By Christiana Ekpa
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, has commended the efforts of lawmakers in working assiduously to ensure that the country pulled through 2020, a year he described as trying and challenging.
In an address to wind down the activities of the House for the year during a special plenary convened on Monday in Abuja, the Speaker cited the coronavirus pandemic as a phenomenon that altered all calculations in 2020 and put the capacities of nations to whither the storm to test.
The session was convened to pass the 2021 Budget and close the activities of the House for the Christmas and New Year break.
In the case of Nigeria, Gbajabiamila recalled how the House responded quickly to the pandemic by not only initiating legislative interventions but also giving necessary backing to Executive proposals aimed at taming the deadly virus.
He cited the commitment of lawmakers to pass the 2021 budget of N13.5trillion to maintain the January-December budget cycle and make provisions for development, as one of such sacrifices.
“Today, we have passed the budget in the House of Representatives in good time to maintain the January to December budget cycle in line with the commitments we made when we resumed office.
“The January to December budget cycle is necessary to ensure effective implementation of our annual budgets to meet our nation’s development challenges. By our joint efforts and the grace of God, we will maintain this standard for every year we are in office, and leave a legacy for our successors to aspire to”, Gbajabiamila stated.
On the coronavirus pandemic in particular, the Speaker said much as it took all by surprise, the House acted swiftly to save lives, while members also made personal sacrifices.
Gbajabiamila explained, “Within the limits of our brutal realities, with our options limited by a scarcity of resources, by dilapidated infrastructure and outdated laws, we acted to slow the spread of the disease, to treat the sick, comfort the afflicted and provide for the most vulnerable of our nation’s citizens.
“The truth is, we have done better than many believed was possible, better than many nations, even the most advanced. Our economy has taken a big hit, but through partnership with the private sector, government has been able to prevent the nightmare scenarios that some predicted.
“Members of the House, together and individually, made financial contributions to support welfare provisions for citizens. There is virtually no constituency in the country that did not feel the impact of efforts by their representatives. I commend you all, and I thank you most sincerely.”
He recalled how the House, in an “unprecedented single-day session”, passed the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill to provide targeted economic relief in response to the emerging threat.
Gbajabiamila noted that though the bill did not become law, it later became the foundation on which the government rolled out many relief packages to cushion the harsh effects of the pandemic on Nigerians.
He said, “That legislation never became law. Yet the bill’s specific objectives have been implemented through executive action to defer mortgages, remove duties on medical imports, provide salary relief and related financial support for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises in the country.”
The Speaker reeled out other major interventions by the House: “Despite an extraordinary torrent of misinformation and political mischief, the House moved forward with landmark legislation to reform our nation’s obsolete statutory framework for preventing and managing infectious diseases and pandemics so that we can be better prepared for the next time.
“We worked with the Executive to address medical doctors and healthcare workers’ welfare demands and resolve a labour dispute that would have resulted in strike actions and walkouts with devastating consequences for too many of our citizens, amid a raging and deadly pandemic.