FULL TEXT of the Speech of the Speaker of the House of Representatives as the House Resumes Plenary

REMARKS BY THE RT. HON. ABBAS TAJUDEEN, PhD, SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, AT THE RESUMPTION OF PLENARY AFTER CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR HOLIDAYS ON TUESDAY, 30TH JANUARY 2024.

 

Honourable Colleagues, Happy New Year, and welcome back to the People’s House!

1. As we reconvene in this hallowed chamber after a well-deserved break, it is my esteemed privilege to welcome you back to the diligent task of nation-building. The festive season was a period of reflection, rest, and rejuvenation. Now, we are gathered again with renewed vigour and commitment to serve our beloved country, Nigeria and our constituents.

2. This new year, 2024, holds great significance in our democratic journey as a nation. It marks 25 years of unbroken democratic governance since 1999. This milestone represents the longest period of uninterrupted democratic governance in our nation’s history. In these past two and half decades, the legislature has developed remarkably, asserting its independence and progressively holding the Executive to account. The National Assembly has also enacted high-impact laws for the order and good governance of Nigeria, represented the interests of our constituencies by ensuring that their voices are heard in this hallowed chamber, and brought their travails and difficulties to the attention of the government.

3. Dear Colleagues, I once again appreciate and commend each and every one of you for the remarkable work we accomplished in the first six months of this House. This was only possible through our collective commitment, dedication, unity of purpose, and patriotic zeal. I am delighted by the positive feedback from our constituents and Nigerians. However, as we commend ourselves for the progress made thus far, it is imperative that we do not become complacent or lower our standards. Instead, we must raise the bar even higher in the coming weeks and months.

4. Honourable colleagues, I address you today not just as the Speaker of the House of Representatives but as a concerned citizen, deeply troubled by the widespread insecurity that grips our country. Indeed, Nigeria stands at a crucial juncture, facing formidable challenges that test our resolve, unity, and spirit. The threats of insurgency are severely testing the peace and stability of our country, the rise in kidnapping for ransom and the unsettling unrest and crises across all the six geo-political zones. Families and communities have endured immense hardships, and our hearts go out to all those affected by these tumultuous events. We are particularly saddened by the tragic and senseless murder of our daughters, Nabeeha Al-Kadriyar and Folorunsho Ariyo, the heinous murder of over 30 people in Plateau State, as well as many others who have fallen victim to the mindless acts of terror in the last few weeks. We also remember those who lost their lives in the blast in Ibadan triggered by explosives stored by illegal miners. May we rise and observe a minute of silence in their honour.

5. Dear Colleagues, for too long, our nation has been caught in the vicious grip of insecurity, a malaise that spreads its tentacles far and wide, sparing no one in its wake. Despite numerous security measures, this menace continues to thrive, mocking our efforts and challenging our resolve to build a cohesive, peaceful and prosperous nation. It is a stark reminder that the conventional approaches to security we have espoused for so long are no longer sufficient. The time has come to think out of the box and adopt new and contemporary strategies that better respond to the complexities of our current challenges. To our patriotic and brave security forces, while commending your heroism and sacrifice, the time has come for you to review your approaches and strategies, innovate and adapt. The enemy evolves, and so must we. I challenge you to rise to this occasion, to demonstrate the indomitable spirit for which you are known, and to do more in safeguarding the lives and properties of our people.

6. In these trying times, President Bola Ahmad Tinubu, GCFR, has exhibited exemplary leadership and a proactive approach. His recent interventions and directives for more action by security agencies are timely and reflective of his deep-seated resolve to restore peace and order. Indeed, the time has come for the President to demand greater performance and accountability from our service chiefs and all security and enforcement agencies. I implore the President not to shy away from making the tough decisions. If necessary, we must not hesitate to enact changes within our security apparatus, for the cost of inaction is far too great to bear.

