“Age is strictly a case of mind over matter.
If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Jack Benny
Coming to the world is one thing, and living in the world is another thing. From a few steps, one marches forward and forward. Then one day, the story is told of how you arrived at a certain destination in life.
In a world full of ups and downs, attaining the age of 60 is certainly a big deal. For the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, he came to the world some 60 years ago, and within that period, he has marched forward and forward. Today, he has arrived at a destination, and his story is being told.
In the past 60 years of his life, Gbajabiamila has gone through a lot and has seen it all. From his days at the University of Lagos to his stint as a practising lawyer, Gbajabiamila has made a mark in people’s lives. But the most defining moment in his life was when he became a lawmaker in 2003 to represent the people of Surulere 1 Federal Constituency of Lagos State.
Of the 60 years he has spent so far on this mother earth, nearly two decades were dedicated to legislative work. As a legislator, he has made history and created a record that nobody else has on our shores. Early enough, a lot of his colleagues noticed his leadership qualities. As a virile, progressive and courageous lawmaker, he naturally became a principal officer in the House after just a term in office. Since then, he has spent almost 16 years in the leadership of the House.
As a quick reminder, from 2007, Gbajabiamila was Minority Whip, later became Minority Leader and served in that capacity for eight straight years. After he contested for speaker in 2015 and lost, he became the House Leader, serving for four years, and eventually became the Speaker in 2019. In Nigeria’s legislative history, he remains the only one that holds the record of being the first to have occupied all these positions. He performed creditably in all of these positions. Here is a man who has an excellent grasp of legislative practices and procedures. Nobody will doubt his legislative prowess.
Truth be told, the last three years of his legislative life have been remarkable. Soon after he became the Speaker of the 9th House, he introduced some unprecedented reforms as he promised in his inaugural speech on June 11, 2019.
One of such reforms was the introduction of electronic voting during key debates. For the first time since the Green Chamber was built, Gbajabiamila ensured the installation of electronic gadgets that would aid e-voting in Parliament. And that was achieved within just one month of his emergence.
Another area that he had expressed so much concern about was the issue of the legislative library. Nigeria is the largest black nation in the world with a rich history. However, the country cannot boast of a befitting library in its legislature. Worried by that, Gbajabiamila established the House Committee on Legislative Library and Documentation. And during the first budget considered by the 9th House – the 2020 budget – the sum of two billion Naira was appropriated for the building of the National Assembly legislative library. As we speak, the building is almost completed.
With his progressive mind and working in sync with the Senate as well as the support of the Executive arm, Gbajabiamila ensured that the nation’s budget cycle was returned to the desired January to December in the past three years. This has helped the Nigerian government to achieve a lot in terms of implementing the budget.
It was also to the credit of the House under Gbajabiamila that the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), the Finance Act, the Deep Offshore Sharing Formula Act, the Electoral Act (amendment), and a host of others were all achieved in just three years.
As for the Electoral Act, Gbajabiamila can be described as the man who saw tomorrow. When the amendment Bill was considered in July 2021, he proposed that a provision be made to compel political parties to conduct primary elections through the direct means, what is known as the direct primary. Gbajabiamila’s idea was to open up the political space for a greater number of Nigerians to participate in the process of electing the flag-bearers of their political parties and reduce the shenanigans that dogged such processes in the past.
Though it sailed through in the Parliament, the president withheld assent to the bill due to that provision. The National Assembly rejigged it and provided other options so as not to throw away the baby with the bath water. But from the conduct of the political parties’ primaries between May and June 2022, most Nigerians came to the agreement that the proposal made by the Speaker was indeed necessary.
One can go on and on in listing the achievements the 9th House recorded with Gbajabiamila in the saddle. Suffice it to say that the Speaker has contributed a lot to the Nigerian Parliament, and posterity will remember him as a legislative hero who worked tirelessly for his country. When the story is written, he occupies a sizable part of it.
Gbajabiamila has stepped onto the 6th floor. But from his looks, many will argue that he does not look it. Like George Burns, an American comedian, once said, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” To those of us that work with the Speaker, we know he is 60, but he walks and works like a 40-year-old. He exudes a lot of energy.
June 25 every year remains a blessed day. To mark his 60th birthday this year, a book, titled ‘Mr Speaker’ is written in his honour by yours sincerely and Dr Charles Omole. Without a doubt, Gbajabiamila has proved to be an icon worth celebrating at any time. His service, dedication and commitment to the Nigerian people and humanity, in general, are legion.
Dane Peddigrew, it was, who said, “Forget the block. When you’re sixty you’ve been around the entire neighbourhood a few times.” Take it or leave it, in his 60 years, Gbajabiamila has been around the entire Nigerian ‘neighbourhood’ not just a few times but also numerous times.
At 60, his constituents in Surulere 1 are pleased with him; Lagosians are happy with him, and Nigerians are satisfied with his performance as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. We all pray to see his 70th, 80th, 90th and even 100th birthdays in good health. Here is wishing our principal, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, a happy 60th birthday.
Krishi is the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker, House of Representatives.