Udora Orizu writes that, House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila finally calmed rising tension by accepting a petition from Tivs in Diaspora, earlier rejected by his deputy, Hon. Idris Wase
On March 10, 2021 the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Idris Wase was enmeshed in an unnecessary controversy, when he stopped a Benue lawmaker, Hon. Mark Gbillah from presenting a petition against the Federal Government on an alleged taking over of their lands by herdsmen.
The rejection generated widespread condemnation and criticism with many accusing Wase of being an ethnic jingoist, who has total disregard for the plight of the displaced persons.
Nigeria is currently facing various security challenges. As the days go by, the country’s security situation moves from bad to worse. From Boko Haram insurgency, to banditry in the North-west, armed robbery, kidnapping, arson in all parts of the country, to killer herdsmen going scot free as they continue to cause mayhem in various parts of the country.
With these security challenges bedevilling the country, public officials are expected to be wary of their utterances, as some statements can easily be seen as divisive with the possibility to cause unrest in the country. This is also because such utterances and actions of the people in position of authority seem to encourage perpetrators of these ignoble acts in their atrocious activities, leading to innocent citizens living in constant fear.
At the House of Representatives, a fortnight ago, the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase prevented a member representing Gwer East/Gwer West Federal Constituency of Benue State, Hon. Mark Gbillah from presenting a petition against the Federal Government on the alleged plunder of their land by herdsmen.
The petition filed by Mzough U Tiv Amerika (MUTA) on insecurity in Benue, Nasarawa, and Taraba states accused the Federal Government of nonchalance towards the perils facing those who have been displaced as a result of the dastardly activities of herdsmen.
But Wase said Nigerians abroad are not eligible to file petitions against the Federal Government on crimes linked to herdsmen.
He argued that Nigerians abroad had no rights to file a petition on the crises, saying it would be understandable if the petition came from those in the country.
“Honourable Gbillah, did you say Tivs in America? What do they know about Nigeria? What is their business? They can’t sit in their comfort zones and know what is happening in Nigeria,” Wase said.
Responding, Gbillah argued that Nigerians abroad should be able to file complaints, because they have family members residing in the state. But Wase questioned whether or not MUTA was even registered with the Corporate Affairs of Commission to begin with.
Gbillah, however, countered Wase on the grounds that Nigeria has been pursuing a policy of inclusiveness for its citizens in the Diaspora, an aim he said would easily be defeated if the same category of Nigerians cannot be allowed to speak on raging matters of national concern.
Rejecting the petition, Wase said ”I’ll refer you to the functions of the committee on diaspora, if you go through that, it is nothing relevant to what you’re now presenting. I’m not convinced that we have to take that petition.”
Gbillah, Tivs, NIDO React
Speaking later on the rejected petition, Hon. Gbillah said that he was shocked by the Deputy Speaker’s statement.
He said, ”I was completely shocked and outraged when I tried to present the petition. Unfortunately for the Deputy Speaker and me, I did not carry the standing orders of the House on that day because at no point did I envisage that I have to refer to them to defend the presentation of a petition because the standing order did not require any condition or give the presiding officer any power like the Deputy Speaker claimed for it to be at his leave to accept a petition.
”There is no such position and it is important at this point to remind the Deputy Speaker and the leadership of the House that they serve at the leave of their colleagues. They are first among equals. They are not superior to us and so none of us gave them the power to deny the opportunity to present petitions from our people.”
On its part, the Tiv people in the United States (USA) decried the neglect given to their petition by the House leadership.
MUTA President, Mr. Simon Kusugh, and MUTA IDP Committee Chairman, Prof. Joseph Zume, in a statement said the group viewed the deputy speaker’s action as “highly reprehensible”, given that the subject of the petition addressed the fate of thousands of authentic Nigerian citizens, who have been displaced from their communities for years.
The group said as national representatives of Nigerians, the lawmakers should ordinarily be expected to empathise with those hapless citizens they represent, whose normal livelihoods have been truncated by unfortunate circumstances.
The group described the incident as hostile to their cause and an extension of the general insensitivity that the national leadership has shown about the welfare of the internally displaced Tiv people over the years.
Also, Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) threatened to withhold home remittances after the deputy speaker’s statement.
The organisation said Wase’s utterances rubbished 20 years of the Federal Government’s Diaspora engagement at a time, when the contributions of Nigerians in Diaspora were highly needed and desired, insisting that it is the fundamental right of the Nigerians in the Diaspora to intervene in respect of their kinsmen back home.
The organisation, therefore, asked the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to convene an urgent Virtual Meeting with NIDO within 14 days to address the issue and to reassure it of his full support, failing which it might be compelled to call out all Nigerians in Diaspora to withhold further home remittances with immediate effect.
They also demanded a retraction of the statement, a public apology from Wase to Diaspora Nigerians and a representation of the Tiv people petition.
