If there’s one impediment which has, in the last decades since independence, mitigated the deep entrenchment of democratic institutions in Nigeria, it will be the dearth of true, progressive, and purposeful leadership.
While the nation’s socio-political terrain has failed to produce many leaders who, in the true sense, can be defined as round pegs in round holes, it’s not entirely a drab situation because we can boast of having seen the emergence and beautiful manifestation of certain individuals who have proven themselves to be thoroughbred public officers with the credibility and trajectory that rank them above others in the course of our national discourse.
The current Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, CFR, deserves an honourable mention among those who can be regarded as the finest breeds of public officers that the country has ever produced since independence. He is a gentleman whose personality exudes charisma, dignity and honour. Above all, he is arguably the most colourful Speaker of the post-Awolowo era, endowed with exceptional organizational skills, administrative aptitude, uncommon problem-solving skills, masterful logic, and foresight.
Based on his trajectory, it can be objectively agreed that he is an outstanding national leader who has profoundly shaped and dictated the pendulum of Nigerian politics from the hallowed corner of the Green Chamber. Apart from these numerous aforementioned qualities which endear many to him, Gbajabiamila has successfully used parliamentary diplomacy to build bridges, solidifying them as he continues to advocate the building of strong and functional institutions which would, in the long run, sustain the commonwealth of the people.
In the last few years, he has created a niche for himself as a peacemaker, a mediator, an arbitrator, and a leader across the Niger, after all it takes a man of capacious versatility to sit as the Speaker of one of the largest parliaments in the world. This is a job that requires a top human management skill and Gbaja has not fallen short in that regard. His mantra, #NationBuilding, #AJointTask, prior to his election as the Speaker of the 9th Assembly has become an integral part of every step and move he makes. He has walked tall through murky situations unscathed and with lasting results and solutions. On numerous occasions, his timely interventions and diplomatic efforts have made the difference in helping sustain relationships between important sectors, individuals and strengthening the nation’s institutions.
While it looked like academic activities may not resume on our campuses even as we round off the year, it took the intervention of the Speaker to give a scent of water to a situation that appears dead. For an uninterrupted eight months, students were made to sit at home but the popular ASUU strike was resolved once Gbaja stepped in. Gbajabiamila took it upon himself to provide the missing piece that eventually solved the puzzle. His ability to bring all warring parties to a roundtable discussion finally brokered a compromise. Does his intervention mean every issue has been resolved? No! We only see a man bold enough to take the bull by the horn to address attendant issues.
His efforts drew the praise of the Nigeria Labour Congress which extols the patriotic efforts of Gbajabiamila in resolving the strike. The NLC president, Ayuba Waba, reportedly wrote, “I must commend him for his significant contributions and important roles so that in the end it will be a win-win thing.
“I commend the wisdom of the Speaker. There is no use in using cohesion or force in solving the problem but through the provision of dialogue that will comfort everybody.”
Nigerians will not also forget in a hurry the efforts of Gbajabiamila in resolving the Nigeria-Ghana diplomatic row. Given the closeness of both countries and their shared history, it would be a pathetic situation if both nations were not diplomatically aligned with one another. The consequences would not only affect the economies of both countries, whose people enjoy working together, but would also have a negative impact on other West African countries that look up to both but who will take up this task? Gbajabiamila, in his wisdom, led delegates from Nigeria to Ghana, where he met his Ghanaian counterpart, Mike Oquaye. The intervention of Gbajabiamila was able to resolve the then growing diplomatic spat between both nations over some actions taken by the Ghanaian government against Nigerian traders and the demolition of part of the Nigerian high commission in Ghana.
It should also be recalled that he played a similar role in the crisis with China in the year 2020. During this period, evidence suggested the maltreatment of Nigerians in China, and it was to the relief of Nigerians that they had a figure who they could count on not only to mediate on their behalf but also fight for their cause. Gbajabiamila met with Zhou Pingjian, who is the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria. He advocated that Chinese should refrain from the maltreatment of Nigerians in China. Today, China is a nation known for its economic wits and it would have been counterproductive for Nigeria as a nation to have mismanaged the situation. The nation can boast of numerous infrastructures which were facilitated with loans obtained from China. Gbajabiamila deserves credit for keeping the relationship between the two countries on a diplomatic level when it was very important and difficult to do so.
Not less than 100 Nigerians have been reportedly killed in various xenophobic attacks in South Africa in the past years. It’s a barbaric act condemned by all and more sensitive in dealing with. Consistently, Gbajabiamila has thrown himself into every interaction around Nigeria’s international affairs. Even as the then majority leader of the House of Representatives in March 2017, he led a delegation of members of the House on a protest visit to South Africa, where he stated that “retaliation is not the first step to diplomacy.” This position he reinforced when yet another set of Nigerians were murdered in 2019 where he — now as Speaker of the House— cut short his trip to Tanzania for the 5th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting and also forced the House to abruptly end its recess to address the ugly incidents that saw Nigerians lose their lives and their properties looted. Subsequently, South Africa apologised through its envoy, Jeff Radebe. This was about the last time Nigerians suffered such attack.
