The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila has cautioned against condemnation or skepticism against the Student Loan Bank being proposed by the Student Loan Bill that has been passed by the National Assembly on the basis that previous attempts failed.
The Students Loan Bill passed on Tuesday by the Senate was sponsored by Gbajabiamila and previously passed by the green chambers in 2019.
Gbajabiamila, who spoke on Wednesday, the second day of the National Summit of Tertiary Education summit organised by his office, noted that the future of the teeming young people in the country should be of concern to all considering the prevailing state of tertiary education in the country.
Gbajabiamila’s position followed the assertion of the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that the union will not support the proposed Student Loan Bank as proposed by the Student Loan Bill, sponsored by the Speaker because the previous attempt failed.
He said how to make a success of the law when signed into law by the President to ensure that the purpose it was intended to serve would not be defeated should be the focus of all well-meaning Nigerians.
Gbajabiamila said, “It is time for us to start thinking outside the box. It is time for us to start looking at international best practices.
“Nigeria is not isolated from the rest of the world, we borrow ideas from the rest of the world, just like they can borrow from Nigeria as well. And then we tweak those ideas to suit our peculiarities in our country. At the end of the day, we achieve more or less the same result.
“Like they say there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there are several ways to get to the final destination. And I believe this is what the Student Loan Bill is about.
“I don’t want us to go away from here with a cynical approach or defeatist attitude, that something happened some time way back, under a totally different kind of regime, not under a democratic setting, and therefore, if it happened many years ago, then the chances are that nine times out of 10, it will happen again, I don’t buy into that school of thought.
“I believe that you learned from the past. If something fails before, you look at the reasons why it failed, and then you try and perfect those reasons so that you get a better result. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what democracy is all about.”
The bill provides for a moratorium of two years after completion of the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) before repayment commences
According to him, as contained in the Bill, the beneficiary is also expected to have a civil servant as a guarantor who is at least 12 years in service or a lawyer with at least 10 years of experience, added.
In addition, the sponsor of the Bill said another provision embedded in it to guarantee transparency and accountability is that the loan, once approved is disbursed directly to the university and not in cash to the beneficiary to avoid it being used for purposes it was not meant for.
The application must be processed within 30 days of its submission to eliminate being compromised, Gbajabiamila noted while adding that beneficiaries that have been convicted by the court or those that previous loan default has been established against them would not be eligible for the loan.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep Femi Gbajabiamila, has expressed sadness over the brain drain phenomenon that has hit the medical sector in the country.
Gbajabiamila said a situation whereby over 2,000 resident doctors had left the shores of the country, with about 800 leaving in the last eight months, bringing the average to about a hundred medical doctors leaving the country monthly in search of better working conditions, was unacceptable.
He, however, said the time had come for the government to holistically address the issues responsible for the negative trend.
Speaking during a courtesy call to his office on Thursday by the executives of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), led by the President, Dr. Emeka Orji, Gbajabiamila, however, cautioned that the issue of funding must be properly situated within the context of the prevailing global economic situation since Nigeria is not an island.
Responding to the figures of the resident doctors that had left Nigeria due to poor remuneration, Gbajabiamila said, “That is a very scary figure and that is not very encouraging for a country of over 200 million people to have the core of your medical team, your young ones, resident doctors, leaving in droves like that, definitely something must be wrong.”
“You have identified that to be the issue of emoluments and salaries, that’s always a very important issue. If you work, you must get paid, and you must get paid a good salary.
“It’s also important that we put those things in context in terms of everybody’s need to get paid, and that’s very important. That’s one of the reasons, if not the most important reason why you work, because we all have families to take care of. But we must put it in the Nigerian context in terms of the revenues available to the country.
“This is a worldwide phenomenon, right now everything is going down. Countries are not making as much revenue as they should.
“And I’m sure a lot of doctors that leave the shores of Nigeria in search of greener pastures, many of them will be happy, many of them will also realize it’s not so easy on the other side either.”
While commending those who decided to stay behind despite the situation, Gbajabiamila said, “What I would like to encourage you to do is to tarry a while, be a little bit more patient, and stay.”
“As long as you have our ears here as your legislature, we will always, as best as possible, come to your aid.”
