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Ahmad Lawan: Doyen of Nigerian Parliament @ 64

Ahmad Lawan: Doyen of Nigerian Parliament @ 64

GUEST COLUMNIST BY OLA AWONIYI

Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, the Distinguished Senator representing Yobe North Senatorial District of Yobe State, turned 64 on Thursday, 12th January, 2023. Within those almost six and a half decades, he has seen it all, especially in public service. In just about five months from now, he will conclude his tenure as the 14th President of the Nigerian Senate and his sixth consecutive session in the National Assembly.

Lawan has been around in Abuja for such a long time that it is easy to assume he was never elsewhere. Yet, his earliest work experience was in academia, and it lasted long enough for him to bag a Doctorate degree in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System (GIS) before yielding to the pull of partisan politics as Nigeria groped for a way out of military rule in 1997.

In that calling of politics, Lawan has since clearly made his mark. And that is not just because he attained the dizzying height of third in the order of succession. Before finally taking the Senate Presidency in 2019, he had been the Senate Leader for four years from 2015. He had also held other key positions in Parliament even as a member of the minority caucus.

People see politics as a dirty game. But Ahmad Lawan does not see it that way. For him, politics should not change the core beliefs and the principles that an individual holds. He believes that service to the people should be the driving objective of partisan political practice. And whether in politics or elsewhere, Lawan also believes one’s yes must mean yes always.

This world view has, in no small measure, paid off for Lawan in his almost 26 years in politics, 24 of which have been as a federal lawmaker. A member of the pioneer class of the National Assembly of the Fourth Republic, he was first elected in 1999 to the House of Representatives from the Bade/Jakusko Federal Constituency of Yobe State. He was re-elected to the House in 2003. But in 2007, Lawan moved over from the Green Chamber to the Red Chamber as the Senator for the Yobe North District. He was re-elected to that Senate seat in consecutive polls in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

If you know what it takes to win elections in Nigeria, you would appreciate that what multiple winners like Lawan have accomplished is no small feat. His numerous reelections underscore the fact that his constituents appreciate the quality of representation that he has been delivering to them in Yobe North District. In spite of the fact that Lawan is from one of the smallest ethnic groups in the district, the constituents found satisfaction in his representation and kept renewing his mandate election after election.

The life of a politician is not all glossy as it may sometimes seem. Election is not a tea party. A parliamentarian in particular needs very hard work to even get a return ticket from the party. In Parliament, getting the support of colleagues to push motions and bills through requires deep knowledge and passion for the subject; focus and temperament. It is actually an extra burden if you are a Presiding Officer in Parliament. Success or failure at every stage has its implications.

No wonder, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State, at a recent public function in Abuja, said he does not want to go to the National Assembly when he leaves his current seat, unlike many former governors now do.

Speaking as chairman at the second edition of the “Distinguished Parliamentarian Lecture” organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), the governor said:

“The Legislature is one branch of government I know I can never function. The hard work needed to convince people to support even your motion is something some of us have no patience for. You know management in the Executive is very straightforward. It is very hierarchical and once you are a governor, your word is almost law. But in the Legislature, everybody is equal and there is no management that is more difficult than managing your equals. I don’t envy Mr. Speaker and the Senate President at all because their job perhaps is the hardest job in this country. Managing equals is difficult.”

In spite of the challenges, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has shone at the National Assembly since he joined it in 1999. Lawan is today one of only two lawmakers remaining in the National Assembly from that inaugural 1999 set. He has also attained the most enviable of heights in those many years of service in Parliament, becoming the “first among equals” in the Upper Chamber, which is the very pinnacle of the hierarchy in the Parliament of any democracy. That unique feat combined with his longevity in the institution have made him the Doyen of the Nigerian Parliament.

In his role since June 2019 as the 14th President of the Senate and Chairman of the ninth National Assembly, Lawan has raised the bar of leadership for whoever will take the baton from him. He has demonstrated the value of parliamentary experience as a prerequisite for election as a presiding officer for the Upper Chamber.

