Some of the recent interventions by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, on some issues of national concern, appear to be turning around the image of the National Assembly, writes Udora Orizu
Since 1999, when the country returned to civilian rule, the National Assembly has been viewed generally in a negative light by the citizenry. The legislative arm, over the years, has been seen as the haven for queer politicians, who are believed to be there only for their own selfish interests.
About two months ago, specifically on February 20, 2020, at the launch of Green Chamber magazine in Abuja, Patrick Lumumba, a former Director of Kenya’s Anti-corruption Commission, asked the federal lawmakers if they were “Honourable” members or “Horrible” members?
Amid laughter from the audience, Lumumba said being “Honourable” or “Horrible” members is determined by the quality of service the lawmakers deliver to Nigerians and appealed to the legislators to be servants and not masters of the people, whose objective will be to deliver the common good to the Nigerian people.
With some recent interventions in the area of COVID-19 pandemic, electricity issue and safety of Nigerians living in China and other parts of the world, the negative image trailing the National Assembly may be erased over time with the confidence of the citizenry in the parliament being restored, courtesy Speaker Gbajabiamila.
It all began in March, when Gbajabiamila used his leadership skills to get all the 360 lawmakers in the House to donate their two months salary to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic afflicting the world.
The Speaker, in a video message to Nigerians, said the two-month salary donation would be independent of the contributions by individual lawmakers to alleviate the hardship that their constituents may be facing at this time of national emergency.
According to him, the salary donation from the lawmakers would be transferred directly to the National Relief Fund account.
“We have in the House of Representatives jointly committed to contributing one hundred per cent of our salaries for the next two months to the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria. Our contribution will support provisions for the welfare of frontline medical professionals and health workers, and other interventions to provide for the wellbeing of all Nigerians through these trying times.”
He also said the House had urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to make cash grants to the 774 local government areas in the country to alleviate the suffering of the masses.
The House, he noted, would exercise its oversight power to ensure faithful administration of all emergency funds and contributions made so far to ensure they serve the purpose for which they were intended.
The Speaker was also part of the leadership of the National Assembly that recently rejected the list of the vulnerable compiled by the Presidency as beneficiaries of the COVID-19 special fund, describing it as fraudulent.
At a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Farouq, the Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Gbajabiamila, faulted the way the Social Intervention Programme of the federal government is being implemented and called for an enabling legislation in line with global best practices.
The duo, therefore, directed Farouq’s ministry that is overseeing the project to overhaul the scheme in four weeks. The ministry is also to discard the register and all indices used to generate those that are poor and vulnerable across the 360 federal constituencies in the country.
Gbajabiamila, specifically, told the Minister at the meeting: “The questions are going to be asked, how do you come about your list? How comprehensive is your distribution list? What are the parameters? What is the geographical spread? So, these are tough questions that are going to be asked but I want you to look at them as frank questions that we need to ask.
“If you really want to define the meaning of representation, if that was being practiced in the real meaning of representation, then, we shouldn’t be here, because all the questions we want to ask, we should already have the answers. We should be providing those answers to the Nigerian people we represent.”
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 or not. 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.
The exchange between the Speaker and the Minister went thus:
Gbajabiamila: The answer to my question is that they are not being paid hazard allowance.
Ehanire: No, the answer is that I am not aware.
Gbajabiamila: But you should be aware. It is not enough to say you don’t know. Honestly, you dropped the ball.
At another occasion, Gbajabiamila asked the federal government to waive payment of electricity tariffs by consumers for two months.
Speaking at a meeting between the leadership of the National Assembly and the Executive, Gbajabiamila emphasised the need for an all-inclusive relief package for Nigerians arising from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
He said the most effective means of alleviating the financial burden of the stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of the virus is for the federal government to give a 100 per cent waiver on the electricity consumed by every household in the country.
“I’m looking forward to a robust package, that will include succour to the Nigerian people, that is the issue of electricity, just for two months. The Ghanaian government has done that to make life more bearable for the citizens as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Speaker also met with the Minister of Power, Sale Mamman and the management of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) over a viral video by a Nollywood actress, Ada Ameh, who protested the poor electricity supply to Nigerians during the lock-down. The Speaker, while reacting to the calls and messages from many Nigerians via his social media account, called for a prompt action.
The maltreatment of some Nigerians living in China recently 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 protest video of the incidence, where a Nigerian was challenging Chinese officials over the maltreatment. Gbajabiamila said there should be an official explanation for treating Nigerians in such a manner.
“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.”
The Speaker also sought to understand the specific mandate of the Chinese medical team that arrived Nigeria and if they are following Nigeria’s laid down protocols.
Also, the leadership of the National Assembly recently tasked President Muhammadu Buhari to put necessary machinery in place that will ensure transparency and accountability in the disbursement and management of donations made by individuals and organisations in support of the fight against COVID-19.
President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan and Gbajabiamila, made the call during a closed-door meeting with the President in the State House, Abuja.
Gbajabiamila, who spoke to newsmen after the meeting said, they discussed the proposal for free electricity for Nigerians as part of the palliatives to cushion the effects of the lockdown in the fight against COVID-19.
According to him, such offer would provide reliefs to Nigerians as they stay at home. The Speaker added that following his discussion with the President, he might soon meet with the electricity distribution companies (Discos) to look at the modalities for this offer.
Clearly, these interventions had earned Gbajabiamila praises by the public. Among those who hailed him was a former Minister for Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who described him as gradually becoming one of the most effective leaders of this dispensation.
Writing on his official Twitter handle, Fani-Kayode, stated: @femigbaja is fast becoming one of the most effective and inspiring leaders of this dispensation. He is courageous & compassionate. I commend him for his intervention on the electricity issue and the Chinese matter. I have known him for 40 years and I am not surprised by noble efforts”.
These interventions, without doubts, are worthy of note.