Legality Of Posthumous GCFR Award To Chief Mko Abiola By Femi Gbajabiamila

On June 6th 2018, Nigerians were met with breaking news that President Buhari had done what many before him were unable to do. He had awarded the late MKO Abiola of blessed memory the highest honour of the land, the Grand Commander Of The Federal Republic and posthumously too.

This move has triggered a heated debate between pro and anti Buhari elements of our society. I will not jump into such fray, for to do so will be to debase and reduce the value of this particular award to this particular person. I believe politics should never be taken to the level that may tend to blunt the beauty and symbolism represented by actions such as this taken by the President.

We must be careful not to kill the joy of the Abiola family in an attempt to read the President’s mind and motives.  Now even if it wasn’t done in good faith, a suggestion I completely disagree with, it should have been left alone if only for the sake of the memory of the man who paid the supreme price for the democracy we are all a part of today.

I will therefore limit myself to the legality of a posthumous award under the National Honours Act.  I think I know a bit about the National Honours Act being a legislator and having been a nominee (though not a recipient), some years back.  At the time I studied the Act to see how we could improve on it so it could achieve its objective as intended by its framers.  This one award is peharps the most deserving in the history of the awards system in Nigeria.

The learned Jurist in whom I have profound respect, Justice Alfa Belgore rtd, has stated that the National Honours Act does not  provide for posthumous awards except in the case of the military. I must beg to differ.

Firstly in interpreting any Act we must consider the intention of the drafters where and if there is ambiguity. In this case can it be truly argued that a Nigerian who gave his or her all to the country for instance an ambassador who maybe got us out of some major crisis abroad, or peharps Dr Stella Adadevoh who in a rare act of bravery saved the lives of  millions of Nigerians and died whilst doing so cannot be honoured posthumously because she is not in the military?

Somehow I don’t think this was the intention of the law. Such would be preposterous.  Now lets look at the express provisions of the law. Section 1 declares

“Subject to the provisions of subsections (4) and (6) of this section, the President may BY WARRANT (emphasis mine) make provision for the award of titles of honour, decorations and dignities (in this Act collectively referred to as “honours”)

Subsection 3 provides:

“A warrant under this section may make different provisions FOR DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES (emphasis mine)……”

and Subsection 4 says

“ The power to make awards in pursuance of a warrant under this section SHALL be exercisable by the President in accordance with the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999”

The combined reading of these sections makes it abundantly clear that

The powers of the President in conferring an award or honour under the National Honours Act are wide and unfettered and he need not consult with any committee. Indeed the National Honors Committee (I stand to be corrected) is unknown to the Act and a creation of the presidency itself, perhaps for ease of administration).

Nowhere in the Act does it say the President must consult with anyone in exercising his powers. It is by executive fiat! For those who may want to make reference to the Council of State in the constitution, it’s role, is merely to advise on national awards where such is sought or needed by Mr. President. Nothing in the constitution makes it mandatory for him to seek such advise.

The Act does not exclude posthumous awards. If not excluded expressly it cannot be implied. Indeed subsection 3 referred to above adequately covers posthumous awards with the general words “FOR DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES”.  Yes posthumous awards are specifically spelt out in the military category for whatever reason only God knows.

Even in that category, not all military men are entitled. It depends on your rank and not all categories of military awards can be conferred posthumously. This is inelegant drafting at best and must be amended. To come to any other interpretation other than the above will be preposterous and illogical to say the least.

To drive home the point, subsection 5 is the most telling. It provides:

“ A warrant under this section may provide that the warrant shall have effect as if it had been made on such date (not being earlier than the day when this Act is deemed to have come into force ) as may be specified by the warrant, and an honour……………….shall be deemed to have been awarded in pursuance of the warrant”.

In other words the award can be backdated and therefore posthumous!!!!!!

Lets read a little further.

Section 2 deals with eligibility of appointment and the only qualification is citizenship. Nowhere does it talk about being a living person.

Going further yet again, Section 3 of the Act refers to Mode of appointment and  states clearly that all the President need do is to publish same in the official gazette.  Section 3 subsection 3 states that the award is to be presented by the President to the recipient in person but yet again making room for posthumous awards, it goes further in subsection 3 to allow for presentation in absentia.  It states;

“If in the case of any person it appears to the President expedient to dispense with the requirements of paragraph 2 of this article, he may direct that that person shall be appointed to the rank in question IN SUCH A MANNER (emphasis mine) as may be specified in the direction.

In other words award can be given posthumously and received by his heirs in succession .

In any case, it must be noted that section 42 of the Constitution comes down hard against any law or policy that tends to discriminate and for me a law that allows for posthumous awards to the military and not to civilians is discriminatory and cannot stand constitutional muster.

Furthermore where there is ambiguity we must always look at international best practices.

Finally I would want the President to go beyond this and exercise his powers under Section 7 of the Act, titled deprivation, to strip all manner of undeserving past awardees dead or alive off their awards so that MKO Abiola can be in good company.

