Senate Presidency: I have solid base among Senators-elect —Lawan
Senate Majority Leader, Ahmad Lawan is a leading candidate for the position of Senate President in the incoming Ninth Assembly. He speaks with Abuja Bureau Chiefs on his chances in the aftermath of the loss suffered by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Zamfara State. He also speaks on the controversial jumbo pay by Nigerian lawmakers. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, presents the excerpts:
Do you now have the number to become the Senate President of the Ninth National Assembly and what gives you confidence that you can win the election?
Unfortunately, I will not address the question the way you put it as I think the public will be more interested in what we are doing, rather than the number. Suffice to say that we definitely have a very solid base amongst the Senators-elect. Right from the start, we defined how we should campaign for the office of the Senate President. We told ourselves that we should behave as though we are orphans. That is to say that when you are an orphan, you will do everything possible, legitimate and lawful, to ensure that you live a decent and productive life. Yes, our party has recommended us and our leaders have also recommended us, but we must justify that recommendation and the confidence of our colleagues.
We started by defining that the campaigns should be based on one-to-one contact, for me to present myself to each and every one single Senator elect , to tell him or her what our mission is, what our mission for this country is and the capacity we are carrying, the experience we have built over the years and our desire to make positive difference in governance in this country and our plan to go all the whole hub to work with every stakeholder in government to ensure that Nigeria’s developmental trajectory continues in the positive way it is going that will make life better for Nigerians; that we will provide security and enhance the economy so that it works for all Nigerians, especially those at the lowest socio-economic ladder in Nigeria; that we will do those things that will make Nigerians live in peace and unity.
We also believe that this requires a by-partisan disposition in the National Assembly, particularly the Senate. Even though APC is the majority party with, at that time 65 Senators-elect, we felt that we also need the opposition, particularly the PDP and YPP represented by a Senator, for us to work very cordially and produce those kind of required and needed legislative interventions for the Executive arm of government to deliver to Nigerians those things that are necessary and imperative for us to make progress.
I discovered that the Senators-elect going to the Ninth Senate are experienced people who have made a lot of success of their careers wherever they are and people who are committed and very ready and eager to bring to bear their experiences in legislation. Therefore, the Ninth Senate will be a Senate where even though three political parties will be represented, we are going to marshal, garner and harness our experiences and different platforms into making very good legislative interventions to make the kind of input into governance for the executive to have something to work with.
I believe that the Nin thSenate will be a Senate that will work for Nigerians and will be representing our people and not ourselves. Therefore, we must domesticate our diversities to ensure that just like Nigerians in the diversity still live together and do their businesses regardless of their ethnicity or religious background; we want to have that kind of situation in the Senate.
But it also gave me an opportunity, when I engaged one on one, to tell my story, my background and those things that I have been able to achieve. They are not much, but I think they are important for somebody that wants to know. I also got the opportunity to understand where someone is coming from, the kind of sentiments, the kind of experiences, the kind of vision that such a person has, and I believe that we are going to be enriched by the kind of people that we will have in the 9th Senate.
So, it has been a worthwhile decision. It has been the right decision talking to our colleagues one-to-one and I’ve talked to probably 98 percent of all the Senators-elect across all the political platforms of APC, PDP and YPP and we are happy with that. So, it’s not a question of number, but a question of getting to interact and extract commitments of our colleagues. Number will only come to play much later, maybe during the election of presiding officers. But I want to tell you that we are very comfortable and we are very confident that we have told our story to our colleagues and they have bought the story because it’s a story of truth, it’s a story of struggle right from 1999 in the National Assembly to make things better.
I’ve been a consistent progressive. In fact, when I started contesting, my first platform was United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). But before then, I grew up in a family where our parents were Northern Elements Progrssive Union (NEPU) and then later Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP), and then later NPP, UPN and so on, when the progressives came together. When I grew up myself, I started with the UNCP and then I joined the APP. In fact, I was its first Vice Chairman in Yobe State and I remained in APP. I came to the National Assembly in 1999 as APP member of the House. It changed to ANPP in 2003 and I was there till 2011 and 2014 when the ANPP joined other three political parties to form the APC.
So, my background is that of a progressive politician. I intend to remain so by the grace of God because I think it’s the right thing to do. Even when I had the opportunity to move to another political party that was in power and of course my mentor at that time moved to that political party, but my DNA would not allow me because I came from neither a wealthy family nor a monarchical family. I was just the son of a peasant, but I had all the opportunities in the world to go to school, funded by public treasury and thank God, I read up to PhD. So, I have every reason to work for Nigerians because I’ve benefited from Nigeria as a country. I’ve benefitted from my people.
So, this is what we have been able to do and we are continuing with that. It’s not a question of number. It is a question of how far we gone to take the story to our colleagues and they have responded very positively and we are happy.
Your party lost three Senators in the Senate and eight or so members in the House of Representatives as a result of the Supreme Court judgment on Zamfara primaries. Do you see this as altering the number situation when the elections will come up?
