THE MOST CHALLENGING YEAR OF THE CENTURY

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Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives, is always on the side of the people, writes John Wobe

The year 2020 is arguably the most challenging year of the century. The spiritual radar of topnotch clerics who churn out prophecies in New Year missed the calamity that would be occasioned by the novel COVID-19 pandemic. They were humbled as they had no inkling into what the year carried. God again asserted his sovereignty in the affairs of men.

Globally, leaders of all shades and hues run helter-skelter and evolved measures to deal with the greatest public health crisis of the century. In the Western hemisphere, their touted top- of -the-range health system quaked under pressure.

The pandemic was a litmus test for leadership across the world. Leaders who failed to live up to expectations in the management of the health crisis learnt the hard way at the polls. The United States President Donald Trump easily comes to mind in this instance.

Just as we have leaders that proved their mettle in other climes, in Nigeria, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila lived up to the billing. Though a legislative leader, he blurred the legislative roles of law making and oversight on the executive and responded to the crisis.

Gauging the dearth of resources and the plight of many poor Nigerians who had to stay indoors without making a living, Gbajabiamila led his colleagues in the Green Chamber to donate their salaries to ameliorate the pangs of hunger. Aside, he rallied his colleagues to go back to their respective constituency to show love to their constituents. They did as directed by the House leadership.

Not done, Gbajabiamila specifically called on the executive arm to liaise with the essential service providers like electricity distribution companies to offer succor to Nigerians under lockdown by providing two months free electricity for the people. He lobbied the stakeholders but they thought otherwise.

At the meeting with Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, Discos representatives and others, Gbajabiamila said, “It has become imperative that I urgently call for this meeting to find a solution to the poor supply of electricity during this lockdown period. If we ask people to stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, at least we have to make their homes comfortable for them to stay.

“The complaints have just been too much in the last 24 hours. There are people also in the hospital now without electricity; we need to brainstorm over an urgent solution”. Whilst trying to lead the nation through the raging turbulent peak period of COVID-19 pandemic, the legislature contemplated Control of Infectious Disease Bill that brewed controversies. Scaremongers and the co-travelers raised issues and made mountains out of mole hills. Gbajabiamila in his charismatic measured response calmed frayed nerves and assured the nation that the ninth National Assembly especially the Green Chamber can never be part of any sinister measures that will hurt Nigerians. Explaining the motive behind the bill, the Speaker said, “The current law severely constrains the ability of the federal government of Nigeria and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to take proactive action to prevent the entry into Nigeria of Infectious diseases and the management of public health emergencies when they occur.

“Even now, the government remains vulnerable to claims that some directives already being implemented to manage the present crisis do not have the backing of the law and therefore cannot withstand judicial scrutiny”. He argues further, “I disagree wholeheartedly with the suggestion that this is not the ideal time to seek reforms of the infectious diseases and public health emergency framework in the country. The weaknesses of the present system have already manifested in the inability of the government to hold to proper account those whose refusal to adhere with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines led to the further spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria.

“We have had people break out from isolation centres, and others, who are fully aware of their status chose to travel across state lines on public transport.

“The number of those currently infected by the coronavirus continues to rise alongside the number of those who have died. There is no timeline for when this disease will pass, and nobody can predict when the next public health crisis will occur, just as nobody predicted the present predicament.

“It bears restating that we do not have in our country, a healthcare system or for that matter, a national economy that is sufficiently robust to withstand the dire consequences of a sustained infectious disease pandemic. We cannot tie our own hands in the fight against this disease”.

All through the heated crisis, Gbajabiamila assured Nigerians that the House he presided over will never work against the interest of the people. He also intervened when public health workers were planning to strike over non-payment of hazard allowance. He lashed out at the health minister when he claimed he was not aware if hazard allowances were being paid to health workers who were battling COVID-19 pandemic.

Like the health workers, he reached out to striking university lecturers too and pleaded for classrooms to be opened in the interest of younger Nigerians. That was vintage Gbaja! He is always proactive to nip brewing crisis in the bud before it explodes. He did the same with Ghana. When Nigerian traders among other foreign nationals in the neighbouring country were subjected to draconian trade policy and faced daunting threats, the Speaker elected with the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene. He flew to Ghana, met with the authorities and a sustainable truce was reached. The recent revolt against the Police brutality and bad governance led by distraught Nigerian youths was a watershed. In the history of Nigeria, the nationwide protest which later turned bloody was unprecedented.

The Speaker was one of the few credible voices that was engaging the youth and pacifying them to retreat from the streets. In fact, he assured that the recently passed 2021 Appropriation Bill will not be passed into law without adequate provisions for their demands.

For Gbaja, the 5-for-5 demands were done deal. He totally bought the idea of total police reforms. When violence broke out, he was in the epicenter of the crisis, Lagos, where he assured the federal assistance in rebuilding Lagos and other places where carnage took place.

The speaker throughout the year, maximized the challenges and inspired hopes in many!