executive to achieve greater clarity in policy direction and interventions. We shall therefore commence immediately, a review of the 2015 budget and begin now to lay down the fundamental principles that would determine the 2016 budget and the philosophy of our economy in times like this. Like I mentioned earlier, legislative agenda must take precedence over all other things in this Senate. I have no doubt that we are all capable of putting in the long hours, but those long hours must be invested primarily, in debating and making the laws that would move our country forward.
We are here to proffer policy solutions and minimise hardship amongst our people. Any other objective must be secondary. The externalised distractions we have had recently have been unhelpful but I am more than ever focused and resolute to the course of our people to provide them leadership that will ease their pain and realise their dreams. It is in view of this that we set for ourselves the legislative agenda committee to help us identify priorities that will have substantial impact on the lives of our people.
In the coming days we shall be considering the report of the committee. Adopt it and immediately begin the implementation of the priorities identified. There will be need to fast track issues – not with haste but with deliberate steps and diligence that would deliver results that can stand the test of time.
We promised Nigerians that our actions would positively impact on their lives. This I intend to keep. In that light I will urge you my distinguished colleagues that we make priority the passing of bills that would ultimately and substantially expand our peoples livelihood and opportunities.
As part of our agenda, we shall also be starting the journey to deliver the E-parliament blueprint. This we believe is a vital precursor to building a strong technology infrastructure that will engender greater public participation in law-making and enable real-time interface between committees in both houses, and between both houses and civil society organisations.
I took opportunity of the recess to undertake tour of the facilities, staff offices, agencies and institutions attached to the National assembly with a view to understanding their various peculiarities and state of readiness to implement and drive the adoption of the E-parliament agenda.
This will see us leapfrog into the ranks of efficient law-making entities able to solve 21st century problems. I believe that this will leapfrog our productivity and make lawmaking in this chamber much more efficient.
As we await the list of ministerial nominees this week, I believe the presence of ministers will create the space for greater policy engagement with the Executive Arm of government and enable us to begin to respond in a more systematic manner to the various economic and social challenges before us, especially through our various Committees that will also be constituted soon. On this note, I want to urge you all my colleagues to ensure that what is uppermost in our minds as we begin the constitutional task of screening of ministerial nominees is the overall interest of our country, informed by the enormity and the urgency of the challenges before us. Once the list is submitted, let us ensure that we treat it with dispatch. We must not be held down by unnecessary politicking. The enormity of our national challenges at this time does not give room for pettiness or politics of vendetta.
Distinguished Senators, I believe you have all followed with keen interest, my trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. I shall avoid discussing the details of that case here for obvious reasons. But let me say it again, that I am ready and will submit myself to the entire judicial process as provided by law. Meanwhile, I wish to reiterate my remarks before the Tribunal, that I have no iota of doubt that I am on trial today because I am the president of the Nigerian Senate against the wishes of some powerful individuals outside this Chamber. But what is clear to me also, is that the laws of Nigeria, and the rules of the National Assembly give consideration only to the wishes and desires of those of you who are here today as members of the Senate, to elect as you wish, one of your peers as president of the Senate. This, in your wisdom, is what you have done by electing me to be the first among all of you who are my equals. The laws of Nigeria do not give any consideration to any other forces outside the Senate in the election of its president. And to yield the ground on this note, is to be complicit in the subversion of democracy and its core principles of separation of powers as enshrined in our constitution. This is why we must once again, commend President Muhammadu Buhari, for refusing to interfere in the election of the National Assembly leadership even in the face of enormous pressures on him to do so. He has proven quite concretely that he is indeed a born-again democrat.
Too many people have fought and died for the democracy that we enjoy today. We would not be honouring them and their memories if we allow the sad chapters of our history to continue to repeat themselves like a bad curse. As for me, I am prepared to do my duty in defence of our democracy and in safeguarding the independence of the National Assembly. My duty, as I see it, is to do justice and honour to the memory of those who have paid even higher prices to give us this democracy and this constitution. Primarily as a Senator of the Federal Republic and as Senate President I owe it to this Senate to stand strong in the face of relentless persecution. I invite all of you to stand with me to defend this Senate and preserve its sanctity. Ultimately, our legacies would not be defined by how long we stay here and in whatever position; but by what we did with this great opportunity that our people have given us by the grace of Almighty God.
In the next couple of days, we would be celebrating our 55th Independence Anniversary as country. This is an auspicious moment for us to rededicate ourselves to all that which will advance our nation, move us closer to the dreams of our founding fathers and our attain our destiny as the greatest nation of the black race on the planet. All that we seek for our country is achievable in our life time if we all play our part and forsake our old ways. But the least we must do is to ensure that while we are here, we are able to lay the necessary foundation for our children and their children to live a more prosperous life.
Distinguished Senators, once again, I welcome all of you and thank you for your abiding support and confidence in my leadership. Ladies and Gentlemen, Let’s start our work!
Bukola Saraki, a Senator from Kwara State, is President of the Nigerian Senate.