The Supreme Court judgment that nullified the elections of all APC candidates in Zamfara State, of course, was a setback to the party because the party lost three Senators and seven members of the House of Representatives. That leaves us with a new set of numbers to be represented in the National Assembly.
Let me state clearly, what the standing of each political party is today with that judgment. The APC had 65 Senators before the judgment and with that judgment, now the APC has 62 Senators. The PDP has 44 Senators. It had 41 before and with that additional 3, it had 44 and the YPP has one.
There are two cases that have not been determined yet in Imo State and we are expecting of course that the APC will have those two seats. One sit is that of Governor Rochas Okorocha, the outgoing Governor of Imo State and then Senator Ben Nwajimogu, who is a serving Senator. If we get those, then APC will have 64. So, APC is still clearly the party in the majority.
What is important here though, to me, is not the distribution; it’s not the figures for each political party, but our ability to come together, to work together for the benefit of Nigerians. I believe that as Senators, our utmost concern and focus must be Nigeria and Nigerians. Whether someone is APC or PDP or YPP, we are supposed to serve the same people and in every constituency, you will definitely have almost all the parties in the country represented and when you have something good, you can’t discriminate against those that you don’t belong to the same political party. God forbid, when there is any setback or any unwholesome development in a Senatorial district, it won’t ask someone whether you are in the APC or PDP. That unwholesome development will affect everybody.
So, we have the responsibility and obligation to Nigerians, regardless of their political parties, regardless of their political beliefs and irrespective of our platforms, to work to make life better for Nigerians. We must work to ensure that we enhance the performance of the security outfits we have in this country to fight the security challenges that we face in this country today. We must work together, regardless of our political beliefs to make sure that the economy of Nigeria works for everybody. And if you want the economy of Nigeria and the security outfits to also perform and to also have a peaceful country, you must also fight corruption because it’s not only in the quantum of resources that you have that you can say to yourself that you will have so much fun. It’s your ability to deploy those resources prudently, economically and effectively that you can achieve anything.
There were days or years when we had so much resources in this country but the administration at that time could not deploy the resources for the public good. Much of the resources were either stolen or misapplied and therefore, the quantum of resources we had did not make much difference in the lives of the citizens of this country.
From 2015 to date, even though this administration has been receiving less revenue into our treasury, but if you look at the performance from 2015 in terms of the area of providing physical infrastructure, you will agree with me that Nigeria is a huge and massive construction site. There is no part of Nigeria where construction of some sort is not going on. I always use the example of the Second Niger Bridge. From 1999 to 2015, previous administrations or Presidents went to break the ground for the construction of second Niger Bridge, but it didn’t go beyond breaking of the ground. But from 2015 to date, with less resources, if you go to that site where the ground was broken maybe four, five times previously, we broke it once; today the second Niger Bridge is almost 45 or 50 percent in terms of the level of completion. Two weeks ago, I saw the Vice President visit that place to see the level of work and everybody was happy. In fact on Monday or Tuesday this week, I saw a newspaper advert signed by the Governors of the South-East congratulating the Federal Government for the Second Niger Bridge construction that is going on.
This is to tell you that if you are able to tame corruption to a tolerable level because it’s something that you cannot eradicate completely from the face of the earth. No matter how hard you try, you can only minimize it and this is what this administration, the President particularly, is trying to do, to ensure that whatever is meant for the public, whatever resources and revenues we have must be applied to the benefit of Nigerians. So, we believe that as a National Assembly, we should support that kind of development.
At the end of the day, the National Assembly should be part and parcel of the success story of the next administration that is the next tenure. We want to report that we have provided those legislative interventions that are required to make life better for Nigerians.
How would you convince your colleagues that your candidature is not an imposition and that you will not a rubber stamp Senate President?
Some people see recommendation of my candidacy as imposition. I think political parties are the only platforms that any politician who desires and aspires to run for an elective office will have to use. We are yet to recognize independence candidacy. So, political parties will have the opportunity, if they choose, to recommend someone for an office and it is had been the practice. But recommendation does not confer on you the office. All it does it gives preference to your emergence and that is also not a bad thing. What is required is the recommended candidate is supposed to also reach out to his colleagues because at the end of the day, you are supposed to work with your colleagues. So you need to tell them who you are and it’s for them to accept you because you are only recommended. You also have to ensure that that confidence that your leaders or your party has on you that led the party to recommend you, remains valid and they are happy that they have not taken the wrong decision.
So, we thank the Almighty God for that privilege of being recommended but we do not take anybody for granted, not even the party because if you are recommended and you are not doing well as expected in reaching out to your colleagues, politics is so dynamic; certain undesirable things could crop up and maybe the party would have no choice than to start thinking of when we might have taken the wrong decision. So, we have to work hard to justify the confidence reposed in us by the party and our leaders. That much we have been doing, but we also have to work hard to reach out to our colleagues who we are going to work with to show them that yes, we have been recommended, but you are the ones to determine whether we will be Senate President or not.
