The Senate President Bukola Saraki is standing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). When asked how much he is worth in an interview, yesterday, by Naziru Mikaliu of the BBC, Saraki simply said he doesn’t know. He, however, explains how he came about his fortune. Excerpts:
What is contained in the Petroleum Industry Bill?
What we’re trying to do is to work out an environment in the petroleum sector that will ensure transparency, good governance, reduce duplication, and ensure efficiency. We spent months, I think five months, working on that and it’s good to see that, finally, we’ve got to the stage of passing the second reading which wasn’t achieved before now.
Do you believe Nigeria is a corrupt country?
My take is that I must market my country. So, I’m not going to be able to label the country as such. My focus is that yes, there’re issues that we must address. But I’m not going to hammer on that so much because I’m also marketing my country so that I get private sector inflow. I must create the enabling environment that will encourage that, because without that, as government alone, it’ll be difficult to see the kind of growth we’ve been talking about.
Have you seen corruption taking place?
Of course, there are issues, and that’s why we’ve oversight function. I mean, just as many other countries, we also have these kind of challenges but I believe we’ve moved a long way.
Many Nigerians see a lot of politicians, including you, as wealthy individuals. How much are you worth?
I don’t know.
You don’t know how much is your worth?
I don’t know.
How much did you declare?
I can’t remember those figures as I sit here.
That means it’s a huge figure?
I don’t know if it’s a crime, anywhere, for you to either work hard or be blessed. But what I think is important is your commitment to serve.
How did you amass all this wealth?
I come from a blessed family. I come from a family where my parents were opportuned and after that I worked hard in the private sector before this (politics). I think I worked for everything that I’ve got. And when I look at my assets, I know I got 95 per cent of that before I joined government.
You talk about generating more revenue and collecting more taxes, but a member of your family was implicated in the Panama Papers (cuts)
The issue was that they found out that the company has been set up, it was a holding company, which had nothing to do with taxes, nothing at all.
Why was it set up?
It was based on legal advice. The company was set up because they were acquiring an asset and it was advised at that time that I had to set it up. It was not a company set up by ourselves, but by a legal firm, and to the best of our knowledge, no law was broken.
You’re standing trial before a court for alledged false declaration of your asset, right?
Yeah, that case is ongoing.
So, did you declare anything that was not yours?
As I have said many times on this case, I will prove my innocence. These were forms that were declared over 13 years ago and it only emerged in August after I became Senate president. If there were infractions in those forms, the Code of Conduct could have raised that issue a long time ago, they didn’t. So, I said I am confident that I will clear my name and I don’t believe that I have done anything wrong.