The Speaker of the House of Representatives is committed to nation-building, writes Eni Olukotun,

The year 2020 has remained an unusual year globally. It signifies the most challenging period in the century. Nations, organizations and individuals who had high hopes were humbled in most cases. The first quarter witnessed the full blow of a novel Coronavirus pandemic that started from China in late 2019.

Within months, the entire humanity quaked as COVID-19 ravages nations, killing hundreds of thousands. Lives and livelihoods were Nigeria, the pandemic challenge tasked and painfully exposed the unpreparedness of the country to mitigate the plaque. Cities were locked down, the poor and many living on the fringes of life groaned as income ceased.

At this critical point of our nation’s history, the Speaker of the Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila showed unequaled leadership by galvanizing the legislative arm of the government in responding to the greatest public health crisis in centuries.

Rather than railing at the executive whose constitutional duty it was to tackle the menace, the Speaker rallied his colleagues. They parted with their salaries and contributed to alleviate the plight of the poor. The pandemic revealed the precarious state of the nation’s public health system.

To this end, Gbajabiamila has stepped up his agitation for better funding for the health sector. He was in Lagos on Sunday to push this plan. He met with Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and shared his commitment for better allocation to the health sector. The Speaker who organized a capacity training programme for health workers in his Surulere Constituency compared notes with the governor and had cross-fertilization of ideas.

He said the training was ‘part of efforts to ensure health care professionals have the skills they need to continue to do the incredible work they have done so far. “The House is committed to increasing the appropriations due to the health sector so that we can remedy the weaknesses of infrastructure and capacity, access and quality that bedevil our national health care system”, the Speaker said.

The #EndSARS protests that rocked the nation was another challenging moment in the nation’s history. Nigerian youth took to the streets to demonstrate against the impunity of men of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The peaceful protests snowballed into anarchy and mindless looting and destruction of private and public assets. Lagos, the commercial nerve centre and the epicenter of the protest was worse hit. Public buses, buildings, the monarch palace and wares of traders were invaded by hoodlums who hijacked the protests.

Lagos incurred humongous losses that will take years to restore. The State Government launched an endowment to rebuild the state from its current ruins. It is dubbed, Rebuild Lagos Trust Fund.

As a true Lagosian and nationalist, Gbajabiamila threw his weight behind the initiative and pledged to rally the ninth House of Representatives and other federal tendencies to support the project. The Speaker also made a tour around his constituency and other facilities that were ravaged across the state. He calmed frayed nerves and sued for peace among residents. Gbajabiamila appealed to the people’s sense of patriotism and urged them to protect their heritage.

“We will rebuild this state with everything that we need, with all the tools at our disposal, we will rebuild Lagos. This is the time to prove it, that Eko o ni baje.

“I think it goes beyond budget appropriation. It will call for a special intervention from the federal government to make sure that monies are devoted, not just to Lagos, although Lagos bears the major devastation.

“So it’s going to be panoramic; it’s going to be for all the states, but we all know that Lagos bears the brunt of the devastation. “So we will pull all our friends and colleagues and talk to them that we don’t look at this from a state or political prism but a nationalistic point of view and make sure that what needs to be done would be done. We will remain our brother’s keepers. That’s what we do in the National Assembly, be our brother’s keepers, and that’s what we will do for Lagos State and the rest of the country”, the speaker assured.

A major plank of the five for five demands of the #EndSARSprotesters was the reform of the Police. In fulfillment of his promise to ensure legislative support for the demands, the House of Representatives presented a draft copy of the Police Reform Bill at a Public Dialogue on Wednesday.

A draft of the Police Service Commission (Reform) Bill 2020, was presented at the Public Policy Dialogue Series organised by the House Committee on Implementation and Monitoring of the Legislative Agenda in Abuja. Among other things, the Police Service Commission Bill proposes creation of state offices for the commission to take public complaints and investigate allegations against officers of the Nigeria Police Force.

The House also proposes a Special Unit of the NPF to be created by the Inspector-General of Police, scrutinised and approved by the PSC. The commission, which is expected to have more stakeholders in its board, will also be empowered to set up panels to investigate police officers and recommend them for sanctions or prosecution. According to the House, the draft is to allow critical stakeholders to be involved in the preparation of the bill, ahead of its presentation. Gbajabiamila has continued to redefine governance in Nigeria.

He believes regardless of the arm of government a public officer operates, the overall objective is to create opportunity for citizens to improve their lives.

He demonstrated this when he volunteered to meet with Ghanaian authorities over the obnoxious trade policy imposed on Nigerian traders and other foreign nationals in Ghana.

Recently, he also met with Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed. He sought for partnership that improves the life of common man in Nigeria.

They reportedly discussed issues relating to electoral reforms, gender-based violence, enabling environment for more women in politics, improvement of public financial management systems, managing Africa’s Debt crisis as well as improving social investment and social protection systems in Nigeria.

Olukotun wrote from Lagos