By Toluwani Oyetunji
Last night, former Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, was on a Twitter Spaces chat hosted by Rinu Oduala. During the session, Saraki, an erstwhile Chairman of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum and former Governor of Kwara State, spoke about critical social and economic issues that are currently facing the nation and offered his thoughts on how best to address them.
ON GENDER EQUALITY & EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL NIGERIANS
“When I was the President of the Senate, we tried to pass the Gender & Equal Opportunities Bill three times. I went around three times to try to get my colleagues to pass it.” Recall that even though the bill wasn’t eventually passed, Saraki was at the forefront of the advocacy to pass it — despite the strong opposition from many male Senators at the time.
- ON WOMEN INCLUSION IN GOVERNMENT
“We passed a social safety net bill to try to ensure that women get better benefits and are effectively empowered… We must make a lot of effort to ensure that there is fairness and equal representation of women in government. These kinds of conversations are so important to make room for women to participate in government. When you talk about inclusion, we must talk about equity. There is value in empowering women. This is why the rest of the world is doing. But we must be deliberate about it.”
Saraki emphasized that as the Senate President, he always prioritized the inclusion of women in politics and governance and the empowerment of women in society.
- ON ZONING
“When we talk about zoning, we need to look at it from a historical perspective. Our party, after 1999, instituted zoning to ensure that there was equity. Now, we have seen that zoning is a factor, but it is not the only factor. We must look at the character, competence, and quality of leadership. We need a modern progressive leader that understands current issues and can bring people together. The younger generation just wants the government to not be in their way so that they too can define their future.”
Saraki reiterated his position that young Nigerians want competent leaders, while also emphasizing that his party, the PDP, instituted zoning as a way to ensure that there was a sense of justice and equity in government by all parts of the county.
- ON YOUTH PARTICIPATION IN POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
“Unfortunately, people who want a new Nigeria, do not vote. This is why I must commend young people who are holding conversations like these to sensitize other young people about the importance of the next election and what it means for our collective future as a nation.”
Saraki called on young people to play an active role in the ongoing continuous voter registration process currently being undertaken by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He stated that the young people of Nigeria can decide the fate of the country if they vote in the next election.
- ON THE 2020 ENDSARS PROTEST
“I was disgusted about how #EndSARS was handled by the government. People must be free to protest. When I was the Senate President, unarmed people protested against me almost weekly. But it was part of democracy. And this forced us to listen and to engage with the people. This is what democracy is all about. This is why I spoke so strongly against the killings. It is lack of not holding government accountable that leads to people looking to other ways to express their displeasure.”
Saraki, who spoke against the Lekki killings during the EndSARS protest, emphasized that in a democracy, it was important for citizens to be able to exercise their right to protest without any violence or other repercussions. He further emphasized that during his tenure as the Senate President, there were weekly protests at the National Assembly, however, he made it a duty to ensure that the Senate as an institution always engaged with the protesters to listen to their legitimate concerns.