Assessing Lawan’s unrivaled accomplishments in two years
By Ezrel TABIOWO
Whilst going through the news feed of my social platforms on Friday evening, an analysis written by a Senate Correspondent of an online platform, Premium Times, on the performance of the Ninth Senate under the leadership of Senator Ahmad Lawan caught my attention.
It reads: “In two years, Lawan’s Senate records more failures than successes”. Though I felt a sense of outright disagreement with the caption of the report which I perceived as strongly biased, I nevertheless decided to read its contents for very obvious reasons.
1. To determine the rationale behind the writer’s position;
2. To examine the strength of arguments in reaching what I perceived to be a rather misleading conclusion;
3. To establish and understand the parameters used in coming to such erroneous judgement; and
4. To understand the reporter’s level of competency and professionalism
As one who has covered the proceedings of the upper chamber in the last 10 years under the strict supervision of very meticulous line Editors, I learnt to avoid falling for the temptation to skew analysis in my weekly column to only reflect my personal thoughts or opinion on a matter devoid of supporting facts.
In other words, my credo as a Reporter at the time was to live up to the ethos of what Helen Sissons considers “Good Journalism” in the book titled ‘Practical Journalism: How to Write News’.
For Sissons, “Good Journalism requires accurate writing”, as carelessly written reports can mislead the audience. With respect to the analysis by the Premium Times reporter, it brings to mind what then ought to constitute Good Journalism? In response, I would say, the provision of accurate facts.
Now, let us examine the parameters used and facts provided by the reporter in reaching such misleading position. In essence, what were the highlighted facts suggestive of the purported failure of parliament within the context of the analysis? For the purpose of clarity, I advise that due attention be given to parenthetical observations in the following paragraph.
The reporter gave them as follows: Approval of Executive Loan Requests; Checking Excesses of Executive Appointees and Colleagues (not recounting the Senate’s summons on the Health Minister during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the Former Service Chiefs and IGP over lingering insecurity and many others); Holidays and Lateness (again, not disclosing the number of times the Senate bent its rules to sit beyond 2pm and most times till 4pm or the circumstances of the pandemic which compelled the upper chamber to adjust plenary sessions from three to two sitting days in a week); Budget Padding (in this instance not taking into consideration that the National Assembly has the legislative and constitutional powers to review executive requests in this regard); and Checks and Balances (which by the way makes no reference to, or recourse to the efforts of the Legislative Compliance Committee of the Senate).
What I find even ludicrous on the other hand is that these purported failures were made to tower above the outstanding legislative accomplishments of the Lawan-led Senate in a way intended to undermine the achievements of the Ninth Assembly.
Much as journalists are expected to hold government accountable as the fourth estate of the realm, such responsibility must not be seen to trample on objectivity, foster bias, or suppress truth.
This takes us to the bigger question, what then is the objective approach to assessing the performance of the ninth Senate in the last two years?
My response: an objective approach that juxtaposes the Senate’s accomplishments side-by-side with its legislative agenda to measure whether or not the upper chamber has indeed lived up to expectations. Only a newbie or rookie to parliamentary reporting would attempt to do otherwise.
How to assess the mid-term performance of the Ninth Senate
When Senator Ahmad Lawan threw his hat in the ring to contest the Senate Presidency a second time in 2019, he very much went for it fully prepared with a robust legislative agenda.
Tagged: “A National Assembly that Works For Nigeria”, Lawan’s clearly defined agenda remains the first ever seen from any candidate contesting the Senate Presidency since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999.
He also was the first candidate ever in Nigeria’s history to take his campaign round media houses across the country in a bid to sell his Senate Presidency and as well seek the support of the media as partners in having a National Assembly that works for all Nigerians.
His legislative agenda targeted the following key areas: Security, Economy, Criminal Legislation Reform, Public Finance Management Legislations, Youth Unemployment and Substance Abuse, Standard of Education, Healthcare Services, Social Safety Net, and Constitutional Amendments.
Other aspects include: Independence of the Legislature, Electoral Reforms, and Reviving the Real Sector and Infrastructure.
While delivering his 2nd Anniversary speech during a special session last week, the Senate President announced that the upper chamber in the last two years passed 58 bills out of 742 bills introduced.
Surprisingly, some analysts like the Premium Times reporter jumped at it and fell for the nonsensical and shallow approach which adjudges the success of Parliament by the number of bills passed as against those introduced over a specified period of time.
They however fail to realize that the actual success of parliament is measured not by the number of bills passed as against the number introduced, but by their numbers spread across the legislative agenda in meeting with the expectations of citizens.
The 58 bills passed in the period of two years by the Senate addresses and touches on critical aspects of the economy, security, public finance, employment, education, healthcare and so on.
On the 7th of July 2020, the Senate passed a landmark legislation which criminalized sexual harassment in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.
