By Lanre Lasisi
Yesterday has gone, but its memories are still with us. Today is here, and we should make the best of it. Tomorrow is for God, so we can only hope for the best. This is the story of every human being. While we are still living, we celebrate ourselves, not just for our achievements, but also for how we have been able to positively affect the lives of others. This is key in whatever we do.
The story of Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, the speaking Speaker of the House of Representatives, a man of many parts, and one of the most patriotic living Nigerians, is one that should encourage all of us. Today is exactly 59 years that this quintessential and benevolent leader was born.
A humble, humane, unassuming, accommodating and kind-hearted being, Gbajabiamila’s humble beginnings as a lawmaker, who became a silent achiever even before occupying the Number Four Citizen’s seat, is indeed worthy of study.
Since that election season in 2003 when the people of Surulere 1 Federal Constituency of Lagos State voted him to represent them at the Green Chamber, there was no going back. He was sworn in alongside other members then, a couple of weeks before his 41st birthday.
In five different election seasons, his people kept faith in him as he never disappoints them. This should be a case study for students of politics, as Surulere is a cosmopolitan area where different interests exist. Yet, the people keep trusting him to be their representative. Only a worthy representative gets this from his people.
But wait a minute! He’s got records that no one else has got in the history of the Nigerian legislature. Gbajabiamila it was who became the Minority Whip in 2005, just two years after his first election to the House. Soon after that, he became the Minority Leader in 2007, after his second election to the Parliament. He maintained the position in 2011 during his third coming to the House. By 2015, when his attempt to become Speaker was not ordained by our Creator, he became the Majority Leader of the House, serving up to 2019, before clinching the Number Four seat in the land.
In essence, Gbajabiamila, a lawyer whose practise transcends borders, spent nearly 14 years as a principal officer before becoming Speaker. No one has achieved this before. It’s unprecedented. By the time he is done, he would have spent 18 years out of 20 in leadership positions in the House. You see what I’m talking about!
It’s really been a long road for Gbajabiamila before he became the Speaker, and he achieved all this in the last 59 years. Ayo Adeagbo, the Special Assistant to the Speaker on Visual Communications/Personal Photographer, captured all of that in a photo book he recently launched titled “Gbajabiamila: The Long Road,” which is slightly altered as the heading of this tribute of Gbajabiamila at 59.
If one was ever in search of a perfect description of what Gbajabiamila symbolizes, Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, perfectly captured that in his speech at the launch of the above-mentioned book.
Prof. Osinbajo, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said Gbajabiamila “is one of the most resilient, most resourceful and most successful Nigerian politicians, having won elections five times in the past 18 years.”
As well as perfectly describing the Speaker as “charismatic,” not done yet, Osinbajo went on to say: “He is an effective bridge builder across tribes, across religions, across political parties, and even generations. He has proved to be an innovative mediator and an honest broker in several local and national disputes and conflicts.”
You know what? The VP wasn’t alone on this. The President of the Senate, Distinguished Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, whom Gbajabiamila joined in the House in 2003 before the former moved to the Senate in 2007, was full of praises for the Speaker and said he found the Number Four Citizen very helpful.
In the face of the stiff opposition politicking being played in our clime, a major figure in the opposition party, the Minority Leader himself in the House, Hon. Ndudi Godwin Elumelu, could not but state who the Speaker truly is.
Just read his description: “Though we belong to different political parties and, of course, hold opposing political views on governance issues, such do not blur one’s recognition of Femi’s personal and distinctive accomplishments as a leader in our national polity, including as the Speaker of House of Representatives, where I lead the opposition.”
If an opposition politician calls his fellow politician in the ruling party “a dazzling lawyer, outspoken politician, very brilliant and courageous legislator, a humble and hardworking administrator, team player and a firm believer that power comes only from God and that He gives to every man according to His time and purpose,” then you should know that the man in question is worthy of those words. Those exactly were the words Elumelu used in describing the Speaker.
Those of us who work with the Speaker can attest to his humility. He doesn’t see himself as a boss, that’s why when he appointed us as his aides, he said to all of us: “You’re to work with me and not work for me.”
At 59, apart from the grey hair on his head and around his moustache, nothing seems to suggest that the eloquent Gbajabiamila has spent even half a century on earth. Here is a man that is still as agile as someone in his 30s. The kind of ‘races’ he runs from one meeting to another and one function to another on a daily basis without much hassle beats everyone’s imagination. What’s more, you don’t see any sign of fatigue in him.
In terms of handling his assignment as Speaker, his performance is unparalleled. When he made that solemn pledge to put Nigeria first on June 11, 2019, Gbajabiamila really meant it. True to his word, the House under his leadership passed many people-oriented legislation and resolutions such as the Finance Act, the Police Reform Act, the Deep Offshore Sharing Agreement and the Companies and Allied Matters Act, among many others.
Most importantly, the House under Gbajabiamila’s resolute leadership ensured the return of the country’s annual budget to the January to December cycle. This was not achieved in a long time, but the 2020 and 2021 budgets were passed in good time by both chambers and returned to the constitutionally prescribed cycle.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has also stood out for his passion and consistent support for Nigerian workers. He has intervened and interceded in several industrial disputes by bodies such as the Nigeria Labour Congress and the National Association of Resident Doctors, among others; interventions that have gone a long way to endear him to the Nigerian worker.
While serving commendably at the federal level, Rep. Gbajabiamila has also continued to make his presence felt within his Surulere 1 Federal Constituency. As he marks his 59th birthday today, it is worthy to salute a humble and remarkable leader. What a long road! Happy birthday, Mr. Speaker.
•Lasisi is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Speaker, House of Representatives