Should we also forget the diplomatic efforts of Gbaja that were brought to the fore of our national discourse as he was able to excellently avert a crisis which could have turned into a national embarrassment? The aviation sector crisis had caused significant inconvenience for many, with flight ticket prices skyrocketing and many airlines ceasing operations. Even though crises are yet to be fully resolved, the Speaker has continued to bridge the gap between the major stakeholders in the sector, facilitating the constructive process to reach an agreeable consensus. A few days ago, it was reported that he had scheduled a meeting with the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and the minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, over the crisis in the aviation sector.
It would be recalled that in the heat of the lockdown imposed by states and the federal government in response to COVID-19, the Gbajabiamila-led House of Representatives initiated a bill that would allow Nigerians to enjoy free electricity supply for a particular period.
The lockdown, as it was anticipated, had grounded global economy and the least the government could do at that stage was to put some forms of alleviation in place, one of which would have been to take off the payment of electricity bills from the people throughout the period of the stay-at-home. How do we forget how the Speaker, in the wake of the threats of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, committed 360 members to donate two-month salaries to the fight of the pandemic?
On numerous occasions, Gbaja has proven his worth as a true elder statesman. Based on his activities, it’s quite evident where his priorities lie. Isn’t presiding over a house filled with intellectuals, professionals, academics, and technocrats enough task? But Gbaja diligently carries this weight upon his shoulders so tirelessly as even maintaining cordial relationship with his colleagues. With this, he has earned the respect of colleagues and admiration of the people of Nigeria.
Not forgetting his core duty as a legislator, Gbaja, by the end of his first year as the Speaker, had already sponsored sixteen (16) bills, making him the first Speaker in the current democratic dispensation to sponsor and debate this record number of Bills in one year. He has gone ahead to sponsor so many other bills afterwards.
The Gbajabiamila-led House of Representatives 9th Assembly has sponsored far-reaching bills that are about issues bordering the ordinary Nigeria. The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA 2020) signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2020 is an effort to address national economic challenges and improve the framework of doing business in Nigeria. It is basically a legislative tool to create a friendlier climate for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)
After suffering setbacks that lingered for about two decades, through his legislative diplomacy, Gbajabiamila galvanised necessary support to see that the Petroleum Industrial Bill (PIB) came to reality in this present Assembly. After it enjoyed the accent of the President, the PIA has no doubt, redefined the Nigerian oil and gas landscape through impacting on various aspects of the economy including energy, banking and insurance, among others. This is a sheer display of his knack for achieving set goals away from the usual rhetoric that lacks political will. It was as though if the PIA didn’t pass, it never would have.
The Gbajabiamila speakership has seen the creation of enabling environment for start-ups through tax relief, seed funding, trainings and capacity building, and regulatory assistance. The aforementioned would be taken care of by the recently signed Start Up Act 2022 that inspired by the understanding of the role of technology in the socio-economic development of Nigeria.
Amidst doubts, opposition, disbelief, pressure and intimidation, the Electoral Act, 2020 has come to stay with the potential of sanitising our political space as well as instilling transparency and accountability in the electoral system. It takes courage, resilience and patriotism to have undertaken such a task as passing the Electoral Act even as a political officer seeking re-election. It was a venture that transcended personal gains and benefits to uphold our national creed of building the Nigeria of our dream.
Today, Nigerians can vote and have assurance that their votes will count. Section 47 and 50 (2) of the Electoral Act empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to electronically transmit election result. Today, voters with physical disabilities, special needs and vulnerable persons can be assisted at the polling unit thereby being part of the leadership selection process, all thanks to the Electoral Act 2020.
Should we forget the Climate Change Act 2021 which is a legal framework that will drive Nigeria towards green recovery and sustainable development and also preserving mother earth?
Should we also forget the Speaker’s stance during the protest against brutality, popularly called the #EndSARS# protest? He didn’t just add his voice but went as far as insisting on not approving the proposed 2021 budget if adequate provision was not made for the compensation of those who had suffered violence and brutality by the police.
Should we also forget the National Security Summit convened by the House of Representatives in 2021 which deliberated on security issues and articulated recommendations and legislative action? Should we also forget how the current assembly has remained consistent in its promise to commit to the January to December budget circle?
In the midst of his availability when occasions demand in mediating in national interest, he has given the people of Surulere Constituency 1 reasons to adore him more aside being an illustrious son. He’s facilitated projects that are ground-breaking and enduring, from infrastructure to education, empowerment to human capital development.
He’s blazed the trails where younger generations can thrive bigger and better. He is preparing the next generation for public sector governance through his Legislative Mentorship Initiative (LMI). It takes a man willing to leave eternal legacy to understand that, “the quality of our decision-making in politics and governance will define the course of our country. Whether we achieve progress, prosperity, peace, and security for all our people depends entirely on the capacity and competence of our political leadership,” as submitted by the Speaker at the opening of the programme recently.
While there are numerous instances where Gbajabiamila has risen to the occasion to provide much-needed diplomatic intervention, it is critical that we recognize the honourable contributions of a man who has risen against the odds to redefine patriotism, one who has exhibited exemplary leadership in a society that yearns for more purposeful leadership.
It’s the hope of many that the coming generation of change-makers and leaders will learn from the enigma, the icon, and the diplomatic maestro named Femi Gbajabiamila.
*Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo is the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission and member representing Akoko North East/North West Federal Constituency, writes from Abuja*