By Abdul Farouk
The summons of honorable members of the Chamber of Deputies to Tuesday's plenary amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic came as no surprise to many interested observers.
The speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, has shown unprecedented leadership in defending the cause of the Nigerian masses since he took over the leadership of the House.
Critics who predicted that the Casa de Gbajabiamila would be a goofy rubber stamp of the presidency are gradually changing their minds.
In Tuesday's plenary, the speaker was not swayed by the political feeling of how ineffective the provision of palliative care to vulnerable Nigerians had been in the past four weeks.
They were shocked when Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, was shaken by all the brilliance of the world when she failed to impress the speaker with her explanation of the provision of risk subsidies for frontline soldiers (health workers) in Coronavirus war theater.
The lecturer brought his analytical skills as a lawyer when the Minister of Health stated that the task of the Coronavirus was another routine duty of medical workers. When deepened, the minister capitulated and admitted that he did not know whether the risk subsidy was paid or not.
In his outspoken style, Gbajabiamila urged the federal government to ensure that more poor Nigerians receive help in these difficult times. According to him, the preponderance of feedbacks from representatives who related to their constituents suggested that the actual disbursement of palliative care was very difficult compared to the reported beneficiaries.
Gbajabiamila also proposed to give more oxygen to the National Social Investment Program, which would have captured 2.6 million poor Nigerians in its social register that President Muhammadu Buhari directed should be increased by one million to 3.5 additional beneficiaries.
The speaker sought a codification of the Social Investment Program in a bill for consideration. He said: "We intend to bring these unique perspectives into our ongoing work to codify the National Social Investment Programs (NSIP) into a bill that will be considered by the Chamber on the next postponed date."
Gbajabiamila did not play the ostrich by asking the government's executive branch to do what was necessary, ignoring the duty of his colleagues.
The speaker appealed to his sense of patriotism by joining the fight against the fury pandemic. He asked them to be at the forefront of war in their various constituencies and to propagate preventive measures, as recommended by the relevant health authorities.
The speaker said: “Dear colleagues, as leaders in your constituencies, you must ensure that people in local communities understand the reasons for these restrictions and adopt all preventive measures, such as hand washing, social distance and other guidelines established by the Nigeria Disease Control (NCDC).
“Our greatest hope is to prevent the massive outbreak of this disease in Nigeria. If we fail to do this, and this disease begins to transmit on a scale, all of our worst nightmares will manifest themselves at once, and our misfortunes will worsen beyond our ability to respond.
We will be left to seek our recovery, with limited resources in a long and brutal process from which we cannot escape unscathed. We must bear this unfortunate truth in mind and act accordingly.
“Many have postulated that our current approach to managing the pandemic will not produce the results we want. It has been suggested that we should look for other alternatives when dealing with this virus; alternatives best suited to our economic structure and cultural composition and tailored to our way of life.
“Recommendations were also made that we should lift the blockade, open the economy with restrictions, including the mandatory use of masks in public places.
Let's consider all of these recommendations and more. In any case, the total defeat of this virus must be our immediate objective and our highest priority. "
As a proactive response to the way the Coronavirus disrupted the plans and projections of nations, companies and individuals in general, the speaker created the Covid-19 Strategic Response Team (CRST), with a broad mandate to develop interventions and reforms and update legislation . agenda to reflect Nigeria's post-Covid-19 realities and priorities.
He predicted that: “The strategic response team will be supported by a group of technical experts, private sector leaders and representatives. Their experience and knowledge will ensure that the policy proposals presented to the House are strictly based on a fact-based reality. "
After the first stimulus bill to cushion the effects of the pandemic on Nigerians and companies, Gbajabiamila announced that another rescuer is on the way: corporate organizations in Nigeria.
"We hope that, until then, the Senate will quickly consider and approve the first economic stimulus bill approved by the Chamber and is now awaiting Senate approval," says the speaker.
“COVID-19 pandemic”, he noted “devastated the global economy” and that “at a time when the demands for social assistance to the public exchange are higher than ever, our current reality requires nothing less than wholesale reform of our government structures, systems and processes.
"These efforts must necessarily begin with dramatic reductions in the cost of governance, coupled with determined efforts to boost economic diversity and innovation in the non-oil sector."
“There are no more sacred cows, protected spaces or classes. All areas of our national health policy, economic policy, tax policy, educational policy and security architecture are now on the table for reform.
“We must transform this moment of deep crisis into an opportunity to make difficult choices that we postponed a long time ago, but that we can no longer avoid if we want to survive as a nation.
This Chamber of Deputies is ready and I trust that we will find allies in the government and throughout the country that are prepared to make the necessary changes for our country to survive, recover and prosper ”.
From an apparent relaxed perception that people have about the National Assembly in the past, the narrative is being altered through the responsive leadership of Rt Hon Femi Gbajabiamila.
- Farouk writes from Abuja.