With the passage of the Sexual Harassment bill, the Nigerian government would be fulfilling part of its obligations undertaken through the ratification of the United States Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The upper chamber during the last two years also passed bills to upgrade some polytechnics across the country such as the Yaba College of Technology and Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, into full-fledged Federal Universities.
This is not to mention the passage of bills to establish new tertiary institutions across the six geo-political zones of the country as well as put an end to discrimination between First Degree and HND holders by employers.
In its bid to improve healthcare services across the country, the upper chamber considered several bills and passed some seeking to upgrade Federal Medical Centres to University Teaching Hospitals.
Among such bills is one passed on June 1, 2021, seeking to establish the Modibbi Adana University Teaching Hospital, Yola in Adamawa state.
The Senate also on May 19, 2021, passed a bill for an Act to provide the legal framework to establish Federal Medical Centres in the country, as well as equip and maintain them to provide facilities for diagnosis, rehabilitation and treatment in medicine.
The upper chamber also approved the establishment of the National Dermatology Hospital, Garkida, Adamawa, State.
The bill seeks to revive an international hospital that would specifically focus on the treatment of leprosy, skin cancer and other skin-related diseases.
In addition, the Senate on Wednesday, February 17, 2021, passed for second reading the Public Health Emergency Bill, 2021, and referred same to its Committee on Primary Health and Communicable Diseases for further legislative work.
The bill seeks to repeal the obsolete Quarantine Act 1926 and provide an effective and efficient legal and administrative framework to address challenges from a sudden outbreak of infectious diseases.
It also seeks to facilitate the provision of funds and accountability mechanisms to contain the spread of dangerous infectious diseases, as well as prescribe offences and punishments for violations associated with the control and management of such diseases.
The ninth Senate in contrast to past assemblies since 1999, passed the most impactful legislations targeted at strengthening the Nigerian economy.
It recorded a significant feat with the restoration of the nation’s budget cycle to the January – December timeline which before now was an unbreakable jinx.
The restoration of the budget cycle by then ninth assembly saved Nigeria from an economic recession during the first quarter of this year.
The move is expected to turn around the fortunes of the country’s fiscal plans and boost local and foreign investors’ confidence in Nigeria’s economy.
In a similar attempt, the upper chamber also passed the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act (Amendment) Bill 2019 which defied all attempts by previous assemblies to amend since is enactment.
The bill which has since received presidential assent pushes Nigeria’s revenue figure accruing from International Oil Companies (IOCs) operating in the country from $150 million (USD) to $1.5 billion (USD) annually.
Also passed was the Finance Bill 2020 which, specifically, amended 17 key aspects of the extant laws.
They are: Capital Gains Act; Companies Income Tax Act; Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Act; Personal Income Tax Act; Tertiary Trust Fund Act; Customs and Excise Duties Tariff; Value Added Tax Act; Stamp Duties Act; and Electronic Transaction Levy.
Other areas amended include: Federal Inland Revenue Service (Establishment) Act; Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority Act; Oil and Gas Export Processing Zone Act; Crisis Intervention Fund; Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund; Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020; Fiscal Responsibility Act; and Public Procurement Act.
President Muhammadu Buhari, had in a letter dated 25th November, 2020 said the passage of the Finance Bill would support the implementation of the 2021 budget through key reforms in taxation, customs, excise, fiscal and other laws.
Given these achievements, I daresay that the Senate President reserves the right to constantly remind Nigerians about his milestone accomplishments which before now were unrealisable under previous assemblies since 1999.
Disturbed by the growing number of unemployed youths in Nigeria, the Senate President in his legislative agenda identified this as a challenge and has remained focused in ensuring its reversal through legislative support to executive requests.
Drawing from the cordial relations between the Executive and National Assembly, the exit strategy identified by the Buhari-led Federal Government to address youth unemployment targets the provision of critical infrastructures that would create jobs for the thousands of young Nigerian graduates churned out by universities across the country.
However, getting the support of the National Assembly would require its approval for loan requests from the Executive to finance the implementation of such critical infrastructures and projects.
In one of such moves last month, President Buhari while seeking the upper chamber’s approval of donor fund projects under 2018-2020 borrowing plan in a letter addressed to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, dated 6th May, 2020, explained that same would enable projects listed to be financed through sovereign loans from the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), French Development Agency (AFD), Islamic Development Bank, China EXIMBank, China Development Bank, European Investment Bank, European ECA, KfW, lPEX, AFC, India EximBank and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
He added that the projects are geared towards the realization of the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan that cut across key sectors such as Infrastructure, Health, Agriculture and Food Security, Energy, Education and Human Capital Development and COVID 19 Response efforts in the six geo-political zones of the country.
There are yet other numerous achievements or issues addressed by the Ninth Senate in just two years which the Premium Times reporter either inadvertently forgot or mischievously left out in her write-up probably to justify her biased conclusion.
