Frontline aspirant to the presidency of the Senate in the 9th Assembly, Senator Ahmed Lawan in this interview, regrets the voiding of election of candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Zamfara State in the last elections by the Supreme Court. He however said it will not affect his ambition. He spoke on other issues of interest.
Would you say you have the number to become the President of the 9th Senate?
Unfortunately, I will not address the question the way you put it as I think the public will be more interested in what we are doing, rather than the number. Suffice it to say that we definitely have a very solid base amongst the senators-elect. Right from the start, we defined how we should campaign for the office of the President of the Senate. We told ourselves that we should behave as though we are orphans. That is to say that when you are an orphan, you will do everything possible, legitimate and lawful, to ensure that you live a decent and productive life. Yes, our party has recommended us and our leaders have also recommended us, but we must justify that recommendation and the confidence of our colleagues.
We started by defining that the campaigns should be based on one-on-one contact, for me to present myself to each and every one single Senator elect, to tell him or her what our mission is, what our mission for this country is and the capacity we are carrying, the experience we have built over the years and our desire to make positive difference in governance in this country and our plan to go all the whole hog to work with every stakeholder in government to ensure that Nigeria’s developmental trajectory continues in the positive way it is going that will make life better for Nigerians; that we will provide security and enhance the economy so that it works for all Nigerians, especially those at the lowest socio-economic ladder in Nigeria; that we will do those things that will make Nigerians live in peace and unity.
We also believe that this requires a by-partisan disposition in the National Assembly, particularly the Senate. Even though APC is the majority party with, at that time 65 senators-elect, we felt that we also need the opposition, particularly the PDP and YPP represented by a Senator, for us to work very cordially and produce those kind of required and needed legislative interventions for the executive arm of government to deliver to Nigerians those things that are necessary and imperative for us to make progress.
But I want to tell you that we are very comfortable and we are very confident that we have told our story to our colleagues and they have bought the story because it’s a story of truth, it’s a story of struggle right from 1999 in the National Assembly to make things better.
I’ve been a consistent progressive. In fact, when I started contesting, my first platform was UNCP. But before then, I grew up in a family where our parents were NEPU and then later GNPP, and then later NPP, UPN and so on, when the progressives came together. When I grew up myself, I started with the UNCP and then I joined the APP. In fact, I was its first Vice Chairman in Yobe State and I remained in APP. I came to the National Assembly in 1999 as APP member of the House. It changed to ANPP in 2003 and I was there till 2011 and 2014 when the ANPP joined other three political parties to form the APC. So, my background is that of a progressive politician. I intend to remain so by the grace of God because I think it’s the right thing to do. Even when I had the opportunity to move to another political party that was in power and of course my mentor at that time moved to that political party, my DNA would not allow me because I came from neither a wealthy family nor a monarchical family. I was just the son of a peasant, but I had all the opportunities in the world to go to school, funded by public treasury and thank God, I read up to PhD. So, I have every reason to work for Nigerians because I’ve benefited from Nigeria as a country. I’ve benefitted from my people. So, this is what we have been able to do and we are continuing with that. It’s not a question of number. It is a question of how far we gone to take the story to our colleagues and they have responded very positively and we are happy.
Your party last Friday lost three Senators in the Senate and eight or so members in the House of Representatives. Do you see this altering the number situation when the election comes up?
