Senator Saraki: I was the first person to pin point the fraud on subsidy

Senator Bukola Saraki recently granted an interview to Japheth Omojuwa and Finyinfoluwa Elegbede of as part of the #OmojuwaMeets series. The senator spoke on issues ranging from his current travails with the police, his tenure as Kwara State Governor, the Senate and its allowances, the competence of President Jonathan, the issues surrounding the N21 billion loan saga, amongst others.

Omojuwa: In the court of public opinion, you are guilty and this is besides the fact that you are a politician. For instance, you went to get an exparte motion over an ordinary police invitation…

Senator Saraki: It was not a case of “I don’t want to go.” I felt that I was being invited to assist in an investigation but by Friday all the blogs and platforms were carrying a lot of inaccurate information. All that was going out and I was like “what’s going on here?”

Omojuwa: What was the court move supposed to achieve?

Senator Saraki: First to have my rights defined in a knotty issue where I was being invited without knowing what the invitation was for and also to object to the underhanded way the whole process was going.

Omojuwa: When you finally decided to go, you sent emissaries ahead of you…

Senator Saraki: No. I was in Abuja. People decided to go to Lagos. The perception is that being a politician, people assume the worst about you. You are never going to get the majority’s benefit of the doubt. If I wanted to mobilise people, I am going from Abuja, won’t I tell them to come and meet me in Abuja? If the objective was to mobilise, why would I be in one car and they come separately? When I went it was only three or four of us.

Omojuwa: So, why is this happening now?

Senator Saraki: Many people are upset. I think I have upset a lot of people. If you look at the reports coming out from the first quarter of this year, you’d have seen a 40 per cent drop. Our trade balances have increased, 153 people were doing that business (petrol importation) now the numbers are far less. Definitely the country is better for my bold move to reveal the petrol subsidy corruption.

Omojuwa: Your senate is the most hated collection of people in Nigeria today and you might actually be amongst the highly ranked ones especially given the recent police events. My worry is that why would someone like you go into the house and see them increase their allowances that are ordinarily extraordinarily big. And based on this 2012 budget, you had another increase. What did you do? Are you comfortable with this?

Sen. Saraki: This is what I’ve always said that we bring the issue to public fora. Our salary per se is about a million naira a month. Now what has happened is that the cost of running the office, public hearings, constituency running and all that what you can call running operations ..

Omojuwa: Cuts in…is it more than the cost of the American president running the White House?

Sen. Saraki: Because the American president you don’t see it under their salary. It’s a different item entirely.

Omojuwa: why don’t you guys make a law or something to separate your salaries from these expenses?

Sen. Saraki: Yes. It’s an issue, why don’t we like..

Omojuwa: the reason why you didn’t must be because you are able to not incur those expenses and then still add them to your salaries. Let’s face the reality.

Senator Saraki: No no no, don’t judge like that. First of all, let us first accept the fact that the word “salary” is not a true representation of what is generally put out there. Then we can now go to the next stage which is to say “okay then why do you do this? Why don’t you do this?”

Omojuwa: The reason why I am saying that is because you guys have been rightly receiving flak for years now on your allowances and then you are saying these monies are being used to run the office which in itself may not be bad so why don’t you create…

Senator Saraki: But we have said in the past they’ve tried as much as possible to explain to the public. I mean this is not the first time…

Omojuwa: The public will not understand. When they know that what is being budgeted for constituency projects actually go into private pockets. Why don’t we have a process in place where these monies don’t have to go through the individual senator for instance, like the American president?

Senator Saraki: The American president retires his expenses, same way a British member of parliament retires his expenses. The British media does not call what is retired a salary. “This is what I have spent money on,” they retire it and they get paid. But nobody calls it their salary.

Omojuwa: That’s because we don’t have any empirical evidence of that here. And what made you guys increase it again all of a sudden? Is it because of the effects of fuel subsidy removal or do you now spend more on some other things?

Sen. Saraki: That’d largely be the operational cost because the salary has not moved. It is the cost of operations.

