By Francis Etuko, Abuja.
The Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said that protecting the interest of citizens in and outside the shores of the country is not the exclusive preserve of the Executive alone.
Speaking during an interaction with media men in Abuja as a prelude to leading a five-man legislative team to South Africa, where the House team hopes to, amongst other things, interact with the South African parliament, Hon. Gbajabiamila said ‘‘Foreign Diplomacy and constructive engagement of foreign officials in modern day and constitutional democracy is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Executive’’.
He said ‘‘Diplomacy and engagement of foreign countries especially when it involves the security of a country’s citizen has become extensive and non-traditional to the extent that some countries even use private citizens or former Presidents for engagement’’
Underscoring the importance of the parliament engaging productively with partners abroad to protect the welfare and interest of citizens living in countries where they have gone to seek ‘greener pastures’ the House Leader stated:
‘‘Surely the attack on Nigerians on foreign soil must be addressed frontally using every ammunition available in government’s arsenal including elected representatives. The moral and psychological uplift this would give to our citizens abroad and the comfort in the knowledge that they have not been abandoned by their representatives cannot be quantified’’.
‘‘There is in a representative democracy such as ours such a thing as parliamentary or legislative diplomacy and not all international discussions are government to government or G to G, the Nigerian Constitution which we all swore to defend, uphold and protect declares that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the citizens. It does not limit this to citizens only if they reside in Nigeria but citizens wherever they may be found. The same constitution gives the legislative arm of government oversight functions’’
Gbajabiamila who cited instances where influential parliamentarians have embarked upon similar oversight visits outside the shores of their country, was quick to educate Nigerians that such visits apart from underscoring the importance lawmakers attach to the well-being of citizens abroad, also sends a strong signal to foreign envoys how important foreign nationals are in their own country.
‘‘Indeed we are all aware of the congressional foreign oversight led by Representative Jason Chaffez to Benghazi/Libya on the murder of the then US Ambassador Christopher Stephens. Even more recently in defending his notorious contact with the Russian Ambassador, the Attorney General of the US who was then a senator claimed as his defense that his communication was in his capacity as a US senator which was normal’’
He was emphatic in echoing the sense of responsibility it bestows on any responsible lawmaking body to hold in very high esteem the safety of citizens, especially those living abroad
‘‘The House believes that it would be almost an irresponsible act or omission for any Parliament or Legislative body confronted with an issue such as this not to take proactive steps in addressing the issue’’
However, the visit which is expected to last for five days will provide the House of Representatives the opportunity to:
– Meet with the South African (SA) Parliament to discuss the possibility of both countries enacting hate crime laws. This according to Hon. Gbajabiamila cover crimes committed based on nationality.
– Engage the SA Parliament and other authorities on areas of mutual benefit and how much both countries could lose from xenophobia and possible retaliatory actions or severing of diplomatic ties.
– Advance and hopefully get a commitment on the need for payment of compensation for the victims of the last attack.
– Hopefully meet with Nigerians who reside in South Africa and assure them of government’s intervention