Following the backlash, the Deputy Speaker, in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Umar Puma, on March 15, said the coverage and reportage of the incident have mostly been doctored, slanted and bent to give political and ethnic coloration to the event that was otherwise strictly based on rules of parliamentary procedures.
He reiterated that the crux of the encounter between him and Mark Gbillah was on the legal identity and flowing from that, the locus of the petitioners and not on the whether Nigerians in diaspora have a right to petition the House or not.
He noted that he was just guiding the sponsor of the petition on the proper procedure to adopt in presenting the said petition.
Wase added that it would have been unnecessary to respond to such show of clear mischief, but it has become imperative to clear the air on the matter in order to educate the ignorant and reassure the enlightened.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa Calls for Calm
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has appealed to all stakeholders especially, Nigerians living abroad to remain calm over the issue.
Dabiri-Erewa, in a letter to Gbajabiamila, a copy of which was sent to the House Committee Chairman on Diaspora, Hon. Tolulope Akande-Sadipe, said the commission had received complaints from Nigerians in the Diaspora over the stand of the deputy speaker, when the matter was presented at the house.
“The video has inflamed tension and caused a significant uproar amongst the Nigerian in Diaspora community. In view of this, we appeal to Mr. speaker to intervene and use your good office to do all that can be done to mitigate the effect of this unfortunate incident,” she said.
The Vote of Confidence
On 22nd March, members of the Plateau State Caucus in the House of Representatives passed a vote of confidence in the leadership of the Deputy Speaker, Hon Ahmed Idris Wase.
The lawmakers in a statement by its leader, Hon Beni Lar said their resolve became imperative as incident has been given an ethnic and political coloration which ought to be a purely parliamentary affair.
The caucus described Wase as a seasoned legislator, known to have listening ears and accommodating of all views.
The caucus implored the public not to misunderstand the intentions of the Deputy Speaker who according to them is known to act in accordance with laid down procedures.
Gbajabiamila Accepts the Petition
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila at the plenary March 23, finally accepted the petition, which was presented again by Hon. Mark Gbillah.
The Speaker said that the House of Representatives cannot discriminate against any Nigerian wherever they may be in any part of the world.
Gbajabiamila said, “I believe this is the same petition that has been causing a lot of misunderstanding. The misunderstanding came from the issue of signature. Having cleared that misunderstanding, please, go ahead and lay your petition to be given proper attention. Thank Hon Mark Gbillah. Thank you for your patience.”
For Gbillah, It’s Time to Sheath the Sword
Speaking to THISDAY after plenary, Hon. Gbillah while commending the Speaker for his intervention, appealed to Nigerians in diaspora to sheathe their swords and rescind their earlier threat of withholding their home remittances in the light of the acceptance of the petition.
The lawmaker also appealed to the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase to apologize for his statement.
He said, ”I would also like to first all commend Nigerians in diaspora for rising up to defend their constitutional rights. It is their privilege to do so. I appreciate their rallying around us, the Tiv people and the Tiv Association in America who brought up this petition in the first place. I don’t want us to lose focus on the crux of the petition itself.
“I want to appeal to them in the light of the final submission of the petition and Mr. Speaker’s confirmation of the commitment of the House in the furtherance of the issue of our people in diaspora to sheathe their swords and rescind their earlier ultimatum with regards to remittances.”
For Wase it’s Another Justification
After the petition was accepted, the Deputy Speaker, Wase said the incident was blown out of proportion by mischief makers, saying the House will not be distracted.
Wase who spoke when he received a delegation of APC Elders from Plateau state on a solidarity visit said the petition was not the first petition or motion and bill to be rejected by the House.
While insisting that the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and the House Rules would be protected under the watch of the 9th House, the Deputy Speaker said he will not join issues with those who decided to amplify the issue to give the House a bad name.
Wase said that the House would remain guided by its rules and would not do anything outside the provisions of the law, adding that “we will not be distracted, we shall remain focused, we shall not throw away our rules. We all remain one because we are guided by our rules.
He said, ”Those following the matter heard when the Speaker was asking the sponsor of the petition of the identity of those who sent the petition and weather the petitioners have now signed it and he confirmed that they have signed. We will not join issues with anybody, we will not be distracted, but remain focus on what God has given us to do for Nigerians. We will try as much as possible to ensure justice to all Nigerians but we cannot by any means throw out our rules.”
At the House of Representatives, a fortnight ago, the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase prevented a member representing Gwer East/Gwer West Federal Constituency of Benue State, Hon. Mark Gbillah from presenting a petition against the Federal Government on the alleged plunder of their land by herdsmen. The petition filed by Mzough U Tiv Amerika (MUTA) on insecurity in Benue, Nasarawa, and Taraba states accused the Federal Government of nonchalance towards the perils facing those who have been displaced as a result of the dastardly activities of herdsmen. But Wase said Nigerians abroad are not eligible to file petitions against the Federal Government on crimes linked to herdsmen