“So, let’s put a stop to this brain drain as best as we can whilst we, on this side, try to make the environment a lot easier for you.”
The Speaker also assured the association that the clamour for an increase in the budgetary allocation for the health sector to meet the 2001 Abuja Declaration of 15 per cent of the annual budget allocation to health would be looked into, being a critical sector of the economy.
While cautioning stakeholders against the tradition of equating the Ministry’s budgetary allocation to the entire budget of the sector, Gbajabiamila nevertheless assured that the House would ensure that the sector was not shortchanged in the allocation of resources to it.
He added: “We’ll have a look at what percentage we have in this year’s budget for the health sector. We got the budget about a week ago, I’m still going through it, but I will zero in on health to find out what the percentage is, and how far away we are from the Abuja Declaration.
“I cannot promise that here. If we have fallen short, we will augment it, I cannot make that promise because it depends on a whole host of other things, but we will try our best to at least, come close. We will try our best to look at it objectively within the context of the revenue that is available to the country.
“There are so many things going on right now. That’s where the sacrifice comes in. Oil theft, dwindling revenue, the Ukraine war, and so many other things and everybody’s competing for the lean revenue, but we know our priority areas, education, and health, are priority areas. We’ll do everything we can to make sure that as best as we can, we come as close to the Abuja Declaration, as we can”.
The Speaker also promised to look into the other demands of the group on adequate funding of residency training, restoration of the Overseas Exchange Programme, the need to amend the Medical Registration Act, and an upward review of the salary structure for resident doctors, all within available resources.
He urged the association to furnish his office with detailed information on some of the issues, saying, “I’d like to have some information on that in writing so that when we are making a case to the government we will be able to furnish them with even more details, to know exactly what case we are trying to make.”
To emphasise the place of the health sector in the scheme of things, the Speaker said, “The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the underbelly of our health sector, so we must not be caught napping again, and whatever we need to do, we must do.”
Earlier, the President of the association, while appreciating the Speaker and the House for their successful interventions in NARD issues with the government in the past, Dr. Orji urged the Speaker to intervene in the brain drain syndrome that had hit the medical practice in the country due to poor working conditions.
He also presented to the Speaker other demands of the association on adequate funding of residency training, restoration of the Overseas Exchange Programme, the need to amend the Medical Registration Act and upward review of the salary structure for resident doctors, among others.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan has advanced copious reasons to justify the current dispensation of collaboration between the National Assembly and the Executive.
Lawan said the prevailing harmonious relationship between the arms of government made the ninth National Assembly the most productive since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999.
He disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari had so far signed into law 84 bills passed by the ninth Assembly, the largest by any Nigerian President. The Senate President made the disclosure in a paper which he delivered at the just concluded 3rd Year Ministerial Performance Review Retreat held at the State House, Abuja.
His paper was titled: “Collaboration to deliver: Fostering Executive/Legislative relationship and opportunities for legacy legislation.”
Lawan stated that his presentation was “best understood within the context of our presidential system of government and the doctrine of the separation of powers.
“The three arms of government are separate but interdependent, and the ultimate goal of each is to deliver good governance and meet the aspirations of all Nigerians.
“Many Nigerians have come to construe harmonious executive-legislative relations as a sign of weakness or subservience to the executive.
“Nothing can be further from the truth than this misperception, which we must painstakingly work to correct.
“It is not uncommon for some to view the three arms of government as occupying separate and identifiable domains of power and responsibility, with little opportunity or need for interaction.
“However, this kind of dualism is not only untenable but damaging. It is now widely recognised that good national governance depends on core state institutions working cooperatively.
“A constructive relationship between the three arms of government, i.e., legislature, the executive and the judiciary, is essential to effectively maintaining the constitution and promoting the rule of law.
“Timely consultations between all stakeholders can play a significant role in avoiding gridlocks, improving understanding and delivering development to the people on whose behalf we govern.
“The legislature is constituted by the people’s direct representatives and is responsible for reflecting the voices of ordinary Nigerians.
“This cannot be achieved through unnecessary grandstanding, conflict and war of egos. As the cliché rightly states, ‘where two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’.