Omojuwa: But the salary is insignificant to what you take home!

Sen. Saraki: When you talk about salaries, I am saying the figures you are using to define the salaries are not accurate. There are things that have been lumped up to call salaries that are not salaries.

Omojuwa: But all the money gets “lumped” up for Senators to take home.

Sen. Saraki: Some people do work.

Omojuwa: Don’t you think it is too much for us to spend that much money in a country that is not being run inefficiently?

Sen. Saraki: I believe we can be more efficient and should be more efficient and should indeed try to be more efficient. But the question that this money all the members of the National Assembly just take and do nothing with them and pocket like it is part of their salary is not true. I think that there is a need to bring down the cost of government. I think that as we move ahead something will be done.

Omojuwa: When?

Sen. Saraki: Because we will do it.

Omojuwa: When? These are problems we’ve always identified.

Sen. Saraki: Mind that some of us have only done one year and I have personally made impact if you look at least the results of the fuel subsidy process. We need more daring hands in there.

Omojuwa: The Senate has been pretty useless. Apart from the corruption reports, the panels…take for instance the house of representatives has found out things in the subsidy regime, why would the senate now decide to sit over the same thing? You would say that’s the process but sometimes you have to look beyond these so called processes. Your senate will be spending extra money to find out what the reps have already found out.

Sen. Saraki: I could use that same argument. You could have used the argument that “why did the house of reps start what the senate had started?” The point is if we don’t finish the process now, it’s you same people that will say the only reason why senate has not finished…

Omojuwa: The Speaker of the House of Representatives has much more trust…I can’t even say more trust because the senate president is not trusted at all.

Sen. Saraki: The style of management is different.

Omojuwa: You are saying this as a politician.

Sen. Saraki: No. I am not. Wasn’t I the one that got up in September? You didn’t know about the core issues of the fuel subsidy. I was the first person to pin point the fraud and the unacceptable amount of money being spent on subsidy. The results are there today and nobody remembers that.

Omojuwa: Could this be the reason you are being witch-hunted?

Sen. Saraki: I am not saying that. All I am saying is let us be frank here…if I never got up to say what I said in September, how would we know what we know today? Let us say it as it is. I knew the risks. I knew a lot of people would be upset. I knew a lot of fuel subsidy businesses would be affected, but in the interest of our country I got up to say it and that is the topic of the whole country today.

Omojuwa: I am personally concerned about this issue of allowances.

Senator Saraki: If I could take that kind of risk (fuel subsidy), all these other issues you are talking about are less risky compared to this.

Omojuwa: They are all equal risks.

Senator Saraki: No they are not. You see you have lost faith.

Omojuwa: I haven’t. I am speaking for a lot of people right now.

Senator Saraki: I say it myself. I said one of the problems we’ve had over the years, we’ve lost the confidence of the people. I have been in position to understand that. I have been in this to understand that. Being a former governor, I know what people believe, “arrgh, governors are thieves” but there is something I do at the end of the day. When I first moved the motion they said the motion will never see the light of day, when the motion did, they said “arrrgh, they will never allow it to form panel” after that they said “arrrgh, the report will never come, they have bribed all of them,” now the report has come, “arrrgh, there will be no action.” What I am saying is that I understand where you guys are coming from. You see, let me tell you what has been happening amongst the political class. The clever ones, the intelligent ones know that it is not the same Nigeria and those intelligent ones know that what they used to do before and get away with they cannot do anymore. If this report was 10 years ago, even 6 or 5 years ago it would never see the light of day. So all of us are beginning to see that things are changing, accountable and transparent but what has happened is cumulative.

Omojuwa: The public eye is very much on you (politicians)

Senator Saraki: Yes, and everyone has come to accept that the public eye is now on us. What used to be done before, the party is over and cannot be done again.

Omojuwa: What do you think about the Jonathan government?

Senator Saraki: The challenges are enormous. I think the president and the circumstances around him, he is doing his best because…

Omojuwa: (cuts in) the challenges he created for himself!

