AS REPS BOND WITH THE PEOPLE
The motion by the House of Representatives last Sunday asking President Jonathan to suspend the implementation of fuel subsidy removal has upped the heat on the President over the controversial the policy.
Coincidentally the lawmakers' resolution came on the day more prominent Nigerians in the mould of Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, revered author Prof Chinue Achebe, outspoken cleric, Bishop John Onaiyekan among others stepped out in the public domain to stridently kick against policy.
The interventions from the eminent Nigerians and the House earned kudos from a spectrum of Nigerians. The development helped to buoy the confidence of the organized labour and the civil society organizations in the national strike which began last Monday.
Sure, prior and after the announcement of the subsidy removal on January 1, Jonathan has always been under intense pressure from many Nigerians to reverse it but the motion by the House arguably increased the heat.
The Presidency knew the implication of the motion and that informed the spirited effort made to stop the emergency session. The Vice President (VP), Namadi Sambo reportedly held several hours of meeting with the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal on the eve of the session by the House. The mission of the meeting was to convince Tambuwal to call off the emergency session. The speaker attended the meeting with his deputy, Emeka Ihedioha.
The speaker declined the VP's request. When the presidency failed in convincing the speaker to call off the meeting, it quickly changed strategy. The VP it was learnt, begged that the speaker should tailor the debate to favour the subsidy removal groups. Again the speaker gave Sambo a backhand. He insisted that every lawmaker would be allowed to vent his or her feelings about the policy.
The session which lasted for several hours had 301 lawmakers in attendance. The House was polarized into two- pro and anti subsidy removal. Reps who spoke against were more. Because of their number, they mustered enough voice to shout down colleagues who had sympathy for government's action.
That was how the resolution asking the President to backtrack on the fuel subsidy removal in line with the mood of the nation came about.
The lawmakers however urged the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) , Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the civil society groups to shelve Monday's strike and commence dialogue with the Federal Government, a call labour swiftly rejected.
The House set up a committee led by Patrick Ikhriale to meet with the leadership of organized Labour and the Federal Government on Tuesday . It is the first time since the return of civil rule in 1999 that the House of Representatives would hold an emergency session on a Sunday.
The speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal set the tone for the day's debate when he called for unhindered views on the fuel subsidy brouhaha. His speech lasted for about 25 minutes.
He said the House cannot pretend that all was well when the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government is generating massive dust in the polity, explaining that it was on that account that the House decided to hold an emergency session . He said 'on Thursday the 15th December, 2011, this Honourable House adjourned to reconvene on Tuesday 10th January 2012. This was to enable members join their constituents for the Christmas and New Year festivities.
Painfully however, after careful analysis of the state of the nation, the leadership of the House took counsel and resolved that the recess be cut short in the national interest. This emergency is summoned in consonance with Order 5(18)(2) of the Standing Rules of the House of Representatives. Let me therefore formally welcome you into the year 2012 and commend you most sincerely for your swift response to this emergency call to reconvene ahead of the previous scheduled date'.
Veering off from the main issue the speaker commended Christian lawmakers for exhibiting maturity even in the face of the bombing of St Theresa's Catholic Church Madalla on Christmas Day. He said ' I wish to seize this opportunity to very specially commend the invaluable sense of maturity, understanding and restraint exhibited by the Christian members of the House of Representatives in connection with the most unfortunate and unwarranted 25th December 2011 Madala Church bombing and spade of other acts of violence on churches elsewhere in which innocent people lost dear lives and limbs. By this act of restraint, the objective of these enemies of Nigeria to falsely give religious coloration to their senseless terrorist escapades has been defeated. We the entire members of the House of Representatives deeply and most sincerely sympathize with the bereaved families and indeed the entire Christian Community'
He ordered the lawmakers to observe a minute silence in honour of the dead victims of the attacks.
Back to the main issue, Tambuwal said the House has a duty to protect the interest of the citizenry and advised members of the House to be realistic in their debate and handling of issues on the front burner.
He said ' At this juncture, let me reiterate that the National Assembly of Nigeria and the House of Representatives in particular is committed to upholding the fundamental rights of all Nigerians to live, reside and move freely in all parts of the country without molestation from any quarters. In the light of this, we call on all Nigerians wherever they are residing to resist any intimidation to migrate or flee in apprehension of the scare being created by those agents of meaningless violence and destruction as we shall render all support that the Executive requires to protect the lives and properties of all. This is a constitutional duty from which we shall not abdicate.
As you are all aware certain recent developments of critical national concern, so utterly disrupted the socio-political equilibrium of our dear country that it became unconscionable, as representatives of the people, to continue on the recess, sincerely, it would amount to standing wisdom on it's head for one to insist on continuing his siesta after due notice that his house is on fire. Honourable Colleagues, I am referring to the crucial issues of removal of fuel subsidy, declaration of state of emergency by Mr. President and the unrelenting violence and acts of terrorism. That is why we are here.
Honourable Colleagues, as we take our seats this afternoon, it is important to remind ourselves that the issues before us though weighty and critical are certainly not insurmountable. The survival of Nigeria as a united, indivisible and prosperous nation is of crucial importance and must be factored into whatever positions we adopt on these issues. In a world of competing challenges and opportunities, it is simply critical that we remain focused on our non-negotiable goals of building a modern state where justice, economic prosperity and political stability reign supreme'
One after the other, the lawmakers expressed their positions on the fuel subsidy removal and the general insecurity in the country.
For all it is, the emergency session and the outcome of it is plausible step taken by the Tambuwal leadership. It has earned him massive goodwill. How long the goodwill will last will depend on how he guards his steps in future outings.