AHMED LAWAN FACES REBELLION AS SENATORS FEEL BETRAYED OVER SENATE COMMITTEES’ COMPOSITION

Fred Itua, Abuja

Like President Muhammadu Buhari, who for 12 years, tried without success to clinch the number one position in the country, the current President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in 2015, took a shot at the plum job, but missed the opportunity as he was outwitted by Bukola Saraki.

Therefore, for four years, Lawan watched from the sidelines. Despite series of alleged attempts to topple Saraki, like a pack of cards, everything crashed. Lawan gave up the chase when it became obvious that the pendulum wouldn’t move in his favour.

However, as soon as the All Progressives Congress (APC) secured the needed majority seats to produce the two presiding officers of the Senate during the last general elections, Lawan, without delay, assembled a formidable team to lead his Senate presidency project.

His subsequent emergence didn’t come to many political pundits as a surprise. Unlike in 2015, when Saraki played a fast one and snatched the coveted position, the presidency together with the ruling party, the APC, spearheaded Lawan’s predictable emergence.

Ali Ndume had laboured without success to defeat Lawan. Ndume’s inability to secure a major commitment from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), terminated his dream. While Ndume laboured in vain to get the nod of his party and the presidency, Saraki’s men, led by Dino Melaye, also added salt to his injury and worked against him. In the end, he lost.

Concessions and promises made during electioneering

Two nights before the inauguration of the Ninth Senate, Lawan met with the PDP caucus at the behest of Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who is now the Minority Leader. The meeting was held in Abuja. After a long meeting, Lawan grudgingly conceded the headship of some ‘juicy’ committees to the caucus of the PDP.

He also agreed to concede about 40 per cent of the chairmanship positions to the PDP, while the APC was to retain the 60 per cent share introduced by Saraki in 2015.

Some of the committees he promised to concede were Power, Niger Delta, Agriculture, Interior and Petroleum, among others. In 2015, Saraki, made a similar deal with the senators and handed juicy committees to them when he emerged.

Lawan’s core loyalists were also promised rewarding committees during the campaign. His core loyalists were about 19 senators who were always on his entourage. Some of the loyalists reportedly funded his campaign, while a first time senator from a North-central state, offered his private jet to Lawan, which he used throughout the duration of the exercise.

However, Lawan, according to aggrieved senators, did not honour the gentleman agreement he had with his colleagues. The angry senators, predominantly from the APC, are ranking lawmakers.

Already, pressure on Lawan to rejig the standing committees and accommodate concerns raised is gaining momentum before the lawmakers went on recess.

Principal officers of the upper legislative chamber are not exempted from the list of those who are aggrieved. Although no one has openly protested, Sunday Sun gathered that series of meetings have been held.

A senator who spoke to Sunday Sun in confidence, admitted that the names rolled out by Lawan, were slightly different from what the 10 principal officers agreed on.

The 10 principal officers make up the Selection Committee. President of the Senate, Lawan is the chairman. Deputy President, Ovie Omo-Agege; Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdallahi; Senate Minority Leader, Abaribe; Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu; and other principal officers are members of the committee.

According to a breakdown of the sharing of the headship of the committees, the ruling APC got 49 chairmanship slots.

The PDP got 20 chairmanship slots only. Out of 23 acclaimed juicy committees, APC got 16 votes while the PDP got seven.

On geopolitical zone basis, Northwest got 16. Northeast got 11. North-central got 10. Southwest got 13. Southeast got nine while South-south got 10.

In overall, southern states got 32 slots, while northern states secured 37 chairmanship positions.

An aggrieved senator from the South-west told Sunday Sun that the committees they were appointed to head are not commensurate with the sacrifices they made in the emergence of Lawan as president of the Senate.

Despite their refusal to openly come out and voice their misgivings, some of them, however, told Sunday Sun that if the fallout is not properly managed and corrections effected, it could lead to bad blood in the upper legislative chamber.

He said that as a ranking senator, he ought to have been given a more ‘juicy committee,’ pointing out that certain committees specially reserved for ranking senators were offered to new lawmakers with no legislative experience.

For instance, two new senators were appointed to head one of the most sought-after committees – Senate Services. Sani Musa was appointed chairman, while Lawal Hassan emerged as vice chairman.

Two other first timers were appointed to head Interior committee. They are Kashim Shettima and Diri Douye. A ranking lawmaker who lobbied for the position said that he was betrayed at the last minute.

Mohammed Bulkachuwa and Ignatius Longjohn who are first timers were appointed to head Foreign Affairs committee.

If the claims in certain quarters are true, when the Senate resumes on September 24, some angry lawmakers may be appeased by Lawan. This may also lead to a minor reshuffling of the heads of committees.

Lawan’s leadership style in 69 days at the helm of affairs

The Senate under Lawan’s watch took off on a wrong footing, pundits have claimed. Lawan’s first litmus test as president of the Senate was the appointment of personal aides. For many, he failed it and the ripple effects from the fallout are yet to abate.