“As one of the longest-serving legislators in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, I am well aware of the dangers of adopting a confrontational approach to governance issues.
“A lot of energy and resources (time and money) are dissipated over inconsequential issues rather than on dealing with substantive and livelihood-based issues that confront the average Nigerian.
“At the beginning of the 9th Assembly, we took a deliberate position to collaborate with the executive to ensure that the cardinal objective of government (welfare and security of citizens) is met.
“Hence, despite the media bashing and name-calling, I am proud to say that this National Assembly has been the most productive since 1999.
“The achievements recorded are mainly due to a harmonious executive relation and heightened engagement with the executive on proposed policies and laws long before they are formally presented to Assembly for legislative action.
“This strategy has enabled us to surmount many of the traditional obstacles and bottlenecks that confronted previous Assemblies.
“The synergy between the legislature and the executive has resulted in reforming our budgetary process to entrench transparency and accountability, professionalism, greater citizen participation, and strict guidelines and timelines (January-December).
“In addition, we worked with President Muhammadu Buhari to support the establishment of the Executive, Legislative, and Party Consultative Forum headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to promote harmony in governance towards enhancing service delivery to the Nigerian people.
“In the last few years, the National Assembly provided legislative support and approval towards the realisation of this administration’s unwavering commitment to improving security, transforming the nation’s economy and modernising infrastructure, specifically, railway system, roads and power, across the length and breadth of this country.
“The results of our collaboration are clear for all to see. President Muhammadu Buhari has granted assent to eighty four(84) bills so far, the largest by any Nigerian president.
“Many of the Acts enacted have immediate and long-term impacts on all aspects of our national life, including the economy, security, and democratic institutions.
“These include the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, Electoral Act 2022, Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act, 2022, Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, and the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act 2020.
“Other impactful legislations are the Finance Act, 2020, Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020; Police Act, 2020; and the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act (Amendment) Act 2019, etc.
“The impact of the enactment of these landmark legislations will continue to be felt for generations to come. Indeed, a clear benefit of harmonious legislative-executive relations is the successes recorded by the 9th Assembly in passing laws that have consistently failed to scale through since 1999.
“Other areas of achievements that are hinged on effective collaboration with the executive include the adoption of legislative measures to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigerians, mitigate its consequences, limit its spread and improve the efficiency of Nigeria’s health system to cope with the unprecedented challenges occasioned by the pandemic.”
The Federal Government has apologised to students and parents for the prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
In a statement on Friday, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige assured students that they won’t have to experience the ugly situation in the future.
ASUU embarked on strike on February 14, 2022 over poor welfare of its members amongst others. The union, however, decided to suspend the strike during a meeting of its leadership that started on Thursday night and lasted into the early hours of Friday after a Court of Appeal ruling last week.
In his statement, Ngige, who said the industrial action was unwarranted in the first place, commended those who worked alongside the government to resolve the impasse.
Read full statement:
PRESS STATEMENT 14/10/2022
Ngige Commends Nigerians as ASUU ends strike.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment has expressed gratitude to all Nigerians who participated in various ways in the negotiations leading to the calling off of the eight-month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Nigeria(ASUU)
A statement by the Deputy Director Press in the Ministry, Olajide Oshundun, Friday assured Nigerians that with the steps the federal government is taking, Nigerian students will be saved the unpalatable experience of intermittent, prolonged industrial actions in future.
“In a special way, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige expresses gratitude to the Honourable Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and the leadership of the House of the House of Representatives.
“We particularly recognize the patriotic efforts of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar III, the former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Supo Ayokunle, all members of Nigeria Inter Religious Council (NIREC) and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria whose wisdom and intervention raised a ray of hope while the strike was at infancy but for ASUU’s intransigence to negotiation.
“We were forced to migrate the matter to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) created by the 1999 Constitution as amended, for the settlement of industrial disputes because every channel of negotiation including the tripartite plus, in which eminent Nigerians participated in failed. We were left with no other option than to trigger Section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act .CAP T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 on dispute resolution mechanism in seeking the intervention of the National Industrial Court .
“ Now that ASUU has decided to obey the judgement of the National Industrial Court by calling off the devastating action, we apologize to all students and parents , of which the Honorable Minister is one, for this unduly prolonged strike, which is unwarranted ab initio.
