By Abdul Farouk
The reconvening of honourable members of the House of Representatives for plenary on Tuesday in the midst of raging Covid-19 pandemic was not a surprise to many keen observers.
The speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila has shown unprecedented leadership in championing the cause of Nigerian masses since he assumed leadership of the House.
Critics who predicted that Gbajabiamila’s House would be a rubber stamp and stooge of the presidency are gradually having a change of mind.
At the plenary on Tuesday, the speaker didn’t pander to political sentiment on how ineffective the distribution of palliatives to the vulnerable Nigerians had been in the last four weeks.
They were shocked when Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire was rattled in the full glare of the world when he could not impress the speaker with his explanation on provision of hazard allowance to frontline soldiers (health workers) in the Coronavirus war theatre.
The speaker brought his analytical skill as a lawyer to bear when health minister claimed that the Coronavirus task was another routine duty of medical workers. When drilled further, the minister capitulated and admitted that he was not aware if hazard allowance were paid or not.
In his forthright style, Gbajabiamila urged the federal government to ensure that more poor Nigerians should get reliefs in these trying times. According to him, the preponderance of feedbacks from representatives who interfaced with their constituents suggested that the actual disbursement of palliatives was a far-cry compared to the reported beneficiaries.
Gbajabiamila also proposed to give more oxygen to the National Social Investment Programme that had reportedly captured 2.6million poor Nigerians in its social register which President Muhammadu Buhari directed should be upped by additional one million to 3.5 beneficiaries.
The speaker sought a codification of the Social Investment Programme into a bill for consideration. He said, “We intend to bring these unique perspectives in our ongoing work to codify the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) into a Bill that will be considered by the House at our next adjourned date”.
Gbajabiamila didn’t play the ostrich by asking the executive arm of government to do the needful whilst ignoring the duty of his colleagues.
The speaker appealed to their sense of patriotism in joining the fight against the raging pandemic. He urged them to be at the forefront of the war in their various constituencies and propagate the preventive measures as advised by relevant health authorities.
Said the speaker, “Honourable colleagues, as leaders in your constituencies, you must ensure that the people in your local communities understand the reasons for these restrictions, and adhere to all preventative measures such as handwashing, social distancing and other guidelines set out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
“Our best hope is to prevent the massive outbreak of this disease in Nigeria. If we fail to do that, and this disease begins to transmit at scale, all our worst nightmares will become manifest at once, and our misfortunes will compound beyond our ability to respond.
We will be left to seek our recover, with limited resources in a long and brutal process from which we cannot emerge unscathed. We must keep in mind this unfortunate truth and act accordingly.
“Many have postulated that our current approach to managing the pandemic will not yield the results we desire. It has been suggested that we should look at other alternatives in dealing with this virus; alternatives that are more suited to our economic structure and cultural makeup and are custom-made to our way of life.
“Recommendations have also been made to the effect that we should lift the lockdown, open up the economy with restrictions, including the compulsory wearing of masks in public places.
We will consider all of these recommendations and more. Whichever way we go, the total defeat of this virus must be our immediate goal and our highest priority.”
As a proactive response to how Coronavirus has disrupted plans and projections of nations, companies and individuals across board, the speaker has put in place Covid-19 Strategic Response Team (CRST) with a broad mandate to develop interventions and reforms and to update the legislative agenda to reflect Nigeria’s post-Covid-19 realities and priorities.
He envisioned that, “The Strategic Response Team will be supported by a group of technical experts, private sector leaders and representatives. Their experience and expertise will ensure that the policy proposals presented to the House are rigorously grounded in a fact-based reality.”
After the of first stimulus bill to cushion the effects of the pandemic on Nigerians and businesses, Gbajabiamila announced that another succor is on the way: ”We will also at that time seek to pass a second Economic Stimulus Bill to provide necessary relief to individuals and corporate organisations in Nigeria.
“We expect that before then, the Senate will quickly consider and pass the first Economic Stimulus Bill which has since passed in the House and now awaits concurrence by the Senate”, the speaker submits.
“COVID-19 pandemic’, he noted “has devastated global economy”, and that “at a time when the social welfare demands on the public purse are higher than they have ever been, our present reality calls for nothing short of a wholesale reform of our governing structures, systems and processes.
“Any such efforts must of necessity, begin with drastic reductions in the cost of governance coupled with determined efforts to drive economic diversity and innovation in the non-oil sector.”
“There are no longer any sacred cows, protected spaces or classes. Every area of our national health policy, economic policy, tax policy, education policy and security architecture are now on the table for reform.
“We must turn this moment of profound crises into an opportunity to make the hard choices we have too long deferred but can now no longer avoid if we are to survive as a nation.
This House of Representatives is ready, and I trust that we will find allies in government and across our country who are prepared to make the changes that our country needs to survive, recover and thrive.”.
From a seeming laidback perception people have about National Assembly in time past, the narrative is being altered through responsive leadership of the Rt Hon Femi Gbajabiamila.
Farouk writes from Abuja.