By Dr. Ezrel Tabiowo
I have in the past stumbled across several publications in the media that questioned the leadership approach of the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, over his collaboration with the Executive arm of government, but none has attracted my attention as the distasteful publication in the Sunday, August 14, 2022, edition of the Guardian Newspaper, in particular.
The piece, written by the Deputy Politics Editor, Leo Sobechi, maintained that Lawan’s style is hinged on “legislative patronage and misplaced loyalty” to the Buhari administration and “synonymous with failure”. How ridiculous can one get!
Also, the writer’s claim about Lawan’s leadership “falling short in terms of legislation” is one I consider laughable, absolutely misleading and delusional. What it suggests is that he is either grossly uninformed or willfully ignorant about the sterling accomplishments of the Ninth Assembly.
I recommend he reads through an article I published earlier this year titled, “The validity of Lawan’s correctness on harmony between the Executive and Legislature”, to get educated on the Senate President’s approach to governance.
On the other hand, his choice of words on Senator Lawan, speaks poorly of his professional disposition and leave much to be desired.
To set the records straight, it is noteworthy to recall that when Ahmad Lawan took a shot at the Senate Presidency for a second time in 2019, it was against the backdrop of persistent clamour by lawmakers across party lines, as against the influence of external party forces as the writer would rather have readers believe.
In fact, returning lawmakers who had just won the National Assembly elections at the time were fed-up and bent on not having a repeat of the frosty and counter-productive relationship with the executive which characterised the Eight Assembly under Dr. Bukola Saraki. I know this because I was a reporter then who covered the activities of the upper chamber.
Determined to opt for a different approach to governance, Senators-elect rallied behind Lawan’s candidacy, because it was widely believed that his legislative agenda, which was anchored on Executive-Legislature harmony, would better serve the interest of Nigerians. And, so far, it has. Lawan’s victory and emergence as Senate President became a big win for democracy and good governance as events show.
Under his leadership, the National Assembly recorded the consideration and passage of the most impactful pieces of legislative interventions targeted at economic recovery since 1999.
Such interventions include the reversal of the nation’s budget cycle to the January – December timeline which saved Nigeria twice in three years from a recession which could have totally consumed the economy.
The effort of the National Assembly in this direction also insulated the economy against the after-effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On efforts to increase the nation’s revenue earnings, the passage of the Deep Offshore Act by the National Assembly under Lawan paved way for the country to generate almost $2 billion dollars as against the previous measly $250 million raked in from royalties paid by International Oil Companies (IOCs) operating in Nigeria annually.
It also put revenue generating agencies on the spot to remit more funds to the federation account.
For example, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) alone, in 2021, was able to generate the sum of N6.4 trillion from taxes, a figure said to be the highest in the nation’s history.
This is not to mention the passage of critical legislations such as the PIA, the Finance Act, amongst others, which hitherto failed to receive Presidential assent into law under previous assemblies.
In guaranteeing the security of Nigerians, the Ninth Assembly approved the allocation of N982.72 billion and almost N1 trillion budget for defense operations, procurement and upgrade of military capabilities, and infrastructure for 2021 and 2022, respectively.
The amounts approved in the last two years represent the highest sum ever budgeted by parliament for security alone. This, of course, is not to leave out infrastructural development spread across the country.
The National Assembly, on its part, also prioritised other areas such as education which got a whooping N593.4 billion in 2022.
It is, therefore, uncharitable for anyone to downplay the outstanding accomplishments of the Ninth Assembly to suit a mischievous script aimed at serving whatever purpose the writer sought out to achieve.
I daresay that history will be kind to Lawan, as he would in no distant time be reckoned with for his impactful legacies, which include a selfless improvement to our electoral processes, after his eventual exit from office next year, as President of the Ninth Senate.
The impeachment saga and Lawan’s stand
The Senate President, in the last couple of weeks, has been at the centre of conversations over the botched attempt by opposition lawmakers to initiate impeachment moves against President Muhammadu Buhari owing to the country’s failing security.