“We wish to assure that with the decision, steps and measures being taken by the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, in holistic repositioning of higher education, a groundwork is being laid, of which we are confident, will save Nigerians, this unpalatable experience of incessant strike in future.
“ It is verily our hope that now that the strike has been called off, the National Industrial Court will deal with the substantive issues as contained in the referral letter by the Honourable Minister. This is to ensure that justice is given to all parties including ASUU and their employers- the Federal Ministry of Education who acts on behalf of the Federal Government.”
The statement further noted that the Ministry of Labour and Employment will continue to cooperate with both parties in finding amicable solution to other issues not placed before the industrial court, in finding lasting solution to the instability in the university system.
“ We certainly can’t be less grateful to the judiciary for deepening our labour jurisprudence in upholding the essence of the 3rdalteration of the 1999 Constitution , especially as it relates to Sections 243 and 254A.”
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila has invited the Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige and several others to appear before the lawmakers on Thursday next week.
Gbajabiamila, who said this on Thursday at the resumed fact-finding meeting on the strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Universities (ASUU), also invited the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan; the Accountant General of the Federation; Director General, Salaries, Income, and Wages Commission; the Director General Budget Office among others.
As part of the push to resolve the lingering ASUU strike, Gbajabiamila, alongside his deputy, Ahmed Idris Wase and other leaders of the House on Thursday met with the Head of Service of the Federation (HoS), the chairman of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, Mr. Ekpo Nta, among other government officials.
Thursday’s meeting was a sequel to an earlier one the Speaker held with ASUU officials on Tuesday where issues related to the strike were discussed.
The outcome of Tuesday’s meeting led the House leadership to invite the Head of Service, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Salaries, Incomes, and Wages Commission, and the Accountant General of the Federation, among others.
“At Thursday’s meeting, NITDA told the House leadership that the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS), the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS), and the University Peculiar Personnel and Payroll System (U3PS) failed its integrity tests regarding the university payroll, which the agency conducted between March and JUNE this year,” the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Speaker, Lanre Lasisi, said in a statement.
“According to a NITDA official at the meeting, the government directed the agency to test UTAS in October 2020, adding that the platform failed the two integrity tests conducted on it.
“He said following the first test, ASUU was asked to go back and review, which it did. Yet, the platform did not meet NITDA’s requirements the second time.
“For the third time, NITDA was then asked to conduct tests on UTAS, IPPIS, and U3PS, which the official said all three platforms failed its requirements regarding the payroll system of universities.”
Lasisi added that “Not satisfied with the explanation, Speaker Gbajabiamila asked if NITDA advised the government to take action on the lapses found on IPPIS, which has been in operation by the government since 2011. But the NITDA official said they were not in a position to do that.
“Gbajabiamila also asked if NITDA queried the IPPIS platform, to which the official responded in the negative.
Deputy Speaker Wase also expressed reservations at NITDA’s action, saying it ought to have advised the government on the appropriate action to take in view of its discovery on IPPIS.
“But the Head of Service, in her explanation, said the ministry of communications and digital economy wrote her office following NITDA’s observations about IPPIS on the need to take a holistic look at the platform and that a committee was empaneled to carry out the assignment.
“She also noted that IPPIS is not just a payment platform but that it also has a human resource component, which all government agencies have been directed to activate, noting that all those directly under her purview have since complied.
“Also, the chairman of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, Mr Nta, told the House leadership that in view of the general agitation in the tertiary education sector, the agency advised the government to look at the possibility of increasing the salaries of the staff in the entire sector, comprising universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education.
“He said, however, that at the end of the day, the government decided to increase the salaries of lecturers in the universities by a certain percentage, while professors were considered for higher percentage.
“He said he was not aware of any agreement between the Federal Government and ASUU for salary increment.
“Also speaking at the meeting, the acting Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Sylva Okolieaboh, said under no circumstance should employees dictate to their employers how they should be paid, faulting ASUU’s insistence on UTAS.
“After hours of deliberations, the Speaker suggested that a further follow-up meeting with ASUU officials be held on Thursday next week, which the stakeholders subscribed to. The meeting was, therefore, adjourned to Thursday next week.”
