Senate Presidency: I’m ready to work with all Senators — Ahmed Lawan, Senate Majority Leader
Senator Ahmed Lawan is the Majority Leader of the outgoing 8th Senate. By June he would become the longest serving member of the National Assembly, having served two terms in the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2007 after which he was elected to the Senate. He had served two consecutive terms as Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts besides other Strategic Committees. He took over as Senate Leader from Ali Ndume in January 2018. Last week, he was named as the choice of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for Senate President of the 9th Assembly due for inauguration in June. In this interview with select newsmen, he speaks about his agenda for the 9th Senate, and his models for resolving the usual executive/legislature squabbles. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, presents the excerpts:
JUST weeks back, a youth leader from the North said that the North-East will produce the presidential candidate in 2023. This preponderance of speculation that the next presidential candidate of APC will come from North-East, does it in anyway have links to your ambition?
Well, this is 2019 and I believe that for us in the National Assembly at the moment, our attention is in the emergence of our leadership that will work for Nigerians for the next four years between 2019 and 2023. One thing I will like to say here is for my party, APC to ensure that it remains focused and doesn’t get distracted. We are already facing the right in terms of giving Nigerians leadership and we must do everything together in the legislature and the administration to deliver to Nigerians who have shown enormous confidence in the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari and our platform the APC for voting us for the second time, after the first tenure.
Let me also say that this platform, the APC, will ensure that when we reach there, the right decision will be taken for the right reasons in the interest of Nigerians and in the interest of the unity of Nigeria. So I don’t want to say much more than that. But I can tell you that our focus at the moment is to deliver to Nigerians our campaign promises. Let 2023 come and then decisions will be taken.
Do you believe that the PDP in the Senate has a role to play in the emergence of the next Senate President?
We have been talking to everyone. Even some PDP senators elect to participate sometimes in what we do. We have a secretariat for this campaign and we visit people in their houses. I don’t want to start mentioning names here but we have so many PDP senators elect who have identified with this aspiration because what we are doing is not about APC. What we are doing is about Nigeria and Nigerians. What we are doing is to make life better, to continue to do those things that we have gotten right and improve on those things that we think have been lacking, for the benefit of Nigerians. When we provide a better country, it is for every Nigerian, whether you are APC or PDP or you have no political party at all. When there is calamity, God forbid, it doesn’t come and say are you APC, you are excluded.
So, we are very conscious of the fact that we need to remain focused on delivering the dividends of democracy to Nigerians and how is it possible that you run a chamber that is very partisan. It means you have accepted crisis and anarchy in the first place. We believe in fairness and equity. What belongs to opposition senators will be given to them. We need their cooperation. We need their support. I was in the opposition for 16 years and we opposed things that we felt the administration was not doing right, but we cooperated fully with them on those things we thought they got right because they will also impact positively on our people. So, we are not taking anybody for granted. We have consulted very widely and we continue to do so until the election of principal officers would have been concluded.
If one may ask you, why are you seeking to be Senate President?
I have been in the National Assembly for almost 20 years. By June 1, I will be exactly 20 years in the National Assembly. I served in the House of Representatives for eight years and in the Senate getting to 12 years and I’ve gotten my mandate renewed by my Senatorial District. I thank Almighty God and my people for that. My credentials as a progressive are intact; this is the first time I’m in a party that is running the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I was an APP member of the House of Representatives and later ANPP, and now in the Senate, with APC. I transformed from ANPP to APC in the Senate in 2014.
I believe in progressive politics. I believe in ensuring that those ordinary people, the masses of Nigeria, require every possible support to make their lives better, to give them the opportunity to actualise their potentials and dreams. But I also believe that we should do everything and anything possible to encourage and support entrepreneurship, support businesses to grow and expand so that jobs will be created for our teeming youths.
I’m running for the office of Senate President because I believe that the experience we have gathered and garnered over the years in the National Assembly will help us operate a Senate and indeed a National Assembly that will make and provide sustained positive change through legislative interventions.
