FRIDAY OLOKOR reports that the crowd now attracted to the residence of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has become a source of worry to his neighbours
While success has many friends, failure is always a ‘Lonely Londoner’ — to echo Samuel Selvon in his novel so titled. But the sincerity of the friendship, which success attracts, is often laced with suspicion and doubts. It seems the story of Nigeria’s current Senate President and scion of the Saraki political dynasty, Dr. Bukola Saraki, currently serves a good illustration for this aphorism.
Since his emergence as the Senate President, his house at No.48, on the popular Lake Chad Crescent, in high-brow Maitama District, has become a scene for political pilgrimages and a haven for those seek greener pastures.
It is now a beehive of activities (with scores of politicians going in and coming out). The house can be compared to a tourist centre because of the array of people from across ethnic, religious and international boundaries. Even his friends across the globe are said to be visiting.
Ironically, only a few of the unwanted guests are allowed to see him, while many others have their missions unaccomplished. But what is their mission? Investigations reveal that many of them go there to lobby for favour of different kinds, especially now that power has changed hands.
Interestingly, residents of Lake Chad Crescent are complaining because of the unusual gridlocks that have now become their lot. To get to Saraki’s house, a visitor must have to park his or her vehicle at a very long distance, preferably at the beginning of the crescent, and embark on a long trek. Apart from the heavy vehicular traffic in the highbrow area, hawkers and other food vendors also take advantage of the situation to display their items by the roadside. The residents argue that the situation would have been avoided if Saraki had moved to his official quarters.
When our correspondent visited the house on Wednesday, an angry landlord and resident of the area, Mr. Bello Mustapha, was overheard complaining about the development. The man came to park in his compound only to discover that another vehicle had obstructed him. In anger, he parked his vehicle right behind the intruders and walked away.
“Let me see how the owner of this car will leave this place. Maybe he is going to carry the car on his head,” he muttered.
Another resident, Seyi Adebayo, told our correspondent that while the situation had become very embarrassing for some, business now booms for food vendors and other hawkers.
He said, “Right from the day Saraki became the Senate President, Lake Chad Crescent has turned to another Mecca with human and vehicular traffic reaching an epic height. But Saraki should not be blamed because it is the fault of the society where we find ourselves. He now has more friends than when he was Kwara State governor.”
Before now, Saraki’s house did not record much human traffic. Our correspondent learnt that the situation has been compounded by the fact that he has been running the National Assembly from his home since the N27.1bn official homes for its principal officers are still under construction.
Expectedly, the situation around Saraki’s house has been generating ripples among the intelligentsia and leading bureaucrats in Nigeria. A United States-based civil rights activist, Mr. Smart Ajaja, described the development as a nuisance. According to him, the fact that Saraki’s house has become a nuisance to his neighbours and home to a horde of professional favour-seeking sycophants and hypocrites of Nigerian democracy is a demonstration of the objectionable levels of material and mental poverty in Nigeria.
He regretted that nobody has been able to challenge the Senate President for inflicting pain on his fellow citizens.
Ajaja said, “Though his election may seem transparent and aptly democratic, Saraki must, for the period he is going to be there, conduct himself responsibly without becoming a nuisance to his neighbuors and an embarrassment to Nigeria.
“I live near the high-profile US Senator, John Cornyn, and he has never obstructed the street leading to his house. If for anything, he is more careful not to get on the wrong side of the law because of his status. I wonder what drives Nigerian politicians to behave as if they are gods.”
Reminded that the fault could not be that of the Senate President, since his official residence was still under construction, Ajaja retorted, “He is responsible because he is the one who attracted them. Let him try it in the US. He and all those vehicles will be cited and taken to court.”
But a legal practitioner, Mr. Tony Ejumejowo, did not see anything wrong in the increasing number of political pilgrims visiting Saraki’s house. He advised residents at Lake Chad Crescent to “cope until the Senate President’s official residence is ready.” According to him, the emergence of Saraki as the Senate President is a welcome development.
“As for the gridlock being experienced, it is understandable because of those who want to become ministers as the Senate must confirm all those that are nominated by the President and as such it will not be out of place to lobby ahead of the official nomination by the President”, Ejumejowo stated.
Another lawyer and national secretary of the Labour Party, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, saw the visits to Saraki’s house as “a fad in Nigeria and a confirmation of the misplaced identity of the Senate and the Senate President.”
Ajulo, who is also the Executive Director of the Egalitarian Mission Africa, a civil rights organisation, explained that whereas the functions of the institution and individual were well stated in the constitution and other enabling laws, Nigerian legislators had come to be known as harbingers of contracts and other patronages.
“People’s desperation has come to confirm the glooming picture in our nation and our collapsing economy. The search for survival is therefore sought anywhere there is perception of succour,” he stated.
Pundits have therefore recommended that action should be taken to ensure early completion of Saraki’s official quarters in the interest so that Senate would not suffer.
The issue of official residences of principal officers of the National Assembly has for long been controversial. A former Senate President, David Mark; his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu; former Speaker, House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; and his deputy, Usman Nafada, had, in 2010, bought their official homes while other members of the two chambers also bought their respective residences. The development provoked controversies then.
Attempts by the Federal Capital Territory Administration to provide alternative accommodation for the principal officers at the Maitama Extension Area in Abuja, in 2012, suffered a great setback as Mark, Ekweremadu, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Emeka Ihedioha rejected the houses built at a cost of N3bn. They cited insecurity and delay in the provision of infrastructure as the reasons for their action. As a result, the then FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, ordered the construction giant, Julius Berger, to discontinue with the projects, adding that they would be converted to guest houses.
A new site within the Three Arms Zone was immediately acquired by the FCTA for the construction of fresh sets of houses for the National Assembly ‘big guys’ at an initial cost of N24 billion, which was later reviewed to N27.1 billion in the 2015 budget of the FCT.