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COVID-19: Reps’ salary donation a collective decision —Minority caucus spokesman

Posted By Kenneth nwakauba | In Politics | Apr 24, 2020, 2:34 pm

The spokesman for the Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives, Honourable Francis Agbo, in this interview by JACOB SEGUN OLATUNJI, revisits the issue of two-month salary donation of the House members for the fight against COVID-19 in the country and other matters.

WHAT is your take on the allegation that the Speaker, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, did not consult widely before he announced members’ donation to the COVID-19 National Trust Fund?

My take is that the Speaker and indeed the leadership of the House acted in good faith and on behalf of all members after due consultations with them. The decision of the leadership received our blessings across party lines. Why do we have a leadership in place? The thrust of leadership in a normal situation is to embark on consultations with a greater percentage of the people before a decision is reached which, in this case, was done before the announcement. I was personally consulted and many of our colleagues also gave their nod too. But in an emergency or war situation, like the COVID-19 has put the world, wide consultations before decisions are made may not be possible. This may have been the reason a few lawmakers may tell you they were not in the know. But once you put in place a leadership, a solid and a popularly elected one as represented by Rt. Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, you technically surrender your ‘sovereignty’ to it. And it is expected that leadership takes decisions on behalf of us, in alignment with national interest. If the House were to be in session at the period the decision was taken, all members or almost all members in session, who wished, would have had the benefit of making inputs into the decision. But at that time, the House had adjourned and remains so and many of us had travelled to our constituencies.

As far as the decision on COVID-19 is concerned, it was done in the best interest of the House, the National Assembly and the Nigerian people we represent. Having put together a National Assembly leadership, what do you expect from them? They are to take decisions on our behalf; that is what leadership is all about. Did you expect the leadership to start calling every member of the House individually before that pronouncement was made? It is not possible, especially with the urgency of the matter! In any case, we have a House WhatsApp group, which provides a veritable platform for members to ventilate their opinions. The Majority Caucus leadership met; the leadership of the minority parties met after which they came together under the leadership of our able and competent Speaker, Honourable Gbajabiamila and his deputy, Honourable Idris Wasi. They took the decision for us to forfeit and channel our two-month salaries into the fight against COVID 19 Trust Fund. Every well-meaning Nigerian is making contributions and, as the peoples’ parliamentarians, we shouldn’t lag behind.

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As I speak to you now, I am in my constituency donating groceries, food items, alcohol- based hand sanitizers, soaps, detergents and medical kits to my people after sensitising them on the dangers of COVID 19. These are the responsibilities of every lawmaker at this phase that we are. This country, like every nation of the world, is fighting a bio-war or, at best, is in a state of emergency and, at the time that decision was communicated to the Nigerian people, we had already adjourned. Having adjourned, there is no way we would have discussed it at an executive session. So the Speaker, in his usual way of touching base with the Nigerian people, as well as in his usual way of crying when Nigerians are crying and in his usual way of smiling when Nigerians are smiling, swiftly announced the decision of leadership of the House, which represents a token of our support towards the fight against COVID 19. So, the House leadership under Honourable Gbajabiamila acted wisely and patriotically too. So, it was not a one-man show, as speculated in some quarters.

With the statement credited to Honourable Mark Gbillah that Honourable Gbajabiamila is leading a divided House, can we conclude that all is not well?

Far from it! The House, under the leadership of Honourable Gbajabiamila, as we speak, is solid and stable like the Olumo Rock. With due respect to him, the House is united. The leadership enjoys over 90 per cent support of the members. It is not a perfect system, for only angels live in a perfect set-up and angels, as you know, don’t play politics. As I speak, the principal officers are on ground, working round the clock on our behalf, with the executive arm of government, mainstreaming the stimulus package for Nigerians with a view to finding solutions to the deadly coronavirus pandemic ravaging the globe. The pandemic calls for all hands to be on deck. People all over the world are making contributions to the fight against the pandemic and I do not expect any member to move against the run of play.

The Speaker led the leadership to a series of meetings under this period of the pandemic-induced emergency which saw him mediating on the strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the invitation of Chinese doctors to Nigeria and so on. He also met with the Minister of Health, Minister of Finance, Minister of Humanitarian Services, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the power sector leadership. He also met with President Muhammadu Buhari, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and other stakeholders and held them to account on how to cushion the effect of the pandemic. Why is Gbillah not faulting the Speaker? Is it because this one has to do with forfeiture of our salary? We must learn to sacrifice. I am in touch with many of our colleagues and I can report that they are even ready to make more sacrifices to any cause that will end the pandemic. This is the time for all Nigerians, irrespective of political parties, religion or ethnic group, to join forces to wage war against the pandemic. Nigerians are happy with Gbajabiamila and I will encourage him to keep interfacing with the executive and other stakeholders on our behalf. Leadership is about taking responsibility, as well as taking the people to where they ought to be, even if they are oblivious of it. This, the Speaker and the leadership of the House have done and we are proud of them.

What is your comment on the allegation that the minority principal officers now kowtow to the Speaker?

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