SUNDAY ABORISADE examines the activities of the ninth Senate in the last two years and notes that the absolute loyalty of the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) – led regime, remains a major concern to Nigerians
The tension that enveloped the Senate chamber during the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 was a clear indication that the leadership of the All Progressives Congress and the Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)- led regime lacked the absolute confidence that their anointed candidate, Ahmad Lawan, would enjoy an overwhelming mandate of his colleagues to actualise his dream of becoming Senate President.
The protest by some senators, who were loyal to Lawan, when the then Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, announced that the Senate presidency election which was also contested by Senator Ali Ndume, would be conducted via an open-secret method, was a clear indication that Lawan and his backers were afraid that there could be a hidden agenda to prevent the emergence of a senate leadership that would owe its allegiance to the whims and caprices of the executive arm of government.
Since the APC had and still have a clear majority of the elected senators on the floor that day, one would have expected the election to be a walkover for Lawan but the event of 2015, made his sponsors within and outside the chambers to allegedly mobilise and deploy substantial resources to lobby the senators’ votes for Lawan, who invariably emerged victorious.
Lawan and his sponsors were said to have expressed serious concerns that a significant members of the APC in the Senate could strike a deal with the Peoples Democratic Party to snatch the Senate presidency for Ndume, just like what happened in 2015, when Senator Bukola Saraki emerged as the senate president.
Lawan spokesperson, Ola Awoniyi, lent credence to the assertion in his piece on his principal’s one year in office, with the headline, “Ahmad Lawan as President of the Ninth Senate: Setting the right tone from the outset”
He had said, “Wary this time about history repeating itself, the APC leadership had worked assiduously to unite the party’s caucuses in the two chambers behind the party’s consensus candidates. Leaving nothing to chance, the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was there alongside other party chiefs to watch the proceedings and ensure no surprises this time around.
“While the event was in progress at the Senate chamber, President Muhammadu Buhari was at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel about a kilometre away. It was the venue of an anti-corruption forum sponsored by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission.
“The National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was also at the forum, and like the President, his mind was apparently far away at the Senate chamber.
“The day’s proceedings at the Senate chambers kicked off smoothly, until the announcement of the mode of elections. The APC had prepared for open balloting. But the Clerk of the National Assembly decided otherwise. Relying on what he called the extant rules of the Senate, Sani-Omolori said the election would be by open-secret ballot.
“This was completely against the expectation of the APC leaders and understandably made them very uncomfortable. The party sensed another ambush as the secrecy of the ballot meant it would not be able to monitor how its members voted,” Awoniyi stated.
Justifying the emergence of Lawan, Awoniyi said it had restored party supremacy in politics and enhanced cooperation within the federal government.
He had said Lawan’s senate presidency had ended tension and acrimony between the legislative and the executive arm of government and had “given way to harmony and mutual respect as the two elected arms of government are again learning to sing from the same hymn book.”
He had said, “Since then, presidential nominees for appointment have been screened without delay. Budgets and other executive bills and communications have been receiving deserved attention in the Senate without slowing down the activities of government.”
He was however, quick to admit that, “pundits, who love politics as a bloody game, gave this new development in inter-arms relations a wrong interpretation. They christened the Legislature a rubber stamp.”
Lawan has also, in his various comments to defend his “same page” stand with the executive said he owed no one any apology for taking such stand.
He was once quoted to have said, “’We are so terribly misunderstood that when we say that we are going to work with the executive arm of government in a very harmonious and productive manner, some people, some out of misunderstanding, some out of mischief, say it’s a rubber stamp National Assembly.
“But let me say this: no amount of distractions or blackmail will stop us from being united in the National Assembly for the benefit of Nigerians who elected us and nothing will discourage us from working with the executive arm of government for the betterment of our country.
“As a legislature we know where our limits lie in terms of cooperation and in working with the executive arm of government. But we are going to give the President and his team every possible legislative support that they require to make this country better and greater.
“Where we feel that there is a breach of procedures and processes by the executive arm of government, we will insist that the right things are done.
“So it doesn’t mean that because we are peaceful and that we are cordial with the executive arm of government that we are rubber stamp but that is something that will not distract us, “ Lawan had stated.
However, some Nigerians who have been observing the activities of the Lawan leadership in the last two years, are quick to point out that the unholy alliance between the legislature and the executive has done more damage than good for the country.
They have argued for instance that, rather than subjecting Buhari’s requests to serious scrutiny, the ninth Senate leadership was always in a hurry to do the bidding of its benefactor – the presidency – to the detriment of Nigerians.
Lawan had said that many bills that were beneficial to Nigerians were passed in the last two years of his leadership but Nigerians were quick to point out that the ninth Senate under his watch, rolled out the most wicked, draconian and anti – people bill since 1999.
They cited among others, social media bill, hate speech, amnesty for repentant terrorists, and the health emergency bill.
Many Nigerians have blamed the ninth Senate loyalty for the current loan burden which the country is grappling with.
For instance with another request for the consideration and subsequent approval of a fresh external borrowing to the tune of $4.054 billion, Nigeria’s external loan stock is set to reach an all-time high of $45.2bn.