Our slogan as a group is a Senate and a National Assembly that works for Nigerians. We believe that we need to work in a united manner in the Senate. We may be on different platforms, but the people we serve are the same and when we are able to make very positive difference by way of legislative interventions, it makes government work, provide suitable environments for people to live life safely, for people to be gainfully employed, for people to have not only jobs but money and remember we want money to go round and not concentrated in few hands. We cannot have security; you cannot sleep with your two eyes closed when the wealth does not go round. You cannot develop the country if the majority remains poor. You cannot develop the country if the son or daughter of the most ordinary Nigerian cannot go to a public school and actualise his or her potential through education. These are many things that we feel we must do together with the executive arm of government.
I’m a believer in separation of powers. I believe that the constitution provides for that adequately, but I also have unorthodox view of what separation of power is. Separation of power to my mind is not an infinite necessity of what separation of power is. Separation of power to my mind is not an infinite elasticity of independence of the various arms of government. I believe that separation of power is always specialisation of functions; for the legislature to check possible excesses of the executive arm of government.
But what separation of power requires is interdependence of the various arms of government, our relationship between the legislature and the executive arm of government must be defined and characterised by cooperation, by coordination, partnership and synergy. When we do that, Nigerians will definitely benefit. That is not to say that we will not disagree from time to time. From time to time, our perspectives will differ on some issues. But when we differ or when we disagree, we don’t go to market place or market square to settle our differences. What we are required to do is to ensure that we amicably sit, discuss the issues, resolve the issues and make compromises in the national interest arriving at decisions and conclusions that will work for Nigerians. I believe that this is the way to go for Nigerians to benefit from democracy, and we must not allow Nigerians to lose hope in democracy through unnecessary and avoidable fights between the legislature and the executive arm of government. I also believe that though we may be on different platforms particularly in the National Assembly and the Senate, but we need to work together in the interest of our people. We may disagree from time to time on party differences, but I don’t expect an escalation of disagreements to cause so much dysfunctionality on what we do as a legislature or as a chamber.
I want to say that we are not taking anybody for granted. We take the campaign very seriously. We are not sitting or waiting for anybody to just assume that we are going to be made Senate President. We are going round to talk to our colleagues, Senators-elect. We are going round to talk to our leaders of the party, our leaders and stakeholders across the country to tell them what we intend to do, what we can do and our limitation because we have our limitations too.
We are very conscious of the affect that as people belonging to a political party the APC, we must respect party supremacy. Even though I offer myself to run for the office of the Senate President, but I will respect the position and the decision for my party elders and leaders. Should the party decide to zone the office of the Senate President to another zone different from the North-East, I will have no difficulty respecting the position of my party, because we believe in party supremacy. We believe that this platform must be respected.
The president of the Federal Republic and our party campaigned in 2015 on the basis of three major issues – providing security or fighting insurgency, reviving the economy for it to help everyone and most importantly, fight corruption that became so pervasive, especially during the 16 years of the administration of the PDP. We will therefore legislate to support the implementation of the very law and laudable objectives of the President and our party. We will not mind supporting Mr. President to fight corruption in a very proactive manner. While those that have already committed must be prosecuted, we also believe that those that are not yet involved should not be enticed or shouldn’t see loopholes to involve themselves in corruption. We can legislate to make it a little bit tighter and a little bit difficult for people to be involved and indulge in this.
I believe that corruption has caused more damage than any other crime in Nigeria because the insecurity we found ourselves in particularly in 2015 was largely occasioned by corruption, when the funds meant for purchase of arms to arm our armed forces was stolen and put in private pockets and this has been for a long time undermining every possible effort at making things work for Nigeria as far as security is concerned. It’s not the funds or resources that actually matter. It’s what you do with that amount of resources. It’s how you are able to use it by way of ensuring proper development and efficiency. I believe that we must support our system with legislations to have an economy that will grow and an all-inclusive economy
What is your plan B on this in case you do not become the next Senate President?
We don’t have a plan B. Our plan is plan A and it is centred on Nigerians. This is not a personal effort to take leadership for the sake of it. This is an effort to be in leadership position to contribute meaningfully in running government, in good governance and ensuring that our party delivers its campaign promises. At the end of the day, if we are not successful – we pray we are not going to lose – we will accept the outcome because we can contribute also as senators, not necessarily in leadership position.
Some of your critics say that you might probably be giving in too much to the executive. How do you assure your colleagues, because this is a number game and you need the confidence of the incoming senators to weather the storm? How do you assure them that you are not going to offer their necks to the executive, which will always ask for more?
