WELCOME REMARKS BY RT. HON. YAKUBU DOGARA, SPEAKER HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA ON THE OCCASION OF RESUMPTION OF PLENARY FROM THE JULY – SEPTEMBER RECESS, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CHAMBERS ABUJA, TUESDAY, 26TH SEPTEMBER, 2017.
I most warmly welcome us back from the annual recess. I trust that you had some rest even as you used the opportunity to interact with your constituents. I acknowledge that the socio-political environment in the country since we adjourned for the recess was not such as to give one the desired true rest. Indeed we were on edge at a point to breach the recess and summon an emergency resumption of plenary, thanks to the Almighty God for calming the storms. I believe we all appreciate the times and thus the need for us to hit the ground running given the fact that there are many pending legislative measures requiring our attention.
2. Let me commend you all, my dear colleagues, for the informed restraint, maturity and patriotism in responding to the various incidences of unease that occasioned during the period of the recess. This is in line with the oath we all took to uphold and defend the constitution and I do not take it for granted. Indeed, I make bold to say that these recent developments are a pointer to the reality that constitutional amendment remains an unfinished business demanding our expeditious attention. I am confident we are well able to do the needful.
3. Several important developments took place while we were on recess. Most importantly, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, returned from his medical vacation and has since transmitted his letter of resumption as required by the Constitution. We thank God for his safe return and pray God to perfect his healing and grant him good health and the strength to continue to pilot the affairs of state, successfully.
4. During this period also, we got the good news from the National Bureau of Statistics that the Nigerian economy had exited from recession. We must caution however that the implementation of policies and hard work necessary to sustain a sound and productive economy which the National Assembly highlighted in the Resolutions sent to the President earlier should be continued with even greater vigour to ensure that our people enjoy the positive impact of the exit. We shall in this respect make our oversight of the Executive branch more robust, effective and informed.
5. May I use this opportunity to commiserate with families of Nigerians who lost their lives in various incidents across the country. In particular, deaths that arose as a result of floods that ravaged Benue, Kano, Sokoto and some other states and deaths arising from crises in some parts of the country.
6. We are all aware that during the recess, the agitation by a group of persons based in the south eastern geopolitical zone of the country and the heightened call by many groups for restructuring of the country dominated discourse in Nigeria. It is in this regard, that I wish to commend our religious and traditional rulers, leaders of various ethnic nationalities, elder statesmen, security agencies, the Governors and indeed governments of the states in the Federation for their display of statesmanship during this period. Indeed all patriotic Nigerians rose in unison to uphold the fundamental rights of all citizens to move freely and reside in any part of the federation as they choose, without let or hindrance. It appears to me that the citizens of this great country have sounded the message loud and clear that they stand for a united, prosperous and just Nigeria.
7. It is necessary to emphasise that Nigeria is a constitutional democracy with a clear legal framework for resolving differences that normally arise among citizens, between citizens and government as well as between the structures and arms of government. Make no mistake, as representatives of the people we have a duty to champion the protection and preservation of the rights of our constituents and peoples. We are very conscious and indeed jealous of the fundamental rights provided under our Constitution as well as the Human and Peoples Rights under the African Charter.
8. As an institution, this House stands firmly on the side of those who seek equity, fairness and justice so long as such is pursued in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which we as Honorable Members have sworn to protect and preserve. Anyone or group who assaults our Constitution will not find a partner here because our oath of office repels it, but those who stand for justice, fairness and equity will have partners in us because our oath of office compels it. We would work shoulder to shoulder with all those working within the ambit of the constitution and the law for all Nigerians regardless of creed or ethnicity to be first class citizens as no nation can truly be first class if it harbours within its borders second or third class citizens.
9. Do we have a legislative response to the issues that have been thrown up? Is the National Assembly involved in the debate? Can restructuring take place outside the existing legal order? Indeed all the arguments about restructuring are at the end of the day, legislative issues. It may be necessary in due course for the National Assembly to have a second look at the issues that have been thrown up. The National Assembly as a representative and product of the people cannot act contrary to the wishes and aspirations of its constituents. We need to sift all the ‘noise’ and find out what exactly a majority of our people actually want? This is a responsibility we cannot outsource.