Senator Saraki: No, no, no. it is the environment, it is not that he created the challenges.

Omojuwa: Yar’ Adua didn’t leave this kind of challenges. Are you absolving President Jonathan of his responsibilities?

Senator Saraki: I am not. What I am saying is, before you access someone….

Omojuwa: (cuts in) ok. Do you think he has done well?

Senator Saraki: Difficult question (*Omojuwa laughs). No, I’ll tell you why it’s a difficult question. Because how can I say somebody has done well when we have these security challenges going on? So it is not a case of “has he done well?” what I am saying is that before you assess somebody, you will look at the challenges of his government and how he is trying to cope with it. Is he doing his best to cope with it?

Omojuwa: Does it look like he can cope with it?

Senator Saraki: I think he can.

Omojuwa: Has he shown any sign of that?

Senator Saraki: I think he can. People just take the issue of security; some of the successes they achieved are not out there because there is security issue.

Omojuwa: Successes like?

Senator Saraki: In being able to prevent certain attacks.

Omojuwa: Do you say that as a person or as a politician?

Senator Saraki: I say it as a person. I say the things I know.

Omojuwa: You are a member of the PDP government so I don’t expect you to say otherwise.

Senator Saraki: I have told you, when something was not okay with fuel subsidy, I got up. I am a PDP member. Those that know me will tell you, if I believe in something, I look at you and tell you “this is how it is.” That’s the way I am.

Omojuwa: Nigerians generally agree that the PDP has failed.

Senator Saraki: No. They don’t agree, that’s why they voted for the PDP.

Omojuwa: Let’s not go into the area of “voted for.”

Senator Saraki: Listen. There is no other way of acceptability. You might sit in your room and say “they’ve failed,” the only democratic means…

Omojuwa: Are you saying the PDP has been a success?

Senator Saraki: What I am saying is, under the circumstances the PDP has done…*long silence*

Omojuwa: (cuts in) I am going to make this the headline.

Senator Saraki: No, don’t make it the headline. You cannot make it the headline, let me get it right now *general laughter*
What I am saying is that the PDP has made good effort and made great achievement.

Omojuwa: That is the problem, effort is not enough.

Senator Saraki: We have achieved in certain sectors. We have achieved. We have been able to address the issue of infrastructure.

Omojuwa: Infrastructure? In what country?

Senator Saraki: In this country *general laughter*

Omojuwa: You are going to create enemies for yourself. Infrastructure? Are you talking of Aso Rock as a country?

Senator Saraki: Let me speak for Kwara. Kwara is a PDP state.

Omojuwa: Okay. I am saying Nigeria, so really if you want to say Kwara, stick with Kwara.

Senator Saraki: Okay Kwara, I am speaking for Kwara. Kwara is a PDP State.

Omojuwa: So you are speaking for Kwara, you are avoiding the “Nigeria” part of the question.

Senator Saraki: I am giving it as an example. I am not avoiding.

Omojuwa: The PDP has failed and it is easier for you to just admit that.

Senator Saraki: The PDP has not failed. You voted for us.

Omojuwa: The fact that you are even saying Kwara in place of Nigeria says something. Okay, I want to go to Kwara now considering that you’ve accepted the PDP has failed.

Senator Saraki: Nooo, I have not accepted PDP has failed. I have not accepted.

Omojuwa: I understand.

Senator Saraki: Don’t understand. I have not accepted o.

Omojuwa: I was following your government…

Senator Saraki: (cuts in) but on a serious note PDP has not failed, so put that on record.

Omojuwa: It’s okay *chuckles*
One of your projects as governor was the agriculture project and I actually heard you say at the time that Kwara would provide enough food to feed the nation.

Senator Saraki: I said this 5 years ago, go and write it down. When this country finally gets its agriculture right, you’d see that the model that’d finally work is the model I have put in Kwara. What did I do? Previous administrations had focused on subsistence farming. We moved away from that and I said “we must go into commercial farming.” And today if you see the results that we have, there are several products coming from Kwara including secondary production stages off the primary products like cassava and cassava factories for instance.

