Mon-Charles Egbo, Print Media Aide to the President of the Senate submits that the leadership of the Senate has been proactive in dealing with the pandemic
Our humanity is facing perilous times. Nigeria is today united with the other countries in grief occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. The country is literally on a standstill. There is confusion everywhere. Palpable fear has enveloped the air. Another economic recession is imminent. It might even lead to depression if not properly-managed. The signs are very obvious. Nobody is certain about what happens next. Every second or minute comes with unpleasant news that triggers feelings of anxiety and despair amongst the citizenry. Communication management is on its lowest ebb. There are conflicting and vague public information. There is acute shortage of purpose-built infrastructure to contain the spread. And sadly, Federal Government is already embattled with the highest level of trust deficit. The citizens view the leadership as being grossly-insensitive. Sense of empathy which is synonymous with responsive governance is seemingly lacking in government of the day. Once again, no one knows what happens next as scary headlines dominate the media.
But in all these, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, is not as over-whelmed as others in authority. He is rather challenged, optimistic and committed to the oaths he took at inauguration both as a representative and as a presiding officer. By words and deeds, Lawan demonstrates that the good of the people is the ultimate essence of governance, and also that the legislature primarily connects the people to everything that good governance offers. In short, he has left no one in doubt as to his conviction that a parliamentarian must at all times and circumstances, be seen to be the real voice of the people. And this he has diligently and excellently exhibited. Be it in relation to laying the foundations for national economic recovery and prosperity, fighting insecurity and every other index of good governance, the Ahmad Lawan-led senate is unquestionably people-oriented.
Except for partisan sentiments or limited knowledge, Lawan is outstanding in his signed-up task of standing in the gap for the masses through dispassionate and humane leadership. It is such that the 9thsenate and by extension the national assembly, today is unarguably an effective advocate of the people, especially in this trying moments.
Aside his several previous and sustained interventions, Senator Lawan had an emergency meeting with some critical stakeholders towards dealing with these peculiarities of the moment, particularly the socio-economic impacts. He expressed deep concern that it is not just about restriction on movement or lock down, but federal government should urgently provide meaningful palliatives for particularly the poor, given that virtually all micro-economic activities are grounded, resulting to shortage of food and escalating fears with inherent capacities at even aggravating the situation.
According to the senate president, “our prayer is that we are able to overcome this menace of COVID-19 in good time because it is really taking a toll on our lives. If we have to eventually shut down our country, then as a government we must be prepared to have some relief for the most ordinary people. As a government, we must find our own money to fund something for our people, because the United States of America that is talked about or the British Parliament is because this involves public funds. I’m not seeing anything at the moment targeted at providing some relief. If we lock up Nigeria today, then we will wake-up trouble, because the majority of our citizens go to the market every day before they can get something to eat. So, you lock them up in their houses with a threat of disease and without food. We need to have something, a plan of some sorts, in addition to making sure we don’t lock up the farmers market for example, where people can easily go and buy something, and of course pharmacies. We need to have some kind of supplies to people, I don’t know how we can achieve this, but we have to be ingenious. This is a time to think deep and wide, to provide for our people, in order for us at least to deal with this challenge at the moment.”
Lawan equally assured that the national assembly would reconvene before April 7, 2020 date, should there be need to offer to the executive, additional necessary supports, especially possible review of the 2020 budget. In the end, there was approval for release of N5bn for the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC and N10bn for Lagos State economic stimuli packages, as part of overall containment strategies.
It would be recalled that among others, the Lawan-led senate had passed several legislations in this regard, of-which the federal government has implemented just a few of them. Those already attended to include the presidential address, travel and flight bans, restrictions on large gatherings, tighter border controls, mandatory 14-day quarantine. Federal government is yet to implement the legislative directives on the urgent need for improved coordination in operations by those on the front line of managing the crisis as well as establishment of more testing and isolation centres in all the states of the federation.
Even when Nigeria had not been invaded, Lawan proactively summoned the Health Minister to ascertain the level of preparedness of the country in the case of eventual outbreak, and also possible areas of further intervention by the national assembly. Again, he undertook a working tour of the isolation facility in Abuja where he urged the federal government to as a matter of deliberate policy, commence sustained funding of the NCDC, for effectiveness. Meanwhile in a show of exemplary leadership, Lawan directed that his colleagues who recently returned from overseas trips, especially the high-risk countries, should immediately go for medical tests for necessary actions. Then as a direct interim measure, the senate graciously donated half of its March salaries to combating this calamitous situation.
Elsewhere and deeply worried by the unfortunate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the national economic projections, Lawan passionate appealed for the World Bank’s assistance to Nigeria.
However, it is instructive that this patriotic and altruistic role was planned and prepared for. The 9thSenate from the outset chose to walk on the side of the people. The senate president had built the path for that when he vowed that “in the laws we enact, in the oversight and representations we undertake, the wellbeing of the Nigerian people will always be our priority. Also at the peak of public outcries trailing the social media and hate speech bills, Lawan reiterated that “the senate will not pass any anti-people laws.”
Although justifiably, many may out of past experiences dismiss this declaration as rhetoric, objective and diligent review of the Lawan-led senate indicates that the upper chamber is driven by two closely-related ideals.
One is that good governance is about deploying every apparatus of government and public resources to the overall benefit of the citizenry. The second is that whereas the primary responsibility of governments is to secure citizens and ensure their well-being through good governance; it takes a parliament that is responsive and empathetic to guide or lead the other arms, especially the executive, into delivering on the mandate.
Empirically therefore, Senator Ahmad Lawan has truly distinguished himself relative to these philosophies. And also, in providing responsive and empathetic leadership in this precarious situation he has once again added impetus to the avowed commitment of the 9thsenate to collaborating with the other arms of government when necessary, in the overall interest of the Nigerian people.