Therefore, we have done wonderfully well in going to talk to our colleagues across all the parties and we are happy, as I said, that we have reach out to almost all our colleagues across the party lines and we also happy that we are understood better. Some of our colleagues that we started the journey together in 1999, like distinguished Senator Barau, as members of the House and having met again in the Senate after about 20 years, they should have fair idea of who this person is because we are like schoolmates. We came in 1999 and we at that time adolescent politicians. There are others that we met only four years ago. Others that are legislators-elect and we’ve never met will need to know me better. Some of my colleagues will tell my story, but I also need to tell my story myself and that much I have been doing.
We are not an imposition. In fact, we don’t even give any indication or suggestion that we are an imposition. An imposition will simply sit at home and wait for the day of coronation. We have not sat at home. This Secretariat was open even before the party met with our leaders to say we are recommended. The secretariat was opened immediately we came back from our election and some of my colleagues just came together, opened this place, went to the National Chairman of the party and the National Working Committee, they went to SGF and so many people, including Barau, to say that if the Senate President’s office will be zoned to the North East, they want this man to run. They started campaigning already and going round to talk to people. that probably might have swayed the party and to say that with the caliber of people, Senators serving and Senators-elect who are going round to suggest that certain persons should be given the opportunity to be Senate President, there must be very good reasons. The Chairman of the Ahmed Lawan Campaign Organization, Dr Abdullahi Yahaya from Kebbi State who is a serving Senator from Kebbi, he knew me from 2003 when I was a member of the House of Representatives. Even though he was not a member, he worked with the Speaker of the House of Representatives then and many of them know us very closely. They know what we can do and what we cannot and because we are human beings, we have our upside and our down side .
Some will tell you that I’m a conservative or a frigid person. This is human nature. I don’t deny myself what I am. But I try to adjust where I feel that will impact negatively on what I do. But I believe that many of our colleagues know us very closely and today, we have very big support base in all the political parties
As for rubber stamp, I just don’t know what rubber stamp is because the rubber stamp I saw people using is the one that when you receive a mail, you just stamp. Is anybody suggesting that whenever we receive something from the executive, we just stamp? If you are the one to be stamping , then it means it’s an exclusive function for you.
The function of the legislature is for members of the legislature in majority to take a decision after a debate or whatever. When the majority takes a decision, the minority would have had their say and the decision goes to the majority. When there is a debate on any issue, the presiding officer is only meant to coordinate the debate to ensure that everybody is given an opportunity to say his position for everybody to hear and that is what the parliament is all about, not hiding somewhere to say something or do something. So, at the end of the day, you collect reviews and the majority will have the decision. You cannot as a presiding officer look at your colleagues who have consciously taken a decision that this is what should be done and then you say no, I’m not going to go with that decision. I’m going to go with the minority decision. It’s honourable for him to just exit that presiding officer position, otherwise, he will be sacked.
In terms of the relationship between the executive and the legislature, I believe that you can have two relationships. One is a negative one and the other one is a positive one. If you choose to fight, the two arms suffer and the country suffers even more because it is not possible for you to fight and yet get something done for the country. I don’t belong to the school of thought of encouraging fighting between the two arms of government. I can tell you I was in the opposition for 16 years from 1999 to 2015; I argued, I opposed positions that I felt were supposed to be opposed, but I knew the limits of my opposition when the issues before us were issues that will make life better for Nigerians. Even as an opposition, I will not oppose it.
The other side is working together, not fighting. When you have to work together, you will disagree and by the design of the constitution of this country, the legislature has been given some functions that will naturally make the executive sit up or feel uncomfortable. There will be a day when the executive will send something that will be in white colour and the legislature will see it as grey because our perspectives are meant to be different from time to time, for the benefit of Nigerians. Parliamentary democracy, particularly, is for us as representatives of the people to ensure that the executive does not do anything that will impinge negatively on the people; that everything or anything the executive does must be in the national interest; that helps and enhances the lives of the people. So, our perspectives may differ and why on earth wouldn’t we say no. But when we say no, we don’t have to go to the market square and start shouting and throwing bottles and stones because we are supposed to serve the same people. Let’s serve and an engagement; let’s sit discuss and resolve in national interest. That will work and if it doesn’t, at least the opportunity to listen to each other has been provided and the legislature can take a decision.
So, there is nothing like rubber stamp. I believe in President Muhammadu Buhari. I believe in my party but then, if you believe in someone, if that person has an issue that you think can be better carried out in a certain way, other than the way it was presented to you, for God sake, can’t you say I’m suggesting we go this way? If you allow the direction that may not be right to be followed, the end of it will be catastrophic and that is not showing support.
So my support for the President must not be misconstrued as going to make the National Assembly a rubber stamp. I supported the previsions administration of PDP on issues that I felt were in the national interest and I opposed very vehemently. Those of you who have been following us from the House of Representatives to the Senate know that we could be very vehement in opposition. But we also supported the administration when we were in opposition.
So, I believe that we want to create a situation where we will work in cordiality, a relationship that is based on mutual respect, cooperation, on collaboration, synergy and partnership and there is nothing wrong in that. it is not when you fight that you will say you are representing your people well. What your people want is better life and that can only be achieved with a stable Senate and National Assembly and a cordial working relationship between the legislature and the executive arm of government.