The proposed addition to the debt stock indicates that external borrowings have skyrocketed the nation’s foreign debt portfolio by 366 per cent since 2015 when the total outstanding foreign debt was $9.7bn.
The Campaign For Democracy, while assessing Lawan’s 9th Senate, said the red chamber failed to live up to the people’s expectations.
The National General Secretary of CD and Convener, Conference of Nigerian Civil Rights Activists, Ifeanyi Odili, told The PUNCH that the CD, and indeed Nigerians were very uncomfortable with Lawan’s Senate relationship with the executive arm of government when it should act as a check.
He said, “Senator Ahmad Lawan’s ninth Senate has become the first to approve foreign loans of over $30bn loan for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration in the last two years.
“It is unhistorical and sad that the ninth senate has not only exposed their huge intellectual, political and financial fraud but has embarrassed Nigerians because since its take off, the 9th senate has approved all the foreign loans requested by the presidency without thorough questioning.
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“The ninth senate under Lawan has portrayed itself anti people by initiating a bill for hate speech.
“The hate speech bill if allowed to sail through, is another subtle way of bringing back decree no 2 (detention without trial) thereby reliving an ugly experience that happened in the past under military juntas.
“However, members of the National Assembly should not be blamed for jeopardizing and minimizing democracy ethos since they did not know what it took to put up the extant democratic structure and principle.
“The Legislative – Executive relationship is a criminal in intention as it is a conspiracy against Nigerians.
“They have jointly plunged Nigeria into a huge debt which the coming generation might find difficult to upset.
“It is irritating that the 9th senate did not borrow any leave from the past Senate.
“While I applaud a good and robust relationship of executive and legislative arms of our nation, I will also say that their relationship is not to the benefit of the Nigeria people because it it is anti Nigerians in nature when taking a look at it holistically.
“For instance, whose interest is the Amnesty for repentant Boko Haram who had barbarically sent thousands of souls to their untimely graves serving? Politicians! because they are their backers.
“Apart from the above the unscrupulous approval of all lopsided appointments ever sent to the Senate by the Presidency is a huge disappointment to the nation as they did not reflect principles of federal character.
“Tampering with the federal character principles is unethical, immoral, amoral, conscienceless, untrustworthy, and exploitative.
“When these set in, then democracy, has lost its savoury, it is like a salt that lost its taste. In this area, the 9th Senate also failed the nation and caused some ethnic nationalities to loose confidence, trust and sense of belonging and oneness in our nationhood,” Odili added.
Spokesperson for the Southern Nigeria Frontier, Olufemi Lawson, said he was not impressed with the achievements of the Lawan-led ninth Senate so far.
Lawson said, “A performance assessment of the current leadership of the National Assembly as headed by Senator Ahmad Lawan as chairman of the National Assembly, hasn’t been so impressive and impactful, when compared to the past, particularly the 8th National Assembly, where he was the senate leader.
“It is disheartening, that Senator Lawan’s leadership has through deed and utterances, reduced the National Assembly to an extension of the Executive arm of government.
“While it is normal for legislators to support the visions and manifestos of their political party, such must not be seen, to be in conflict with the overall interest of the citizens, especially as such is dictated by the constitution.
“When you also look at the quality of legislation under this current national assembly, you will realise, that it has not been able to measure up to the 8th National Assembly.
“The Lawan’s National Assembly has reduced itself to a rubber stamp but I strongly feel it can still retrace its steps and align with the yearning of Nigerians, who are the biggest stakeholders in the democratic project.
Similarly, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said Nigerians did not believe that anything beneficial to them could come from the 9th Senate, going by how Lawan emerged.
Rafsanjani said, “The Chairmanship of Ahmad Lawan of the 9th Assembly has been a cause for debate, less so because of the newfound romance between the National assembly and the Presidency after a tumultuous relationship with the Saraki led NASS.
He said the Buhari regime preferred Lawan in order to get all requests approved without hesitation.
He said, “While a good working relationship between the executive and legislature is good for the smooth running of affairs of a country, there is a limit allowed by the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances.
“An Ahmed Lawan Chairmanship of the National Assembly, doesn’t seem concerned with these principles as he publicly stated that “any request from President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly is good for the nation”.
“This shows an unwillingness on his part to invoke the powers of the National assembly to scrutinize the actions and inactions of the executive arm of government.
“Subsequently, the National Assembly has approved many loan requests from the presidency despite public outcry.
“The President has been in breach of the constitution with little or no repercussions too, such as failing to transmit power to the vice president after travelling to the United Kingdom, a review of grazing routes, and the appointment of Federal Capital Territory judges.
“There is also the failure of the Federal Government to perform its primary function of protecting lives and properties of Nigerians.
“By allowing these to go unchecked, Lawan’s action goes beyond loyalty to the party but to President Buhari, who single-handedly ensured his emergence as Senate President, even with better candidates in the fray.
“With his loyalty to the President, the executive don’t have respect for the National Assembly and not much progress has been recorded.
“Again, the general public has lost confidence that under his leadership he could ensure executive compliance on legal ,policies and programmes that will add value to democracy, peace , justice and sustainable development with accountable governance.”