Congratulations to the Abiola Family. Well done Mr President .

*Femi Gbajabiamila is the Leader of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Abuja

Gbajabiamila Backs Fayose Over NGF’s $1billion ECA Approval To Fight Boko Haram

Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, the Leader of the House of Representatives, on Sunday said the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, has the moral right to kick against the Nigerian Governors’ Forum decision to approve $1 billion from Excess Crude Account to fight Boko Haram.

Recalled that the state governors at a meeting of the National Executive Council announced they approved the withdrawal of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to be used to fight the insurgents.

In a swift reaction to the development, Mr Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State described the gesture as a surreptitious move by the All Progressives Congress (APC) led federal government to fund President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election in 2019.

He disassociated himself from the gesture, saying he doesn’t agree with the decision.

Reacting to Mr. Fayose’s criticism, Mr. Gbajabiamila in a statement said, “On whether Gov Fayose or any other Gov has a right to kick I believe he does.”

“The ECA I have always maintained is an illegal account and I instituted a court action against it during then Jonathan administration. Unfortunately until a final decision has been made by the courts the account is still operative,” the statement read.

“Where the governors have decided to ‘donate’ some of their funds from the ECA to fight Boko Haram, their state assemblies can kick against it that such was not appropriated by them.

“I do agree that due process wasn’t followed by the governors as they should have sought approval of their states before the donation. It is however not for the national assembly to complain on behalf of the state assemblies.

“This is part of the principle of separation of powers in a constitutional democracy. The national assembly can only discuss the portion of the federal government money spent if any.

“On whether governor Fayose or any other governor has a right to kick I believe he does.

“No matter how inappropriate if he does not accede to the request or deduction from his state’s portion there is no amount of consensus that can bind him as postulated by the chairman of the governors forum because such portion belongs to his state and not to the governors forum. So he may be entitled to a refund.”

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Prison Congestion And Human Rights Violation

In Nigeria, prison congestion and its unpleasant situation have featured in the template for judicial reforms since 1999. This reform clamour is long overdue, because when a man who stole a goat is slammed in a stinking and congested prison, the big man in the society who stole billions of Naira is granted bail to travel abroad for medical checkup. So, the concerned authority such as ministry of justice and that of interior affairs should gear up to their responsibilities to decongest the prison.

The poor, hopeless convicts including suspects awaiting trial continue to suffer in squalor and dehumanizing conditions.

Recently, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, leader of the House of Representative once visited a prison with the aim to perfect the bail condition of some 40 persons who were remanded for their inability to meet conditions imposed by some funny magistrate courts. Some of them were arrested and taken to court for offences such as hawking and loitering within metropolis.

Our prison system is seemingly insensitive to the plight of those who were remanded on flimsy offences or no offence at all. One of prison yard which is meant for 1,700 inmates is being occupied by 3,553 inmates. What an ingenious way to breed hardened criminals.

Besides, the most attractive thing in our prison system is the award of contracts to build more prisons that will accommodate more trouble makers in the land, even when the cases of the awaiting trial suspects, who constitute the majority of inmates, are not treated.

Nigeria is planning to build new prisons when almost 70 per cent of prisoners are awaiting trial. A lot of innocent people or those yet to be convicted for any crime are in prison custody, just because of poor leadership, poor judgment and corruption.

A prison fact sheet indicates that about 69, 200 people are behind the bar and no fewer than 47,800 of them are awaiting trial and most of those awaiting trial in the various prisons have spent 15 years for offences that should attract just 12 months in custody.

Therefore to decongest the prisons, it is the responsibility of the government, particularly the judicial officers, by ensuring that only those who are convicted are sent to prison to serve their jail terms.

This is indeed a wake-up call for managers of the criminal justice system.

The Suitability of Presidential System of Government in a Multi-Ethnic Democracy By Femi Gbajabiamila

This is an excerpt of the speech delivered by the Leader of the 8th House of Representative at State of Osun House of Assembly to commemorate the 60th birthday anniversary of the governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola.

I am humbled by the invitation extended to me to deliver this lecture on the suitability of the presidential system of Government in a multi-ethnic democracy, a very topical subject in our present day democracy. Apart from the fact that I may not be the most qualified person to take up this all important assignment, this lecture is coming at a time many Nigerians are confronted with enormous challenges and so many unanswered questions with regard to the most suitable system of government to adopt in order to get out of this present economic and political quagmire. Most importantly, this lecture is coming at a time when the entire Country and the good people of the State of Osun are gathered to celebrate one of the very change agents in Nigeria’s political history. His Excellency Governor Rauf Aregbesola. I am indeed humbled.

WHAT IS DEMOCRACY?

