Lawan: Between legislative patronage and misplaced loyalty
Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has become synonymous with the failings of the Ninth National Assembly. For the Ninth National Assembly, particularly the Senate, the uniqueness of its leadership under Dr. Ahmad Lawan seems to be directly related to its association with failure.
It is the belief among well meaning Nigerians that Lawan’s stint as the President of Senate has fallen short, not only in terms of legislation, but also by its inability to mainstream the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians in its votes and proceedings within the legislative year.
In 2015, it was an auspicious and benevolent accident that prevented Lawan from mounting the saddle as President of the Eighth Senate. But Lawan’s socio-political bent seemed not suited for such a budding season. In spite of the fact that the position was zoned to Northeast and Lawan was endorsed by virtually all the influential political godfathers and stakeholders within the All Progressives Congress (APC), particularly the Senators-elect, Dr. Bukola Saraki outsmarted him.
Saraki’s decision to override the APC zoning arrangement was founded on two planks: The attempt to dismiss the newPDP flank within APC and above all, the contention that all qualified candidates should be allowed to exercise their constitutional rights to run for positions of leadership of the Nigerian Senate.
However, like everything, which time had come, in 2019, Lawan benefitted from Presidential sympathy, which was vouchsafed at the cost of assurances of good behaviour and true allegiance to whims and caprices of his benefactors.
While he campaigned for the position of senate president, Lawan told journalists in Lagos that he does not believe in separation of powers among the three arms of government. He assured that if elected President of Senate, he would rather pursue collaboration with the executive, stressing that it was impossible to achieve a complete separation of powers as advocated by the French political thinker, Baron Montesquieu.
Lawan’s antipathy towards separation of powers flowed from his efforts to appropriate executive powers in a bid to defeat his rival, Senator Ali Ndume, who declared his unambiguous belief in the need for separation of powers as a legislation tool to check the excesses of the executive arm of government.
With the two parallel lines toed by the two top contenders, it was obvious to Nigerians who was a better candidate for the office being contested, between Lawan and Ndume. At the end of the day, catapulted by the implementation of party loyalty and debatable supremacy, the government candidate won and democracy lost.
Evidence that Lawan’s victory was enhanced by outside influence emerged when the candidate that would have made the contest a three horse race, Senator Danjuma Ibrahim Goje, was prevailed upon by the Presidency to reconsider his ambition. Five days later, after Goje’s inexplicable confabulation with President Muhammadu Buhari, Lawan garnered 79 votes of the Senators’ elect to beat Ndume who returned 28 ballots.
It did not take long before Lawan’s Presidency was seen as the bromide of President Buhari’s Presidency, defined by lack of inspiration and monumental lack of excellence. Nigerians were quick to brand the Senate under Dr. Ahmad Lawan as a mere rubber-stamp legislature always in a hurry to do the bidding of the executive arm.
But among the many instances of Lawan’s choleric disposition as the leader of the ninth National Assembly, was the belated attempt by the federal lawmakers to pass a motion that gives President Buhari a six-week ultimate to wake up to his constitutional responsibilities or face imminent kick-off of impeachment procedure.
It was a day the Senate President decided to throw his colleagues under the bus. The Senator had exhausted about two hours in an executive session away from the prying eyes of journalists and visitors at the gallery.
The Senate President disclosed that while in the closed-door conference, they discussed issues pertaining to working of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate. He cleverly avoided the aspect that had to do with the resolution to hand a six-week ultimatum to President Buhari over the deplorable security situation in the country.
It was against the backdrop of Senators’ anger over his refusal to allow the issue of insecurity, which culminated in terrorists’ threat to abduct the President, that made Lawan to accede to a plenary discussion of the matter the next day.
The Senate President’s singular desire to protect President Buhari became apparent by the way he turned his back on the resolutions reached at the closed-door executive session. By walking out on the plenary, the Senators conveyed to Lawan that they were no longer taken in by his excessive dalliance with the Buhari Presidency.
Senate Minority Leader, Philip Aduda’s point of order, apart from reminding the Senate President of the resolutions reached at the end of the executive session, put it on record that Lawan was longing after President Buhari’s validation more than legislation for good governance of the country.
One other dent on Senator Lawan’s leadership of Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber, was during the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). As the chairman of the National Assembly joint committee, Lawan and some of his colleagues were accused of passing some parts of the bills that were opposed by Nigerians for a consideration.
While denying the allegation of dollar bribes, Lawan declared that no such thing took place, stressing that the report “was unwarranted, unproven and false.”
Even the Electoral Act 2022 that would have served as a single redeeming piece of legislation from the National Assembly that Lawan chairs ended up with serious stains of inglorious omissions.
Under Lawan, the lawmakers put together a piece of legislation that ended up disenfranchising them from participating in their various parties’ straw polls. And, to understand the disjointed scheme of things in the Red Chamber, where Lawan presides, the Senate President’s desire to succeed Buhari clashed with his intention to return to the Senate.
Having therefore failed to clinch the presidential ticket of APC, it was a confused Senate President that ran back to seek an opening to regain his seat as representative of Yobe North Senatorial District in breach of the laws he made.
That Lawan wanted to become presidential candidate and Senatorial candidate in same election cycle put his confused approach legislation in bold relief. Not that alone, the attempt by his benefactors to reward him with either the presidential or senatorial ticket showed that Lawan’s loyalty was divided between patronage and personal glorification.
Having lost both, Senator Lawan would most assuredly retain the national opprobrium as the Senate President who subjected the primacy of the legislature to the whims of the executive at the expense of the citizenry.
He may have been advised to lick his wounds, but the wounds that his presidency would leave on the psyche of Nigerians would take time to heal. By next year, when he bows out from the National Assembly after 24 years, Senator Lawan would be 64 years old.
The 24 years that he membered the National Assembly, were divided between the two chambers of Nigeria’s bi-cameral federal legislature. In 1999, Lawan won the election to represent Bade/Jakusko federal constituency of Yobe State on the platform of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
After eight years, spanning two terms in the House of Representatives, Lawan was elected into the Senate. The graduate of Geography from University of Maiduguri would later be elevated as President of Senate.
Did Lawan lose his legislative compass or was the Senate President confused by the undulating coordinates of Nigeria’s geopolitics? Only Dr. Lawan can tell his story.