OrderPaperToday – It is hardly the case that ordinary citizens hold politicians to their words. Experience has many times justified the corruption of the word to ‘politricians’ and this is why there is growing skepticism and cynicism on the social contract between leaders and the led.
However, there are always exceptions to the rule. And Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, has made an impression that he belongs in that exception.
Precisely six months ago, the Speaker promised to assist the family of an Abuja newspaper vendor, Mr. Ifeanyi Elechi Okereke, who was shot by a member of Gbajabiamila’s security detail. What has happened since then?
How Okechukwu died from friendly fire…
It was Thursday 19th November 2020 when an official of the Department of State Service (DSS) attached to the Speaker’s office shot and killed Mr. Okereke. The shooting incident happened when the deceased and other street vendors selling newspapers on the popular Shehu Shagari Way, by Three Arms Zone, Abuja, flocked around the Speaker’s convoy. The Speaker often stopped by to interact and give out money anytime he passed the vendors. However, on that fateful day, the security detail to the Speaker shot into the air to disperse the ‘crowd’ and a bullet hit Mr. Okereke. The vendor slumped immediately and was rushed to the National Hospital by his colleagues and some police officers present at the scene. He did not make it. The vendor reportedly died at the hospital from injuries sustained from the friendly fire of the speaker’s convoy. Okereke left behind his aged parents, siblings and his wife, who had just given birth to a baby, to be named two days before his demise.
The Speaker owned up to the unfortunate incident in a press release. To assuage frayed nerves, he said the security operative responsible for the shooting of the vendor had been handed over to his employers and they were investigating the circumstances that led to the shooting. Mr. Gbajabiamila had also followed up by showing concern when he visited the slain vendor’s wife at her parents’ home in Suleija, Niger State and pacified members of the aggrieved Newspapers Vendors Association via a visit to their office in Abuja. The vendors had embarked on a protest regarding the death of their colleague.
In his visit to both the deceased family home and the secretariat of the vendor association, the Speaker promised that he would open a “Trust Fund” which would cater for the welfare of the two children of the deceased till they reach the age of 21. In another public statement, the Speaker said: “The deceased was a hardworking citizen. When I visited his family yesterday and carried the one-week-old child, I was emotional because I know I was standing as a pseudo father for the child. I made a commitment to the family to take care of them because those children have now become mine. I have informed my lawyer to set up a trust fund for the education of the children.”
What has happened afterwards…
Interestingly, the Speaker has kept to his words. Mr. Femi Emmanuel, the Zonal Secretary of the Abuja Newspapers Distributors Association, confirmed this to OrderPaper Nigeria in an exclusive chat. He acknowledged the Speaker’s cooperation throughout the incident and his financial contribution to the family of Okereke. According to Emmanuel, “when the incident happened we met with the DSS and we also met with the leadership of the National Assembly to express our grievances because we believe in peace. We also believe that even the world wars were settled at a round table. That is why we, the vendors, felt that instead of spoiling government properties all in the name of airing our grievances, we decided to pursue dialogue.
“As a result, a meeting was scheduled with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. After a fruitful dialogue, the Speaker paid a condolence visit to the deceased’s wife, Suleija, Niger State, and also reached out to the family of Ifeanyi in the East. In fact, during our meeting with the Speaker, he promptly revealed the name of the officer via a press release, and he was arrested and handed over to the police.”
Concerning the case, Mr. Emmanuel assured that the association has not relented in their quest for justice of the killer of the slain vendor and would continue to wait on the DSS to carry out their investigation and findings public. “You also know the nature of the DSS, it is called secret service so first, he must be dealt with according to the confines of their laws and thereafter he will be handed over to the police force for prosecution. So we are waiting for the outcome of the DSS on one side and on the other side, the Speaker expressing empathy because our boys have been close to him even before he became Speaker, he was a friend to late Ifeanyi Okereke and it is on that note that we decided to toe the line of peace and dialogue”, he reiterated.
Commendation for promises kept…
Furthermore, the vendor association commended the Speaker for fulfilling his promises and the show of empathy throughout the period of grief. “In fulfilment of his promises, the Speaker has been trying his little best. In December (2020), he sent five hundred thousand naira (N500, 000.00) to the wife to celebrate yuletide season, and just last month he gave the aged parents of the deceased ten million naira (N10,000000.00) as part of what he promised the family that he was going to give them fifteen million naira (N15, 000000.00) for the burial. As for the remaining five million naira (N5,000,000.00), he intends to give the parents of Ifeanyi after the burial so that they can use it to start up something to help themselves. He also brought them to Abuja for dialogue. He also gave another five million naira (N5,000,000.00) to the wife to use and start up a business.
“Finally, he also promised to create a “trust fund” for the children. The decision was taken during a plenary session before the whole world when he invited the union to witness it. So the trust fund will be handed over to the family (wife) immediately after the burial, so we do not have an issue with Mr. Speaker because he has fulfilled all that he promised. So as I speak to you now, I can categorically tell you that fifteen million has been released to the family of late Ifeanyi. Ten million for the parents for burial and other things and another five million for the wife to start up something as well. So he has done all that he promised.
“As for the association, we do not have any problem with him (Femi Gbajabiamila). He promised to set up a reconciliatory and peace committee with some of his aides which he has also done under the leadership of Honourable Raph Igbokwe. We believe that after the burial other things will take shape but as for now the Speaker has done well.”
OrderPaper Nigeria also reached out to the deceased vendor’s wife, Mrs. Josephine Ifeanyi Okereke. In a telephone conversation, she corroborated the position of the association that Mr. Gbajabiamila has indeed kept to his promises after the demise of her husband. “The Speaker has been good to my family, although the trust fund has not been handed over to us; the Speaker has reached out to our family. He gave me five million naira, and he has been in touch with me. So I’m grateful,” she stated.
For Mrs. Okereke, her vendor husband is dead and no amount of money can bring him back but a compassionate speaker is helping to assuage the pains.