Gbaja: Advocate of restructuring, prohibition of estimated billing
The new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, is not a dark horse as far as politics in Nigeria is concerned.
Gbajabiamila, who is the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, has become the first Nigerian to occupy the positions of Minority Leader (2011-2015) Majority Leader (2015-2019) and now Speaker of the House.
The 57-year-old lawyer who represents Surulere Constituency 1 of Lagos State, has always been known as the face of the opposition in the House even when his party, the ruling All Progressives Congress, was in the majority in the 8th Assembly.
Gbajabiamila, who claims to be a thoroughbred progressive, is not new to controversy either, having rejected a national honour bestowed on him by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
He is also seen to be too loyal to the APC stalwart, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whom many believe may have an overbearing influence on him.
In his inaugural speech, the new Speaker stressed the need to reform the House, insisting that it was only when the National Assembly changed itself that Nigeria could witness true change.
He got down to business immediately by announcing his first appointment, signalling his resolve to get things done quickly.
Armed with the gavel this time round, what should Nigerians expect from a House led by Gbajabiamila?
Gbajabiamila is an advocate of restructuring, especially fiscal federalism. In an opinion article he penned in September 2017, he lamented the current federal structure which vests enormous powers on the Federal Government at the expense of states.
He wrote, “So, if truth be told, there is an imbalance in the way the cards in this house of cards are stacked. If truth be told, the states are too weak and the Federal Government too strong. If truth be told, powers need to devolve to the states as the states are no longer able to pay salaries or sustain themselves because the capacity to generate the much needed revenue has been taken away from them by the constitution.”
Ironically, Gbajabiamila opposed the National Conference of 2014 just like President Muhammadu Buhari.
Prohibition of estimated billing
In the 8th Assembly, Gbajabiamila sponsored a bill seeking to prohibit the issuance of estimated electricity bill to electricity consumers in the country which attracted commendation from a large section of Nigerians.
The Electric Power Sector Reform Act (amendment bill), sponsored by Gbajabiamila, sought to criminalise such a method of billing, but it was not signed into law.
A bill seeking an amendment to the Nigerian Constitution to accommodate state and community policing was also sponsored by Gbajabiamila in 2018.
The bill, titled, ‘Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Alteration) Bill, 2018,’ sought to delete item 45 from the exclusive legislative list and move it to the concurrent list.
However, the bill never became a law.
Gbajabiamila is of the belief that Nigeria desperately needs to diversify from oil to other areas such as solid minerals and development of mines and steel.
The lawmaker in 2018 headed an ad hoc committee on Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited and he recommended that the loot recovered from the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, be channelled towards reviving Ajaokuta Integrated Steel Plant.
Stand on National Assembly allowances
The new Speaker is an advocate of transparency in the National Assembly and had promised to open the books of the House of Representatives if elected while contesting the Speakership position in 2015.
In an interview in August of 2015, Gbajabiamila urged the National Assembly to publish a breakdown of salaries and allowances of federal lawmakers in the country.
He said the need for official disclosure of the figures became necessary in view of the current campaign for full disclosure of funding of all tiers and arms of government.
Gbajabiamila had said, “Open up your books to the public, let them look at how much you earn, and break that payment down into sub-heads and what that payment is for. It is after you open that up that the debate on whether it is too much or too little can then begins.”