The Supreme Court judgment that nullified the elections of all APC candidates in Zamfara State, of course, was a setback to the party because the party lost three Senators and seven members of the House of Representatives. That leaves us with a new set of numbers to be represented in the National Assembly. Let me state clearly what the standing of each political party is today with that judgment. The APC had 65 Senators before the judgment and with that judgment, now the APC has 62 Senators. The PDP has 44 Senators. It had 41 before and with that additional 3, it had 44 and the YPP has one. There are two cases that have not been determined yet in Imo State and we are expecting of course that the APC will have those two seats. One seat is that of Governor Rochas Okorocha, the outgoing Imo State governor and then Senator Ben Nwajimogu, who is a serving Senator. If we get those, then APC will have 64. So, APC is still clearly the party in the majority. What is important here though, to me, is not the distribution; it’s not the figures for each political party, but our ability to come together, to work together for the benefit of Nigerians. I believe that as senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, our utmost concern and focus must be Nigeria and Nigerians. Whether someone is APC or PDP or YPP, we are supposed to serve the same people and in every constituency, you will definitely have almost all the parties in the country represented and when you have something good, you can’t discriminate against those that you don’t belong to the same political party. God forbid, when there is any setback or any unwholesome development in a senatorial district, it won’t ask someone whether you are in the APC or PDP. That unwholesome development will affect everybody. So, we have the responsibility and obligation to Nigerians, regardless of their political parties, regardless of their political beliefs and irrespective of our platforms, to work to make life better for Nigerians. From 2015 to date, even though this administration has been receiving less revenue into our treasury, if you look at the performance from 2015 in terms of the area of providing physical infrastructure, you will agree with me that Nigeria is a huge and massive construction site. There is no part of Nigeria where construction of some sort is not going on. I always use the example of the Second Niger Bridge. From 1999 to 2015, previous administrations or presidents went to break the ground for the construction of second Niger Bridge, but it didn’t go beyond breaking of the ground. But from 2015 to date, with fewer resources, if you go to that site where the ground was broken maybe four, five times previously, we broke it once; today the second Niger Bridge is almost 45 or 50 percent in terms of the level of completion. Two weeks ago, I saw the vice president visit that place to see the level of work and everybody was happy. In fact on Monday or Tuesday last week, I saw a newspaper advert signed by the governors of the South East congratulating the Federal Government for the Second Niger Bridge construction that is going on. This is to tell you that if you are able to tame corruption to a tolerable level because it’s something that you cannot eradicate completely from the face of the earth, no matter how hard you try, you can only minimize it and this is what this administration, the president particularly, is trying to do, to ensure that whatever is meant for the public, whatever resources and revenues we have must be applied to the benefit of Nigerians. So, we believe that as a National Assembly, we should support that kind of development.
At the end of the day, the National Assembly should be part and parcel of the success story of the next administration, which is the next tenure. We want to be reported that we have provided those legislative interventions that are required to make life better for Nigerians.
Nigerians see the National Assembly members as the highest paid in the world. When you become the President of the Senate, are you going to slash this jumbo pay?
Let me say right from the onset that there is nothing like jumbo pay to the National Assembly members. As a senator, my take-home is N750, 000. The gross is about N1 million, but every month, a senator pays a tax of about N250, 000 out of that. That brings it to net N750, 000. But as a representative of the people, as senators who has to work for the people, just like members of the House of Representatives who also have to work for the people, we have the funds that people call our own or allowances. These funds are for us to operate. Our functions as legislators are clearly defined. We oversight, we legislate, we represent. When you oversight, sometimes your oversight takes you outside of this country. I know as Public Accounts Committee, we had to from time to time, go outside of Nigeria, visit our High Commissions in different parts of the world to work on their documents, the financial reports that they had to give. Our committees on Foreign Affairs and so many other committees also travel outside of this country from time to time, either for oversight or seminars that will enable them to be better legislators. You cannot be a better person if you just remain with the little or nothing that you know. Let me also say that you can be professor somewhere, but once you come to the National Assembly, it is going to be a new life entirely. Your professorship elsewhere will not help you in legislative practice. Of course, you have some experience, but you still have to learn what the legislature is expected to do.
So, I believe that what is paid to members of the National Assembly and let me narrow it down to the Senate, the N13 million per month that is paid, is not given to the Senator to put into his pocket and use it to buy dress or buy cars. It’s for that Senator to perform his function and I think what should matter to us as citizens is to continuously keep our eyes on the performances of the members of the National Assembly.
Today, as a Senator, I have five aides. In fact, in most cases, if a Senator is going to move a motion, he writes it himself. That is not the parliamentary practice elsewhere. In the developed democracies like the US, a Senator may have not less than two professors in every sector, so that each time he has an interest in an issue, all he will do is talk to that professor who may be consultant to him or who may be a staff. That is why the quality of legislation will naturally be higher where such kind of a climate exists. We want to have high quality legislations. So, we have to pay for that. With all due respect, I’m sure that when we chose to go this way of democracy, we knew that it will come with some attendant costs. I’m not an advocate of throwing funds to nothing. I’m an advocate of getting value for money.