His experience of more than two decades in Parliament has made him an encyclopedia on the inner workings of the National Assembly. Lawan has the standing rules at the tip of his fingers. When any of his colleagues raises a Point of Order, he would ask the colleague to specify the order. But before the text is read out, Lawan already knows the provision and its applicability.

As the “first among equals,” Lawan knows the importance of fairness and even-handedness in the conduct of the affairs of the Senate. This is evident in how he presides at the plenary where every distinguished Senator who has a contribution to make knows they would get the chance to do so. Lawan’s guiding principle is that before the majority has its way, the minority must have its say.

And Lawan knows the value of cooperation across party divides in the Legislature. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the job of a Presiding Officer is to know when to hit the gavel and when not to. As one of Lawan’s aides privileged to watch from ringside, I heard him many times saying that he had no choice but to hit the gavel or rule in favour of the majority voice vote even when he held a different view to the voice vote. That is democracy.

Lawan also knows the value of harmony between the Legislature and the other arms of government, particularly the Executive, without compromising the independence of the Legislature. He believes that the Arms should work together in inter-dependence so as to deliver service to the people. 

Years of deep and passionate involvement in the operations of Parliament at the highest level have enabled Lawan to understand that the enhancement of good governance and sustenance of democracy are the paramount roles of the National Assembly, and indeed every Parliament.

Born on 12th January, 1959 in Bade, now in Yobe State, Ahmad Lawan attended the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) and graduated with a B.Sc. in Geography. He was immediately offered a job by the university as a graduate assistant, courtesy of Professor Jubril Aminu, the then Vice Chancellor of the school, who created the window of opportunity for the top graduating students of the institution.

By 1990, Ahmad Lawan was in Cranfield University in the United Kingdom for his masters and doctorate programmes in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System (GIS) on a European Union scholarship. He returned to Nigeria in1996 to resume his teaching career at UNIMAID. However, just one year later, he had been pulled elsewhere.

Yet, Lawan said he had no politics in mind at this time.

“When I completed my studies and returned, I had little idea that I would join politics. Until a year after I returned, then something happened,” Lawan recalled.

Nevertheless, his stint in the Ivory Tower left deep impressions on him and contributed to shaping his world views, as he virtually took the gown to the town.

“I will not like to describe myself as an accidental politician. But maybe a reluctant one because I never imagined that I will be able to survive in the kind of political environment that we have in Nigeria. But when God is with you, nothing is impossible.”

Ahmad Lawan’s political journey started with the now defunct United Nigerian Congress Party (UNCP) in 1997. That was during the General Sani Abacha aborted transition programme. 

In 1998 when the transition to the Fourth Republic began under the regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Lawan joined the newly formed All Peoples Party (APP), which was later renamed the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP). He was elected vice-chairman of the party in Yobe State. 

Shortly after, in 1999, he was elected into the House of Representatives. He was elevated to the Senate eight years later in 2007, after serving two terms in the House. All through that period, Lawan was in the opposition in Parliament, until the All Progressives Congress (APC) took power in 2015, two years after the party was formed by a merger of his ANPP with three other legacy parties.

Following the victory of the APC in the 2015 general elections, Lawan was endorsed by the new ruling party for the position of Senate President. But as he always say, he missed the position because it was not God’s time. However, in 2019, he clinched the seat with the votes of members of both the ruling APC and the opposition. The rest is now history.

However, from my vintage point of observation, I have realised that he did not become the 14th President of the Senate and Chairman of the Ninth National Assembly by happenstance. It was the result of many years of self-preparedness, self-discipline, consistency, perseverance and tenacity of purpose.

Those attributes are essential for success in any endeavour and Lawan obviously learned that very early. And wherever he goes next, they will accompany him and pave the way for more success.

As I wish the Sardaunan Bade a happy 64th birthday, I also wish him divine guidance in his future endeavours.

Awoniyi is Special Adviser on Media to the President of the Senate

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