Between Abdulmumin Jibrin and Femi Gbajabiamila: Nigeria Wins It – Ogunyemi Bukola
The last four years (2011 to 2015) in Nigeria has been highlighted by massive corruption, brazen theft, impunity, abuse of office, mismanagement and weakened institutions, spearheaded by the recently voted out President Goodluck Jonathan. It would have been worse, but for the efforts of men and women of Nigeria’s House of Representatives who took a stand and stood their ground on several occasions on issues such budgets and implementation, transparency in the oil sector, and respect for institutions. Men and women like Abike Dabiri, Femi Gbajabiamila, Abdulmumin Jibrin, led by Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, who put the interests of the masses above party loyalty.
Now that era is over. The Nigerian people through their votes have decided that a change is needed in leadership for the country to return to glory days. The House of Representatives itself wasn’t spared in that tsunami of change. Speaker Aminu Tambuwal will be resuming in a new role from May 29th, leaving the office of the Speaker of the House vacant. A seat Abdulmumin Jibrin wasted no time in declaring his intentions to occupy, a seat he is well qualified to sit in.
At 39, Abdulmumin Jibrin is one of the youngest members of the National Assembly, and by all means one of the most vocal, and effective lawmakers in House of Representatives. A PhD holder in International Relations at the age of 33, Jibrin retired as Chairman of Green Forest Group Ltd in 2011 to join politics, winning the election to represent the Kiru/Bebeji Federal constituency of Kano State in the green chamber of the National Assembly. Perhaps surprisingly for a first time legislator, Jibrin was appointed Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, as well as Head of a joint ad-hoc committee on Finance, Petroleum (Upstream and Downstream) and Gas Resources. This made his oversight functions span across two very important ministries, Finance and Petroleum, and parastatals such as NNPC, FIRS. These are by no means small tasks, but Jibrin has flourished in these roles, with his committee uncovering about the biggest drain pipe in the nation’s economy, an unprecedented case of executive stealing (as late Fela Anikulapo calls it) – remittances.
A widely circulated report by the House Committee on Finance revealed how 60 federal revenue generating agencies remitted only N174.7 billion out of N9.3 trillion collected as revenues to government coffers, short-changing the Federal Government and the Nigerian people of N8.8 trillion between 2009 and 2011. The report revealed that out of N3.07 trillion generated as revenue in 2010 for example, the agencies remitted only N54.1 billion to the Federal Government. While only N73.8 billion was remitted to the treasury in 2011 out of N3.17 trillion generated as revenue. NNPC led the pack of indicted agencies, having failed to remit none of the N6.132 trillion it earned between 2009 and 2011.
A process of recovering these funds followed, which set Jibrin against some powerful cabals in the corruption sector of Nigeria’s economy. That for me was Jibrin’s most important contribution to the House, but the headlines are likely to focus on the dressing down he gave Minister for Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala when she went to respond to the now infamous 50 economic questions posed to her by Jibrin’s committee. Jibrin has also been an evangelist of the diversification of Nigeria’s economy. He has at different times stated his displeasure about the nation’s over-dependence on oil and gas revenue, and recent developments in global oil market have justified his fears.
Jibrin has already outlined his 3-point agenda for the 8th House if elected by his colleagues as colleagues. He promised to “lead the House to embrace these core principles in the 8th House of Representatives that will further promote education, health, agriculture, youth development, child rights, the rights of persons with disability, gender issues, and economic diversification.” He has also committed to a slash in the National Assembly budget, which currently stands at N150 billion annually, stating that this will affect not only the salaries and allowances of all the lawmakers alone, but the overhead and running costs of the Assembly as well. But the first lawmaker to openly approve of a reduction in the National Assembly budget is the man Jibrin is up against for the seat of the Speaker – Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila.
Femi Gbajabiamiala, representing Surulere Federal Constituency, is one of the most experienced lawmakers in the House of Representatives, having been a member since 2003. In those 12 years, Femi has distinguished himself as an activist, rule of law radical and pro-masses legislator. He has served a Minority Whip and is currently the Minority Leader. He was perhaps the first federal lawmaker to openly admit their salaries and allowances are inconsiderate of the nation’s finances and the plight of the people they represent.
One of the men to thank for the free, fair and peaceful manner in which the last general elections in Nigeria was conducted is Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila. It was he who took the federal government to court and obtained a judgement against the deployment of soldiers for the election. Justice Mohammed Rilwan Aikawa ruled on Femi’s suit against President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Naval Staff and the Attorney General of the Federation, declaring the use of soldiers as unconstitutional. He has at different times challenged the constitutionality of many actions of the Jonathan presidency in the court of law.
After Speaker Aminu Tambuwal defected from the PDP to the APC, it was Femi Gbajabiamila who led other APC lawmakers to halt an unconstitutional impeachment process against the Speaker, an exercise which involved some of them having to scale the gates of the House of Representatives. Interestingly, both Femi and Jibrin did not scale the gate on this day.
Under Femi’s watch as Minority leader, the APC caucus in the House presented 16 bills and 23 motions between October and December 2014 alone, with focus on security, jobs, and transparency in the way admissions are recruitment are conducted into the Nigerian Defence Academy.
The quality of the two men jostling for the position of Speaker certainly is good news for Nigeria’s democracy, the masses and the Buhari administration. With either Gbajabiamila or Jibrin at the helm of affairs in the green chamber, a major cut in National Assembly budget is certain, oversight functions will be carried out with utmost passion, political office holders at all levels will be held accountable, and bills that impact positively on the lives of citizens are bound to be given attention.
So why can’t we have both men? Nigeria’s unwritten zoning formula. But if Nigeria is to overcome mediocrity in governance, it is time to start considering the character and capacity of candidates vying for leadership positions rather than their ethnicity or religion.
Geo-politics and zoning certainly counts in Gbajabiamila’s favour. He has also got the experience to boot. And experience is one of the most valued treasures in legislature. 12 years of active engagement in the House of Reps. cannot be bought, and the respect other lawmakers have for Femi Gbajabiamila is needed to lead the 8th Assembly. Jibrin as Deputy Speaker can gather more experience and position himself better for the 9th Assembly in 2019. He would certainly make a great Speaker himself, may be not this time.