Lawan at 61: Quintessential politician behind the gavel

Senate President, Ahmed Lawan

By Ola Awoniyi

When Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan graduated from the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) in 1984 with a B.Sc in Geography, his apparent career was as an academic. The career was probably foisted on him as Ahmad was a beneficiary of the legacy of Professor Jubril Aminu who, as the Vice-Chancellor of UNIMAID, offered graduates with first-class or second class upper degrees appointment at the university as graduate assistants. For the next decade, Lawan’s sojourn was within the academic community of UNIMAID.

In 1990, he went to the Cranfield University in the United Kingdom for his master’s and doctoral programmes in Remote Sensing and GIS on a European Union scholarship. He returned to Nigeria in 1996 to resume his teaching career at UNIMAID. Politics did not appear as a prospect in those early days as he focused on being a scientist and an academic. “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. “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.”

As destiny will have it, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan is today the President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is the reason he has been described as a hybrid of an academic and a politician. In 1997, with a bit of encouragement from his close friends, Lawan took his first steps into active politics when he joined the defunct United Nigerian Congress Party (UNCP). That was during the General Sani Abacha political transition programme that ended with the general’s sudden death in 1998. When General Abdulsalam Abubakar who succeeded Abacha blew the whistle again in 1998, Ahmad joined the All Peoples Party (APP) and was elected its Vice-Chairman in his home state of Yobe. In the electoral cycle that gave birth to the Fourth Republic in 1999, Ahmad was elected to the House of Representatives, representing Badeja Federal Constituency of Yobe State.

He spent eight years in the House before moving up to the Senate in 2007. Since 1999, Lawan has won six consecutive elections, becoming one of the longest-serving federal lawmakers in Nigeria. “I never believed for one day that politics is deceit. In Hausa, they say ‘siahsa yaudara ne’. It is not yaudara. Politics is service and if you are a politician and you are elected, you will account for it because you will be asked how you represented the people,” Lawan said. Lawan wanted to be President of the Senate in 2015 but his time had not come. Despite the controversial circumstances of that leadership contest, as a loyal party man, he harboured no grudges against anyone. He eventually became the Senate Leader that year and converted the apparent setback to advantage by building on his parliamentary experience.

When the opportunity presented itself again in 2019, he was again the frontrunner. This time, he was resoundingly elected the Senate President by his colleagues across party lines. He has since committed himself to building a united Senate and National Assembly. For Lawan, acrimony within Parliament based on political differences or between Parliament and other arms of government benefits no one. Lawan once said: “While l served for the five tenures in the past, I experienced various situations of Legislature/Executive relationships and of course the outcome was mostly undesirable.

“At one point we almost impeached the President. At that time, President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1999, in his first tenure when I was in the House of Representatives. The Executive and Legislature never had a decent relationship and Nigeria and Nigerians suffered for four years in that instance. The second tenure, I think the President became wiser and the relationship improved and our productivity as a government also improved. So I watched how bad relationship, rancorous relationship between the Executive and the Legislature caused so much anxiety and instability in the land. We made a conscious decision this year 2019 when we ran for the office of President of the Senate. We told ourselves that we are first and foremost representatives of Nigerians. We came on different platforms, vehicles that took us to the construction site. And of course, at the construction site, all of us are supposed to work together to construct that structure.”

This conviction has been driving the President of the ninth Senate despite strident criticism from some quarters who prefer a cat and mouse relationship between the two elected arms of government. Lawan believes in a National Assembly that constantly rises above partisan politics to work for the collective interest of the people. “We believe that fighting between the Legislature and the Executive does not help anyone. The legislators will still collect their salaries. The ministers will collect theirs. But the country suffers. And you will regret after you leave office because you can’t show anything that will justify the number of years you have served. So we said we will work with the Executive arm of government in such a manner that there is mutual respect. They respect us. We respect them. We are not going to be unnecessarily difficult but we are going to be thorough. Where our oversight is required, we will do so with utmost responsibility but we will ensure that there is prudence, there is economy, there is efficiency in the management of the public fund by the Executive arm of government.

“And where we disagree with them, we will agree on the basis of facts and reasons. We don’t have to go to the market square to fight. We will insist, let the national interest define and determine the outcome of our disagreement. Let’s all work for the national interest. And that is what we intend to do.” This pragmatic approach by this quintessential Yobe-born politician, coupled with his bi-partisan leadership style is, no doubt, yielding the desired results when you consider the modest progress that has been made by the National Assembly in just six months. This includes the realignment of the financial year to a more predictable cycle of January to December and the passage of some critical bills in record time. Add to that, at least for now, that the National Assembly is not dissipating energy unnecessarily feuding with another arm of government but is instead focusing on its legislative agenda. Given his philosophy of constructive cooperation, Lawan is poised to lead the ninth National Assembly to more achievements.

Lawan was born on January 12, 1959, in Gashua now in Yobe State in the northeast of Nigeria. At 61, he has enjoyed the privilege of serving his country at the highest level and is determined to demonstrate his gratitude by devoting his public service career to the pursuit of the unity, peace and progress of Nigeria. Here is wishing the quintessential politician and leader a happy birthday and many more years of fruitful service to his fatherland.

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