Today marks the 55th birthday anniversary of the Leader of the 8th House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila. In his usual, way this is just like any other day to give thanks to the Creator for the turn of events in his life and a sober moment to ponder on the challenges crippling the society around him.
Unusual man who has enjoyed a very unusual love of the people, it is unusual for a man to hold strong for 14 unbroken years in the parliament and still wax stronger in the hearts of his people.
Gbajabiamila represents a cosmopolitan Constituency, Surulere 1 of Lagos State, with people of mixed background and professional calls.
Gbaja, as he is popularly called in the South and Baban Jemila to the Northerner, came to the House in 2003 at the age of 41. He first served as House Minority Whip from 2007, and later became Minority Leader, a position he held up to 2015. It was Gbaja who charted the party from opposition to ruling party in the legislature.
Gbajabiamilaâ€™s indepth knowledge of law stems from his penchant for knowledge which saw him through his study of law both in Nigeria and United State of America where he bagged a Juris Doctorate Degree in Law. He is one lawmaker that commands a lot of respect from his colleagues largely due to the way he articulates his ideas and thoughts each time he speaks on the floor of the House as his colleagues listen with rapt attention whenever he contributes to any matter.
He contested for the position of speaker on June 9, 2015 and narrowly lost to Speaker Yakubu Dogara with 8 votes. He was later nominated to the position of House Leader. He has never held any position in the Executive Arm but in the legislature where he serves, he has become an authority of sorts, as far as lawmaking in Nigeria is concerned. He also has a big dossier of constituency outreach that reflects his close touch with his constituents.
In his memoir, â€˜â€™Fearlessâ€™â€™ authored by foremost writer and former President of Association of Nigerian Authors, Dr. Wale Okediran, the author noted that â€œPerhaps the most popular action taken by Gbajabiamila till date was the rejection of his nomination as a recipient of the 2011 National Honors in the Order of the Federation of Nigeria (OFR) category.â€ Gbajabiamila declined his nomination as OFR on the ground that the national award process as at then lacked credibility and would not subscribe to it until totally refined to a standard where it would be easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle. That is Femi Gbajabiamila, a stickler to high principles.
An unassuming and quiet politician, he is reputed for his sponsorship of Interest-Free Student Loans Bill. When passed into law, the law will allow Nigerian students in tertiary institutions have access to interest-free loans through the Nigerian Education Bank and their school authority. The loan will be payable after graduation. He also sponsored the Nigeria Immigration Act, 2015 (amendment bill) which seeks to â€œrestrictâ€ the issuance of work permits to foreigners by the Federal Government in fields where Nigerians have adequate expertise. Another Bill he sponsored is the National Minimum Wage (Amendment Bill) (HB. 1028). The amendment is to compel the federal government to periodically review workersâ€™ salary every 5 years among many other people oriented bills Gbaja sponsored.
The House Leader is known for his outstanding contributions to debate on the floor of the House. He and the current Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, usually thrill their colleagues with their arguments, but on most occasions, Gbaja would carry the day, though the later would not accept by virtue of his calling as Opposition Leader.
Apart from his contributions on the floor, Gbajabiamila has not abused his long stay in parliament or pride himself over people of his constituency. His name resonates in his constituency like a golden bird; Gbaja Market, Gbaja General Hospital, Gbaja Girls Secondary School, Gbaja Boys Secondary School and Gbajabiamila Primary Healthcare Center. These are Lagos State Government facilities that reflect name of the senior lawmaker.
He has utilised the opportunity given to him through projects he has attracted to his constituency and his name is registered in the heart of his people and largely Nigerians.
â€œI understand the challenges we are all going through as a country but we are working seriously to ensure that we get out of recession. Itâ€™s a matter of time. We have done a lot and after this meeting I will be commissioning solar street lights we have installed at Rabiatu Thompson in Shitta, Olufemi Street, Mabo Street and Iponri Housing Estateâ€, Gbajabiamila said amid applause from his community town hall meeting in March, 2017.
He has matched his words with action and facilitated numerous federal projects in his constituency including distribution of 500 E-Learning Tablets with 117 Textbooks for JSS 1 â€“ 3, SSS1-3 and SAT candidates, Novels and WAEC Past Questions to outstanding secondary school students; distribution of 5 Fully Equipped Medical Ambulances to Akerele Health Center, Surulere; Gbajabiamila Clinic, Iyun Road, Surulere; Randle General Hospital, Surulere; Gbaja Maternal and Child Care Unit of Randle General Hospital; Coker Aguda Primary Healthcare Center; Free Medical Outreach; presentation of CCTV Tool Box to 50 Youth of Surulere 1 Federal Constituency trained on Installation and Maintenance of Closed Circuit Television; a new block of 3 classrooms at Ajigbeda Secondary School, Surulere, Lagos; organized Surulere Job fair, the first of its kind in any constituency in Nigeria which led to the employment of over 300 men and women in just 2 days. It was purely an interface between job applicants and employers of labour in the State, such as Mikano, Nafdac, Lagos Inland Revenue Service, etc. Also to his credit there are many other on-going projects.
In his role as the Leader of the 8th House of Representatives, Gbajabiamila quickly settled for legislative business after the politics and intrigues that led to his defeat during the 2015 Speakership election. Gbajabiamila as a sportsman has been working seamlessly with Speaker Yakubu Dogara to deliver on the legislative agenda of the 8th Assembly which contains legislative roadmap required in achieving the aspiration of Nigerians who are impatiently yearning for good governance. Since his assumption of office, none of the executive bills he has presented on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari suffered any rejection on the floor of the House. He is a master lobbyist who has warmed his way into the hearts of his colleagues in the House.
Upon the mandate of the House, Gbajabiamila intervened in respect of the refusal of the Federal Ministry of Interior to compensate victims and families of deceased victims of the 2014 Nigeria Immigration Recruitment Stampede. Today they have been employed and serving in various state commands of the Immigration Service. The beneficiaries appreciated the House Leader, in a letter dated 10th February 2017
Similarly, he intervened in respect of the protracted delay in the implementation of Automatic Job Offer for the recipients of 2014 combined sets of the NYSC Presidential Honours Award due to change in government. After Gbajabiamilaâ€™s engagement with the stakeholders, the Buhari-led government fulfilled the promise made by former President Jonathan and the Awardees have been recruited into the federal civil service.
Again, Gbajabiamila led an intervention committee of the House that engaged Kogi State lawmakers on the crisis that crippled the state assembly in mid last year. He also led a special delegation of the House to meet with members of the South African parliament on the xenophobic attacks on some Nigerians resident in South Africa. The delegation engaged in legislative diplomacy to ensure the safety of Nigerians in that country and vice-versa.
The House Leader is currently leading an adhoc committee of the House investigating the safety of soft drinks consumed in Nigeria. This is apart from the success he has been recording in leading government business in the 8th House of Representatives.
As he clocks 55 today, one would only pray that Almighty Allah gives him good health and grant him wisdom to lead the House aright.
â€“â€“Olanrewaju-Smart is a media aide to the Leader of House of Representatives