Omojuwa: A lot of people said all you did was develop Ilorin.

Senator Saraki: The Shonga Farms was not in Ilorin.

Omojuwa: I am not even speaking about farms; I am speaking in terms of general infrastructure.

Senator Saraki: The largest project I spent money on was in Kwara North. The largest amount I spent on roads was in Kwara North. Let me tell you why some people might say that. As a leader and administrator, we realised we needed a capital city that’d attract the private sector. We needed to enable Ilorin to be a hub and a distribution point for business. Now what has happened after that investment? Ilorin has now expanded because we have increased the value of the place. The city is growing. If you see Ilorin now, it was not the Ilorin I met in 2003. Because of the expansion that is going on, all the suburbs are developing.

Omojuwa: As Governor, how many jobs did you create?

Senator Saraki: I can’t remember but I know that unemployment rate in Kwara is about 11.3 per cent, and the country’s average is 19.4 per cent and that shows you that definitely there is a difference.

Omojuwa: and that is based on your activities?

Senator Saraki: Yes, based on our activities.
Questions from the web:

Omojuwa: Thoughts on true federalism

Senator Saraki: In Kwara for example, local governments manage their own fund. For instance, I encouraged commissioners at the state level to go an run for Local Government Chairman. So when you want to run true federalism in this country, then you need to increase the capacity of the people.

Omojuwa: On your P.A and the loans

Senator Saraki: Sometimes I think it’s the responsibility of some of you guys that report. At least let us report what is accurate. He did not get any document, he got the facility based on loan to shares, there was no document.

Omojuwa: They said another P.A was able to withdraw from his account.

Senator Saraki; There was no P.A that was able to withdraw from his account. You see a lot of junks out there and majority of these are not true. And this is in the open because when the false information got out about the boy being attacked, the poor boy had been in hospital for six months suffering from diabetes. All it takes is one of you guys to just go to LUTH and they’ll confirm. When you talk about security documents, all those are not true. They are not true and all these information are available. The company got shares for loans. Most of these things, be rest assured and continue to be rest assured are not true.
I can see the loss of confidence in our leaders. As far as everybody is concerned, they just use one brush “everybody is a thief,” “everybody is this,” “everybody is that.”

Omojuwa: Are you saying, eight years of being a governor, tried to run for president and I am sure the PDP through their system must have said “sit down there.”

Senator Saraki: *Senator laughs* No. I did run.

Omojuwa: I don’t consider anybody that was not a candidate a serious contender.

Senator Saraki: I was a candidate now.

Omojuwa: No, you were an aspirant.

Senator Saraki: Yeah aspirant but under my party, to become a candidate you must win, so it’s not that the party said you should not run.

Omojuwa: I know how you guys do it.

Senator Saraki: How do we do it? *general laughter*

Omojuwa: My question, in a country like ours where a governor is very powerful and directs money here and there, are you saying that no amount of money belonging to your state passed through your account?

Senator Saraki: There was a purpose I went there. I went there to serve. Look, as I said to you…

Omojuwa: (cuts in) You never ever, not even borrowed?

Senator Saraki: No. To do what? When I was going to campaign, somebody called and was like “arggh, this silver spoon boy, walahi he is going there to steal.” *Omojuwa laughs* So they now asked me, “you that you have never seen poverty, how are you going to do it?”
I said this is the problem of us Nigerians. The man that had not seen wealth, you carry him and put him there. What do you think he is going to do when he gets there? He will first fill his stomach. I am being honest. So our system has not matured so you are guided by “what are your own values?” “what is right or wrong?” if I am governor ten to fifteen times, what legacy do I want to leave. It is not the money. It was never about the money and it will never be about the money.

Omojuwa: You stopped your dad from making another Saraki governor…

Senator Saraki: No. no. no. I didn’t stop him.

Omojuwa: Why did you go against the man that practically made you governor?

Senator Saraki: That is not the issue.

Omojuwa: What happened?

