Nigeria’s Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, is every Nigerian politician’s prayer point. He worked as a civil servant and later as a lecturer for well over a decade. Then he clinched political office for the first time in 1999 as a representative of Bade/Jakusko Constituency of Yobe State in the federal House of Representatives. He’s not left the National Assembly since then.
The man has spent 23 years in the corridors of Nigeria’s parliament. There are millions of Nigerians eligible to vote next year who weren’t even born 23 years ago. But Lawan used all that time to rise from a lower chamber lawmaker to a senator, a senate leader and, finally, his current position as senate president.
Why is Lawan’s story relevant now? Well, because his luck seems about to run out.
A game of eggs (not really)
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is usually sound advice — whether you’re a poultry farmer or a Nigerian politician. There’s a trend of Nigerian politicians trying out for two different positions during the same election cycle. For example, in Nigeria, a first-term governor can contest for the presidency, lose it but somehow still find a way to pick up a governorship ticket for a second term in office.
What would usually happen is that a placeholder candidate would “win” the ticket and wait for the real owner to come and reclaim it if they lose the other election. It’s a game Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, played in the recent primary elections. Former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, also did this when he lost the presidential primary election in 2018 but still picked up a senatorial ticket before the 2019 elections.
When Ahmad Lawan joined the race for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the contest already had its favourites. So it was no surprise that by the time the election was done, he only finished in the fourth position with 152 delegate votes.
This was the point where Lawan would shrug off defeat and simply march over to pick up his consolatory senatorial ticket and live happily ever after in the National Assembly. Except this is where things get rocky.
Deus ex Machina
When the APC conducted the primary election for the Yobe North senatorial district that Lawan was unable to compete in, a certain Bashir Machina won the ticket unopposed.
Since Lawan’s presidential loss, the inevitable chatter about him replacing Machina on the senatorial ballot has become a news feature. And Machina’s response to that has been a media campaign to resist the powers and principalities that can make that a reality. He’s written to the APC’s leadership that he has no intention to step down and done TV interviews to basically say:
Machina won his first election in 1992 as a lawmaker in the federal House of Representatives. This means he’s technically Lawan’s legislative egbon and not a random rollover that can be bullied. Machina is even interested in becoming the Senate President, and who can begrudge him for that? We imagine he feels like this:
How will this end?
Machina may appear to be in the driving seat of this game, but there’s still time for things to change. July 15th, 2022 is the deadline for parties to replace candidates and submit names to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This gives a lot of room for drama to play out. Like his brisk presidential campaign, Ahmad Lawan has maintained silence over the tug of war, so it’s difficult to know where his head is at.
Lawan’s game format was tested and trusted. He wasn’t the first to do it and get away with it. His only error was not accounting for Bashir Machina. And what that means is one of Nigeria’s longest-serving lawmaker may be on the verge of unplanned retirement.