Thursday, October 24, 2019 will undoubtedly go down in the history of the House of Representatives as one of the record setting days in the Green Chamber when the Speaker, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, attended the budget defence sessions of three different committees.
For the record, this is the first time that a Speaker of the House would, out of his busy schedule as the Number 4 Citizen, set out time to attend the budget defence session of any standing committee of the House. While many people may be surprised about this, to some of us that have known the man for quite some time now, it is not a surprise as he has been a record setter in everything he does.
The Committees whose budget defence sessions the Speaker attended were Defence, chaired by Rep. Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos); Water Resources, headed by Rep. Sada Soli (APC, Katsina), and Sports, chaired by Rep. Olumide Osoba (APC, Ogun).
On that fateful day, the Speaker left the comfort zone (or should I say the busy zone) of his office about few minutes past noon and walked a long distance within the House New Building to Conference Room 244, where the House Committee on Defence was having its budget defence session, with the Chief of Defence Staff General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin in attendance.
The Committee Chairman, Rep Benson, did not waste time in announcing the arrival of the Speaker, who was in company of the House Leader, Rep Alhassan Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano).
As it is his wont, being a superb lawmaker who is always inquisitive and ready to contribute his quota to any national issue, Speaker Gbajabiamila took active part in the session, because was not there as just an observer. But as it is the practice in Parliament, Gbajabiamila first listened to what the Defence Chief had to say about what his office has been doing with regards to security issues.
When it was time for the Speaker to speak, his brilliance as a lawmaker resonated in the room. All said, the biggest reason for attending the Defence Committee’s budget session was the importance the House attaches to the issue of security. Not long before that day, the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker Rt. Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase and other leaders of the House met with the service chiefs over security matters.
Gbajabiamila, who spent about 20 minutes at the session, said: “My presence here is a bit psychological, nothing more, nothing less. For me, it’s a mental psychological effect, in the sense that the Speaker and the Leader of the House are here. It tells you exactly how important we feel security matters are in this House. We have no doubt that it is in the front burner, it is a priority for us.
“For the first time in the history of the House of Representatives, we have the issue of the Armed Forces on the legislative agenda. Hardly do you have the Speaker or the leadership being part of budget hearing (defence). It’s important enough for us.”
Being a firm believer in the capacity of indigenous companies, and as a promoter of local content, Gbajabiamila enjoined the Defence Chief to ensure that Nigerian manufacturers are also given the opportunity to produce some defence equipment.
“It’s very key and important that, either by way of legislation or budgeting, we encourage our indigenous manufacturers. The issue of local content that we all hear about, many people think it’s restricted to the petroleum industry, but if we don’t have a country, we can’t even have petroleum industry.
“The issue of local content must spread into security matters, and we have men and women who are capable of delivering the goods as you’ve stated here. We have DICON, Innoson and so many of them. I think there’s also Proforce. We just need to encourage and fund them. I’m glad that we’re on the same page when it comes to that.”
Not done yet, Gbajabiamila also had some words of advice on how the Defence Headquarters could improve on research and use same to better the security situation in the country.
“In any sector, research is very key. I think people undermine the importance of research. It’s the way to develop, whether it’s health sector, security, or whatever it is. You just have to research and have knowledge of what you’re doing. That’s why I think that sector also needs to be funded very well. The 21st Century is all about cyber and intelligence warfare. If we don’t develop these areas, we’re just scratching the problems on the surface.
“I’m hoping that at the end of this exercise, we’ll have a robust budget for our security. It will never be enough, anywhere in the world for that matter, but I think we should do better than what we’ve been doing in the last few years. We agreed to increase the benchmark partly because of the importance of funding the military. We need to be safe first before we can make progress.
“I’m glad that the atmosphere is serene; things are going well. Your chairman is very astute in his ways. I’m sure you will find him a worthy ally, because we all need to be allies in this business (of making Nigeria better). The Deputy Chairman too, Hon Makki, is someone worthy of being there, and of course the other members of the committee who were carefully chosen.”
The Speaker would not leave the Defence Committee’s session without expressing gratitude to the men and women in uniform who, on daily basis, have been sacrificing their lives for the citizens.
The Speaker then moved to the budget defence of the Committee on Water Resources at Conference Room 236, where he said: “We decided to breeze in to make sure things are going well, to make sure that the committee is on top of its game. Of course, I know the committee is on top of its game, because the members, particularly the leadership, were carefully chosen. I’m glad that things are going according to plan.
“I miss budget defence as a member, so I decided to come here. I’m first a legislator before being the Speaker. It’s part of my DNA to be at budget defence. This is one time in a year when, as a legislator, you sit and watch how people on the other side are sweating profusely as they’re being asked questions.”
At the Sports Committee, with Minister of Sports Sunday Dare present, the Speaker again reiterated his reason for attending the session, saying “For us in the House, it’s not the practice that the Speaker and the leadership will go round during budget defence. But we decided to do it because this is a reform House for several reasons. I’m a thorough legislator, because this is what I’ve been doing all my life. I miss hanging around during budget defence.
“Two, we chose the sports committee, because many don’t understand the importance of the sports industry. Whether you’re under-developed, developing or developed, sports is very key and critical to the development of any country. In fact, for some people, that’s what they use to generate revenue.”
As far as the 9th House is concerned, Speaker Gbajabiamila is ready to, and will, going forward, definitely set other records apart from this and others he has already set.
Musa Krishi is the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker, House of Reps.