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, on Wednesday called for the speedy completion of the ongoing renovation of the National Assembly complex ahead of the delivery deadline of August 2023.
Gbajabiamila made the call in Abuja as he toured and inspected key aspects of the work, particularly the House of Representatives Chamber, the dome and foyer of the complex.
However, he warned that this must not compromise the quality of the work to be delivered.
The Speaker said that though the renovation, which began last month, had progressed well, he would still ask the project managers to speed up the pace and beat the deadline.
At the chamber, Gbajabiamila was briefed on the details of the upgrade and the adjustments to be made to the sitting areas of lawmakers, the chamber staff, the presiding officers, the press gallery, the roof and the adjoining rooms to the chamber.
Speaking with House of Representatives correspondents after the inspection, Gbajabiamila said the changes introduced were “impressive” and would greatly assist the lawmakers in their legislative duties in line with global standards.
Gbajabiamila stated, “This work started in August, a few weeks behind schedule, but for a good reason. So far between August and now, giant strides have been made; you can see the whole chamber has been ripped apart, and the innovations are going to be state-of-the-art.
“We will be proud to have a chamber that matches the best standard all over the world; so I am quite impressed with the work so far.
“I would encourage them to double the pace because, as it is, this is not for the benefit of the 9th Assembly but for the benefit of the 10th Assembly.” The whole chamber isn’t going to be ready until sometime in August next year; so we are talking close to a year, and that tells you the level of work that is going on.”
However, the Speaker insisted that speeding up the pace of completion must not compromise the quality of the work.
While the renovation, which is being carried out by Visible Construction Limited, is ongoing, members will reconvene from their annual break next week to hold plenary sittings in a temporary chamber already prepared at Hearing Room 028.
Giving his impression of the temporary chamber, Gbajabiamila said, “So far so good, we are happy and this temporary site where we will be sitting for the next 9-10 months, is obviously a far cry from where we used to be…
“This used to be a hearing room to a legislative chamber, a lot of adaptations and a lot of innovations have been made and we are quite pleased with the work so far; so we are ready to go.”
The Speaker said the 10th Assembly would most likely be inaugurated in the temporary chamber, except the project managers would be able to complete the renovation of the main chamber months before the scheduled deadline.
“The 10th Assembly more than likely will kick off from here unless work can be accelerated, but you don’t want to accelerate work and compromise the quality of the work, so it’s better late but done well. Anything worth doing is worth doing well”, he added.
Asked if the temporary chamber would accommodate all 360 lawmakers, Gbajabiamila replied, “The configuration is not just this place but upstairs. So, I think there are about a 100 and something seats in terms of accommodation on this level and about 200 and something upstairs.
“But, it has been configured in such a way that everything is connected and you can see the screen. I can see everybody upstairs; whoever is presiding can see everybody upstairs and you can see everybody downstairs.”
Gbajabiamila gave hints that the 2023 budget presentation would likely be done in the first week of October.
The Speaker rounded off the project inspection at the permanent site of the National Assembly Service Commission building, which is also being constructed within the National Assembly complex.
He said he was satisfied that the project was being executed according to plans.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, has described the choice of Senator Kashim Shettima as the running mate of the Presidential Candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as a wise decision.
In a statement on Monday by Lanre Lasisi, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, the Speaker expressed delight that Tinubu settled for one of the best hands for the job of Nigeria’s Vice-President.
He said Shettima has over the years proved his mettle as a shrewd and progressive politician whose eight years as governor of Borno State – from 2011 to 2019 – was a defining moment for the state.
“Asiwaju is widely known as the biggest talent hunter in the country who has over the years assembled an army of performers in governance irrespective of their ethnicity or religious leaning. This unique feature also can be found in Sen. Shettima following his track record of excellence in both the private and public sectors”, the Speaker said.
As a foremost banker, Gbajabiamila said Shettima has the right character and intellectual capacity to turn things around hence having him as the Vice-President under a Tinubu presidency will be a masterstroke in the management of the economy.
Recalling his first encounter with Shettima, Gbajabiamila said: “My first encounter with Gov Shettima, who I had admired from afar, was many years ago when he and I travelled together with Asiwaju to the UK to address the issue of terrorism with the British and Nigerians in the Diaspora.
