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Where Lawan stands on national issues

Jesusegun Alagbe 

Two days after the expiry of the Eighth National Assembly, 107 senators converged on the Assembly’s Upper Chamber to choose the next Senate President.

Although 109 senators were supposed to participate in the exercise, which marked the beginning of the 9th National Assembly, two senatorial seats of Imo State were vacant as of the time of the election.

The lawmakers were to choose the President of the 9th Senate between senators Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North) and Ali Ndume (Borno South), both of the All Progressives Congress.

While Lawan was backed by the APC National Working Committee for the position, Ndume was supported by the Peoples Democratic Party.

In the end, Lawan polled 79 votes to defeat Ndume, who got 28 votes.

Without delay, the National Assembly updated its website, nass.gov.ng to reflect Lawan as the President of the 9th Senate, a visit by our correspondent to the NASS website showed.

Notably, the APC has 62 lawmakers in the Senate, the PDP has 44, while the Young Democratic Party has only one.

Lawan, 60, is said to have parliamentary experience spanning over 20 years.

The PUNCH looks at his position on some national issues:

Fulani herdsmen

A day before his emergence as the Senate President, the Kulen Allah Cattle Rearers Association of Nigeria endorsed Lawan’s candidature as the 9th Senate President.

Giving reason for the endorsement, the association said it was due to Lawan’s gesture towards the group.

A statement by the KACRAN National President, Mr Khalil Bello, on Saturday said Lawan had a genuine concern for the development of both livestock and arable farming in the country.

The group also described Lawan as a person who would create a good working relationship with the executive to accelerate decision making and execution of those decisions by the Federal Executive Council.

Also, in December 2017, leaders of KACRAN, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Rearers Association of Nigeria and other Fulani cultural organisations in Yobe State commended the senator for his “enduring” support.

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However, speaking to The PUNCH, a Lagos-based lawyer and social commentator, Mr Ayo Johnson, said Lawan’s endorsement by Fulani herdsmen was wrong “at a time militia herdsmen are causing havoc across the country.”

Boko Haram

Lawan is a firm believer that the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, where he hails from, is as a result of poverty and has often called for the provision of necessary financial resources to fight the menace.

In September 2013 when Boko Haram killed 40 students in the state, Lawan told VOA News that the then President Goodluck Jonathan should be worried as the leader of the country.

“This is an insurgency that doesn’t know any limit or bounds. But I think while we are fighting insurgency in that part of the country, I believe that Yobe and Borno states particularly need to have more resources from the Federal Government to also fight poverty,” he had said.

Lawan dismissed any suggestion that the Boko Haram insurgency might be driven by religious and political intentions.

In May 2019, Lawan blamed the high rate of out-of-school children in the north on the banditry and insurgency in the region.

He also called for a reform of the Almajiri system, designed over 100 years ago, wherein children leave their houses in search of Islamic knowledge.

On this, Lawan said, “Why not provide a climate conducive for these children who roam the streets to go to formal schools without compromising their learning for religious benefits?”

On lawmakers’ bogus allowances

National Assembly lawmakers came under fire when it was revealed in March 2018 that they were collecting N13.5m allowance monthly.

Justifying the allowance, Lawan said the money was as a result of the nature of their works, saying many Nigerians did not understand the lawmakers’ functions.

Lawan said such funds were needed for the lawmakers to have a “conducive” environment to carry out their work.

He was reported to have said, “There is nothing like jumbo pay for lawmakers. As a senator, my take-home pay is N750,000. The gross is about N1m, but a senator pays a tax of N250,000 every month.

“But as a senator who has to work for the people, we have the funds that people call our own or allowances. These funds are for us to operate. Sometimes, your oversight or other functions take you outside the country.

“I believe that what is paid to members of the National Assembly and the Senate in particular, the N13.5m per month, is not given to the senator to put into his pocket and use to buy cars. It is for that senator to perform his functions.”

A policy analyst, Dr Babatunde Abraham, told our correspondent on the telephone that despite calls to reduce the bogus allowances paid to senators, the new Senate President was not the person expected to make the move.

He said, “I don’t think he is the Messiah of the Senate that will change that. He is a member of the old and we should not expect anything new.”

On state police

Lawan is an advocate of state police, but analysts believe if President Buhari does not support it, the Senate President will not be able to do anything.

In February 2018, Lawan had said he was on the same page with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo that state police would go a long way in tackling the nation’s security challenges.

Abraham said, “Lawan is Buhari’s favourite for the Senate President. Even if he is an advocate of state police, if Buhari doesn’t want it, I don’t see how the Senate President would make it happen.”

Restructuring/devolution of powers

Lawan seems to be in support of restructuring, as canvassed by several notable leaders in the country, especially in the South and Middle Belt.

The then Senate Leader had in February 2018 asked the ruling party to present its report on restructuring to the National Assembly for inclusion in the constitution.

The APC had set up a committee on true federalism chaired by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai.

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Then, Lawan said if the restructuring committee’s recommendations required constitution amendment and legislation, they would be put forward in the form of a bill and presented to the National Assembly for consideration.

He said where an amendment to the constitution was to be done, it would go beyond the National Assembly and passed to the state Houses of Assembly.

But a public affairs analyst in Lagos, Ms Edith Nwankwo, expressed pessimism about the issue.

She said, “This Senate President might not be able to do anything about it. Recall that they all rejected a bill to devolve powers to states in 2017. Of course, that doesn’t mean he was one of those people who rejected it.”

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