Few days after announcing the appointment of Festus Adedayo as his spokesman in June, Lawan rescinded his action. For about one month, he did not announce any replacement.

The sack of Adedayo, who was yet to resume duties, was traced to the condemnation that trailed his appointment, especially by supporters of the APC. Till date, Lawan is yet to assemble his full team.  Lawan’s leadership style has also been questioned by those who believe that he will be subservient to President Buhari. However, he has repeatedly dismissed the claim as a non-issue and unfounded.

But those who push the narrative are quick to point out Lawan’s sins since he assumed office. By constitutional design, the Executive and the Legislative arms cannot work harmoniously without any friction. Although the banters can be minimised, it cannot be wished away.

But for Lawan, any perceived friction is a thought he does not want to accommodate for now. For instance, Lawan has frustrated several attempts by the PDP and APC senators to criticise President Buhari on the floor of the Red Chamber. Those who have made such attempts have been humbled by Lawan.

Instead, Lawan has continued to preach his unending message that the Senate under his watch will work harmoniously with the Executive arm. No motion so far has been entertained to condemn any policy of the Executive since Lawan assumed office.

Eight versus Ninth Senate

The icing on the cake was the recent confirmation hearing of ministerial nominees. In 2015, as soon as the Senate was inaugurated, Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee was set up, preparatory to the confirmation hearing of ministerial nominees.

Lawan, upon his assumption of office, jettisoned the old practice. In 2015, when Saraki held sway, as soon as names of ministerial nominees were read, lawmakers were given time to prepare for the confirmation hearing.

Again, Lawan did not permit this. Senators were given less than 24 hours to prepare for the confirmation hearing. Despite the silent protests that more time should be given, the pleas were ignored. For the first time, ministerial nominees were confirmed without the accommodation of petitions from members of the public. In the absence of a substituting Ethics Committee, members of the public and senators, could not submit petitions.

Again, Lawan pointedly told his colleagues who attempted to make some observations during the confirmation hearing that their duty was to confirm and nothing more.

Take a bow retual

The parliamentary practice of ‘take a bow’ was on display during the confirmation hearing. Contrary to its own Standing Rules, the Senate gave a free pass to 23, out of 43 nominees. It did not subject them to thorough screening.

According to the Senate Standing Order, only former senators and members of the House of Representatives are exempted from being grilled during any confirmation hearing.

Former Governor of Gombe State, Danjuma Goje during the exercise, raised a point of order, relying on Order 3 of the Senate Standing Rules.

He insisted that the Senate Rules do not recognise a former member of a State House of Assembly to benefit from the special privileges where nominees are not questioned.

But, Lawan interjected, saying that as the presiding officer, he could allow certain privileges. He subsequently extended the same privileges to former members of state Houses of Assembly when a former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi appeared before the upper legislative chamber for screening.

The Senate also included female nominees. Female nominees were not grilled during confirmation hearing. He said it was a way of supporting women in the country.

Bipartisan relationship in the chamber

So far, the two leading parties, APC and the PDP, have enjoyed a cordial working relationship. With the fallout from the constitution of the standing committees, it is unclear if the harmonious conducts would be sabotaged when the Senate resumes next month.

Senators, CSO speak

Senators and political stakeholders have expressed their thoughts on Lawan’s style of leadership. For Senator Clifford Ordia who heads Local and Foreign Debts Committee, those who are quick to conclude that Lawan will be a pushover are wrong.

In a chat with Sunday Sun, the Edo Central senator, said that some hiccups experienced so far by the Senate are not strange, adding that the minor mistakes are not enough to conclude that the Senate  would be a rubber stamp. He urged Nigerians to give the Lawan leadership more time to adjust.

“I think people are expecting too much. Lawan is presiding over a Senate where you have 109 members. These people are successful in their various fields and they are not the type you can just push around. Beside, Lawan is first among equals. You don’t expect him to force his colleagues to anything.

“As we progress, we will begin to understand ourselves better and those fears expressed by Nigerians will go. We will not disappoint Nigerians and we will not be subservient to any other arm of government,” Ordia said.

National Coordinator of Advocates of People Rights and Justice, Mr Victor Giwa, in his reaction, came hard on Lawan and the Senate. He expressed fear that as a product of President Buhari, Lawan cannot be his own man.

His words: “Well, the president of the Senate was the candidate of the president as the leader of APC. President Buhari endorsed Lawan’s candidacy as Senate president and even harangued others from contesting against him.

“The president has now got an ally in the legislature who will more or less do the executive bidding. Senate president as a person is not believed to be an independent person. He has before now been seen as a cannon folder of the executive.

“So, we do not expect anything different.We have  lost the opportunity of having a robust discussion on  issues and I think we have finally lost the checks and balances  expected from this legislative arm as provided for by the constitution. We may be heading towards recklessness.”

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