Insurgency, banditry, killings and kidnappings, which spurred the decimation and displacement of the Nigerian population and the economy have always been of great concern to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.
The speaker, even as a first-term member in 2003, vowed not to rest until he contributed his modest quota towards finding lasting solutions to these critical challenges. That was the reason behind his drive for people-centered legislation and policies, which he took on as a challenge, with a conviction to give it an added drive, if he ever found himself in the position to drive decision-making. A few among the bills targeted at the generality of Nigerians irrespective of gender, ethnic or religious affiliation include: the bill to penalise airlines over cancellation of flights (2013); the constitution alteration bill to accommodate states and community policing (2018); the estimated billing bill (eighth Assembly); the bill to criminalise late/non-payment of wages (2019);the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (Amendment Bill 2019) and the physically challenged (empowerment) bill (2019).
On the assumption of office as the speaker of the ninth House, Gbajabiamila found it imperative to make the plight of the common man a priority, and this, among other reasons, accounted for the fact-finding and on-the-spot assessment visits to areas affected by insurgency, banditry and other crimes that have displaced people from their homes, while dislocating their economy and that of their states.He began the peace tour from Zamfara State, on July 14, 2019, and followed it up with another one to Borno State, on July 30, less than three days after the bomb blasts that claimed more than 60 lives. Why did he take on this enormous task despite the physical security risk involved, coupled with the knowledge that the resolutions and recommendations emanating from the legislature are advisory and not binding on the executive?
In Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, the Speaker told a gathering, which had in attendance Governor Bello Matawalle, the state cabinet, traditional rulers, factions of insurgents groups and the displaced persons that “all the years that many of us have been in the House of Representatives, we bring up issues concerning security and insecurity in Nigeria and other parts of Nigeria, Zamfara inclusive.
He said: “We argue these issues; we debate these issues, and we come up with resolutions that we feel might help in resolving the issues. But alas! Over the years, all these frantic efforts ended on the rinky-dink. Our arguments, our debates are based on what we read in newspaper reports; what we see on the television and what we hear. They are not based on actual assessment on the ground. They are not based on the interaction with the stakeholders that are here today. Since seeing is believing, we decided, for the first time in the history of this nation that the House of Representatives would be here with the presiding officers, to get the real facts based on-ground assessment, not on hearsay, not on newspapers report, not on television reports, but from interaction and interfacing with the stakeholders, and having a proper assessment of what is happening in Zamfara State. With the view of going back to the National Assembly, the seat of power, and getting government intervention and making recommendations based on that assessment to government.”
The trip was not a jamboree. With the determination to take the message back to Mr President, Gbajabiamila was equally resolute to secure commitments from all the stakeholders that peace should be given a chance for the benefit of the people and the development of the state so ravaged by the insurgency. One of the solutions, Gbajabiamila said was to develop the three senatorial districts in the state, alongside the state government. “So, here is the deal. On my part and on the part of the House of Representatives, we shall give you and devote a sizable amount of resources to the senatorial district in Zamfara State for peace. We will ensure that we deploy security forces, which are needed to cater for the citizens of the state. Without security forces, we’re not going to achieve much; the ratio of the security men to the citizens not just in Zamfara state, everywhere in Nigeria does not come close to the international best practices.
“I speak on behalf of the House, having discussed with the leadership of the Senate, I took my time to inform the President about this trip. He’s aware that I’m coming here. So, I stand here as a symbol of authority, not just for the House but for the government. The president is fully in support. He’s concerned. He is committed to peace for those of you who know him. He’s committed to peace; he is committed to finding lasting solutions to the problems of banditry or whatever we face and not just here in Zamfara, but in other parts of Nigeria. Maybe,Zamfara State will be a case study or test run, but this is going to be extended to every other part of Nigeria,” the speaker said.
The high point of the visit was the release of six hostage victims to Gbajabiamila by some repentant bandit leaders. He also made the contribution of a trailer load of food materials to the affected victims.
In less than three days after the last bomb blast in Maiduguri that claimed more than 60 lives, and despite the risk, the speaker saw no reason to defer his peace reconciliation trip to the Bono State capital. In the afternoon of July 30, Gbajabiamila and his colleagues were in Maiduguri, to assess the extent of the damage inflicted on the once peaceful state. Accompanied by the minority leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu; chief whip, Muhammad Monguno and others, the speaker expressed his concern over the plight of the younger generations languishing in the various Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps across the North-East, saying: “It is our responsibility as a government to make sure that the almost 42,000 persons that inhabit this camp are gradually reduced and resettled back to their families and their homes in a no-too-distant future. We are here to give encouragement and the little succour we can as a government and to see what we can do using the instrumentality of the law to make sure that issues that concerned the internally displaced persons.”
Besides speaking the mind of President Buhari, the speaker assured that laws that would comprehensively address the security challenges facing the country would be put in place. “As a National Assembly, and as a government, it is important that we deal with that situation. That’s why we’re here today to make sure that all is well. All can never be well if anybody is living in a camp; to make sure that as best as possible, government plays its role in making sure the welfare of those who are in camps is taken care of. Constitutionally, the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of its people. These are our people, and we must make sure that they’re well taken care of. If you see me and if you see the House, then you have seen the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I want you to take it away. I stand here as the speaker of the House, but we’re one government. The president is aware that I’m here. We’re one government, and we speak with one voice. Whatever comes under my voice is coming from Mr President.”
For Gbajabiamila, this is just the beginning of the several interventions that the ninth House under his leadership will come up with to better the lives of Nigerians.
- Anofi is an aide on Print Media to Speaker Gbajabiamila.