10. Going forward, it is my view that we need to revisit some aspects of the voting on Constitution Alteration. Luckily we still have the legislative window of conferencing with the Senate, where we have differences.
11. The other issue that should attract the attention of this Honourable House is the spate of strikes by various workers unions that engulfed the country in recent weeks. One common noticeable denominator is that all the strikes were premised on matters over which the unions have previously discussed with government and on which deliberations were either inconclusive or which resolutions reached were observed in breach. I commend the Executive and Labour unions for reaching an understanding and for Labour in particular for employing lawful processes in pushing their demands and the suspension of the strikes in order to give another chance for negotiations. I wish to direct all House Committees with oversight responsibility for the agencies involved in these negotiations to urgently take appropriate legislative steps to aid full, final and permanent resolution of the issues for the sake of industrial peace and harmony.
12. Honourable Members are also aware that the media has been awash with scathing criticism of the institution of the House of Representatives over the NGO Regulation Bill which has passed second reading and is at Committee stage. Public criticism of the content of the Bill is a welcome development and there are many who are doing just that. Indeed it is the reason why every Bill is subjected to Public Hearing so that the inputs of stakeholders can be obtained to ensure public buy in. I hasten to say that all Nigerians and other corporate persons including non Nigerians, are stakeholders and have a right to support or oppose a Bill. However when opinions are targeted at disparaging the institution of the legislature then it becomes imperative to interrogate the motives driving such, especially when this emanates from those who should know.
13. Everyone should understand that the principal objective of the NGO Regulation Bill is to inject transparency, accountability and prevent the subversion of national security from both within and without. No one can nor indeed should gag the operations of NGOs in Nigeria, but just as they aspire for this freedom, it must be stated that freedom does not come without responsibility as there is no such thing as freedom to be irresponsible. There are also desperate attempts to instigate religious bodies and cultural Organizations to oppose the Bill by spreading falsehood that they are the target of this bill. For the avoidance of doubt, let me state once again that Churches, Mosques, Esussu, Market Women Associations as well as Local Quasi Financial Institutions are NOT NGOs and thus the bill has nothing to do with their operations . The legislative process cannot be short circuited. The National Assembly cannot be intimidated into abandoning its sacred legislative duties of providing a platform for Nigerians to agree or disagree on any proposed legislative measure. This openness and transparency is what the NGOs have always canvassed and promoted and they should therefore embrace this opportunity to interrogate the issues with open arms.
14. Honourable colleagues, it is clear that the things that bind us are overwhelmingly more than those that divide us. Indeed the individuals or groups who sow the seeds of discord and fan the embers of hate and disunity are in the negligible minority. As representatives of the people we must continually sensitise our people on the need to support all measures for the enthronement of a prosperous, united and just Nigeria where all citizens have equal stake under the governance of the Rule of Law. It was Martin Luther King, Jnr, who said that “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence…” We must learn to love one another, understand each other and respect each other for Nigeria to reach her full potentials politically, socially and economically.
15. Of course all healthy democracies are noisy. But they are filled with noise that elicits debate not noise that incites to violence. When speech or noise leads to debate its called free speech but when noise or speech incites to violence then that is hate speech. Hate speech has no place in a democracy and must never be tolerated or allowed. Words are powerful and once spoken it’s difficult if not impossible to take them back. Words have the power to create the atmosphere in which we live. There is nothing that exists that was not created by or in consequence of spoken word(s). Hate speech multiplies words that have the capacity to drown the truth. In the midst of hate speech, the truth is usually the casualty. Therein lies the real danger of hate speech. Yet, it is only in the truth that everything finds its worth.
16. It remains for me to charge that the prevailing situation should serve as impetus for more determined performance on our part. The genuine appreciation of these issues constitute a defining parameter for our job as we proceed in this second half of our tenure as the 8th House. Let us all resolve to get down to work and the Almighty God helping us we shall deliver.
17. God bless you all and bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.