“I was amazed by Shettima’s depth, ability and capacity to engage Christian Amanpour, a journalist of international repute. He earned my respect (and I must say that of his interviewer) even more ever since then.”
The Speaker said the Tinubu/Shettima ticket is a good combination that will lead to success at the polls for the APC.
Gbajabiamila congratulated the Asiwaju for making “the wise decision,” noting that Nigerians yearned for such a great team.
The Speaker called on Nigerians to support the Tinubu/Shettima ticket and other APC candidates for various elective offices during the 2023 elections.
The leadership of the House of Representatives is to intervene in the arrest and arraignment of a member from Rivers State, Farah Dagogo.
The decision of the House is sequel to a motion raised by Honourable Chisom Dike calling for the urgent release of the lawmaker.
Farah Dagogo, who is also a governorship aspirant under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was arrested on the order of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, on the 28th of April and arraigned before a Magistrate Court in Port Harcourt on the 29th April.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila has said reforming the campaign finance laws and amending both the Constitution and the Electoral Act even as Nigerians prepare to vote in the 2023 general elections.
He emphasized the need to review the campaign laws of the country, especially in the area of finances for elections.
“Clearly, we need to reform our campaign finance laws and the entire system through which we fund politics and political operations in the country. This would require amendments to both the constitution and the Electoral Act.
“To be effective, such campaign finance reform legislation will impose a financial reporting mandate on candidates and campaigns and impose severe penalties on violators,” Gbajabiamila noted at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House in London on Thursday.
The Speaker, who presented a paper on ‘Consolidating Nigeria’s Democracy: Prospects for Strengthening Nigeria’s Electoral Systems Ahead of 2023 Elections,’ also harped on the need for enlightenment in voter education and participation.
“Voter education and enlightenment campaigns can help increase the rate of voter participation, getting more people to believe that there is power in the vote and that a ballot can change the course of a nation and improve the conditions of its people.
“Enhancing citizen participation,” the Speaker said, “is also about ensuring that the nation’s diversity is reflected in the composition of its political actors. The variety of voices, perspectives, and experiences can only improve the quality of debate and enhance the quality of outcomes.”
According to him, this would help clean up the flow of money into the political process. The lawmaker, however, said “there is a real risk that this ends up making the process more expensive by creating regulatory compliance costs.
“So, as we consider this option, we will consider others too and remain open to new ideas.”
Looking back, the Speaker outlined the steps taken by the National Assembly to ensure substantial improvement to the Nigerian electoral system.
He said: “After every election cycle, the National Assembly has initiated steps to document experiences, extrapolate lessons learned and, on that basis, amend the electoral laws to plug gaps and remove bottlenecks.
“Each electoral amendment effort reflects a considered attempt to provide a more robust statutory framework for elections. From the internal party processes to the final declaration of results and even pre and post-election litigation.
“At the same time, the Independent National Electoral Commission has in the last decade shown a remarkable willingness to learn from its own mistakes, embrace new technology, engage stakeholders, and take proactive action to ensure public faith in the electioneering process.
“They, and indeed the legislature, have often been helped in our joint efforts by aid and support from our international friends who understand that Nigeria’s democracy has been hard-won and deserves to be protected by all prudent and necessary means.”
Gbajabiamila, however, outlined the efforts the parliament and indeed government had made towards ensuring the forthcoming elections are free, fair, and credible.
“In the 2022 Appropriations Bill, the legislature has made provisions to allow both the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies to make adequate plans for these contingencies,” the lawmaker explained.
“And I am aware that in addition to funding issues, efforts are already underway to prepare for the unique challenges we face as we plan to deliver free, fair, and credible elections across the country.”
While acknowledging that democracy in Nigeria is still young and fragile, Gbajabiamila said sustaining it requires dedicated efforts. The success or failure of the 2023 elections would impact the Nigerian people, the African continent, and indeed, the world, he said.
While some appointees have followed the provision, he said others “remain obstinate for want of a better word and hide under the cover that there is a court decision that has nullified that provision.