A very popular and well acceptable definition of democracy is that it is the Government of, by and for the people. It is a government whereby every citizen of a country irrespective of class/status, colour, sex, and race has the right to participate. The rights of the few and weak are protected even though the majority rules. In fact, the majority rulers derive their authority from the people. In constitutional democracy, the powers of the rulers are regulated by legal means so that the rights of the minorities and the weak are protected and respected. This is the type of democratic practice in most countries in the world, particularly, the United States of America, Germany, France etc. And of course, this is the democratic practice in Nigeria. The structure or system of government in any country is derived from the Constitution of that country. The United States operates federal system of government where government is separated between two independent sovereignties at the federal and state level. However, there is some truism to the saying that all politics is local and as all politics is local I believe all democracies can also be local.

THE PRACTICE IN NIGERIA

However in Nigeria, our Constitution prescribes for us a federal system of government with 3 federating units to wit: federal, states and the local governments. Section 2 sub-section 1 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 provides that “Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of Federal Republic of Nigeria”. In most federal democracies of the world, Federal system is designed along two federating units which seems to be the intention of the legal draftsmen under sub-section 2 which states that “Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of states and a Federal Capital Territory”. However under Section 3 sub-sections 1 to 5 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), Nigeria’s federal system appears to be designed to consist of three Federating units perhaps to suit our local circumstances according to our current experiences. Even at that, it is practically difficult for many Nigerians to accept that we practice federalism. This has led to the question as to what system of government do we really practice in Nigeria, and of course what system of government is most suitable for Nigeria which is where the topic of this lecture revolves. For us to answer this question, recourse must be made to some simple descriptions of the systems of government relevant to our discuss.
Presidential system is a government where the executive is led by a President who serves both as the head of state and the head of government. The President is always dominant. However, due to the principle of separation of powers usually entrenched in the Constitution, he still has to obtain majority support from the legislature for his actions.
In the parliamentary system, the executive is not really separated from the Legislature. As in the UK for instance, the Leader usually referred to as Prime Minister is a member of the legislature. He picks his cabinet’s members who are also members of the legislature. He is the head of government and the head of parliament. In the circumstance, the party that controls the legislature controls the executive. The executive is tied to the parliament. The Head of government who is also the head of Legislature can easily get the laws favorable to his party’s aspiration passed, and of course there will be no issues with execution.
In federal system, powers are shared between the central and the component regions. The central cedes certain powers to the regions. The regions are independent of the central to a very large extent. In countries were federalism is in full force, regions have more responsibilities than the central.
The unitary system is one in which all the powers are concentrated in the hands of one central government. Even though the central governs, it may delegate some powers to the regions, these powers are exercised at the whims and caprices of the central authority.
The question arising from the above is: where exactly does Nigeria belong?

SUMMARY OF NIGERIA CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY

The right answer to the above question may be missed without attempting a retrospect of Nigeria Constitutional history.
Nigeria had at one time or the other practiced almost all the systems of government. After the first military coup of 1966 and under the short-lived administration of the then Head of State General Aguiyi Ironsi, Decree 34 of 1966 was promulgated abrogating the federal system of government and substituting same with unitary system of government. This system continued even during the Yakubu Gowon led Military government.
When General Murtala Mohammed took over as the Head of State, he, after meeting with the Supreme Military Council adopted the presidential system of Government and thereafter set up a Constitution Drafting Committee to draft our Constitution in line with Presidential system of Government. While addressing the Committee on the 18th day of October, 1975 he stated that the Supreme Military Council had discussed and had agreed on the Presidential System of Government in which the President and Vice President are elected with clearly defined powers and accountable to the people, Eric Teniola also captured this record of events in his book, Origin of Presidential System of Government.
From independence in 1960 to 1966, Nigeria practiced the Parliamentary system of Government where we had the president Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as the Head of State and the Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa as the head of Government.
Federalism dates back to the year 1939 by Governor It was adopted by the Richard Constitution of 1946, the Macpherson constitution of 1951 and the Littleton Constitution of 1954. The 1954 Constitution was as a result of the Constitutional conference that took place in London in 1953 where the resolution for Nigeria to remain a Federal State was adopted and the reasons for the adoption of federalism were:
Cultural and ethnic diversity
The fear by the minority of domination
Geographical factor and economic factor and
Bringing government and power to the people
From the foregoing, it is very clear that Nigeria has passed through almost all the systems of government. It is however disheartening that today we are still pondering over a suitable system of government that will take us to the Promised Land. Some scholars have argued that our problem does not lie in the system of government we practice but in our insincerity as a people. For instance, even though we proclaim federalism today, we cannot boldly say we practice federalism. To me, we have combined the features of federal, presidential and unitary systems of government. By name, it is Federal Government of Nigeria; by Constitutional design, it is Presidential and in practice, it is Unitary. But we pretend to be operating the federal system. Even though the reasons for adopting the federal system were mainly for the protection of the minority so that power is spread evenly, in practice, power has continued to concentrate at the center.
Let’s be clear, the drafters of Nigeria’s constitution were mindful of our diversity. For this reason they included provisions you will not find in many other constitutions. Provisions such as Federal Character found in section 14 (3) of the Constitution and appointment of Ministers from each State of the Federation found in section 147 (3). The philosophy and principle behind these provisions are based on the need to protect ethnic minorities almost similar to the principle of affirmative action in the United States which was to protect blacks from racial discrimination. Indeed the Constitution ensures equal participation by providing equal representation through election of National Assembly members. It also provides strict requirements of popularity of votes and 25% in 2/3rd of states for the President. This way the President whether or not he likes it must have enough spread across the ethnic groups.

