President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, on Wednesday, called for a non-partisan approach to rescue the country from the strangle hold of corruption.
Saraki, according to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sanni Onogu, in Abuja, made the call in his presentation at the opening of a two-day policy roundtable discussion on the future of the anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria, held in Abuja.
The event was organized by the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development (SCDDD) in collaboration with Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP) and the Centre for Democratic Development, Research and Training (CEDDERT).
He lamented the recent downward slide suffered by the country in the global Corruption Perception Index, a development he described as worrisome and an opportunity and challenge “to redouble efforts geared towards the anti-corruption campaign.”
He said the report should rather make the country more determined to strengthen anti-corruption institutions and processes, “so that we can fight the good fight without let or hindrance.”
Saraki who spoke on the theme: “The National Assembly and the Challenges of Combatting Corruption in Nigeria,” said: “If we look critically at our system, one factor remains a constant, and that is the lack of a sustainable plan of action for the institutions charged with responsibility in this area.
“We can no longer point to the fledgling nature of our democracy as justification for any ineffectiveness in the fight against corruption.
“The tenets of anti-corruption should be built on a platform where issues are addressed holistically and without bias. As we approach the milestone of the second decade of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic next year, the time is ripe – if not overdue – to work up an achievable roadmap run by competent officials and instruments unfettered by external or political influence or interference.
“As the legislature, we believe that to restore our economy and society, corruption has to be combatted frontally. It cannot be a lopsided or compromised campaign; and any anti-corruption efforts should emanate from a well-articulated platform, the integrity of which must be unassailable,” he said.
He noted that since the inception of the 8th Senate, it hit the ground running, to make good on undertakings set out in its Legislative Agenda, which includes core points such as: extensive oversight, core fiscal policy, Budget scrutiny and passage; as well as transparency in the Budget of the National Assembly itself.
He said: “I am happy to note that we have recorded many achievements in our oversight role; and in terms of budget transparency, we – in a historic first – opened up our Budget for public inspection.
“The ripple effects of some of these are, no doubt, enormous – because transparency and accountability in the National Assembly will inevitably evolve into transparency and accountability on the national scale, especially when we in authority know that we can be held accountable.
“The Budget process has showcased the drive of the Senate to eliminate the loopholes that corruption that has consistently created in our economy. We have maintained that the national Budget has to pass through legislative scrutiny, to guard against inconsistencies.
“And, with the many anti-corruption Bills we have passed, I make bold to say we are matching our words with action, to complement the Executive’s fight against corruption,” he said.
He noted that some of the landmark Bills already passed by the Senate to include: the Mutual Assistance on Criminal Matters Bill – “for a framework of cooperation between Nigeria and other countries in order to – amongst other things – facilitate the identification, tracing, freezing, recovery, forfeiture and confiscation our common patrimony which have been looted and stashed abroad, whether proceeds, assets or other criminally gotten instruments.
“Other potent anti-corruption Bills include: the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Bill; and the Whistleblowers’ Bill – which provides for the protection from reprisals or victimization of patriotic Nigerians who give information that leads to the recovery of stolen loot.
“With these and other laws we have passed, it is our firm belief that the 8th National Assembly has given a much needed fillip to the anti-corruption campaign, now and into the future.
“Finally, the time has come for us to develop a non-partisan approach towards rescuing the country from the choke-hold of corruption.
“For our part, the National Assembly has resolved to take up this responsibility through legislation, with the simple mandate of sanitising the polity, thereby reducing corruption and setting the country on the right track for economic, political and social liberation,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Dr. Saraki, has assured of the quick passage of the Disability Rights Bill which is currently before the National Assembly.
He further assured that the bill already passed by the two chambers of National Assembly would be sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent before the end of March this year.
Saraki spoke on Wednesday when the Chairman of the Kpakpando Foundation, Senator Osita Izunaso, led members of the foundation to pay him a courtesy visit at the National Assembly in Abuja.
According to a statement by the Senate President’s Special Assistant on Print Media, Chuks Okocha, Saraki told the foundation that the two chambers of the National Assembly have since passed the Disability Rights Bill, but wondered why there was no conference committee to harmonise the differences between the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Senate President said, “To the best of my knowledge, I know we have passed this bill. It has been passed by both chambers of the National Assembly, but due to some administrative hindrances, it has no business being with us by now.
“I even had to ask the Clerk to the National Assembly to query the staff delaying it. I want to assure you that within 30 days from today, the conference report of this bill will be ready.
“Over 95 per cent of the work has been done, just for it to come to the floor and for the Committee to give account.
“The Bill is important in that it will transform and change the lives of our people living with disabilities. I believe the benefits are enormous and the sooner we start implementing it, the better.
“I want to assure you, please, take the message to them. It should have come earlier and I assure you that before the end of March, it will be communicated to Mr. President for his assent”, Saraki stated.
In a related development, the President of the Senate has also pledged the readiness of the Senate to partner a Coalition for the Rights of Older Persons in Nigeria (COSROPIN) to improve the quality of lives of the aged in the society.
Saraki spoke when the COSROPIN, led by Senator Eze Ajoku, came to solicit for the support of the Senate in the passage of the bill for “an Act to provide certain rights and privileges for older persons in order to ensure healthy and economic reliefs and protection for their social and civil rights and other related matters.”
According to the President of the Senate, “Let me commend you for this innovative work that you have put upon yourself. As a country, we have neglected this set of older persons in our society and I think it is high time we start to do something about it and I am very delighted that you have taken it up.
“I can assure you that in the 8th National Assembly, you will find us partners in this process. Yesterday we were in Benin, Edo State in a seminar talking about migration and we found out that some of the causes of insecurity we see in our society is when children also have this obligation to continue to look after their older persons and members of the society because there is no social benefit, no support really and I believe when we begin to create this, it will filter down in providing stability.
“So definitely, where you are is where you ought to be. I must commend you for this initiative and I hope that finally when this Bill is passed, we will remember the roles you people have played and you we will continue to be appreciated.
“This is a Bill that we will take seriously and we will ensure that it receives the kind of speedy consideration because it is the right thing to do for the country,” he said.
Picture shows President of the Senate in a handshake with the Face of Kpapando Foundation, Helen Halima Makama. With them is the President/Founder of Kpakpando Foundation and the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Senator Osita Izunaso and the President, Joint National Association for Persons Living with Disabilities, Ekaete Umoh, when the foundation visited the President of the Senate in Abuja.