The Nigerian Senate is the upper house of Nigeria’s National Assembly, and its president is second in line of succession to the Nigerian presidency with the Vice President being first in line. The Senate President leads the Senate in its role to provide adequate oversight and balance over the other branches of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The Senate’s approval is necessary for ratifying certain government appointments, and it also must give its consent before certain agreements with organisations and foreign countries can be finalised. Nigeria has had 14 senate presidents in its history with eight of them serving since the return to democratic rule in 1999.
Some have played their role as counterbalances to executive excess quite decently. Ken Nnamani and Bukola Saraki come to mind. Others have been tepid, while some have been full-blown enablers of executive incompetence and overreach. Ahmed Lawan is a good example of the latter. Ahmed Lawan became Senate President after Bukola Saraki, who had been Senate President from 2015 to 2019, lost his reelection attempt on the PDP ticket in Kwara State.
Bukola Saraki had become Senate President as a senator from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), but his disagreements with the ruling party made him decamp from the party and also caused subsequent mass resignation of APC Senators that made the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to take the majority in the Senate.
This enabled him to act a bit decently in providing the necessary checks and balances from 2015-2019, but after his 2019 election loss, Ahmed Lawan became the new Senate President by beating Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume to give President Muhammadu Buhari an All Progressives Congress majority in the National Assembly and a pliable Senate President who had no intention of checking the executive in any way.
The 9th National Assembly that had Ahmad Lawan as Senate President and Ovie Omo-Agege (APC-Delta Central) as Deputy Senate President was supposed to be the one that helped Buhari perform excellently, but it has just been a Senate that stood aside meekly and watched the president become an utter disaster.
The Ahmed Lawan-led Senate watched President Buhari take Nigeria’s external debt from $10.32 billion in 2015 to a whopping $40.06 billion. In 2015, the external debt breakdown had the federal government with $7.05 billion while the states had $3.27 billion. By 2022, the federal government’s debt was at $35.5 billion, while the external debt of the states had only risen by $1.31 billion to $4.56 billion.
This steep rise in external debt levels has not helped Nigeria’s economy. Nigeria had single-digit inflation and unemployment rates in 2015, but these rates are now 20.77% and 33.3% respectively.
And as if this isn’t bad enough, President Buhari is now asking the Senate to restructure a CBN loan of ₦22.7 trillion to make it payable over 40 years and shaped in ways that would make it possible for him to take more loans.
This is the type of economic ruin that can come from inadequate voter focus on the legislative portion of the democratic process. Poor legislative oversight enabled the executive to increase the external debt by $28 billion, accompanied by a steep rise in poverty levels.
Nigerians would do well to strongly demand commitment to providing checks and balances from the candidates asking for votes to become senators.