The multi ethnicity and diverse nature of the Country does not seem to help issues. The negativities of our diverse nature seems to always raise its ugly head with every system we operate. Apparently, there is so much distrust among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria. As it was in the sixties, so it is today. And at the risk of sounding so pessimistic, so shall it be if we as a people do not take urgent and sincere steps to correct the ills and abnormality in our democratic system and practice.
SUITABILITY OF THE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM

For the purpose of this topic, I will like to revisit the features of Presidential system of government for us to ascertain how suitable it is in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria. They are:
Separation of powers between the arms of government
President is both the head of state and head of government. This makes the President too powerful
President is responsible to the electorates
There is hardly any recognized opposition which is dangerous for democracy
Ministers are individually handpicked by the President and can be summarily dismissed by the President
The system is very expensive
Following the highlights above, most powers are concentrated in one man at the Centre and this cannot be suitable in a multi ethnic society like Nigeria where there are issues of marginalization, resource control, power sharing issues, revenue allocation, agitation for secession etc. As evidenced today, there are too many responsibilities at the Federal level and it is therefore not surprising that the dividends of democracy hardly get to the grassroots. The medical, education and social standard in our villages are nothing to write home about. Majority of the citizens leaving in rural areas hardly feel the effect of government. This is not surprising for it is foolhardy to expect the center government in Abuja to know and solve the problems in every hamlet in Nigeria.
It is important in addressing this topic, the system of government cannot be addressed in isolation of the structure of government. Both work hand in glove. In other words, if the system does not fit into the structure then there will be a misfit and the two will never be able to work in unison. What do I mean? A Presidential system of government which by its nature cedes a lot of powers to “Mr President” or maybe “Madam President” one day, can only work in a democratic system where true federalism thrives. An executive President in a unitary system is perfect recipe for chaos and absolutism.

PATTERN OF FEDERAL ALLOCATIONS

Available Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) first quarter 2017 report indicates that the Federal Government statutory allocation to the three tiers of government in January 2017 was N430.16 Billion of which N168 billion went to the Federal Government, states N114.28billion, and local government councils, N85.4 billion. In other word, the 36 states of the Federation and FCT and the 774 local government areas got less than one tier of the government at the center.

In February 2017, Federal Government got 200.6 billion, states received N128.4billion; local government councils received N96.52 billion representing (20.60 per cent).

In the month of March 2017, Federal government received a total of N180.51bn from the N466.9bn shared. States received a total of N116.5bn and Local governments received N87.5bn.

The FAAC allocation was made applying the revenue sharing formula, federal government – 52.68%; States – 26.72% and local governments – 20.60%

This has always been the narrative. It is worrisome that it is the federal government that want to provide water for the people in Esa-Oke or the man in Mubi. It is the federal government that want to provide fertilizer for the farmer in Idoma land, use the federal police to secure Badagry, Bama and the creeks. If the various ethnic groups in Nigeria must come together with one mind in one spirit to accept Nigeria as one indivisible country and if we must collectively work towards the unity and development of Nigeria, the narrative must change. Democratic government is for the people and by the people. Power must return to the people. Therefore, items under part 1 second schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 must be revisited. Items relating to power, police, water, agriculture, mines and mining, parks, registration of business names, prisons public holiday’s railways, stamp duties, marriages etc must be moved to either the concurrent list or residual list. The issue of restructuring must be revisited. States and local government areas through which the common man feels the Government must be empowered.