Senator Saraki: This one is a long story, you need to come back some other time, so let’s move to another one. This one will take two hours for us to discuss. I don’t want you to take this out of me.

Omojuwa: The bank loan controversy

Senator Saraki: These are companies I did have interest in having resigned when I became a governor. If you all remember in 2008 during the boom in the stock market, banks were giving out facilities to individuals and companies for the purpose of buying shares. The securities for those loans were the shares. There were no securities for those loans with property or personal cash. So when the market now collapsed in 2009, most individuals in the country, most people decided to say “well bank, since security are the shares, go and realise your security and majority of people walked away from the loan. At that time I did but may be on hindsight now may be I’d do differently. I approached the bank to reach an agreement and the bank agreed and an agreement was reached. You owe so much, pay this and we will now find ourselves…this was 2009, thisis not something new. Some people gave the impression that it was done by Layi Alabi’s management, no, it was Akingbola’s management that started the negotiation, concluded it but by the time he was to pay he had gone. The arrangement under Akingbola’s management was even better for us than what was agreed by Layi Alabi’s management.
This went through the board. The credit committee board gave approval not that one person at the more so same time over 30 other companies were the same given concession. Even the companies that were given concession were even refusing and said “why should I pay you more than the shares you are holding?”
Central bank examined the banks. If there was something that was not right they would have rejected it and said “no, this company should not pay five, they should go and pay seven, they should go and pay eight.”
We did not give ourselves waiver. Which is curious because 2010 when I was running for president under the party primaries, this matter came up, a petition was written.

Police had investigated this case before o, this thing that you are hearing in 2010. The Central Bank investigated and then this comes in at best this is a civil matter. At the very best but the bank is not complaining, Central Bank is not complaining, nobody is complaining about the transaction. The petition that the chap wrote, he did not mention my name in the entire two and a half pages of the petition. All he said was he wanted the bank to conclude and give him a statement. So that went away. 2010 went away and this time 2012 the same week we were coming back after recess, House of Representatives were submitting their report on fuel subsidy. The timing is very curious but again these are some of the sacrifices or hazards but the way it’s been presented, which was one of the reasons why the issue of protecting ones fundamental rights comes up. It is as if it’s a criminal act. Is it the loan that is criminal, is it the repayment of the loan? If the bank is not satisfied let the bank say “ok, take your money back the money you’ve paid us are not enough, we want our full money.” I will collect my money bank and I will say “how much do you want? Your security is your shares, go and realise your shares.” Most of these people did not even pay, they are all at AMCON, and AMCON is not even disturbing anybody, so one even looks as if looked on hindsight in trying to do the right thing one is being given the impression ….there was no physical cash that went into my pocket, the loan goes, you pay shares, they owe the shares. So it’s not that cash, came these billions were to be withdrawn as cash out of the bank. Nothing came out of the bank, they were just facility, the shares will be there and according to the agreement they are meant to sell the shares if they believed the share price was coming down in view of the loan. So the point I am making is that the impression given out there is not exactly what has happened and I said at best, at the very worst, this is a civil matter. There is no criminality along this process. It is not government fund. These loans were given to many people at that time, the percentage they were given I am sure the bank probably had like N300 billion in loans of those kind of nature. So when you are talking about a group having between 7 and N8 billion of which you pay about 4 point something billion. They were not doing a favour, all the other 34 companies they gave nobody has asked them.
There is no doubt about it, it looks as though one has just been singled out. It looks very odd. This transaction is not something that is fresh, it’s been going on for the last 3 years and every time it raises its head up if you look around the environment there is something that is happening. Something else is happening that gives one great concern. The point I am making is I have not done anything that is criminal. The issue is an agreement, the bank offered the customer agreed. The worst the bank can say is that they don’t agree but nobody is saying that.

Omojuwa: What about the whole court drama?

