By Olanrewaju Smart
Fifty-seven years ago, precisely on June 25, 1962, a star, a man of high intellect, a repository of legislative knowledge in the person of Rt. Hon. Femi Hakeem Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives was born.
Gbaja, as he is called by friends, associates and well-wishers, is a man that has a date with destiny. Today is exactly two weeks that this Great Mind became the Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives, in what has become the greatest, remarkable and most befitting cum historic way of marking one’s birthday on mother earth.
When Gbajabiamila first came to the Green Chamber 16 years ago, in 2003, little did he know he would spend more than a quarter of his life in the legislature. Out of those 16 solid years, Gbajabiamila spent 14years as a principal officer, first as a Minority Whip from 2005 to 2007, Minority Leader (Opposition Leader) from 2007 to 2015 and later as Leader of the House/Majority Leader between 2015 and 2019.
It was then natural that Gbaja should become Speaker after acquiring more than enough experience in the House as one of its leaders for 16 years. In the history of the Nigerian Legislature, Gbajabiamila is the first person to have risen from the position of Minority Leader to Majority Leader and then to Speaker all in a space of 16 years. This is by no means a great feat. His legislative prowess certainly confers on him the title of ‘Legislative Czar’ in the Nigerian parliament.
As Minority Leader of the House for eight years, Gbajabiamila provided the needed voice for the opposition, and each time he spoke, it was as if an ordinary Nigerian was on the floor of the House speaking, because he spoke the mind of the masses.
After Gbajabiamila became the Leader of the House in 2015, he did not relent in defending and presenting the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians, despite being saddled with the responsibility of defending the position of the government of the day.
No wonder Gbajabiamila single-handedly came up with a bill to criminalise estimated billing by electricity distribution companies (Discos), which has arguably become one of the most popular draft laws in the 8th Assembly. History will indeed be kind to this lover of the Nigerian masses.
Make no mistake about it, Gbajabiamila had qualified to become Speaker over four years ago. After his historic contest to occupy the Number 4 Citizen’s seat in 2015, which should have been ceded to him naturally without any contest, Gbaja went on with his life as if nothing happened. He left everything to God and believed that the Creator did not approve that he be Speaker at that time.
Call him a workaholic, and you won’t be wrong because Gbajabiamila isn’t a lazy fellow. Despite being a principal officer for 14 years, he remains one of the most resourceful lawmakers that has journeyed the House. Matter of factly, Gbajabiamila served, and still serves, as an unpaid consultant to many of his colleagues. Before he presents any matter on the floor of the House, he makes sure that he researches it thoroughly, which explains why he never fails as a lawmaker.
To say that Gbaja became a household name all over Nigeria long before his present status in the House is to state the obvious. Despite all that he has achieved as a fine legislator, he never let it get into his head, which is what his good upbringing is all about.
But if his campaign for speaker gathered strong momentum four years ago, the one he embarked on after the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on February 23 this year was a masterstroke. It had everybody on board: lawmakers from both the ruling and the opposition parties did not only buy the idea, they also took it upon themselves to sell the idea to all members of the 9th House. No wonder Gbajabiamila polled 281 votes, which is unprecedented in the history of speakership contest in the House.
The slogan for his campaign for speaker ‘Nation Building: A Joint Task’ captured all that Gbajabiamila stood, and still stands for, which is that every Nigerian, irrespective of party affiliations, must be on board for the country to move forward.
Unassuming, chivalrous, accommodating, sincere, humble, courteous, adaptable, adventurous, affectionate, amiable, intuitive, dependable, easy-going, compassionate, courageous, considerate, diligent, frank, charming, generous, gregarious, impartial, inventive, reliable, resourceful, sympathetic, name it, Gbajabiamila fits the bill for a perfect gentleman. Unfortunately, he is often misunderstood by some, which is normal with human beings. But those that relate with him closely know that he represents all the adjectives above. And I am pretty sure that those that misunderstood him would now have the opportunity of knowing him better as he pilots the affairs of the House in the next four years.
Immediately after becoming speaker two weeks ago, Gbajabiamila made it clear that his would be a House of reforms. Though he promised to ‘shake the table’ in bringing reforms to the House, he said it would be in phases in order not to bring too much shock into the system. If not a man of intellect, who would make such move?
During his inaugural speech on that auspicious occasion of his emergence as Speaker on June 11, Gbajabiamila did not mince words. He said: “Hon colleagues, I understand that I hold this office in trust for you and Nigerians. Conscious of this sacred trust, I hereby dedicate myself to the service of this Honourable House and of the good citizens of this great country, with the commitment that I shall at all times strive to defend the constitution of our Republic.
“I equally commit myself to always observe the tenets of justice, equity and fairness in my dealings with my colleagues, and to apply the ideals of transparency, probity and accountability in my management of the affairs of this Honourable House.
“Whatever political party each one of us may belong, we must be conscious of the fact that Nigerians are truly desirous of good governance and are looking to us to be the agents that will through meaningful legislation combat security, poverty, corruption and other problems and contradictions that have held our country back and stunted our development.”
To show that he knows the nature of the Herculean task ahead of him, Gbajabiamila has since set in place the machinery of how to go about his reforms. I believe very soon, Nigerians will have the privilege of seeing that unveiled to them.
At the age of 57, Gbajabiamila has achieved a lot both as a lawyer, who practised both within and outside the shores of Nigeria, and a legislator per excellence. But, the man never blows his trumpet! Because he represents excellence, Gbajabiamila doesn’t accept anything short of that.
As Mr Speaker marks his 57th birthday today, I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that he has acquired more wisdom to lead the 9th House of Representatives and bring the right reforms in the next four years as he promised.