[Protocol and Salutations]

Esteemed colleagues, distinguished guests, members of the press, Nigerians and others joining us from around the globe, ladies and gentlemen, it is my profound honour to address this world press conference dedicated to addressing some of the most pressing national issues we face. It is gratifying to see your beautiful and happy faces. As the Speaker of the largest representative body in Nigeria, representing all corners of Nigeria, I feel it a duty to address some pressing challenges we face as a nation. The very fabric of our society is being tested, our resilience strained, and our unity challenged. However, amidst these trials, our spirit remains unbroken, and our resolve to overcome and thrive grows stronger.

As representatives of the Nigerian people, we cannot pay lip service to the plight of the same individuals who elected us into office to protect their interests. It is our resolve to see that Nigerians, wherever they are, live their normal lives in peace and relative ease.

[Rising Security Challenges]

We are acutely aware of the rising security challenges affecting different parts of the country. As elected representatives, we acknowledge the pain and suffering of every family that has been a victim of brutal crimes and needless violence. Let it be known that your cries have not fallen on deaf ears, and your tears have not gone unseen. We stand in solidarity with every Nigerian affected and commit to deploying robust legislative measures to empower our security agencies, ensure justice, and restore peace and order in our communities.

The President and Commander-in-Chief, His Excellency Bola Ahmad Tinubu, has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to improving the security situation and enhancing the capability of the armed forces. On Tuesday this week, I attended the induction ceremony of the T-129 ATAK helicopter and the King Air 360i aircraft into our esteemed Air Force. The acquisition of these state-of-the-art aircrafts clearly indicates the government’s dedication to investing in the security infrastructure of our nation. It reflects a proactive stance in adapting to the dynamic challenges of modern warfare and a commitment to providing our armed forces with the best tools to defend Nigeria and our people.

You may recall that on November 8, 2023, the President signed the N2.176 trillion Supplementary Appropriation Act to strengthen Nigeria’s security architecture and address Nigeria’s critical infrastructure deficit, amongst other considerations. These investments in the face of global economic downturn and budgetary constraints attest to the government’s determination to end insecurity in Nigeria.

While recognising and commending the patriotic and courageous efforts of our security agencies, we must have the courage to effect changes where necessary. These are among the issues that the forthcoming Legislative Summit on Security will address. This summit, which comes up in a matter of weeks, will, among others, allow us to hear directly from the key stakeholders in the sector and come up with legislative measures to modernise our security system and improve its operational efficiency and effectiveness.

As emphasised in our Legislative Agenda, the time has come for us to demand greater transparency from our security agencies and full accountability for all the funds spent and earmarked for spending in the sector. We kick-started our sectoral debates in November last year with the Service Chiefs and the Inspector General of Police to demonstrate the seriousness we attach to security.

[Economic Downturn and Its Implications]

We are aware of the economic challenges facing our constituents across Nigeria. Of particular concern to the House is the high inflation rates, particularly the rate of food inflation. As you are all aware, various factors, including insecurity, economic downturns and climate change-induced disruptions, have exacerbated this crisis. I wish to commend the rapid and decisive response of the President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, to the issue of food security. The 2023 Supplementary Budget provided a N200bn palliative package, mainly for grains, seeds, agricultural inputs and equipment for farmers. This momentum has been sustained in the 2024 Budget, which has significantly improved budgetary allocations to all critical sectors of the economy, especially defense, healthcare, education and infrastructure.

In 2023, the President declared a state of emergency on food security, focusing on improving both availability and affordability. Some immediate measures approved the release of fertilisers and grains to farmers and households, particularly given the fallouts from the removal of fuel subsidies. Others include boosting the national strategic food reserve and introducing a price stabilisation mechanism, especially for critical food items. And just a few days ago, President Tinubu also constituted a special presidential committee headed by the Chief of Staff to take immediate steps to arrest the worsening food situation.

We in the National Assembly have supported and will continue to support the government’s efforts in finding effective solutions to these challenges. For the first time in the history of the Nigerian legislature, the 10th House set up a Committee on Nutrition and Food Security with a mandate to strengthen the legislative framework for nutrition governance in Nigeria, advocate for the inclusion of nutrition in government priority programmes and monitor resource allocation to nutrition in the annual budget estimates.

Only a few days ago, we engaged key economic and financial sector actors in the Sectoral Debates of the House. The Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, his counterpart at the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, briefed the House on the country’s current economic crisis and immediate remedial measures to improve the situation. They were joined by the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), his deputies and the Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

I wish to reassure all Nigerians that the House will prioritise funding for programmes and initiatives to alleviate hunger and enhance security. We are fully committed to supporting policies that will stimulate our economy, provide relief, and ensure relief is felt in every home.

In addition to promoting security so that farmers can feel safe to return to their farms, the House will support import and export policies that stabilise food prices and ensure adequate supply of essential food items at affordable rates, especially for our constituents living in rural areas. We also propose enacting legislation to enable swift government response to tackle food shortages, including emergency food aid and support for affected populations.

[Call for Unity and Synergy Between All Arms of Government]

As we navigate through these tumultuous times, the importance of unity and constructive engagement cannot be overstated. The synergy between the three arms of government – executive, legislative, and judiciary – is paramount. We must function not as isolated entities but as a cohesive unit with a common goal – the welfare and progress of our dear country. As declared in Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered), “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. This cannot be achieved by one arm of government alone but by all of us working together for the common good. It also requires greater engagement with citizens, who have a duty to hold their elected representatives accountable and demand more government action.

