The leading contestant and anointed candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the presidency of the 9th Senate, Senator Ahmed Lawan, has said that he will not be a figure head of the Upper House and a puppet of the Executive arm of government.
Lawan, who is the Senate leader of the outgoing Red Chamber, declared yesterday that while he would not be confrontational with other tiers of government, he would at the same time not be a rubber stamp chairman of the National Assembly (NASS) if he carried the day.
He barred his mind on the contentious NASS leadership and other national issues when he visited the corporate office of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group in Abuja with some serving and senators-elect.
The lawmaker, who has been in the National Assembly since 1999 when Nigeria returned to full-blown democracy, said that there are clear provisions in the constitution of Nigeria on the roles, functions and relationship between the executive legislative arms of government.
Lawan said that the thought of a rubberstamp Senate could not have emerged in the first place if people understood the functions and roles of both arms of government even with a robust opposition political party that controls some measure of influence in the National Assembly.
In a response to a question on fears that he is being seen as President Muhammadu Buhari’s “errand boy”, Lawan said: ‘‘People say I will be there to do whatever President Muhammadu wants. There is clear demarcation of roles. Let me say first that I am not going to be a rubberstamp. The explanation is that we have separation of powers. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very clear on what functions the legislature performs and what functions are cut out for the Executive arm of government.
‘‘The legislature has its own functions well spelt in the constitution and until the constitution is amended and those sections altered, those functions remain valid no matter who is the Senate president or the presiding officer of the Senate. Even if it is not stated clearly in the constitution, there is interdependency between the two arms of government. That is my understanding of separation of powers,” he said.
He added that ‘‘I believe that there is nothing like rubberstamp. The presiding officer in the first place is just first among equals. It is not possible for a presiding office to just say I damn the consequences, bang the gavel and say even if you are a majority and i declare you a minority. It doesn’t work that way.’’
While recounting the hostility in the 1st Assembly between the NASS and the executive that almost brought the then government to its kneels, Lawan declared that separation of powers does not necessarily mean provoking hostility between both arms of government. He said that the essence of governance should be prioritised on the best interests of Nigerians who entrusted them with their mandates.
According to Lawan, ‘‘If you are going to serve the same people under the same government, you are not supposed to be going towards different direction. It means you have to come together in such a manner that is characterised by mutual respect, partnership and cooperation.
‘‘I have been in the National Assembly for a very long time to see what the hostility and rancorous relationship can lead to and what good relationship could bring.
‘‘In 1999 when we were elected, we had rancorous relationship with the government and democracy suffered and at the end of the day, Nigerians lost out. I believe we can disagree but when we disagree, we should be able to talk. Both sides of government are supposed to work for Nigerians.
‘‘As you are aware the 9th National Assembly would be inaugurated on the second week of June and having been returned, some of my colleagues asked that I run for the office of the president of the Senate.
‘‘Certain people will assume that because we have to work together with the executive, we are going to be rubber stamped. We are going to perform our constitutional functions of oversight, representation and legislation,” he said.
Lawan said that they want to see a situation where budgets are passed for the best interest of the people and also be accounted for. He said that the Senate under him would work towards having a budget cycle and working towards its realization.
The Senate leader further noted that if from time-to-time there are disagreements between the National Assembly and the executive, it should be for the overall interest of the electorate and after that, there must be ground for harmony, adding that his group had drawn out a plan for a National Assembly that will work for all.
‘‘We have a set target and our campaign slogan as a group is to have a Senate and a National Assembly that work for Nigerians. We want Nigerians to benefit from this democracy. And the best way to achieve that is for the government to deliver. This requires that we remain focused as legislators. It requires that we remain united across party lines,” he said.
Lawan, who further disclosed that he is already working closely with senators from the opposition political camp, promised that the 9th Senate under him, if elected, will be inclusive.
He said: “We believe that we need to work together regardless of our political platforms. The APC as we all know controls the majority in the current assembly and the 9th assembly as well. We believe that we have to work together with our colleagues in the PDP and the YPP. We have been consulting widely, visiting residents and offices of our colleagues to tell them what we stand for, what we want to achieve and how we should engage them and also listen to them on what their mission and vision are for their people.
‘‘Every senator-elect will eventually represent a senatorial district and therefore we want to see a situation where every senator performs optimally, an aggregation where we can perform optimally as a chamber.
‘‘So the Senate and the House of Representatives must work together and we also believe that the executive and the National Assembly must work together,” he said.