The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has commended the efforts of lawmakers in working assiduously to ensure that the country pulled through 2020, a year he described as trying and challenging.
In an address to wind down the activities of the House for the year during a special plenary convened on Monday in Abuja, the Speaker cited the coronavirus pandemic as a phenomenon that altered all calculations in 2020 and put the capacities of nations to whither the storm to test.
The session was convened to pass the 2021 Budget and close the activities of the House for the Christmas and New Year break.
In the case of Nigeria, Gbajabiamila recalled how the House responded quickly to the pandemic by not only initiating legislative interventions but also giving necessary backing to Executive proposals aimed at taming the deadly virus.
He cited the commitment of lawmakers to pass the 2021 budget of N13.5trillion to maintain the January-December budget cycle and make provisions for development, as one of such sacrifices.
“Today, we have passed the budget in the House of Representatives in good time to maintain the January to December budget cycle in line with the commitments we made when we resumed office.
“The January to December budget cycle is necessary to ensure effective implementation of our annual budgets to meet our nation’s development challenges. By our joint efforts and the grace of God, we will maintain this standard for every year we are in office, and leave a legacy for our successors to aspire to”, Gbajabiamila stated.
On the coronavirus pandemic in particular, the Speaker said much as it took all by surprise, the House acted swiftly to save lives, while members also made personal sacrifices.
Gbajabiamila explained, “Within the limits of our brutal realities, with our options limited by a scarcity of resources, by dilapidated infrastructure and outdated laws, we acted to slow the spread of the disease, to treat the sick, comfort the afflicted and provide for the most vulnerable of our nation’s citizens.
“The truth is, we have done better than many believed was possible, better than many nations, even the most advanced. Our economy has taken a big hit, but through partnership with the private sector, government has been able to prevent the nightmare scenarios that some predicted.
“Members of the House, together and individually, made financial contributions to support welfare provisions for citizens. There is virtually no constituency in the country that did not feel the impact of efforts by their representatives. I commend you all, and I thank you most sincerely.”
He recalled how the House, in an “unprecedented single-day session”, passed the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill to provide targeted economic relief in response to the emerging threat.
Gbajabiamila noted that though the bill did not become law, it later became the foundation on which the government rolled out many relief packages to cushion the harsh effects of the pandemic on Nigerians.
He said, “That legislation never became law. Yet the bill’s specific objectives have been implemented through executive action to defer mortgages, remove duties on medical imports, provide salary relief and related financial support for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises in the country.”
The Speaker reeled out other major interventions by the House: “Despite an extraordinary torrent of misinformation and political mischief, the House moved forward with landmark legislation to reform our nation’s obsolete statutory framework for preventing and managing infectious diseases and pandemics so that we can be better prepared for the next time.
“We worked with the Executive to address medical doctors and healthcare workers’ welfare demands and resolve a labour dispute that would have resulted in strike actions and walkouts with devastating consequences for too many of our citizens, amid a raging and deadly pandemic.
“Because of the House of Representatives, “Hazard Allowance” became part of the medical and pandemic lexicon. The intervention by the House elevated the welfare of healthcare workers to a ministerial issue and saw to it that these hazard allowances were provided for and paid.”
He gave special recognition to health workers and all frontline personnel,who risked their lives so that the majority of Nigerians survived 2020.
Gbajabiamila did not forget to mention the convening of the Conference of Speakers of African Parliaments, which he initiated as a broad collaboration to renegotiate the terms of the continent’s debts in order to free up much-needed resources for development.
He also spoke on insecurity, recalling the recent killings in Zarbamari and the abduction of young boys seeking to improve their lives through education in Kankara, saying that both scary scenarios were indications that the legislature and the executive would continue to collaborate to secure the citizenry.
While commending the efforts of the security agencies so far in tackling insecurity, Gbajabiamila promised that the House would provide more support in 2021.
“The 9th House of Representatives will continue to address the security challenges that threaten our country. We have initiated and will continue efforts to reform the statutory framework for police accountability through the Police Service Commission (Reform) Bill, which has passed second reading.
“We will continue to exercise our constitutional powers of oversight to demand more from the military and security services. Even as we make sure to provide the resources they need to train, equip and provide for the welfare of the men and women who bear arms on our nation’s behalf and in our name.
“The responsibility of undoing the damage of many years has fallen to us. We have a lot of work to do. We are each called to lead our nation towards the promised land, to restore the dignity of every man, woman and child who swears allegiance to our constitution and salutes our nation’s flag.
“We will improve Nigeria by building infrastructure that provides jobs, by protecting our people’s lives and property, and repairing the relationship between citizens and the state. This is what we must do to restore faith in Nigeria’s promise and prevent the risk of a destructive renegotiation of our nationhood”, he added.
At the session, the House passed N13.5trillion as the country’s budget for 2021.
The figure is up by N505bn from the original estimates of N13.08tn President Muhammadu Buhari laid before a joint session of the National Assembly on October 8.
The House approved $40 as the crude oil benchmark for the budget.
It approved N4.1tn for capital expenditure, N5.6tn for recurrent expenditure and N3.3tn for debt servicing.
The sum of N496bn was also approved for statutory transfers by lawmakers on Monday.
The House achieved the objective of keeping to the January-December budget cycle by passing the budget after spending slightly over two months at the legislature.