7. In light of these challenges, I propose convening a National Legislative Security Summit. This Summit will serve as a crucible for ideas, where stakeholders from diverse sectors – security, traditional and religious institutions, academia, civil society, and more – will forge enduring solutions to our security woes. It is time to harness our collective expertise, to break the silos that have hindered our progress, and to chart a new course towards peace and stability. This aligns with our constitutional mandate as parliament to enact laws that strengthen our security framework, allocate resources wisely, and provide the oversight necessary to ensure our strategies are well-intentioned, effective, and accountable. In addition, as a matter of urgent national importance, I charge all the relevant security-based Committees of this House to engage with the security chiefs on some of the most immediate measures and resources needed to improve security across the country.

8. Honourable Colleagues, on the economic front, our country continues to grapple with numerous hurdles that impede our growth trajectory. Inflation, unemployment, and infrastructural deficits are issues that touch the core of our people’s daily lives. The continuous depreciation of the Naira has far-reaching consequences, given that Nigeria relies heavily on imports for many essential items, including food, fuel and machinery. Yet, amidst these challenges, there are signs of resilience and potential. The President’s economic policies, aimed at revitalising key sectors, promoting sustainable growth, and fostering inclusive development, are steps in the right direction. We in the legislative arm must align our efforts with the Executive to ensure that these initiatives are effectively implemented and yield tangible results for every Nigerian.

15. I would like to thank all Members for their dedication and commitment during the deliberations on the 2024 Budget of ‘Renewed Hope’. The expeditious consideration and passage of this budget speaks to our collective resolve to address our nation’s pressing economic challenges. We must shift our focus towards ensuring the judicious and meticulous implementation of the budget, which is intended to be catalytic in lifting our economy from its current state of stagnation. Every Committee is tasked with engaging the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) to oversee the effective execution of the budgetary allocations and ensure that every Naira allocated in the budget is utilised efficiently and transparently. Our goal is to provide our people with much-needed relief from the current harsh economic realities.

9. The recent move by the President to track and review the annual performance of federal ministries, departments and agencies is indeed commendable and should be supported by all Nigerians. The lack of a proper performance assessment framework is a significant shortfall in government and public sector systems and processes. This has often resulted in insufficient alignment of organisational strategic priorities and budgets with national priorities as contained in the 8-point Agenda of Mr. President. We hope that the result of the government-wide performance report will be tabled before the National Assembly to provide lawmakers and the people of Nigeria an insight into the performance of government officials. Those whose performance falls below the minimum benchmark set by the President should be immediately replaced by more competent substitutes. I wish also to note and commend the President’s firm stance on public sector corruption. This steadfast commitment to uprooting the malaise of corruption from our public institutions is not just about preserving resources but is fundamentally about restoring the sanctity of governance and public service.

10. As we proceed with our legislative duties, our priorities are clear. With our Legislative Agenda set for ourselves, we intend to achieve significant mileage towards actualising the targets across the eight thematic areas. In the area of security, the most important challenge before us is to overhaul and strengthen the security architecture to improve overall effectiveness. The proposed Security Summit is expected to make far-reaching recommendations and concrete areas for legislative intervention. Some priority legislative actions in our Agenda include improving oversight of the sector, legislating the establishment of a Security Sector Reform Commission to oversee reforms within the sector, introducing stricter penalties for misappropriation, misallocation or any form of financial malpractice within the security sector and passing the whistle-blower protection bill. On the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, we shall work with the Office of the National Security Adviser to strengthen the Anti-terrorism Act to provide guidelines for the prosecution of suspects. Other areas for legislative action include finalising the domesticating of the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons and Ammunition to curb the proliferation of small arms in Nigeria and amend the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015 to tackle emerging threats and protect critical national infrastructure; adopt legislative measures that promote economic opportunities in the geo-political zones most affected by insecurity. We are committed to strengthening inter-agency collaboration, improving intelligence sharing, and leading police reforms.

11. Honourable Colleagues, as noted earlier, the state of the economy is also of grave concern to us, and we must contribute to promoting sustainable economic growth. Our Agenda has identified concrete measures for economic restructuring, economic diversification, and agricultural development. All Committees are directed to streamline their activities towards the realisation of our strategic objectives. The Committee on the Implementation of Legislative Agenda and the Committee on Monitoring and Evaluation of the Activities of Standing and ad-hoc Committees should ensure that committees and their outputs are in line with the Agenda of the House. In this regard, I am pleased to announce that House Sectoral Briefs with MDAs will resume immediately. Accordingly, we shall engage with MDAs and principal actors in the finance sector on Tuesday, 6th February, 2024. This engagement will assess the nation’s readiness to mobilise the necessary financial resources for implementing the budget.