Ezrel TABIOWO is the Special Assistant (Press) to the Senate President.
Ezrel TABIOWO, FIMC, CMC, Fsca
Ahmad Lawan: The Doyen of Nigerian Parliament @64
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.
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.”
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
Predictable Budget Cycle: A great Legacy of Ninth N’Assembly
Shortly after his emergence in 2019 as the 14th President of the Senate and Chairman of the Ninth National Assembly, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan promised to ensure the 2020 Appropriation Bill was passed and signed into law by the President before the end of that year. That promise would have sounded outlandish in many ears and many would have dismissed it outright as a flight of fancy induced by Lawan’s euphoria of electoral victory.
Going by precedent under the Fourth Republic, there were valid reasons for such scepticism.
By 2019, it had become normal for the Appropriation Bill to come into law not earlier than the first quarter or even in the middle of the budget year. This was in spite of the apparent injury the delay was delivering to government’s annual spending plans and the economy.
How to reset the budget cycle or financial year to run from January to December as was the case in distant past had confounded and beaten the previous National Assemblies. But that was not for lack of efforts on this part of the federal lawmakers. Session after session, they visibly worked to instal a steady, reliable and predictable January to December budget cycle. That just didn’t happen, for many reasons.
However, with great determination, strategic thinking and multipartisan cooperation in the Chambers, under a new milieu of effective collaboration amongst the Arm of Government, the Ninth National Assembly achieved the feat on first attempt in December 2019!
The impacts of timeous passage of Appropriation Bills on budgetary performance, governance and the general economy have been severally articulated by economic experts.
Even at the best of times, the Nigerian economy has needed every positive effort it can get for revamping it. The COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia/Ukraine war and sundry local challenges make such efforts even more imperative now. Imagine, some of the advanced economies are already reeling in or tottering at the edge of recession.
Of course the Nigerian economy too slid into recession twice in recent past. But on each occasion, it quickly pulled out. The quick recovery was significantly enhanced by the effective collaboration and proactive interventions of the NationalAssembly.
It is on record that the performance of the budget has improved under the new stable cycle to such extent that the performance numbers are now almost hundred percent.
This is one of the achievements for which the Ninth Assembly has not been granted the deserved credit.
Instead, the doubting Thomases and mocking birds did not immediately stop laughing. Even while some acknowledged the feat, they doubted it could be sustained.
However, it has. In 2020 and 2021. And now again, the Appropriation Bill 2023 was passed by the Assembly on 28th December, 2022.
According to the Senate President, it would have been passed even earlier, before the lawmakers went on Christmas recess, but for some problems that emanated from the Executive in the process of preparing the Appropriation Bill. Those problems, later resolved through collaborative efforts, delayed but did not frustrate timeous passage of the Bill.
Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari signing the Appropriation Bill 2023 into law on Tuesday 3rd January, 2023, which was the first work day in 2023, is historic. Not just for the National Assembly but for the country at large.
Yet, it is particularly historic for the Ninth Assembly because that is its last Appropriation Bill as its tenure ends in June this year.
It is noteworthy that the virus of late passage of Appropriation Bills year in year out had infected even state Houses of Assembly. But with the action of the Ninth Assembly setting good example at the national level, the trickle down effect has encouraged a turn around in the process in the states too. Many state governments have embraced this new culture at the national level and those that were not doing well before in that regard have taken the new cue from Abuja.We have seeing virtually all state Governors signing Appropriation Bills before the end of the year.
There is yet another innovation that has been entrenched in the country’s financial system by the Ninth Assembly. This has to do with the practice of approving the Finance Bill side by side the Appropriation Bill. The Finance Act provides the support base for an effective implementation of the Appropriation Act through some major reforms in fiscal policies of the government.
For instance, the 2022 Finance Act, which was passed same day shortly before the 2023 Appropriation Bill was passed, is to facilitate amendment to some fiscal laws as the Capital Gains Tax, Company Income Tax, Customs Excise Act, Federal Inland Revenue Service Act, Personnel Income Tax and Stamp Duty Act.
The Ninth Assembly has made it a tradition to pass this piece of legislation alongside the Appropriation Bill and this is another legacy that the succeeding Assemblies must sustain. All these feats are made possible by the effective and efficient collaboration between the National Assembly and the Executive arm of government.
Also, through this cordiality, the Ninth National Assembly has accomplished all the items in its Legislative Agenda months ahead of the expiration of its tenure in June. It may also be difficult for some people to believe, but this Assembly has passed more Bills than any other before it. The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, noted recently at a public gathering that President Buhari has signed more Bills into law that were passed by this Assembly than any of his predecessors had done under any Assembly.
The tenure of the Ninth Assembly under Ahmad Lawan’s watch has less than six months to run out.