Much as the National Assembly is disturbed by the devastating dimension which the activities of terrorists have assumed lately, it however cannot be stampeded into taking any resolution that would ultimately surrender Nigeria over to its enemies.
This is where Lawan steps in as Chairman of the National Assembly; to give direction to proceedings of the upper chamber, against all odds and devoid of emotive or political considerations, in a way that fosters national stability as against over-heating the polity and exposing it to anarchy.
It must be noted that the bid by opposition lawmakers to serve the President with an impeachment notice after a six-week ultimatum is unrealistic, particularly taking into consideration the processes and time needed to actualise same before the conduct of the 2023 general elections. See Chapter 6. Part 1. Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, as Amended.
The move would also mean falling for the antics of terrorists who are out to destabilise the federal government and undermine the supremacy of Nigeria’s democratic institutions.
For anyone who cares to know, it is a modus operandi for terrorist groups to exploit disorder caused by crises that are identified to be potent enough to lead to the collapse of state institutions.
The International Crisis Group, in a special report on ‘Jihad In Modern Conflict’, shows how Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other extremists groups such as Boko Haram and ISWAP complicate efforts to end insecurity in the Middle East and some parts of Africa.
According to the report titled, “Exploiting Disorder: Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State”, common tactics deployed by insurgent groups in the regions where they operate include controlling territory, supplanting the state and ruling with a calibrated mix of coercion and co-option.
This explains the movement and conquest of some territories by Boko Haram and ISWAP in some North Eastern and North Western States of Nigeria to ensure the replacement of democratically elected leadership.
In Zamfara and Niger States, for example, some leaders of insurgent groups were granted leadership status by overwhelmed communities within certain local government areas in exchange for protection from terrorists and bandits.
In addition, the Governor of Kaduna State, Governor Nasir El-rufai, was reportedly said to have drawn the attention of President Buhari, in a memo, to attempts by terrorists to create a parallel government and consolidate on their operations in the state by establishing a permanent operation base.
Attacks and threats by terrorist groups, according to a report “Rethinking Transnational Terrorism” by Martha Crenshaw of the United States Institute of Peace, are intended to “maximise shock” on the civilian population and highly symbolic and emotionally resonant targets such as churches, mosques or a government building.
At a time when the country faces severe security threats from the activities of insurgents, it would be recklessly rash and irresponsible for a parliament to commence impeachment proceedings against the sitting President, as doing so, would, on the contrary, give legitimacy and boost to the authority of terrorists to rule with coercion and consider establishing a parallel government.
It would also deny the country the needed leadership at such a critical moment, as well as embolden insurgents, who are enemies of the Nigerian State, to launch a full scale war against it, given the distraction likely to follow.
Furthermore, an impeachment proceeding would go on to expose the weaknesses of our institutions and arms of government, particularly in view of existing political divisions. It would present the perfect opportunity for external incursions to polarise constitutionally elected governments at the state and federal levels.
In confronting terrorism, therefore, the International Crisis Group, in its report, advises governments to de-escalate the crises insurgents feed off and prevent others from erupting – such as kidnapping and attacks on places of worship given the Nigerian scenario.
It also recommends that leaders embrace dialogue, inclusion and reform, while underscoring the need for them to “react sensibly” to terrorist attacks.
Whilst the National Assembly and Nigerians continue to clamour for full-scale military action against insurgents, the ICG on the contrary warns that, “too often military action against extremists helps them recruit”, adding, “little suggests they can be defeated by military means alone.”
It is anticipated that upon resumption from the annual recess on the 20th of September, 2022, Senators across party lines would unanimously consider the best approach to address the nation’s security challenges.
Such consideration would, no doubt, give preference to, and take into account, aspects capable of strengthening Nigeria’s resolve and determination in the fight to stamp out terrorism.
Dr. Tabiowo is the Special Assistant (Press) to the Senate President and writes from Abuja.—