Exactly 50 years ago, December 19, 1962, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, chairman Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology and former governor of Kwara State, was born to the family of the late strongman of Kwara politics, Abubakar Olusola Saraki, a medical doctor. He is a sort of revolutionary leader like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.
Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore, moved his country from a Third to the First World between 1965 and 2000 with pragmatic transformational agenda. Saraki, an alumnus of the prestigious King’s College, Lagos who later proceeded to the Cheltenham College, Cheltenham, London in 1981 for his High School Certificate, also repeated the same feat when he led Kwara State as governor from 2003 to 2011.
The quintessential leader and bridge-builder, who obtained his M.B.B.S from the London Hospital Medical College, University of London in 1987, continues the transformational agenda in the National Assembly with the way he contributes to the issues of national development. He was the immediate past chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). The Turaki of the Ilorin Emirate cut his teeth in the national politics in 2000 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as a Special Assistant on Budget.
It was not long before his leadership traits came to the limelight. The desire to take Kwara State to higher level motivated him to contest for the governorship seat of the state in 2003 and he won. He was sworn in on May 29, 2003 and held sway for two terms of eight years. He broke the jinx to become the first governor to be re-elected in the history of Kwara State. In April 2011, he was elected to represent Kwara Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly.
As a governor, Saraki set the pace for agricultural revolution in Nigeria when he initiated the Shonga Farm Project, now Shonga Farm Holdings Limited, which is largely private sector driven in 2004. The government provided the much desired enabling environment for investors and the farm now produces dairy, poultry and mixed cropping products. The commercial farming has attracted hundreds of local and international investors. It currently contributes 40 to 42 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and employees 70 per cent of the active population.
In September this year, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with an Australian-based company, Austrava, to export 500, 000 tonnes of cassava chips annually. The agricultural policies initiated by Bukola Saraki have become a prototype that the Federal Government and other stakeholders are looking at to ensure food security. In a bid to revamp the public education in the state, he introduced a package of extensive reforms, Every Child Counts, also known as the Education Charter for Kwara State. Under the charter, a test based on Grade Four curriculum was administered to school teachers to determine their capacities to impart knowledge on their pupils. Majority of the teachers failed the test. As a result, massive training was held for all the teachers and teaching manuals were developed to guide the teachers.
He also introduced ‘Teaching Quality Improvement’ to ensure regular, structured assessment for teachers complemented by professional development courses. It should be noted that there was no hullabaloo over the test conducted for the teachers in Kwara State as it is the case in some states of the federation these days. One of the things that will not be forgotten when he was the governor of Kwara State was the way he sanitised the civil service.
His administration did not only fish out thousands of ghost workers, it also enjoyed a cordial relationship with the workers’ unions. Bukola Saraki’s second side of the coin is in the upper chambers of the National Assembly, however. Within three months of being in the Senate, when some of his colleagues were still learning the ropes, he moved a landmark motion on the need to probe the management of petroleum subsidy.
While opening the lid on the ongoing probe of fuel subsidy in the country, he was reported to have raised the alarm that with the trend in 2011, the nation might have fuel subsidy bill of over Nl.2 trillion as against the N240 billion budgeted in the Appropriation Bill. The Saraki’s alarm led to the discovery that fuel subsidy gulped N2, 587, 087 in 2011. As gathered, he has been under intense pressure and condemnation from some marketers and certain other forces within the industry based on the motion.
As chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, he appreciates the environmental challenges that range from floods in the South-West, to desert encroachment in the North, erosion in the East, oil pollution in the Niger Delta and changing weather patterns everywhere. He sponsored a bill for an act to amend the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Act 2006 to provide penalties and compensation for oil spills and for other related matters in this year. He told the senate that an estimated 13 in the oil producing areas.
The core objective of the amendment was the requisite legal and regulatory framework capable of dealing with problem. Saraki, also a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, believes his experience as a governor and now as a federal lawmaker has afforded him the opportunity to develop a good understanding of the socio-economic and political challenges besetting the country. He admits that the executive and legislative arms of government are different but it was not too difficult for him to transit from being a governor to a senator because he is being motivated by service. “You move from a place where all the decisions centre around you to an environment where you are one of so many, and you are also probably one of the lowest-ranking.
Things do not move at your speed. You have to work with different people who sometimes have certain perceptions about you, don’t forget that this is also a place where there is always the issue of former governors. Saraki has received scores of local and international awards including ‘Governor of the Year’ by Thisday Newspapers (2004); ‘Best Governor of the Year in Agricultural Development 2004/05’ by City People, KSNG; Leadership Award in appreciation of commitments and outstanding leadership qualities (2005); Harvard Business School Africa Club Award 2005; Kenneth Kaunda Foundation Best Governor in Africa 2006;
Osun State Broadcast Corporation Man of the Year 2006; ‘African Governor of the Year in Agricultural Development’ by African Union Media Group in Pretoria, South Africa; Nigeria Referee Association Grand Patron 2007 as well Thisday Newspaper Best Governor on Food Security 2008. It is the prayer of millions of Nigerians that God would bless Bukola Saraki, the well educated, savvy doctor and son of a silver spoon with a brain and sharpness, with long life and good health to continue be an epitome of service, standard and pacesetting for many years to come as he marks his golden jubilee today.