By Ola Awoniyi
When Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan graduated from the University of Maiduguri in 1984 with a B.Sc. degree in Geography, taking an active role in partisan politics was not on his mind. The young man did not consider himself cut for the “dirty game.” Rather, his focus was firmly on academics. And so for the next 10 years, he was in the Ivory Tower researching and imparting knowledge for the enlightenment and development of society. He was good enough at what he was doing such that in 1990, he was offered a scholarship by the European Union, one of a very few from the northern part of Nigeria at the time to be offered the privilege.
Lawan went to Cranfield University, United Kingdom and returned home in 1996 with Masters and Doctoral degrees in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System(GIS). He resumed his career in academics, until 1998 when he was persuaded to join politics.
New in the game, Lawan quckly realised that politics is different from academics. It is safe to say that his experience in his early days in politics in his home state of Yobe was far from pleasant. “It was a near disaster,” he once recalled. He found himself like a fish out of water such that his people at the grassroots had to teach him the ropes of practical politics. “Dr. this is not the academic environment. You are no more in the university. This is politics and it is not about blowing big big grammar,” he recalled once being told by a worried supporter. Since then he has learnt to flow with his people. They taught him to be part of them. And if ever elected into an office, to be a servant to the people.
Lawan has since mastered the art, which with the grace of God, has seen him come thus far. In six consecutive polls since 1999, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has been the clear choice of his people to represent them at the National Assembly. And he has remained a part and the servant of his constituents. Today, he is also the Senate President.
However, he has also refused to compromise his principles. For Lawan, politics is not an art of deception. “I don’t believe politics is about deception. I prefer to call a spade a spade,” Lawan once said while addressing his constituents in his country home, Gashua in Yobe State. His fidelity to that principle has won and cost him a few friends. But it has also underpinned the trust of his constituents, helping him to become one of the longest serving federal lawmakers in Nigeria.
Those who have worked with him will readily attest that you cannot persuade Lawan to act contrary to his conviction. Some see this as rigidity. But if you say that to him, Lawan would take it as a compliment, in as much as he believes that he stands for the common good.
He once narrated the huge pressure he and his colleagues faced in 2006 to support the now orphaned Third Term Agenda. Then in the House of Representatives, Lawan was lobbied severally to lend his support to removing a pillar of democratic stability. But he bluntly refused even at the face of a threat to deny him a return ticket to the National Assembly. However, the same Lawan also played a significant role in calming down his colleagues in the House every time they angrily attempted to impeach President Obasanjo over what they perceived as impeachable offences by the then president.
More recently, as Senate President, he came under pressure from some very powerful stakeholders in the oil industry who were against the passage of the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act amendment Bill. Lawan rebuffed the pressure because he was convinced that the benefit of the amended bill is huge for the Nigerian economy. A similar pressure was mounted on him when the Ninth Assembly confronted the jinx of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). But Lawan again stood his ground and the two decades old jinx was broken.
Until 2015, Lawan had been an opposition lawmaker. His voice was always loud on virtually every topical issue. By the time his party took control of the National Assembly, Lawan was well positioned for the coveted seat of Senate President. But he missed it at first attempt. Not that he lost the election to the seat. He was schemed out of the race.
As a devout Muslim, he took those shenanigans of June 2015 in good faith. He believes everything works for good for those whose purposes are good.
Lawan is a loyal party man and always stand firmly with his party in and outside the parliament. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), consequently offered him the position of Senate Majority Leader. By the time he became the 14th Senate President in 2019, Lawan had acquired additional experience from that role to preside over the Upper Chamber and, as Chairman of the National Assembly, to pilot the affairs of the revered Institution.
From the onset, he had a clear vision of what he wanted to do and of the leadership strategy for maintaining unity and common purpose in the Senate and the National Assembly in general. He believes that a house of chaos, however elevated, is of no use to anyone.
This is why the defining trait of the Ninth Assembly under Lawan is the cordial working relationship with the other arms of government, more noticeably the Executive. But this has been achieved without compromising the independence of Parliament or the doctrine of Separation of Powers.
Understandably, people who prefer hostility to amity between the two elected arms of government do not like this. They have thus malligned him relentlessly and most unfairly derided the ninth Assembly as a rubber stamp.
You think that bothers Lawan? Instead, he considers himself lucky to be Senate President at a time a willing partner for cooperation heads the Executive arm of government.
The often ignored fact is that President Muhammadu Buhari even has ardently desires a healthy working relationship with Parliament. This is so that he can deliver his promises and fulfil his mandate to the Nigerian people. So both sides have chosen to address the unavoidable conflicts with cool heads and with their eyes set on the development goals of government.
Results commend the path that they have both chosen. In the immediate past Assembly, many executive bills were pronounced dead on arrival at the National Assembly. And many private member bills that passed were sent back to the sender.
President Buhari felt that situation was unhealthy and should not be allowed to repeat itself as the Nigerian people were the losers. Both leaders since June 2019 have been wholly committed through reciprocity to building a cordial working environment between their two co-dependent institutions for the smooth running of government and benefit of the nation.
Let’s recall a few fruits of this harmony. In October 2019, barely four months after the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, was at the National Assembly to meet with its leadership. Malami pleaded for a working relationship between the two arms of government that would enhance the passage of executive bills after due consideration by the lawmakers and presidential assent for private member bills. His move was to avert a repeat of the experience in the immediate past Assembly. Malami told the National Assembly leaders: “We cannot afford to expend resources, time and energy in formulating and drafting bills that will eventually not be passed or assented.”
Also in September 2020, President Buhari set up an Executive, Legislative, Party Consultative Forum headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to promote harmony in governance towards enhancing service delivery to the Nigerian people. “I am a firm believer in the doctrine of Separation of Powers which is fundamental to our constitutional democracy. But our practice should be harmonious checks and balances devoid of bitterness and petty rivalry,” Buhari told members of the tripartite panel.
The foregone show some of the steps the Executive took to promote mutual cooperation with the parliament. They were well-received by most lawmakers and Lawan who have chosen harmonious relationship over unnecessary confrontation with the Executive.
In the spirit of that relationship, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2022 Appropriation Bill into law on Christmas eve despite airing his reservations.
Also, the Petroleum Industry Bill(PIB) received Presidential assent despite reservations by the president on some of the provisions. Buhari signed the PIB into law and later proposed an amendment to the Act. The Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act amendment Bill was signed into law by the president in London where he was receiving medical treatment. That was very unusual. But that alacrity arose from a mutual understanding between the arms to preempt powerful stakeholders who were hell bent on scuttling the piece of legislation.
We cannot forget too how the President ordered the MDAs to promptly respect invitations by the National Assembly committees to defend their proposals, to ensure timely passage of budgets. But for this cooperation between the National Assembly and the Executive, the quest for a regular, predictable and reliable budget cycle would have remained a mirage.
The disposition of the Ninth Assembly under Lawan is to work for Nigeria rather than play to the gallery. You can be sure that this same spirit will smoothly resolve the disagreement over the Electoral Act amendment Bill in the best interest of Nigerians.
Lawan has contributed to facilitating a new atmosphere in inter-arms relationships out of a conviction gained from over two decades in parliament. That conviction is that public interest is best served when institutions work together without forsaking their purposes. The achievement of that atmosphere is a legacy befitting even a reluctant politician.
This reflection on his politics and leadership principles is a tribute to Lawan, the Sardaunan Bade, on the occasion of his 63rd birthday.
***Awoniyi is Special Adviser (Media) to the Senate President