Upon resumption of the House of Representatives from its 2021 annual legislative recess, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila addressed the House at the commencement of plenary on Wednesday, 15th September 2021.
The Speaker charged his colleagues on keeping to the promise made to Nigerians in their House legislative agenda. In apparent reference to OrderPaper’s ongoing Midterm Report Card performance appraisals of the National Assembly, Mr. Gbajabiamila stated that legislative function goes beyond bills sponsorship. He spoke on other duties such as oversight and other constituency projects, which incidentally, have been pointed out severally by this newspaper.
The transcript of his address reads as follows:
- Good morning honourable colleagues. I welcome you all back to the hallowed chamber of the House of Representatives, and I thank you all for being here. I thank God Almighty by whose grace and mercy we have reconvened this morning to do the people’s business in the parliament of our beloved nation. I know that the time away has been a time of consultation and engagement with constituents. I hope that we have each used the time to rest and recuperate, reflect and prepare for the tasks that lie ahead and the hard work required to accomplish the ambitions we each, and together, hold for our country.
- Already, in this 9th House of Representatives, we have done a lot of what we said we would do, and we have made giant strides towards keeping the promises we made to the Nigerian people in our Legislative Agenda. Yet, with every new accomplishment, we confront the unavoidable truth that our work is not nearly done, and the cares that concern us and animate our governing efforts have not been met.
- But rather than be discouraged, we draw inspiration from the things we have achieved, we learn the lessons from the times we tried and failed, and we endeavour with each new day and each new effort to do better than our previous best. In this way, through our individual and joint efforts, we will ensure that in the final judgment of history, it will be said that in the time we had, we strived, and we kept the faith to the best of our abilities.
- In the last week before our recess, we laid the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill report before the House. For two days, members engaged in intense and impassioned debates inspired by our varied understandings of the ideal, yet motivated by our shared desire to deliver for our country an electoral system that reflects the best aspirations of our people. This is our duty for which there is no alternative and from which we cannot deviate.
- Inevitably, as is always the case, the final count of votes disappointed some. This is democracy in practice, and the democratic process rarely makes for universally accepted outcomes. Therefore, honourable colleagues, I urge as many as are disappointed to set aside their disappointments in the sure knowledge that as the work of parliament never ends, what is done can be revisited until perfection is attained from repeated efforts over time. Let us remember the things we have done well and that we can and still must do well together.
- In this 9th Assembly, we have considered and passed the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), the Finance Act 2020, the Petroleum Industry Act, the Deep Offshore & Inland Basin PSC (Amendment) Act, amongst other such legislation focused on the economy. Each of these Bills includes in their provisions critical reforms of the way we do business in Nigeria. Taken together, they represent a wholesale and long-awaited legislative intervention to improve ease of doing business, encourage investment and drive economic growth.
- Let the joint effort required when we took up the cause of police reform in our country and passed the Police Act 2020 inspire us to do the same with the Police Service Commission (Repeal and Reenactment) Bill. So that we can finally, using the instrument of legislative power, enact a statutory framework for holding swiftly and fairly to account those officers of the Nigeria Police Force who choose to abuse the authority of the state against the citizens they are commissioned to serve and to protect.
- Insecurity remains an overwhelming threat to all our nation’s people and a hindrance that further delays the attainment of the critical development objectives necessary to put our country on the path to peaceful prosperity. Therefore, the 9th House of Representatives will continue to take action as required to address statutory deficiencies that limit the ability of our national security apparatus to respond effectively to the myriad manifestations of insecurity in our country.
- In our last session, we convened a National Security Summit to deliberate on the issue and articulate recommendations for executive and legislative action. The leadership of the House of Representatives presented the report of that Summit to His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, and we received assurances that the recommendations will be duly considered and implemented. We will follow through to ensure that commitment is met.
- At the same time, we have begun to take legislative action to implement the Summit’s recommendations on statutory reform, amendments and the enactment of new legislation. Several such Bills have already passed the second reading and now await action in the respective Committees. I urge the Chairmen and members of those Committees to act quickly and conscientiously to bring those Bills to the floor as soon as is practicable.