CONCLUSION

Nigeria’s democracy has experienced a very rough history arising from several military coup leading to many years of military rules and the civil war of 1967 to 1970. These together with ethnic sentiments, tribalism, religion fanaticism insincerity and greed by some politicians have hindered our democratic growth. In democracy, power belongs to the people, but in Nigeria’s democracy, power has been taking away from the people leading to distrust, inter-ethnicity rivalry, disagreement and conflicts power tussle and the quest for secession.
Does the idea of zoning stunt development of other areas? Does it sacrifice merit on the alter of ethnicity. I think like everything else it is the practitioners that matter. Whilst the above two questions are germaine and can be a problem, I believe the whole idea of federal character and the appointment of a minister per state should adequately answer the question of schewed federal presence in certain regions. It is important to note that the federal character policy is not only applicable to appointments but also to projects of the federal government The fact that the constitution also provides for equal state representation in the legislature also addresses this issue. Surely a budget that is lopsided will find it difficult to pass through the National Assembly. It must be clearly understood that what drives the policy of zoning or federal character is the fundamental quest of all people for equity, fairness and justice which is also written into our constitution. It is no different from the cry for resource control. This underlying principle is therefore implicit and explicit. Though zoning is not written into our laws (at least not yet), it is implicit in the sense that a Party that presents 2 south west candidates as President and Vice President is bound to fail. Today the No1, No 2 and No 3 must be from different zones.
I believe the presidential system if modified to fit into our local peculiarities and if practiced within the context of a federal system, can work well in Nigeria, but there must be some modifications particularly by devolving powers to the regions and the states.
Many have said Nigeria is a mere geographical expression and the amalgamation in 1914 was really and truly an amalgamation of several nations with different cultures, religion and languages. For this reason it has been suggested by scholars that the presidential system should be modified and rejigged by having rotational presidency as a form of government enshrined in the constitution. Some have also proffered that we should have a council of presidents with one President and two Vice Presidents and all three representing the three major tribes, or a six man presidential council representing all six geopolitical zones of the country. Some have even gone further to argue for a hybrid system of government, part presidential, part parliamentarian. Which ever way, it is abundantly clear that to achieve a more perfect union, we need to some recalibration or restructuring as some will like to call it. The presidential system of government in and of itself works well generally, but as Nigerians we must not play the ostrich or continue to be in denial that our society, our people and our chequered history have peculiarities and vagarices that may not necessarily be found in other societies that practices a typical and traditional presidential system of government therefore it is my humble opinion that because there exist a patent symbiotic relationship between politics and economics and because the two feed off each other and to maintain a social equilibrium for the purpose of achieving a more progressive and egalitarian society there is need for some re-engineering.
I stand on that side of the divide that believes we do not need to jettison the presidential system wholesale but that we should look at the merits and demerits and come up with a customized presidential system of government for our great country.
Before I close let me use this very auspicious moment to on behalf of my colleagues in the National Assembly from across party lines congratulate His Excellency, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the executive Governor of the State of osun for attaining this milestone, my prayer for you is very simple but even in its simplicity it is very powerful and that is, May the best days of your past be the worst days of your future.
Once again I thank you for the opportunity to hear my thought and in my own way contribute to this most important debate that is essential for our forward movement.

Femi Gbajabiamila is the Leader of the 8th House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Gbajabiamila Describes Jibrin’s Suspension As Unconstitutional

In an interview with Thisday newspaper, the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said he considers the suspension of Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin by the House for a period of 180 legislative days as unconstitutional and a breach of the rights of his constituency to have representation in the lower chamber.
“Personally, I would have preferred that the matter be dealt with, in a more transparent manner, or for that matter, not even dealt with at all. I made this clear when we had our last principal officer’s meeting, and gave my reasons for this. Sometimes silence is golden, and you can take the moral high ground and just leave this alone,” he said.
He however said his argument against the suspension was not carried because it contended with the need for a clear message to be sent to other members, that there are laid down procedures to follow, when a member is aggrieved.

“The fear of other principal officers, was that, if this message was not sent, a bad precedent would have been set, and there would be no basis for disciplining any member, in the future,” he said.
The majority leader who said he was not at the plenary during the vote for the suspension because he was at the clerk’s office with the speaker requesting for another approach.
Below is Gbajabiamila’s position on the suspension:
“My concern on the suspension, is the same that I always had, even when Dino Melaye and others, were suspended in the 6th Assembly. More so, as this was a one year suspension. Now what is this concern? I find it difficult as a Constitutional Lawyer, to accept that our rules can actually pass constitutional muster, if put to test.

“If you suspend a member for a year, you are effectively suspending his constituency and the people he represents, from participation in participatory democracy. This, in my own personal opinion, violates the constitution which delineates the country into Federal Constituencies for effective representation, at the centre.
“For every constituency, it is a right to be represented in the national assembly, not a privilege that can be taken away. The constitution says clearly that, all Federal Constituencies must be represented for 4 years, and lists, I believe, only 1 or 2 circumstances under which such a constituency can be unrepresented. e.g. by process of recall etc. Even at that, the vacancy is to be filled immediately.
“Our constitution does not envisage a situation where a Federal Constituency is unrepresented or underrepresented. If, for instance, an issue comes up in a member’s constituency, that requires federal attention or legislative address, who do they go to? We cannot take away a mandate, given by the people or short change a constituency. In law, the seat of a representative is held in trust for the constituency. It is an in rem matter, not a personam matter. This is why when a member gets up to speak, he goes through the formality of announcing his name and the constituency he represents. In fact, in other democracies and Legislatures, when a Speaker wants to recognise a Representative to speak, he addresses him or her not even by name, but as for instance, “the gentleman from so so constituency”. That is the pre-eminence given to a constituency in a democratic setting. So it is not about Honourable Jibrin, it is about Beweji Constituency.
“I do not stand in the gap for Jibrin, nor is this in any way a defence on his behalf. You may not know this, but Jibrin and I stopped relating as friends and colleagues, since March or thereabout. However, I am not one to shy away from the truth and the rule of law. I believe that there are other ways that would be constitutional, if the House wants to discipline any member.
“On whether this was contempt of court, I believe that you are speaking about the Federal High Court decision in the Melaye case, when the Court said that the House lacked the powers to suspend the members. I do not remember the basis upon which the Court made its decision, but I will definitely look at it again. I suspect it was on the basis of fair hearing, as provided in the Constitution.”