This is question that many people often raise but I believe in a cordial relationship with the executive arm of government. Those who know me from my hot-headed days know me to be a radical. But now, I have mellowed down, maybe because of age or some kind of weighty responsibilities. So, I chew my words before I say them.
I believe in the specialisation of functions. I don’t believe in independence of arms of government because independence means you can stay away. And if you stay away when you are expected to come together, how do you achieve anything? As an institution, our jobs are cut very clearly for us. We check, we oversight, we cannot compromise on oversighting. But where we are expected to synergise and come together in a very cordial manner, we must do so. What do you gain out of unnecessary bickering and fighting between the two arms of government? We will disagree because from time to time, our perspectives will differ. But when we see things differently, we don’t have to go to the market square to say it is yellow or green. You go behind the scenes amicably and discuss what is in the interest of Nigerians. That should be our guiding principle. When we work, we work for the interest of Nigerians. When we disagree, we should disagree in the interest of Nigerians. So, if they come one million times for things that will make Nigeria better, we are going to give them up to one million times those things that will make life better for Nigerians. If they come one million times on things that in our perspective will not be the best approach, we will discuss with them until we find an accommodation for what is the national interest.
The position of the Deputy Senate President most times play very significant role in the emergence of the Senate President. Are you taking that into consideration and what are you doing about that?
For me, this is not an issue that I should worry about. Our party, the APC and our leaders will determine the zoning arrangement. They will zone out the Senate Presidency, they will zone out the Deputy Senate Presidency and all the other principal officer positions. What our party does is what we will respect and stand for; we are not going to trade with someone from another party. We are very loyal and deeply committed members of our party and we can’t do anything to undermine our party.
You are from the North-East; we are also aware that two of your colleagues from that zone, they may not have come out openly to say so, are also bidding for the same position. What have you done as an individual from that zone to ensure that you speak with one voice as far as this project is concerned?
This is not new. It should be expected. There are other senators, my colleagues, my brothers from the North-East who also feel they have something to offer in leadership positions. So, we take it as a game and we remain focused on this as a campaign group. We don’t talk badly or negatively about anybody who is running. We believe in telling our colleagues and Nigerians who we are and what we can do to contribute to good governance in Nigeria.
Some of your colleagues say that you hold too extreme views on issues. How do you respond to that?
I normally take my decisions and views as an individual and a leader after exhausting research or consultation or debate. My upbringing tells me to stick with my decisions once I take the right decisions. I don’t say one thing and go behind and do another thing. I take full responsibility and bear all the consequences once I take decisions.
What I think I am and I hate to say this, because it looks like there is no humility in it, but I believe in consistency. If we agree with something, I’m not just going to change like that, no matter the consequences. But of course, people have different views about who somebody is. But there is no better person to tell you who I am than me.
You said that when you have cause to disagree with the executive, you will not take it to the market square, but how do you intend to resolve public issues privately?
When I say we are going to discuss issues behind the scenes or that we are not going to the market square to wash our dirty linens, I’m not referring to Ahmed Lawan if I’m made the Senate President. I mean the entire House or Senate. I mean when we have a disagreement with the executive arm of government. For instance, if the executive wants some fund for a special project and we feel that is not the right thing to do at a particular time, instead of just quarrelling in the chambers that we are not going to give, first of all, I believe in communication. We should be able to consult with them, advise them that this is not the way to go; why can’t we do it this way? We are going to advise our leaders that let there be a regularity of consultations or meetings between the executive arm of government, the legislature and the party. when I say this, I mean the president, the vice-president, the SGF and maybe some key ministers, the National Assembly leadership and on the side of the party, the national chairman, let there be meetings every week or every month where the different arms of government will be able to come up with what projects or programmes we want and how legislative intervention can come in so that we will have a very smooth sailing.
Definitely we will disagree. We are not going to hide somewhere and give in or come back to say we cannot do this. But we have to have a format that will reduce friction. We are in a hurry to deliver to Nigerians and we can’t afford a situation that we have been going in for the last four years or so.
What leadership role do you think women can play in the 9th Assembly?
I think this is very critical and crucial. But this is a decision for our leaders and our political party, the APC to look into and take a decision. Once they take a decision, ours is to obey.