As human beings, it is our general belief that successful people are special and that they are born destined for greatness. It is just too difficult to comprehend that the main things that separate those people from us is not anything particularly special; it is simply their mindset and habits.”
– Patrick G. Manifold.
For most of us who covered the proceedings of the House of Representatives as journalists during the 6th National Assembly, between 2007 and 2011, it was an exciting time in the history of the Nigerian Legislature. Covering the Parliament can sometimes be boring and monotonous as Bills and motions slowly make their way through the rituals of parliamentary process on a journey to become law or influence government policy. The chamber of the 6th House was anything but that.
It was a time of engaging debates in the chamber, with almost guaranteed verbal fireworks across the aisle. One of the lawmakers who stood out then was Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila. Some of us waited on the edge of our seats for the almost predictable moment, when he would, like a watchman jumping forward to seize an intruder, rise to his feet to challenge a motion or piece of proposed legislation that he believed was not in the interest of the Nigerian people. Being the leader of the minority parties in the House, he was most times the voice of reason that would spark off a more thorough scrutiny of the matter before the parliament.
Marshalling point after point, with an adequate sprinkling of references from the Constitution and the Standing Orders of the House, Rep. Gbajabiamila would stand and make his case. Logical, incisive and persuasive, he would appeal to his colleagues to take a different route than the one it appeared they were bent on treading. Serving as a Minority Leader at a time when the ruling party had majority of members in the House who were bent on having their way no matter the clear folly in their path, meant that Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila stood more times than he sat. Apart from standing to put forward his observations during the debate, he would also move around to convince his colleagues and win over opponents before the matter was put to vote. That is how passionate and committed he is whenever he is convinced about the course he is on.
He was sometimes on the losing side of the vote. As the parlance goes in the parliament, ‘minority will have their say, while the majority will have their way.’ This did not, however, show in his demeanour as he would always enter the battle of a debate convinced of victory and undeterred by the wall of opposition. It was clear that this was a man that had found his calling. It was clear he did his research and was passionate about the Parliament and the people. His drive, passion and knowledge shone forth and won him attention within and outside the Parliament. From those days to date, Gbaja has become a household name in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, since his days as Minority Leader, he had become a role model to even some of his colleagues.
Born 58 years ago, exactly on June 25, 1962 to a senior magistrate father and a mother who is a trained nurse and later a politician, one can say the seeds of Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila’s destiny were laid from birth. A life of service, of meeting with people, of addressing the needs of people and of working with the laws of the land. Seeds that have grown and shaped the man. Growing up, he was drawn to study law, and upon completing his studies, he served in chambers in Nigeria and abroad, an experience that proved invaluable when he decided to step into the political arena. According to the lawmaker, “I see politics as an extension of my legal practice, which is another avenue to touch lives”.
In making his choice of how and where to serve the people effectively, he was naturally drawn to the Legislature. His legal background, which involves working with the laws of the land, came into play as he turned from working with the laws to helping to make the laws that others will work with.
Coming into the parliament, his mettle became clear almost immediately and as fate would have it, he became a Principal Officer in his first term. In what has now come to be a first in the history of the Nigerian Parliament, Rep. Gbajabiamila has now served in four different positions in the Body of Principal Officers and served as one in almost all his 17 years in the Parliament.
Arriving at the National Assembly first in 2003, Rep. Gbajabiamila shortly became the Minority Whip between 2005 and 2007. After winning election for the second time, he easily became the Minority Leader in 2007, serving up to 2011. Once again, having led members of the minority parties in the House with all dedication and commitment, his colleagues chose him for the same position of Minority Leader between 2011 and 2015. Gbajabiamila then became the Majority Leader of the House between 2015 and 2019. In June last year, he became the Speaker of the House.
In 2015, he had contested for the position of Speaker but lost narrowly. That gave him the opportunity to gain more experience as he served as Majority Leader for four years. In 2019, he was elected to serve for his fifth term by his constituents and elected to serve as Speaker by his colleagues with the highest margins ever seen in the history of the speakership contest.
Thus, Rep. Gbajabiamila holds the enviable record of being the first lawmaker to have served through the ranks from Minority Whip, to Minority Leader twice, to Majority Leader and to Speaker. For many people, Rep. Gbajabiamila is a poster boy for the Parliament, having spent 17 years serving the people to the best of his ability. Gbajabiamila’s name resonates well as an intellectual and a hardworking gentleman, who strives for the best.
Now, as a Speaker, he is bringing his experience to bear in ensuring that the 9th House of Representatives is truly the House of the Nigerian people. He is helping to pilot the affairs of the House through this historic period as the world and the country adjust to a different world under the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, I want to celebrate a man that has worked hard for the people of Surulere 1 Federal Constituency of Lagos State and the country in general. A man who spent a major part of his adult life serving the Nigeria Parliament positively is indeed worth celebrating on his 58th birthday. Here’s wishing the Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives a Happy birthday and many years ahead in good health.
Lasisi is the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Speaker, House of Representatives.