Reps In Rowdy Session Over Proposed Immunity For Saraki, Dogara

Members of the House of Representatives broke into a rowdy session on Tuesday as tempers rose over a proposed immunity against prosecution for presiding officers of the National Assembly.

It also included presiding officers of State Houses of Assembly.

The immediate beneficiaries of the proposal, which came in the form of a bill, would be the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; and Deputy Speaker of the House, Yussuff Lasun.

All the officials have a four-year tenure running till 2019, a period in which the National Assembly would have also concluded fresh amendments to the 1999 Constitution.

Presiding officers of legislative houses do not enjoy immunity from prosecution at the moment under the constitution.

But, the rowdiness started on Tuesday after the House Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, introduced an amendment to Section 308 of the constitution to include presiding officers of the National Assembly among political office holders covered by the immunity clause.

The proposal by Ogor, a Peoples Democratic Party lawmaker from Delta State, read, “Section 308 (3) of the ‘Principal Act’ is altered by adding the words Senate President, Speaker, Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker, immediately after the word, Vice-President, and also to include Speaker of a State House of Assembly, Deputy Speaker of a State House of Assembly immediately after the word, Deputy Governor.”

Defending his proposal, Ogor stated that the legislature needed as much protection as the executive arm of government.

He added that presiding officers should be shielded from prosecution for the period they occupied their seats for the sole purpose of protecting the legislature in a democracy.

“We can see what is happening in the Senate and particularly, what the Senate President is facing.

“I seek this amendment because of the independence of the legislature.”

However, he had hardly rounded off his debate when murmuring began on the floor.

Yet, Ogor still managed to get the backing of the Chairman, House Committee on Ethics/Privileges, Mr. Nicholas Ossai.

He said, “The constitution as we have it today, guarantees protection for the executive. We have to include immunity for the National Assembly because legislators need protection to work.

“When you protect the legislature, you protect the people.”

As Ossai resumed his seat, the House Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, jumped to his feet to oppose the amendment.

Gbajabiamila noted that two things were wrong with the amendment, the “timing” and the integrity of the National Assembly.

The All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Lagos State, argued that the National Assembly existed to serve the interest of Nigerians at all times.

He said the mood of Nigerians at this time did not support immunity for National Assembly presiding officers.

Gbajabiamila added, “Nigerians do not support this bill because of the timing. The assumption will be that we are making this amendment because of what is happening in the Senate.”

He told the House that he did not know of any country “in the world” where officers of the legislature enjoyed immunity.

Dogara tried to end the debate by saying that the bill should be referred to the Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review as had been the practice of treating bills dealing on the constitution.

But his intervention triggered off the rowdiness as the majority of members wanted the bill thrown out outright.

The Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, raised his hands to shout “no immunity! “

Many lawmakers echoed Jibrin’s opposition, including Mr. Aliyu Madaki, who advised members to be wary of the “integrity” of the legislature if they passed the amendment.

Between 12.17pm and 1.38pm, there was a temporary halt in proceedings as members consulted on how to resolve the issue.

After some calm was restored, Dogara explained that his decision to send the bill to the Ad hoc Committee was in line with the provisions of Order 8 (98) of the Standing Orders of the House.

He noted that the rule provided that a constitution amendment bill should be sent to the Ad hoc Committee.

“In that committee, we have all the experts. They will debate the bill and even choose to kill it there.

“They may not even return the bill to the House. This is not like we are going to pass this amendment today,” the Speaker said.

Amid the opposition from many members, who did not want the bill to pass second reading, Dogara went ahead to ram his gavel and forwarded it to the ad hoc committee.

The ad hoc committee is chaired by Lasun and has embers drawn from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

My Deregulation/Oil Subsidy Conundrum By Femi Gbajabiamila

Over the years, I have been vociferous and faithful in my near fanatic opposition to the deregulation of the downstream oil sector if what it meant was the removal of fuel subsidy. If deregulation could be achieved without subsidy removal, I was on board. I argued passionately against its removal at a time when most economic experts, talking heads and commentators were for it and when it was fashionable to support it. I have attached a copy of a rather caustic and scathing article and letter I wrote in 2010 to then Acting President Jonathan. I was at that time in the opposition and the then Leader of the Action Congress in parliament. I will restate my position at the time.

