Ahmad Lawan believes that when institutions work together, the public interest is best served.
Taking an active role in partisan politics was not on Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan’s mind when he graduated from the University of Maiduguri with a B.Sc. in Geography in 1984. The young man didn’t think he was good enough for the “dirty game.” Rather, he was solely concerned with academics. So he spent the next ten years in the Ivory Tower, researching and disseminating knowledge for the sake of societal enlightenment and development. He was good enough at what he was doing that the European Union offered him a scholarship in 1990, one of only a few from the northern part of Nigeria at the time to be given the opportunity.
Lawan earned master’s and doctoral degrees in remote sensing and geographic information systems from Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, and returned home in 1996. (GIS). He returned to academic work until 1998, when he was persuaded to enter politics.
Lawan, a newcomer to the game, quickly realized that politics is not the same as academia. It is safe to say that his early political experiences in his home state of Yobe were not pleasant. He once said, “It was a near disaster.” He was like a fish out of water, and his grassroots supporters had to teach him the ropes of practical politics. “Dr., this is not an academic setting.” You are no longer a student at the university. A worried supporter once told him, “This is politics, and it’s not about blowing big grammar.” He’s learned to flow with his people since then. They instilled in him the desire to be a part of them. And to be a servant to the people if ever elected to a position.
Lawan has since mastered the art, and it is by God’s grace that he has progressed this far. Since 1999, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has been the clear choice of his people to represent them in the National Assembly in six consecutive polls. And he has remained a part of his constituents’ lives and a servant to them. He is currently the Senate President.
He has, however, refused to compromise his values. Politics, according to Lawan, is not a game of deception. “I don’t believe in deception in politics.” When addressing his constituents in Gashua, Yobe State, Lawan once said, “I prefer to call a spade a spade.” His adherence to that principle has both gained and cost him some friends. However, it has helped him earn the trust of his constituents, allowing him to become one of Nigeria’s longest-serving federal lawmakers.
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Lawan cannot be persuaded to act against his convictions, as anyone who has worked with him can attest. This is perceived as rigidity by some. But if you say that to Lawan, he’ll take it as a compliment, because he believes he’s fighting for the greater good.
He once described the enormous pressure he and his colleagues were under in 2006 to back the now-defunct Third Term Agenda. Lawan was then lobbied repeatedly in the House of Representatives to lend his support to the removal of a pillar of democratic stability. Despite threats of being denied a return ticket to the National Assembly, he flatly refused. However, the same Lawan was instrumental in calming down his House colleagues when they attempted to impeach President Obasanjo for what they saw as impeachable offenses committed by the then-president.
More recently, as Senate President, he faced opposition from some powerful oil industry stakeholders who opposed passage of the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act amendment Bill. Lawan resisted the pressure because he was convinced that the amended bill would benefit the Nigerian economy greatly. When the Ninth Assembly faced the jinx of the Petroleum Industry Bill, he was subjected to similar pressure (PIB). But Lawan stood firm once more, and the two-decade-old curse was finally broken.
Lawan was a member of the opposition until 2015. On virtually every topic, his voice was always loud. Lawan was well positioned for the coveted position of Senate President by the time his party took control of the National Assembly. He did, however, miss it on the first try. He didn’t lose the election for the seat, mind you. He was cheating his way out of the race.
He accepted the June 2015 shenanigans in good faith as a devout Muslim. He believes that everything works out for those who have good intentions.
Lawan is a staunch supporter of his party both inside and outside the legislature. As a result, he was offered the position of Senate Majority Leader by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Lawan had gained additional experience in that role, which allowed him to preside over the Upper Chamber and, as Chairman of the National Assembly, to steer the affairs of the revered Institution, by the time he became the 14th Senate President in 2019.
He had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish and the leadership strategy for maintaining unity and common purpose in the Senate and the National Assembly in general right from the start. He believes that a house of chaos, no matter how high it is, is useless to anyone.
This is why, under Lawan, the Ninth Assembly’s defining characteristic is its cordial working relationship with the other branches of government, particularly the Executive. However, this was accomplished without jeopardizing Parliament’s independence or the doctrine of separation of powers.
People who prefer hostility to amity between the two elected branches of government are understandably upset. They’ve been relentless in their attacks on him, and they’ve unfairly referred to the ninth Assembly as a rubber stamp.
Do you think Lawan is bothered by this? Instead, he considers himself fortunate to be Senate President at a time when the Executive branch of government is led by a willing partner for cooperation.
The fact that President Muhammadu Buhari ardently desires a healthy working relationship with Parliament is often overlooked. This is so that he can keep his promises to the Nigerian people and fulfill his mandate. As a result, both sides have chosen to deal with the inevitable conflicts with cool heads and their eyes fixed on the government’s development goals.
The outcomes support the path they’ve both chosen. Many executive bills were declared dead on arrival at the National Assembly in the previous Assembly. Moreover, many private member bills that were passed were returned to sender.
That situation, according to President Buhari, was unhealthy and should not be repeated because the Nigerian people were the losers. Since June 2019, both leaders have been fully committed to building a cordial working environment between their two co-dependent institutions through reciprocity for the smooth operation of government and the benefit of the nation.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of this peace. Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, was at the National Assembly in October 2019, just four months after the Ninth Assembly was inaugurated, to meet with its leadership. Malami pleaded for a cooperative relationship between the two branches of government that would facilitate the passage of executive bills after due consideration by lawmakers, as well as presidential approval of private member bills. His action was intended to avoid a repeat of the Assembly’s recent history. “We cannot afford to spend resources, time, and energy formulating and drafting bills that will not be passed or assented,” Malami told National Assembly leaders.
President Buhari also established an Executive, Legislative, and Party Consultative Forum in September 2020, led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to promote governance harmony and improve service delivery to Nigerians. “I am a firm believer in the separation of powers doctrine, which is fundamental to our constitutional democracy. “However, our practice should be one of harmonious checks and balances, free of bitterness and petty rivalry,” Buhari told the tripartite panel members.
The preceding details some of the steps taken by the Executive to promote mutual cooperation with the legislature. They were well-received by most lawmakers and Lawan, who have chosen a peaceful relationship with the executive over unnecessary confrontation.
Despite his reservations, President Buhari signed the 2022 Appropriation Bill into law on Christmas Eve, in the spirit of that relationship.
In addition, despite the president’s reservations about some of the provisions, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) received presidential assent. Buhari signed the PIB into law and then proposed a revision to it. The president signed the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act Amendment Bill into law while receiving medical treatment in London. That was a unique situation. However, that haste stemmed from a shared understanding between the arms to thwart powerful stakeholders who were hell-bent on scuttling the bill.
We must not forget how the President directed the MDAs to respond promptly to invitations from National Assembly committees to defend their proposals in order to ensure that budgets were passed on time. The quest for a regular, predictable, and reliable budget cycle would have remained a mirage if it hadn’t been for this collaboration between the National Assembly and the Executive.
The Ninth Assembly, led by Lawan, is determined to work for Nigeria rather than play to the gallery. You can be confident that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill will be resolved in the best interests of Nigerians in the same spirit.
Out of a conviction gained over two decades in parliament, Lawan has contributed to facilitating a new atmosphere in inter-arms relationships. This conviction is that the public good is best served when institutions collaborate without abandoning their missions. The creation of that atmosphere is a legacy that even a reluctant politician can be proud of.
On the occasion of his 63rd birthday, Lawan, the Sardaunan Bade, is honored with this reflection on his politics and leadership principles.