However, its legacy and work rate guide us to expect more accomplishments from it until its last day.
*Awoniyi is Media Adviser to Senate President
Was Lawan a stranger to Nigerians before his emergence as Senate President?
By Ola Awoniyi
I might have titled this piece: “Re: Once again, most legislators will not return to National Assembly,” because it was prompted by an article under that title written by the highly respected academic, rights activist and columnist, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, and published by some media outfits on Friday, 17th June, 2022. However, I decided otherwise because Prof. Ibrahim’s commentary, as usual, made many points that I consider valid and thus have no issue with.
But an aspect of the article is capable of leaving the reader with a wrong impression, and that is what I have set out here to correct.
Which means this piece is actually not a rejoinder, in the full sense of that word, to the article by the good Professor.
Just an amendment to it, as they would have described this effort of mine in Parliament.
The focus of Prof. Ibrahim’s article was the stranglehold of state governors on their political parties in their states and how this continues to reflect in the high turnover of lawmakers, especially in the National Assembly.
The writer mentioned the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, as one of a few lawmakers who have had long tenures in the National Assembly, despite the harsh political atmosphere he observed.
His misstep was in how he explained Lawan’s survival.
Prof. Ibrahim wrote: “The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, is the most spectacular exception that breaks the rule.
He has been in the National Assembly since 1999, first in the House of Representatives and subsequently in the Senate.
For some reason, successive governors of Yobe State have always given him the green light to stay on.
I wonder why? Could it be linked to his style and record of being unobtrusive and inconspicuous as a legislator who did nothing and was therefore perceived as non-threatening?
What is clear is that until he became the Senate president, hardly anyone noticed him.
He was discovered when he became Senate president three years ago and then broke the Richter scale of political ‘arrivism’ when the APC chairman announced him to be the ‘presidential’ choice of President Buhari.”
I would have ignored it if those assertions were made by an undistinguished writer.
But they are hard to overlook in the well-read column of a Professor of Political Science who is universally respected for the fairness and profundity of his opinions.
It is a typical of the columnist to claim that Lawan was unknown prior to his emergence as the 14th President of the Senate in 2019, because that claim is not true.
And it is not fair to say Lawan was “an unobtrusive and inconspicuous legislator” as of 2019.
Those claims left me curious because, more than most people, Prof. Ibrahim is in a position to know better.
He knew Lawan was the choice of his party,
the APC, for election as Senate President in 2015, based on his reputation as one of the most effective and better known opposition lawmakers in the Fourth Republic by then.
Of course, Prof. Ibrahim would remember that Lawan was the Senate Leader before his emergence as Senate President.
So, how can the Senate Leader be “unobtrusive and inconspicuous”? Even if a person was randomly appointed to the position, the role would haul him out of obscurity.
Aside from the presiding officer, the next most visible in parliament is the Majority Leader, who leads in championing the cause of their party’s government.
The Majority Leader harnesses support for executive bills and government policies in parliament.
Parties hardly assign such a critical role to a greenhorn, talkless of an “unobtrusive and inconspicuous” member of parliament.
And Lawan did not step into that position from darkness. Before his election to the Senate, he had spent two terms of eight years in the House of Representatives, where at different times he was privileged to chair critical committees like Agriculture (2003-2005) and Education (2005-2007), despite the fact that he was in the opposition at those times.
Such committees are usually chaired by members of the majority party in Parliament, so it is a reflection of what his colleagues thought of him to have accorded him those privileges.
At the Senate, to which he was first elected in 2007, Lawan held the very important chair of the Public Accounts Committee for eight years(2007-2015) and the Defence Committee for two years (2015-2017).
All those were before he became the Senate Leader. Does that profile fit the description of the “unorbtrusive and inconspicuous”?
I cannot understand why Prof. Ibrahim tried to serve his readers the impression that a man with such resume and history in Parliament was unknown before his emergence as the President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly. Did he forget Lawan’s political journey out of
Lawan spent 10 years in the academic and acquired a doctorate in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System before he ventured into politics in 1998.
That year, he was elected the pioneer vice chairman of the defunct All People’s Party (APP) in Yobe State and in 1999, was the Secretary of the Electoral Committee of the APP National Convention which held in Abuja.
As I was quick to say at the start, I have no quarrel whatsoever with the focus of Prof. Ibrahim’s said article of June 17, which addressed two phenomena that have become a malaise that needs to be checked for the growth of democracy in Nigeria.
One is the system that allows state governors to unilaterally determine who become party officials and candidates for elections. The other is the high
turnover of lawmakers in our legislative assemblies, especially in the National Assembly, as captured by the current situation whereby about half of senators did not get their parties’ tickets for the elections.
On those points and for his usual well-grounded interventions, I salute the good Professor.
Awoniyi is Special Adviser on Media to Senate President
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