Nigerian lawmakers often have to contend with the unfair assumption that they are power-drunk people who are in office only because they want a share of the national cake. They have to contend with the cynicism of people who believe that they have no interest in nation-building or the welfare of the masses, but thanks to people like Hon. Olufemi “Femi” Hakeem Gbajabiamila, the ninth Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives, this narrative is changing.
A seasoned lawmaker who has served in public office for close to 20 years, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila can be described as one of the most patriotic top government officials in Nigeria.
An alumnus of prestigious schools like Igbobi College, where he had his secondary education; King William’s College in the United Kingdom where he did his A-levels; the University of Lagos where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Law (LL. B.) with honours in 1983; and the John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia, the USA where he obtained his doctorate in Law (Juris Doctor) after passing the Georgian bar exam in 2001, the Honourable and the progressive bills he has championed is an example of what a man can become when exposed to quality education.
While Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila is now known and celebrated for his political influence, he didn’t jump right into politics right away. He cut his teeth as a lawyer; first for the law firm Bentley Edu & Co., then his law firm, Femi Gbaja & Co. However, he had always been interested in politics and while he lived in the USA, he actively participated in the election campaign of Bill Campbell who went on to become the 57th Mayor of Atlanta and served from January 1994 till January 2002.
In 2003, Honourable Gbajabiamila was elected by the people of his constituency, Surulere 1 L.G.A as their representative in the Federal House of Representatives, and 18 years later, they have continued to re-elect him. It takes only a true and worthy representative to attain the level of trust that Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila has attained in the heart of people. With his emergence as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he is making moves no one in his position has made and is well on his way to win the heart of every Nigerian with his patriotism.
On June 25, 2021; 59 years after the Honourable Speaker was born, his birthday was celebrated with the launch of a photo book titled Gbajabiamila @ 59: Truly the Long Road. It was created by his personal photographer, Ayo Adebayo as a tribute to the living legend. In the words of the vice-president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) who was present at the event, he described Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila as thus; “He is an effective bridge builder across tribes, across religions, across political parties, and even generations. He has proved to be an innovative mediator and an honest broker in several local and national disputes”.
It is easy to assume that since both the vice-president and the honourable Speaker are members of the ruling party; All Progressive Congress (APC), such compliments might be mere words. It may surprise you to know that even members of the House who are of the major opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have also commended Honourable Gbajabiamila for his dedicated service to the unity and growth of Nigeria. Honourable Ndudi Godwin Elumelu, the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives attested to Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila’s accomplishments and referred to him as a ‘team player’.
Among his achievements over the last 2 years as the Speaker of the House of Representatives are the return of the country’s annual budget to the constitutionally prescribed budget cycle of January to December starting with the 2020 national budget; sponsored critical bills like the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Security Bills, the Bill to create more electoral seats for women’s inclusion in governance, amendment of the 1999 constitution which he claims to be a product of “hurried national compromise” and many more; convention of a National Security Summit to address the issue of insecurity in the country and deliberate on practical solutions that can be implemented; and the donation of two months’ salaries of all the 360 members of the House of Representatives for the welfare of frontline medical professionals and health-workers during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020- an incredible gesture and the first of its kind.
Whilst these achievements are laudable, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila has applied his vast knowledge not only in his role as the Speaker of the House but also in the intervention and resolution of local and national disputes.
In 2020, he took a trip to Ghana to address the trade dispute between Nigeria and Ghana; a dispute that has been ongoing since 2007. With this single trip, the number 4 citizen of Nigeria was able to break the ice and devised solutions to the dispute. He was commended by the Nigeria-Ghana Business Council and the Nigeria Union of Traders Association Ghana (NUTAG) for his role in the resolution of the dispute. When the National Labour Congress (NLC) threatened to go on a nation-wide strike due to the resulting low purchasing power of workers in Nigeria from high electricity bills and the hike of fuel price during the lockdown, Honourable Gbajabiamila intervened and offered the Congress palliatives like food distribution, reduction of taxes on minimum wage and payment of special allowance to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers. The strike action was suspended.
More recently, when the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) took strike action against the federal government because of unpaid salaries and negligence towards the wellbeing of resident doctors in the country, in a move that has never been made before by anyone in his position, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila visited the national secretariat of the association and had series of meetings with them, eventually influencing them to suspend the strike action. He urged them to consider the plight of the common man who would suffer as a result of it whilst engaging the relevant and appropriate government officials in granting the demands of the association as soon as possible. The association applauded this move.
There is no doubt that the honourable Speaker has the best interest of Nigerians at heart. In a similar move to that of the Nigeria-Ghana trade dispute, he met with the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian and demanded an official explanation for the treatment of some Nigerians in China after video footage showing the manhandling of Nigerians by the Chinese Police Force was released.
He prides himself in being the voice of the people as he displayed during the lockdown when he pushed for free electricity supply for all Nigerians. Although this request wasn’t granted, this act gained him more popularity and support among Nigerians.
A loyal member of the APC, his genuine patriotism overshadows his loyalty to the party as he has openly criticized the presidency for its inactions and silence towards the growing issue of insecurity in the country. Honourable Gbajabiamila has recently stated that Nigeria will fight its enemies with all available resources about insecurity.
Like every public officer, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila is not without his faults as often comes under criticism especially on his statement on the recent agitation for secession by some of the major tribes in Nigeria. Nonetheless, his stance on the unity, growth and development of Nigeria and Nigerians remains unwavering. It is safe to say that the vice-president was indeed right, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila is indeed a bridge builder.