The disposition of the President to collaborate with the National Assembly while respecting our independence is remarkable and laudable. I equally commend key advisers and aides of the President for working tirelessly to address Nigeria’s multiple challenges. I wish to particularly note the contributions of the Chief of Staff to the President, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila; the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Sen. George Akume, and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, and all other political office holders and aides to the President, for their tireless efforts to ensure that the government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu delivers on its promise to Nigerians and the 8-points agenda of the President.

[Constructive Citizens-Government Engagement]

In any vibrant democracy, the relationship between citizens and their government is symbiotic, characterised by active engagement, mutual trust, and shared accountability. Constructive citizen-government engagement is the cornerstone of democratic governance, facilitating transparency, responsiveness, and inclusive decision-making. As we mature in our democracy, it is imperative to cultivate a culture of meaningful interaction and collaboration between citizens and government institutions.

For this reason, I call on every citizen to engage in positive and constructive criticism. Your voices and opinions are invaluable, providing the compass that guides our actions and policies. At this juncture, ladies and gentlemen of the press, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, my colleagues and I invite Nigerians to engage critically with us on important national issues. In fact, we encourage and welcome criticisms, but these must be constructive and targeted at building national unity and cohesion and advancing development.

However, while we encourage freedom of expression and constructive dialogue, we must also be wary of the dangers of fake news and campaigns of slander and defamation, especially against the President and senior government officials.

There has been a rise in defamation campaigns on social media involving the deliberate dissemination of false and misleading information with the intent to harm the reputation of individuals or organisations. These campaigns often target political opponents, seeking to undermine their credibility, integrity, and public trust. The recent unjustified and baseless allegations against the Chief of Staff to the President, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, point to the danger of an unfettered and unaccountable social media. Such acts not only undermine the integrity of our democracy but also erode the fabric of our national unity. Yet, Femi is just one of millions of Nigerians who suffer cyberbullying and coordinated campaigns of defamation daily. Too many victims are not as powerful as him to defend themselves.

Those of us who have worked with him for over a decade can attest to his patriotism and integrity. His willingness to voluntarily subject himself to investigation by all security and law enforcement agencies demonstrates his rectitude and honour. I urge the security agencies to work diligently and swiftly to investigate all matters he has raised in his letter to them and inform Nigerians of their findings. If not found guilty, these agencies must fish out those responsible for the character assassination and ensure they are brought before the law.

It is most unfortunate that someone who has, over the years, built a reputation through dint of hard work and commitment to service, should have same damaged by unscrupulous elements. The consistent attempt to pull him down for purely political or personal reasons and without consequence is deeply deplorable.

Often, the perpetrators of such damaging acts are ignorant of the illegality of their actions. Section 375 of the Criminal Code Act, states that a person who publishes any defamatory matter, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year; and any person who publishes any defamatory matter knowing it to be false, is liable to imprisonment for two years. Also, Section 24 of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015 provides that any person who knowingly or intentionally uses computer systems or networks to defame, insult or engages in actions that slander or cause danger shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than ₦7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment. Furthermore, Section 24(2) of the Act states that any person who intentionally transmits any communication through a computer system to bully or threaten or harass another person…commits an offense under the Act and shall be liable on conviction to 10 years and for a minimum fine of ₦25,000,000.00 (Twenty-Five Million Naira). The Criminal Code also criminalises defamation and makes it an offense to threaten a person with an injury to his person, reputation, or property.

In view of the above, the House intends to strengthen libel, slander, and defamation legislations in this regard. To avoid being misquoted or quoted out of context, I wish to make it categorically clear that the House has no intention to stifle free speech. Instead, our objective is to protect the dignity of individuals and the integrity of public discourse. We will ensure that these laws are balanced, providing room for healthy and constructive criticism while safeguarding individuals and institutions from malicious and unfounded attacks.

[Closing Remarks]

Ladies and gentlemen, in the face of such hardship, it is natural to feel a sense of despair and frustration. The impact of the challenges I have identified above is felt in every home, on every street, and in the hearts of every Nigerian. Yet, it is precisely in times like these that our true strength as a nation is revealed. Our resilience, unity, and indomitable spirit have seen us through difficult times before, and I have no doubt that these qualities will carry us through again.

To those affected by the scourge of insecurity, I want you to know that your government hears you loud and clear. We are taking decisive steps to address the root causes of this menace, deploying both military and diplomatic resources to ensure the safety and security of all Nigerians. It is a complex challenge, one that requires patience and time to resolve, but I assure you that we are making progress.

On the economic front, we are equally committed to reversing the downturn and setting our country back on a path of sustainable growth. The policies of the Tinubu-led government are designed to stimulate the economy, encourage investment, and create jobs. We understand the urgency of the situation and are working tirelessly to alleviate the hardships many of you are experiencing.

The issue of food shortages is particularly close to my heart. Food security is fundamental to national security. We are implementing comprehensive strategies to boost agricultural production, improve supply chains, and ensure that affordable food is accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live.

I ask for your patience as these measures take effect. Change, especially of the magnitude we are aiming for, does not happen overnight. It requires time, effort, and, most importantly, the support of every Nigerian. Each of us has a role to play in this journey towards a more secure, prosperous, and food-secure Nigeria. Whether you are a farmer, a business owner, a teacher, or a student, your contribution matters. Together, we can overcome these challenges and build a brighter future for our beloved country. As your Speaker, I am filled with renewed hope for what we can achieve together.

In conclusion, I call upon every Nigerian, from the north to the south, from the east to the west, to join hands in solidarity. Let us support our government’s policies, let us be patient, and let us work together towards the common goal of a better, stronger, and more unified Nigeria.

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

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