“But then, there is also a court decision that said that nullification by the court should not be executed as of yet. Then, there has also been an appeal by the National Assembly to set it aside.
“So, invariably, it is a personal decision that they have to make. Therefore, the risk they run at the end of it all is if the court does find that the National Assembly was well within its rights to make such a provision that you are contesting an election while still a political appointee, then you are on a very serious risk of having your election bid annulled”.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila has said that the current security challenges in Nigeria are a threat to the foundations of the country’s nationhood.
Gbajabiamila stated this on Wednesday while delivering a paper titled ‘Democracy in Challenging Times: The Role of African Parliaments in Safeguarding and Delivering on the Dividends of Democracy’ at the School of Oriental Studies in London.
He noted that the Nigerian Government has responded to the challenges by taking certain measures such as increasing funding for the police and the military, recruiting personnel for security agencies, among others
Speaking on the challenges facing Nigeria, Gbajabiamila said: “The most pressing of these challenges today is the national security crisis that threatens the foundations of our nationhood and portends great danger for Africa and the world if it persists.
The Speaker, however, said: “First, to address present challenges and then to build resilient institutions that can withstand uncertainty in troubled times, more than anything else, our focus must remain on the young and vibrant youth of Nigeria and Africa who have so much to offer the world and who have proven that they can thrive under challenging circumstances given half a chance.
“However we cannot do this for as long as our present national security challenges persist.
“The government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has responded to the reality of our present challenges by increasing funding provisions for the police and armed forces, accelerating recruitment and training to put more boots on the ground and also acquiring weapons systems designed to give the security agencies an advantage.
The Speaker said upon the resumption of the 9th House, “the scope of our challenges was evident, matched only by our confidence that we would do what was required to overcome those difficulties and deliver the dividends of democracy for our people.
“Now the topic of this paper speaks to ‘dividends of democracy,’ a term that has been loosely and broadly interpreted to mean different things to different people but what exactly does it mean or what is a universally aceptable definition of the phrase dividends of democracy.
“For me and the House, we understood that the best dividend of democracy is a just society, where individual rights are recognised and respected. Where citizens have the freedom to dream big dreams and the social resources and infrastructure to achieve those dreams.
According to him, such moments create opportunities “for positive change, for righting wrongs and establishing new protocols better suited to the reality of the times than whatever existed before”.
Motivated by these understandings, the Speaker added that for the first time in the history of the Nigerian legislature, the 9th House began by developing a legislative agenda to articulate in detail “our governing priorities and the specific actions we intended to meet those priorities”.
The lawmaker noted that the House was moving quickly to implement its agenda, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, forcing certain drastic measures, including a reworking of the Legislative Agenda.
“We proposed landmark legislation to reform our public health emergency response system and update our public vaccination protocols. We received heavy criticism for these efforts, as a spirited disinformation campaign suggested malicious intent behind our actions.
“Barely a year later, the rest of the world caught up to the problems we foresaw and sought to prevent and have gone on to enact the same vaccine mandates for which we were then roundly criticised,” he said.
“In addition to refocusing our local priorities, Covid-19 reminded us in parliament of the indispensability of international collaboration in seeking solutions to shared problems. It is an unfortunate reality that despite the similarities of our governance challenges across the continent, there often aren’t enough coordinated efforts to share ideas, jointly consider solutions and adopt best practices to address our shared problems.”
Gbajabiamila said with the support of his other colleagues across the African continent, “I convened the first Conference of Speakers of African Parliaments (CoSAP) as a platform for continental parliamentary cooperation and coordination that will allow us to try to change this dynamic.
“Already, the conference is participating in a broad partnership to renegotiate the terms of our national debts and free up much-needed resources for development whilst committing to a new regime of responsible administration of public resources.
He said the House of Representatives would this year host the inaugural in-person meeting of CoSAP to establish a framework of action to ensure the achievement of the objectives that motivated this unique partnership.
“As in most of Africa, Parliament in Nigeria is designed on the basic premise that the legislative function is entirely to make laws and perform periodic oversight to ensure that the Executive implements the laws. This is an outdated model that fails to reflect the public expectation of parliament or the value that parliament and parliamentarians can bring to governance in a differently designed system,” Gbajabiamila added.