By Ola Awoniyi
Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, the Distinguished Senator representing Yobe North Senatorial District of Yobe State, turns 64 on 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 sixth consecutive session in the National Assembly.
Lawan has been around for so long in Abuja that it is easy to assume he was never elsewhere. Yet, his earliest work experience was in the 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 in 1998.
In that calling, Lawan has clearly made his mark. And not just because he attained the dizzying height of third in the order of succession. 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 principles of an individual. Service to the people should be the driving objective of partisan political practice. And whether in politics or elsewhere, Lawan believes one’s yes must mean yes.
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This has, in no small measure, paid off for Lawan in his almost 25 years in politics, 24 of which has 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 crossed 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 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 that his constituents appreciate the quality of representation that he has been providing to them in Yobe North District.
The life of a politician is not all gloss as it may sometimes seem. Election is not a tea party. A parliamentarian in particular needs very hard work to get a return ticket from the party. In Parliament, getting the support of colleagues for motions and bills 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 outspoken Governor of Kaduna State, at a recent public function in Abuja, said he has no intention of seeking a seat in the National Assembly like 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 hardwork 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.”
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Despite the difficulties, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has shone at the National Assembly since its inauguration in 1999. Lawan is today one of only two lawmakers remaining in the National Assembly from the 1999 set. He has also attained the most enviable of heights in his many years of service at Parliament, becoming “first among equals” in the Upper Chamber, which is the very pinnacle of the hierarchy in the parliament of any democratic society. That makes him the Doyen of the Nigerian Parliament.
In his three and a half years as the 14th President of the Senate and Chairman of the ninth National Assembly, he has set a high standard for whoever will be his successors. 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 which order. But before the text is read out, Lawan already knows the provision and its applicability.
As “first among equals,” Lawan knows the importance of fairness in the conduct of the affairs in plenary. Even though the majority will always have its way, the minority must have its say as well.
Lawan knows the value of a bipartisan 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, I heard him say, many at times, that he had no choice but to hit the gavel or rule in favour of a majority voice vote even when he held a different view to the voice vote. That is democracy.
Lawan also knows the value of promoting harmony between the Legislature and other arms of government, particularly the Executive, without compromising the independence of the Legislature.
Lawan has seen it all in Parliament. From my vintage point of observation, I quickly realized 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 long 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 more success in his future endeavours.
…Awoniyi is Special Adviser on Media to Senate President