I felt there was something wrong with the notion that a country blessed with a natural resource should lack that resource or any of its by products. I believed that the citizens should have a marked advantage in the utility and consumption of that product over citizens of other countries not so blessed, and to that extent the pricing of that product found in the country’s backyard should be different from international pricing. I gave examples such as the cost of tea in China, coffee in Brazil or coal in Sunderland. I felt as I still do, that there was something intrinsically whopped to have a natural resource in one’s backyard and at same time import same for consumption. It doesn’t make sense to me. I argued then and I still argue that if subsidy is to be removed, we must put the cart before the horse and get our refineries working so as not to import our own God given resource. Then perhaps after that we could entertain a debate on subsidy removal. Even then many of us would still have argued for subsidising even the production as opposed to its importation

During the 2012 subsidy debate, I argued vociferously and with a strong conviction that the idea of palliatives was irrelevant as the palliative measures proposed by the government then such as child care, transportation etc were things that belonged to citizens as of right and which government under Chapter 2 of the constitution were obligated to provide and therefore government was in no way doing Nigerians a favour, as you cannot give me something that’s already mine or at least should be and call it a palliative.

I further argued that subsidy connoted something negative only in Nigeria and not in other countries that subsidised one thing or the other for the benefit of citizens. There is and has been, for years, subsidy for transportation in the UK, agricultural subsidy in the US, and oil is subsidised in practically all major oil producing countries, and we don’t hear as much as a whimper. Why then Nigeria? Proponents argued because it is riddled with fraud and corruption and benefits only one percent of the populace. I bellowed back, well then why don’t you block the loopholes for the perpetration of the fraud and corruption? Why must the innocent 99 percent and poor masses suffer or be penalised for the inefficiency of government and the corruption of a few. Is it possible to argue that a government with all the might and power at its disposal cannot deal with this one percent? I couldn’t get a reasonable answer.

For me every spirited attempt to justify a removal of subsidy failed the common sense test or question of why Nigeria the fifth or sixth largest producer of crude (and the finest one at that) would be importing what it produced. There was definitely something nonsensical about such a proposition.

This was the position I held on to steadfastly over the years. It is now 2016 and if my position has changed to an extent, I owe It to my primary and larger constituents and indeed all Nigerians an explanation for the change.

I was at the Presidential Villa on Wednesday May 11th where a stakeholders meeting involving the leadership of the National Assembly, governors, Labour leadership, minister of state for Petroleum, ministers of Information and that of labour held. The meeting was chaired by the Vice President. It was a consultative meeting ostensibly to get the buy in of stakeholders. I was pumped and ready to challenge any proposition for an increase in pump price and my position was known to most people I spoke with.

However by the time the Honourable minister for petroleum finished his doomsday prognosis and gave a graphic account supported with facts and figures of where we are and where we would be in a matter of months if we did not alter the approach or fundamentally change the status quo, I had no option but to capitulate. It was the first time I had been confronted with such a gloomy picture. I found myself between a rock and a hard place. The facts were incontrovertible and the prognosis and consequences dire. We were in an economic cul-de-sac and the country was spiraling down fast due to no fault of this present administration. In fact it was clear that any responsible administration needed to apply the brakes, bring this to a screeching and painful halt and at least for now remove subsidy and deregulate. It was a short term remedy which, all things being equal, would produce a long term solution when the economy would have recalibrated. I struggled with my inner angel and knew this was the only way out. It was made abundantly clear to all seated that in two months there would be no federal allocation to states and no state would be able to pay salaries, including the buoyant ones. The Nigerian nation was on tenterhooks. That’s how bad a picture it was. Indeed I was the first to ask questions after the presentation still looking for a way out when I knew there was none.

Whilst I still believe in the principles I held on to so passionately years ago, including the need to bring any deregulation exercise in conformity with the law and the constitution, I believe this is such a time when we should look at the times we are in and our practical situation as a country. I believe (without sounding Trumpist) that Nigeria will be great again but we must rejig and reboot our economy and take another look at the subsidy regime. Many will say, but why did some of us kick in 2012 and if it was not good then why is it good now? It’s a great question and they are right, but again the times are different. In 2012, we were earning a lot of money from oil. Oil was selling at about 100 dollars or thereabout. We had foreign exchange and petro dollars to continue with subsidy. Now things are different. The economy is comatose and Nigeria is on life support. Oil is selling at below 40 dollars and the currency (dollar) needed to purchase the refined petrol is no longer available.

I want to plead with my constituents and all Nigerians to work with government. You are the most important stakeholders, never mind those of us that gathered around a long table and cushy chairs in the Vice President’s Office on Wednesday May 11th to take this far reaching decision. We did so only in a representative capacity. I urge that you please give this government the benefit of doubt and lets take a chance on whether or not the analogy and parallel often drawn by proponents of deregulation in the oil industry to telecommunications industry may end up a truism and that the price of fuel in a laissez-faire, free market will come crashing in months. Lets consider it a temporary sacrifice for the greater good, with the hope that as promised we will be better off in the long term. This problem is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is instructive that other oil producing countries e.g. Bahrain, have been hit hard by the crash in oil price and are towing the same line and reviewing their subsidy policies.

