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Opinions of Thursday, 19 August 2021

Columnist: www.thisdaylive.com

Gbajabiamila: A round peg in a round hole

Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila

Udora Orizu x-rays some of the laudable legislative interventions, as well as, criticism faced by Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the ninth House of Representatives

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila was elected to the House in 2003, representing Surulere I Constituency of Lagos State. Gbajabiamila has spent over one decade as a principal officer in the parliament. From being a member, he rose in the legislative ranks to become the Minority Whip, Minority Leader, Majority Leader of the House, before eventually clinching the Speaker seat in 2019, after defeating his opponent Mohammed Umar Bago. The Speaker who’s a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) is very diplomatic and one of the few active legislators currently in the ninth House. Over time, he has been able to apply his leadership skills to deliver on the main functions expected of any legislator.

Legislative interventions

In the area of constituency representation, Gbajabiamila is known to have attracted several Federal projects to Lagos state, particularly his constituency Surulere. This has attracted praises to him from his state governor and traditional rulers. It might also be the reason why he has consistently won his re-election campaign since 2003.

At the House inauguration in June 2019, he rolled out a ‘joint task’ agenda which he said would be the framework to guide operations in the next four years. Two years on, the ninth House under his leadership has achieved some of their priorities on the agenda. These include a return to the January-December budget cycle, the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act, Finance Act, the Police Reform Act, the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), amongst others.

In March last year, Gbajabiamila was able to get all the 360 lawmakers in the House to donate their two months salary to the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. He has intervened and sometimes been able to resolve several disputes by bodies such as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and legislative aides. He also helped resolve the trade dispute between Nigeria and Ghana, this got him a commendation from Nigerians based in Ghana.

The Speaker also ensured that the House took a definite stand when Nigerians suffered xenophobic attacks in South Africa. He equally held a meeting with the Minister of Power over better electricity supply for Nigerians during the lockdown in response to a Nollywood actor’s complaint, while also leading the charge for a two-month free electricity supply to Nigerians during lockdown although the two months free electricity for Nigerians was never achieved.

Also last year, the maltreatment of some Nigerians living in China drew the attention of Gbajabiamila, who expressed deep concern over the issue. The Speaker, in reaction to the viral videos from Beijing, which showed Nigerians being forced out of their houses and hotels, rounded up and their passports seized by the Chinese police said the inhuman treatment of Nigerians must be addressed forthwith.

Meeting with the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, Gbajabiamila confronted him with the video of the incident, where a Nigerian was challenging Chinese officials over his maltreatment. Gbajabiamila said there should be an official explanation for treating Nigerians in such a manner.

He said, “If the diplomatic relationships between our two countries are for the mutual benefits of our citizens, then, there must be respect for our citizens, and we should not compromise it. As a government, we will not allow Chinese or other nationals to be maltreated just as we will not allow Nigerians to be maltreated in other countries. The way you treat your citizens, we expect that’s how you’ll treat others. We will not tolerate our citizens breaking your laws, but the crime of one citizen cannot be used to stigmatize the whole country. It appears that’s what happened in this case. You can’t use one brush to smear the whole wall. Whatever the reason, it cannot be used and taken out on the entire community in China.”

Also in 2020, at a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Farouq, Gbajabiamila and his Senate counterpart faulted the way the Social Intervention Programme of the Federal Government was being implemented and called for enabling legislation in line with global best practices.

Farouq’s ministry was, therefore, directed to overhaul the scheme. The ministry was also told to discard the register and all indices used to generate those that are poor and vulnerable across the 360 federal constituencies in the country.

At another forum, the Speaker slammed the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, over hazard allowance to health workers. At the meeting with members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Gbajabiamila asked the minister if the medical personnel handling Coronavirus cases were paid any hazard allowance, to which he responded: “I am not aware of it.”

He faulted the Minister for saying he didn’t know if health workers treating COVID-19 patients were being paid hazard allowance. The Speaker told the Minister it was not enough to say he was not aware, adding that by saying that, he just dropped the ball.

Security, which is one of the major priorities listed in the legislative agenda of the ninth House, has been tasking to the leadership of Gbajabiamila. At different sittings, he sought ways to help the executive arm of government bring an end to insecurity currently bedevilling the country. Aside from passing several security-related bills and motions, the House held a Special Summit on National Security in Abuja on May 25, where major stakeholders examined the security challenges of the country and came up with recommendations. Gbajabiamila, later led other principal officers to the State House in Abuja to present the document to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Speaker is currently one of the top Bills and Motions sponsors. He sponsored critical Bills such as the Physically challenged (Empowerment) Bill 2019; Criminalization of Estimated Billing System Bill 2019; Students Loan (Access to Higher Education Bill), 2019, amongst others. One of his notable Bills which was recently passed, is the Bill which seeks to amend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to provide for inclusion of young persons and persons with disabilities (PWDs) in political appointments.

Criticisms

While the seasoned legislator has achieved some commendable feat over the years, as a public servant, he’s not immune to scrutiny or criticisms.

Under his leadership and that of his counterpart in the Senate, it appears that the principle of checks and balances may have disappeared. For instance, despite the country’s rising debt profile since the duo assumed office, almost every loan request sought by President Muhammadu Buhari has been given express approval. This has been frowned upon by many Nigerians who believe that some of the requests shouldn’t have been approved by the parliament.

Under his leadership, the House was also criticized for keeping mum after the President refused to honour their invitation to brief lawmakers on what his government was doing to end insecurity in the country. Because the parliament has the constitutional backing to invite the President when need be, critics believe that the way Mr President treated the legislators was a misdemeanour which the parliament shouldn’t have taken lightly.

Gbajabiamila also faced criticism when he introduced the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill. The Bill generated so many controversies and was condemned by Nigerians, who described its provisions as infringing on fundamental human rights.

The most recent criticism came on the heels of the passage of the long-awaited Petroleum Industry Act and Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. While the passage of the two landmark legislations can be seen as a great achievement for the ninth National Assembly, however, many Nigerians were against some provisions in the two bills which were adopted by the lawmakers despite opposition. They include the three per cent adopted in the PIA as the equity share to the oil-producing communities and the rejection of electronic voting and transmission of election results in the electoral act.

While the seasoned legislator has achieved some commendable feat over the years, as a public servant, he’s not immune to scrutiny or criticisms. Under his leadership and that of his counterpart in the Senate, it appears that the principle of checks and balances may have disappeared

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