It is just like yesterday that Hon Femi Gbajabiamila took over the mantle of leadership as the Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives. Four years down the line, Gbajabiamila is leaving office fulfilled.
He was returning to the House for his 5th term back in 2019, and after an unsuccessful attempt to become the Speaker four years earlier, in 2015, he clinched the position in an unprecedented manner by polling 281 votes to defeat his opponent back then, Mohammed Umar Bago, who is now the governor of Niger State.
June 11, 2019, was a day to remember in Nigeria’s history because that was the day that the Nigerian Parliament, for the first time, got someone who had occupied both the Minority and Majority leadership positions in our history elected as Speaker. Having garnered experience from both sides of the divide, Gbajabiamila was truly prepared for the job ahead of him.
In his inaugural speech, Gbajabiamila promised to do things differently and “shake the table” a little. True to his words, he did things differently as Speaker.
Soon after the assumption of office, Gbajabiamila appointed a committee of distinguished members of the House headed by Prof. Julius Ihonvbere to come up with a legislative agenda for the House. When the document was ready, top on the list were health, education, and other legislative interventions.
The House barely commenced the implementation of the legislative agenda when the world was taken by storm. The COVID-19 pandemic struck like a whirlwind, and activities around the globe were grounded. During that difficult period, Gbajabiamila was up and doing. He provided decisive leadership.
He personally sponsored the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020, to cushion the effects of the pandemic on the citizens.
The bill sought to provide tax relief, the suspension of import duty on selected medical goods, and the deferral of residential mortgage obligations.
He came up with the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill. But as is the case in Nigeria, there were media campaigns and outright lies against the bill. However, Gbajabiamila was vindicated when everyone, including our leaders, queued up to take the COVID-19 vaccine several months after he advocated for it in his bill.
Gbajabiamila spearheaded several other interventions and met with senior government officials day-by-day to ensure that the government’s palliatives during the lockdown period got to the targeted citizens.
Perhaps, the biggest intervention Gbajabiamila provided during those perilous times was that which averted the planned industrial action by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).
Members of the association had been at loggerheads with the Executive arm since 2019, and in the middle of COVID-19, they threatened to embark on a strike. If not for Gbajabiamila’s intervention, only God knows what would have become of Nigeria had they embarked on the strike.
After the nationwide lockdown necessitated by COVID-19, the House had to review its legislative agenda to accommodate certain things. The document was christened ‘Our Contract with Nigerians.’
It was also Gbajabiamila who insisted on having the national budget run from January to December, as envisaged by the constitution. He had been an advocate of the January-December budget cycle long before he became Speaker.
For the first time in our history, the 2020 budget was passed in December 2019 and signed into law the same month. The country’s subsequent budgets under him also followed the same trajectory.
One thing that had been close to Gbajabiamila’s heart was a befitting legislative library for the Nigerian Parliament. Soon after he assumed office, he created a committee known as the Legislative Library, Research, and Documentation Committee. He made sure that budgetary allocations were made in the 2020 and subsequent budgets for the building of a world-class library for the National Assembly.
Today, that gigantic project, located behind the House of Representatives New Building, is almost complete, and it is expected that the next leadership of the National Assembly will carry on with it.
Nigerians will not forget in a hurry Gbajabiamila’s role in persuading members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in October 2022 to call off their eight-month strike, which they embarked on in February, 2022.
ASUU and the Federal Government went back and forth for several months, and there had been deadlocks on many occasions. But Gbajabiamila, in his usual leadership style, personally intervened and presided over several meetings between ASUU and top officials of the executive arm, including ministers.
His intervention yielded good results when ASUU called off the strike on October 14, 2022. The universities’ teachers association also commended Gbajabiamila for his role in the resolution of the issue.
It was also under his leadership as Speaker that key some legislations were passed.
The then Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which took almost two decades at the National Assembly, was passed and signed into law. The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), and the Deep Offshore Sharing Agreement Bill, among several others, were also passed and signed into law under Gbajabiamila’s watch.
But one bill that may have defined the 9th House was the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which the House passed alongside the Senate.
What the Green Chamber did became a game changer in the history of elections in Nigeria as the new law gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the room to introduce more technology into the electoral process, which saw the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) during the 2023 general elections.
As busy as Gbajabiamila has been as Speaker, he still found the time to sponsor bills. Before occupying that position, he was one of the top sponsors of bills in the House, so he did not want the position of Speaker to stop him from bill sponsorship.
Within his four-year term, Gbajabiamila sponsored over 20 bills as a sitting Speaker.
Some of the bills he sponsored include Electric Power Sector Reform Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019; Physically-challenged (Empowerment) Bill, 2019; Presidential (Transition) Bill, 2019; Economic Stimulus Bill, 2019; Labour Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019; Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Bill, 2019; Employees (Unpaid Wages Prohibition) Bill, 2019, and Federal Highways Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
On February 25, 2023, Gbajabiamila won his sixth term to return to the House to represent Surulere 1 Federal Constituency of Lagos State.
As plans were underway for the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly on June 13, his mentor, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had other plans for him.
On Friday, June 2, President Tinubu appointed Gbajabiamila as his Chief of Staff, which will take effect from June 14, 2023, a day after the inauguration of the 10th Assembly.
The Speaker would have taken the oath of office as a sixtth term lawmaker before joining the president’s team.
In accepting the appointment, Gbajabiamila thanked the president for finding him worthy of being the Chief of Staff and noted that “having spent the last 20 years in the Nigerian Parliament, and after winning my sixth term election into the National Assembly, I shall work with Mr President in discharging the enormous task ahead of him for the peace and progress of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
For Gbajabiamila, he is bowing out in style. It is the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one for a man variously described as a legislative czar, an encyclopedia and a lawmaker par excellence.
Here is wishing the Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives the very best in his new role as the Chief of Staff to President Bola Tinubu.