By Ola Awoniyi
There are as many opinions as there are Nigerians on how to address the challenges our country currently faces. That is not a problem in a democracy, every citizen has a right to express their view when the nation debates the way forward. And it does not matter whether the view conflicts or agrees with the popular or dominant view, or whether the citizen expresses it from a high or lowly position.
However, some citizens tend to find it very difficult to concede this right to others whose views happen to be different from their own on issues of importance to all. And some of these people profess to be democrats. Amazing!
Last Thursday, rising from Eid prayers at the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, the Senate President, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, was asked of his opinion on a topical national issue. This was at the forecourt of the Presidential Villa, where he had joined President Muhammadu Buhari and other Muslims in prayers. Not one to play to the gallery, he spoke candidly and from the depth of his heart.
Then, suddenly, there was an outburst of mysterious anger. Lawan ought not to talk the way he did, they chorused. This piece is not to defend the comments made by the senator. He has the brainpower and energy to defend his point of view on any issue. Those who knew him even before he became the Senate President would attest that he loves a good debate. Instead, what this piece is defending is Lawan’s right to hold and express an opinion on public issues, more so, issues that affect the future of his country. That right cannot be abridged for the Senate President or any citizen.
As I have said, Lawan is not one to shy away from expressing himself on any national issue, no matter how controversial the issue is. He does not talk when he has nothing to say but he will not be cowed into silence when he has something to say. Since he became the Senate President, he has not left his position on critical issues to conjecture. He has always stated his position clearly. More importantly, whatever he says always reflects his personal conviction and the position of the people he represents. And he does not begrudge anyone for holding a view contrary to his own. He realizes that, as the Yoruba would say, we cannot all sleep and lay our heads in the same direction.
So, why vilify Lawan for holding a position and expressing it on issues of national concern?
Some have argued that, as Senate President, Lawan should have maintained sealed lips or feigned neutrality on burning and sensitive issues such as he was asked by journalists to speak on last week. My take on this is that, being a presiding officer in the Senate does not make one deaf and dumb. Democracy is not impaired by leaders speaking their mind.
A leader who always sits on the fence or gives the impression of neutrality on critical issues of common concern is only engaged in a game of chicanery. As one of the most experienced lawmakers in Nigeria today, Lawan understands that he cannot impose his views on his distinguished colleague senators on any matter at the plenary or wherever. The ninth Senate is populated by elder statesmen, former governors and accomplished leaders who have made their marks in their various fields. Lawan knows the responsibilities and limitations of his status as first among equals and that is the reason he has been enjoying the support and cooperation of his colleagues. He understands what it takes to lead the august chamber.
Some of his more ridiculous traducers have even said the views he expressed on Thursday further confirm that he is a “rubber stamp” Senate President. Just because he holds a contrary view to their own! How ridiculous.
Lawan has been consistent on the content of the Legislative Agenda of the ninth Senate: To work for Nigeria, rather than to engage in needless confrontation with the executive. And this has paid off in many ways, considering the many quality bills passed by the Senate within two years. Lawan is firm in his conviction that a cat-and-mouse relationship between arms of government will yield the polity only constant strife. Lawan will not pick a fight with anyone just to satiate some people’s hunger for endless political rancour. That is not what Nigeria needs and that is not what the ninth Senate has in its agenda.
Finally, Lawan has been preaching synergy, unity of purpose and common focus on addressing the challenges we all love to solve. He believes that this requires leaders at all levels of government to come together to work out the way forward, instead of shifting and trading blames on who is responsible for our predicaments. Leaders are supposed to be problem-solvers, and Nigeria’s current political, security and economic challenges require solutions at all levels of government.
•Awoniyi is Special Adviser on Media to the Senate