High political office is surrounded on all sides by distractions. Experience best teaches this. It is not enough to take into the office a vision and a mission, you will find once there, enough to take you off track, to test your character and agenda. Many failed not because they were not prepared or well-meaning. They did because they no longer saw the goalpost once they found themselves on the playing field.
Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan is apparently conscious of that reality. He believes a political leader must stand for something, to guide and focus their time and energy. A leader who does not stand for something falls for anything. And such is easily distracted. Because Lawan stands for something, he has resolutely focused on what took him from the ivory tower into politics and on all that he believes in as a public servant.
Since his emergence as the 14th President of the Nigerian Senate in June 2019, Senator Lawan’s stand on any issue is an open book. His candour means that he takes a firm position even on controversial issues. And he defends his positions without playing to the gallery or fear of a backlash. Such is called courage of conviction.
Take the proposition in Nigeria for a part-time or unicameral Legislature at the national level. The proponents were often led to it by what they hear about the “jumbo pay” of federal lawmakers and the ‘generous’ funding of the National Assembly. Lawan, not too long ago, challenged them to a public debate.
“I am not here to defend the National Assembly but I’m here to encourage a debate on what the National Assembly means to us as a country or what our legislature means to us as a country and as a people. If you don’t like the set of members in the Ninth National Assembly, change all of us in 2023. Get better people but help support the system to function because that is your protection,” Lawan said at an in-house event in Abuja. Unfortunately, no one has picked up the gauntlet for a healthy national conversation on the issue.
In the Senate, Lawan’s leadership style projects him as only the first among equals. He always asserts that he owes his emergence as the President of the Ninth Senate to the Grace of God and the votes of his colleagues across party lines. And that has been his strength and guiding principle in his roles as the presiding officer in the Senate. His focus has been to foster harmony among his distinguished colleagues in the Upper Chamber so that they can deploy their time and energies to working together for Nigerians and the good of their country.
This is evident in the seamless passage of bills and adoption of resolutions on critical national issues. In the Ninth Senate, every member knows they have the liberty to express their views but also a responsibility to respect the views of others. That has created for them a nice work environment where respect begets respect.
Lawan is also a firm believer in the imperative of inter-chamber cooperation. Even as the Chairman of the National Assembly, Lawan refers to the Speaker of House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, as his “brother and friend.” That must explain why they often find a common ground on key national issues. And that also accounts for the smooth passage of critical bills through their two chambers.
Lawan is also convinced of the merit of a harmonious relationship between the Legislature and the Executive. This has drawn him sometimes caustic criticisms but he has stood his ground and is unapologetic.
The benefits of harmony between the two elected arms of government are there for objective eyes to see from the past one and a half years. It has bred mutual respect among the arms and reciprocity in the way each treats submissions from the other. Executive proposals are now treated without undue delay while Bills passed by the National Assembly are receiving prompt presidential assent. That wasn’t the story before the ninth Assembly.
Signing the 2021 Appropriation Bill into an Act on the eve of the New Year, President Muhammadu Buhari revealed that the 2020 budget achieved 97.7 performance, despite the unforeseen havoc of Covid-19. This unprecedented success was facilitated by the early passage of the appropriation bill by parliament and the prompt assent given it by the President. There is reasonable expectation that the 2021 budget will perform even better, having become law before the start of the year. In the past, budgets drag into the middle of the year and routinely recorded low performance.
Lawan will not deviate from a path that has led to obvious progress. Having gained much experience in the parliament, he does not want the threat to governance posed by needless confrontation between the Legislature and the Executive. He has opted to promote harmony in governance for the good of the people.
And he has taken his message of harmony beyond the gates of parliament and government and out to the larger political field. Only last month, he appealed to the Southeast geopolitical zone to continue to work with the other zones towards and beyond 2023 in building the Nigeria of our common dreams.
The Senate President canvassed national unity at Igbere in Abia State where he was honoured with a chieftaincy title. Lawan made it clear at the event that every part of Nigeria is needed to make the country work.
Hear him: “Let’s unite ourselves in this state and indeed in the Southeast. Let’s face common agenda of being in the center of Nigeria. In fact, let’s even attempt to be the leaders of Nigeria because it is a valid aspiration.
“Let’s not stay away from being part of the real center of action in Nigeria. That we can achieve when we sit together and talk among ourselves. Time is of essence. Nigeria needs all of us to be united. Nigeria needs all hands to be on the deck. Nigeria needs the effort of each and every part to make it work and we can make it work.”
The Yobe State-born politician is providing purposeful leadership at the National Assembly and helping in building an environment conducive for national development. This is just a tribute to wish him a happy 62nd birthday.
***Awoniyi is Special Adviser on Media to the Senate President