12. Dear Colleagues, other legislative priorities this year include speedy consideration of electoral reforms, alteration of the 1999 Constitution, improved citizens’ engagement, enhanced oversight, institutional capacity strengthening, and greater collaboration with the Executive. Of immediate concern to us are electoral reforms to address grey areas in the 2022 Electoral Act. The purpose is to ensure that future elections are free, fair, and credible elections that truly reflect the people’s will. Recent data shows that 75% of gubernatorial elections conducted by INEC in 2023 ended up in the Supreme Court. A significantly higher percentage of gubernatorial, State, and National Assembly elections was litigated to the appellate level. Like all Nigerians, we are worried about the varying and conflicting judicial pronouncements which can disrupt our democratic process if not properly and swiftly addressed. For this reason, the House will constitute a special technical committee with Members drawn from the Committee on Electoral Matters, experts, academics and other stakeholders. The mandate of the Committee will be to review the Electoral Act 2022 and submit a proposal to the House on areas for amendment. The report of the Committee will be subjected to a public hearing to aggregate concrete suggestions for amendment.

13. In the area of constitutional alteration, our Agenda identifies key areas of interest for the House, including streamlining the procedure for constitutional alteration by enacting a Constitutional Alteration Procedure law to provide a timeline for the passage of the Constitution alteration bills by the National Assembly and adoption by State Houses of Assembly. We remain committed to continuing consultation towards assigning constitutional roles for traditional institutions, local government reform and statutory measures that promote women’s representation in elective and appointive positions.

14. Honourable Colleagues, the 10th House is aptly called the “people’s House”. As such, we recognise that improved citizens’ engagement is vital for fostering a participatory democracy. Therefore, we will enhance avenues for citizens to engage with the legislative process actively, provide input on policy decisions, and hold their representatives accountable. In line with item 5 of our Legislative Agenda, the House will conduct a ‘Legislative Open Week’ to enable Nigerians to engage us in the work that we do.

15. Lastly, greater collaboration with the executive branch is essential for effective governance. While recognising the independence of our respective arms of government, we must continue to foster constructive engagement and cooperation in advancing national development goals.

16. Honourable colleagues, as your Speaker, I am fully aware of the profound responsibility of this title. Our nation, Nigeria, is a tapestry of diverse cultures, opinions, and aspirations. It is the embodiment of potential and promise. And it is our sacred duty to nurture this potential into progress, unity, and prosperity. Leadership, especially in such a dynamic and diverse country, demands wisdom, strength, fairness, and impartiality. I want to assure each of you, my esteemed colleagues, that my commitment to leadership is anchored in these principles. My decisions, actions, and guidance will be driven not by personal bias or preference but by an unwavering commitment to what is just and right for every Nigerian.

17. This House is the bedrock of our democracy, and the decisions we make within these walls echo beyond them, shaping the lives of millions. We are, therefore, tasked with a noble and daunting responsibility. As your Speaker, I promise to navigate this journey with a compass that points unwaveringly towards justice, equity, and the collective good. The challenges we face as a nation are neither few nor trivial. But I am resolute in my belief that we can confront these challenges head-on, with clear minds and unshakeable resolve. We will deliberate, not just with the intent to argue, but with the determination to understand and to find common ground. We will legislate, not for the moment, but for the future, crafting laws that will build a stronger, more inclusive, and prosperous Nigeria.

18. In this endeavour, I seek not just your cooperation but your partnership. Together, let us be architects of a future that generations will look back upon with pride. Let us be the bearers of hope, the purveyors of justice, and the guardians of democracy. Let us work together, not as individuals or members of different political parties, but as a united entity, with a shared vision and a common goal – a stronger, more united Nigeria. Our people expect this from us, and history will judge us by how well we meet these expectations.

19. Welcome back, colleagues, as I wish us every success in this service to the Fatherland.

20. Thank you, and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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