MBJF Applauds Gbajabiamila for Defending Freedom of Speech

By Ralph Madugu

Media practitioners under the aegis of Middle Belt Journalists Forum, MBJF, have applauded the Speaker of the House of Representative, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, for accepting the petition of the Mutual Union of Tiv in America, MUTA, an umbrella body of Tiv people in Diaspora which was hitherto rejected by the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase, when he presided over the House sitting when the petition was initially presented by Hon. Mark Gbillah, member representing Gwer-East/Gwer-West Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives.

The group in a statement signed by its President, Jonathan Ipaa, and Secretary, Mrs. Oikeke Igado Kure, appreciated the Speaker “for applying himself to the principle of freedom of speech and fair hearing by permitting Hon Mark Gbillah’s petition on behalf of some Tiv diaspora be heard on the floor of the House.” 

The MBJF said issues raised by the Benue Lawmaker were germane and should have been attended to rather than dismissed by Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris, when he presided over the House, adding that lawmakers have a critical role in democracy and must be seen to be the voice of the people.

The group stated that as elected representatives, it is incumbent on lawmakers at all times allow for robust debate and conversation on matters brought before them and also advised them to uphold the freedom of speech as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution.

“Any attempt by anyone to deny people an opportunity to lay the petition of their citizens within the ambit of the law before the legislature must be resisted’.

‘The Speaker of the House of Representatives has done what is expected of a person occupying such office, and other presiding officers, elected persons and those appointed must know that they hold such positions in trust for the Nigerian people’.

Speaker House of Representatives- Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila

“At a period such as this when there is tension and unease across the country, the MBJF advice Nigerians, especially, public office holders to be circumspect in their comments and actions”. 

“The MBJF is willing and available to work with the lawmakers and other people of goodwill to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle Belt and other parts of the Country which are not being paid the desired attention”.

“We therefore call on the two chambers of the National Assembly to come up with a Legislative agenda to address the human deprivation in Nigeria’s Middle Belt.” The MBJF stated further.

The Speaker had on Tuesday, accepted the petition filed by Mutual Union of Tiv in America, MUTA, an umbrella body of Tiv people in Diaspora submitted through Hon. Mark Gbillah, member representing Gwer-East/Gwer-West Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives.

But on Tuesday, while clearing, Speaker Gbajabiamila said “I believe this is the same petition that has been causing a lot of misunderstanding. The misunderstanding came from the issue of signature.

“Having cleared that misunderstanding, please go ahead and lay your petition to be given proper attention. Thanks Hon, Mark Gbillah. Thank you for your patience.”

Hon. Mark Gbillah-Presented the Petition that was not accepted during Plenary presided by the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase.

It would be recall that the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase who presided over the House plenary on March 10, 2021, disallowed Hon. Mark Gbillah from submitting the petition before the House, a development that was trailed by widespread criticism.

The Deputy Speaker claimed that the House did not accept petitions from outside the country and asked the lawmaker from Benue if MUTA was duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

Ahmed Wase had also said he was not convinced that Nigerians in America could protest against insecurity in Nigeria and ruled that the House would not accept the petition thereby denying Hon. Gbillah to table the petition.

The action of the Deputy Speaker however generated myriad of criticisms with some groups including the Middle Belt Journalist Forum passing a vote of no confidence on the Deputy Speaker with others calling on his constituents to recall him from the House.

Following the way and manner the Deputy Speaker refusal to allow the petition to be heard, the MBJF questioned “Does it matter the residency status of who draws attention to a crime or injustice?” and stating that the posture of the Deputy Speaker as Presiding Officer suggests that he calls the shots and determined the petition to be heard irrespective of its merit.

“His action to say the least, appears to have encouraged the killer herdsmen, armed bandits and terrorists to sustain their heinous acts against innocent Nigerians in general and the middle belt in particular.

“As a lawmaker of about 16 years at the National Assembly, what was expected of him was to refer the matter to the relevant committee to investigate and report back to the House and not to shot it down.

“This has put to question his sixteen years of legislative experience as a federal lawmaker of his repute.

“It is contradictory that Nigeria’s government established the Diaspora Commission and Nigerians elsewhere are making remittances back home, yet, their petition concerning their kindred back home will be treated with contempt by a lawmaker simply because he had the privilege to preside over the Green Chamber.”

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