- In this parliamentary session, we will prioritise national security Bills that seek to implement the recommendations of the Summit. This is not to suggest that we will abdicate action on other matters of national concern. We only reaffirm our commitment to do all that we can to defeat those who have made it their cause to impose on our country an unending orgy of carnage and inflict our people with devastating grief. Let it be apparent to those who have made themselves enemies of Nigeria that this 9th House of Representatives will respond to the audacity of their evil with every tool and resource at our disposal, and we will not be deterred.
- Thus far, we have rightly focused our national security concerns on the machinations of extremist insurgents who seek to remake our world in the image of their discredited theocracy and bandits who maraud and terrorise whole regions for profit. We must now add to these concerns an emerging threat that presents the same clear and present danger. In the South of Nigeria, East and West, miscreants and criminals masquerading as separationist activists have emerged to wreak havoc, take lives and commit economic sabotage against fellow Nigerians and against the state.
- These people, in their inclination for devastating violence against fellow citizens, their appetite for the destruction of private property, their disruption of academic activities, commerce, and industry, their propensity for defiling institutions of the state, society and community, their refusal to engage in debate, or to consider the possibility of dissenting opinions and alternative viewpoints, are no different from Boko Haram and ISWAP. Given space and time, they will take our nation down the same path of destruction.
- We know from experience that neither appeasement nor overwhelming violence alone will work. We have been down this road before; we know what the consequences of inaction can be. We also know that we cannot afford to be reactionary in our approach. This is the time to convene our best efforts to articulate a political, economic, military and policing strategy to address both the manifestations and root causes of this emerging threat. Let nobody be under the impression that there is a political opportunity in exploiting this moment. This is a time for statesmen to act beyond the petty considerations of politics, to do the hard things and achieve greatness.
- During our recess, I observed some media organisations reporting on the performance of individual members of the House of Representatives, using the numbers of Bill sponsored as a metric for assessing Members’ contributions in the past legislative year. It is not always the case that the solution to a problem lies in enacting new legislation. Often, Members are most effective when advocating for their constituents in the arenas of government where decisions are made. They fulfil their role in the Committees when their measured contributions help to ensure that Bills are of the highest quality and solve the intended problems.
- Legislators also honour their mandate when through meticulous oversight of public spending and incisive questioning of public officials, they ensure that government resources are efficiently utilised to meet governing objectives. Therefore, reducing the sum of a legislator’s contributions to the number of Bills sponsored is uninspired journalism that reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the legislative function and the role of members in ensuring that parliament delivers on its objectives to the Nigerian people. It is an unhealthy practice, and it should not be encouraged.
- Across the world, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to cut a devastating path through communities. It remains an ongoing source of economic distress, social anxiety and political upheaval. Religious and cultural hesitancy, coupled with political suspicion and an abundance of misinformation, has resulted in a global resistance to vaccination that threatens our collective ability to defeat this pandemic. Every day this crisis persists, delays our rebuilding of broken things, and inhibits our efforts to recover the things we have lost to this pandemic.
- Here in Nigeria, the conversation about vaccines, individual rights, the safety of communities, and the proper role of government in ensuring public health began last year with the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill. Then, the public debate was quickly hijacked in ways that did not make for a factual and informed examination of the critical questions of law and policy around this crucial legislation. Since then, the House Committee on Health Services has embarked on a broad-based effort at public and private engagement and collaboration to produce final legislation that hopefully meets our country’s present and future needs. The Committee will shortly present its report to the House, and I sincerely hope that our debate this time will be a marked improvement from what came before.
- As I said at the beginning of my remarks this morning, honourable colleagues, we have a lot of work to do. Much depends on how well we can continue to work together in a joint effort at nation-building, united by our shared ambitions of peace and prosperity for all our nation’s people. I have seen what this House can accomplish when we give our full measure of devotion, and as such, I am confident of our ability to deliver on the commitments we have made to the people in whose name and on whose behalf we sit here in this hallowed chamber.
- I welcome you all once more to the House of Representatives, and I thank you all for being here this morning. I look forward to a productive legislative year. I pray for the wisdom of God to guide us and his grace to shield us as we do the work of the people. May God bless you, and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.