With this new development I intend to fight with all I have for a review of the minimum wage of all workers in Nigeria. Our country was built on social justice and I cannot, no matter the realities, accept a situation where the cost of living will be increased without a corresponding increase in wages. The sacrifices that we need to make must be comprehensive. Indeed I believe the “wealthy” must not only pay their fair share of taxes, if need be, there must be an upward review of taxes paid by the highest income earners to enable government review the wages of those on the lower rung. It is time to be our brothers’ keepers.

I know this is a painful road to take and I hate that I have to flip flop on this one, but isn’t what they say “no pain, no gain”.

Femi Gbajabiamila is Leader of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Abuja; [email protected]

Fuel Subsidy Removal: Gbajabiamila Seeks Review Of Minimum Wage

Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has called for a review of the minimum wage.

He made the call following the deregulation of the petroleum downstream sector, which skyrocketed the pump price of fuel to N145 per litre.

Gbajabiamila, who had fought relentlessly against efforts by past governments to remove petroleum subsidy, said though it was necessary to deregulate the petroleum sector to shield the country from economic problems, it was also necessary to raise the minimum wage in order to meet the rising cost of living in the country.

He said, “There has to be a serious review of the minimum wage if you are going to increase the pump price of petrol because we all know everything rests on that.

“Prices are going to skyrocket, from school fees to food, to transportation, to school uniforms and to books. Everything is going to go up because of mono economy. If we are going to do that, it is incumbent upon the government to take seriously the demands of labour.

“Minimum wage needs to be reviewed; we cannot increase the cost of living and keep salaries where it is, they go hand in hand.”

Gbajabiamila gave a vivid account of what transpired at the stakeholders’ meeting at the Villa on Wednesday.

He said: “I was at the stakeholders; meeting with the Vice President Wednesday and other stakeholders before the decision was made.

“The story that was painted, the details, the breakdown and the facts were scary. From what I read and what I saw, if we had continued that way we may not even have a country in two months time.

“Salaries would not have been paid by any state. Faced with that, it puts me in a very difficult situation and serious dilemma as to which way to go. I have always on one hand fought against the removal of fuel subsidy but now, I am confronted with very scary details as to what will happen if they don’t deregulate.

“The consequences will be very bad for me and you, so it is like being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

Gbajabiamila, however, said the Federal Government ought to have established refineries before removing the subsidy.

“I believe that if God has given you natural product, the least we should do is to allow the people to benefit from that kind of product,” he said, adding that subsidy had dented the image of the country.

“If subsidy is being abused, all we need to do is to block the holes of abuse and not to punish the whole of Nigerians for the abuse of a few people.

“But having said that, I have always argued, why don’t you build a refinery first if at all you have to remove the subsidy. It is only in Nigeria that subsidy is given a bad name.

“There is subsidy all over the world, in America agriculture is subsidized and in UK transportation is subsidized. It is only in Nigeria that they say subsidy is bad. So, why is it not bad in other countries? That’s what we need to look at.”

Gbajabiamila Writes Chinese President, Asks Him To Ignore Fayose

The Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, said on Monday that President Muhammadu Buhari took the right decision on behalf of Nigerians by signing a $6bn investment package with China during his visit to the Asian country.

He stated that Buhari got the mandate from the Nigerian people, having “overwhelmingly” elected him to govern the country.

The All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Lagos State, made the observation in a letter he addressed to the Chinese President, Xi Jingping.

The letter, which was dated April 18, was a response to an earlier letter the Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, wrote Jingping, in which he condemned Buhari’s trip to China and his alleged bid for a $2bn loan from the Chinese government.

Gbajabiamila advised the Chinese President to ignore Fayose, whom he said had no authority to speak on behalf of Nigeria, a country with a federal structure.

He also argued that contrary to Fayose’s position that Buhari did not brief the National Assembly before engaging in such international deals on behalf of Nigeria, the President actually notified the legislature in the 2016-2018 Medium Term Expenditure Framework that he would resort to borrowing to fund Nigeria’s three-budgeting plan.

Part of the letter to Jingping read, “Mr. President, perhaps our governor is not fully seized on the way budgeting works at the federal level. The Federal Government of Nigeria has a three-year budget rolling plan captured under a Medium Term Expenditure Framework. The MTEF 2016-2018 has a borrowing component in which the legislature approved for the President to incur both domestic and foreign loans for the purposes of infrastructural development and deficit financing.

“This MTEF was passed unanimously, by the National Assembly including the six House members and three senators from Ekiti, the governor’s state.

“I am therefore dismayed as are many members of the National Assembly that the governor would claim that the loan sought from your government did not have parliamentary imprimatur.

“It is also a fallacy that the country’s debt is being financed with 25 per cent of the Federal Government’s annual budget as there is something in economic and legislative borrowing parlance called nominal debt service where a portion of borrowed monies in this case about N1.3tn stays within the country’s financial system. Such are the intricacies of national debts, aids and loans.”