Senator Saraki: I agreed to go and there is evidence to show that. I said to them “I am coming on this date,” that was early on around Monday the 16th of April. When the petition took an ugly turn in the sense that things started getting posted on many platforms online and all that, I could see that there was an intentional move by the police trying to portray loan fraud and create a perception around that. First it was N21 billion, then it became down to N8billion then it became an issue of “we want to know whether this or that.” My question was that “My invitation said I was invited to assist an investigation that was not being concluded and then all of a sudden it was as if one was being treated as a prime suspect. I didn’t like that aspect at all, then I said to myself, I can’t allow myself to be given this kind of media trial in the front of the public. And that is really what the issues are, not that I wanted to evade anything. Because there was no part of the invitation that said I was a prime suspect, it was the way I was being castigated in the media and all that. I said come, “I have rights. Are these people allowed to do this kind of thing?” not that one was shielding himself from going to the police. The process of going to court was to say “the police, even if you are pleading your issue, you must plead within the confines of the law” not to shield myself. Even before then, I’d show you that on that Monday I was ready to go to court. It was when the thing started getting ugly that I said “hey, what’s going on here? I have not done anything wrong, why are you saying loan fraud.” All these information are out there.
I offered to go, they said they were not ready on the day I offered to come and gave me another date. By the time it got to the other date, I observed certain things that were going in the process I was being investigated I did not like. And I said look, there is something here that did not follow due process that I was concerned about. So I said look “let this matter be decided in court.” And don’t forget also I said to you, there was a lot of frustration in the whole issue. Where is the criminality for heaven’s sake? Loan fraud, this and that, billions. They gave a loan, so okay, let us go to court, let the court determine that something criminal has happened. To be hounded for three years now on the same matter that has to do with a bank and its customer. You have been investigated before, not once, not twice. It gets to a point you need to get the courts to define these things. If it was something that was based on public finance or something I’d understand. This is not the first time, this has been investigated before, the reports are there you can go and check the reports. This was why I felt it had to be dealt with under the tenets of the law once and for all instead of being hounded every now and then.

Omojuwa: Why do you find joy in corrupt practices/excessive accumulation of material wealth at the detriment of the masses?

Senator Saraki: When you say corruption, where is the corruption? Even this issue that everybody is talking about, where is the corruption? They did not say it’s government money. They said I took a loan but the loan has been paid, there is no money missing so where is the corruption? Material wealth? Where is the material? People like us made sacrifices. Kwara State is number 34 on allocation, go to the State, when you see the level of development, you’d be forced to as how we did it. But majority of these people that speak don’t even bother. I am sure you now, you have never been to Kwara.

Omojuwa: of course I have.

Senator Saraki: When last were you there?

Omojuwa: I was there last October 1st

Senator Saraki: What are your thoughts?

Omojuwa: When I said to my host “this is beautiful, I’m impressed,” the impression I got was No, you just fixed Ilorin, and left the suburbs.

Omojuwa: What are you going to do to ensure the subsidy probe process is seen to its very end?

Senator Saraki: I started it and I am not someone to quit.

Omojuwa: How long do you think it will take Nigeria to develop as a nation?

Senator Saraki: When the leaders begin to see that Nigeria has changed. Young guys like yourself are beginning to ask us, beginning to question us. That kind of environment definitely corruption will reduce. It will take all our efforts to move Nigeria in the right direction. We also need to allow people with ability and capacity to lead. What used to happen in the past used we used to send our first 11 to go and be lawyers, doctors et al and the other 11 go into politics but even that is changing. As long as the quality of people running for office and getting into office continues to get better, the country will get better. I understand that things have been bad in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to defend that but I think we’ve all had our own efforts. Ten years ago guys of your age were not interested in what government was doing; now I commend you for it. You are able to say “No! this is what we want’” “No! this is what this man is doing!” if they were doing that ten, twenty years ago, those legislators, governors and ministers of those days would not do what they did. Now people are becoming serious. We are still not there but it is becoming better. You cannot have a developed society until the majority care about how they are governed. It is all of us taking the fault and working to make Nigeria better for all of us.

You can download Senator Bukola Saraki’s motion that first exposed the gross corruption in the subsidy regime here. A lot has since happened to both country and man since then. Nigeria has been the better for it without a doubt.

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