By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
IT was a bold act of solidarity from the House of Representatives with the Nigerian people. Sunday’s historic sitting of the legislative chamber was the first emergency working session of the House on a Sunday, a day of worship for Christians who constitute about half of the population of the country.
The emergency session of the House was called ahead of the commencement of the national strike called by organized labour following the unilateral removal of the controversial subsidy in the price of petrol and the deteriorating security challenges since the elapse of the deadline from the Boko Haram group to Christians to exit the Northern section of the country.
The deterioration in the art of governance and the arising state of insecurity were enough reasons for a response from the legislative branch of government. The sloppy response of the executive arm of government made it even more urgent.
It was against this background that the House leadership at a meeting last Thursday resolved to summon an emergency meeting of the House for Sunday.
When the decision to summon the emergency session was taken there was indeed little controversy on the choice of holding the session on that day.
However, as the decision of the House leadership was announced the following day, Friday it sent shivers down the spine of some officials in the presidency leading to subtle pressures on the House leadership to defer the emergency meeting.
Concern of the presidency
The concern of the presidency officials were essentially centered on the need not to embarrass the presidency with a resolution that could tie the presidency’s hands on the removal of fuel subsidy.
Much pressure it was learnt was piled on Speaker Aminu Tambuwal through various channels including traditional rulers and top northerners. But Tambuwal it was alleged was unbending. The Speaker especially had reasons not to cave in given his alleged personal disapproval of the way and manner the executive branch snubbed the legislature in the implementation of the policy.
It was as such not surprising that as the pressures mounted on the Speaker failed to yeild result that other incendiary tactics were adopted to pressure the Speaker. One of such was the use of religious sentiments.
It was whispered in some quarters that the move by Speaker Tambuwal to summon a meeting of the House on a Sunday would offend the religious sensibility of Christians. That accusation was, however, easily deflated as it was claimed that a sizeable proportion of those who took the decision for the Sunday session were Christians.
The deputy chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Media, Rep. Victor Ogene in dismissing the religious connotation said Christian members of the House were in full support.
“It doesn’t matter, if the nation is going ablaze, it is a national issue. Don’t forget that Monday is the day earmarked for the strike. We would have held the session a number of days ago but, a number of our members had travelled,” Rep. Ogene, himself a Christian told Vanguard.
“We cannot sit idly while the entire nation grinds to a halt. We are not sitting just for sitting we want to ensure that positive steps are taken,” he added.
Remarkably, the same pressures that were brought on the House were reportedly put on the Senate which it was learnt had also agreed to meet on Sunday with the same agenda.
The Senate, however, reportedly demurred leaving the House to forge ahead. A top associate of the Senate President, Senator David Mark, nevertheless, denied the insinuations.
“I don’t think it is correct. I know that the Senate committee on Labour is supposed to be interfacing with Labour,” the source said on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “But then what is the need of sitting on Sunday whereas the Senate is resuming on Tuesday, what can be achieved without the President reverting to the old price,” the source wondered.
Remarkably, Sunday’s session of the House registered an attendance of 301 members indicative of the high level of interest members had for the issues at hand. As the session opened that afternoon, Speaker Tambuwal soothed the anger of many Nigerian Christians with his words of empathy with the Christian community over the targeted killings in certain sections of the North.
He particularly praised the restraint of the Christian community who he said have by their action have deflated the singular aim of the terrorists to inflame religious war in the country. ‘By this act of restraint the objective of these enemies of Nigeria to falsely give religious coloration to their senseless terrorist escapades has been defeated’.
Insisting on the propriety of the meeting, Tambuwal said: “While posterity may judge us harshly for inappropriate decisions, a much harsher judgment awaits us for failure to decide at all for in the later case, we would be promoting a dangerous drift whose terminus is better imagined”.
As the session got underway, a motion sponsored by Rep. Yusuf Tajudeen and 60 others was received urging the restoration of the fuel subsidy. Moving the motion, Tajudeen affirmed that the removal of the fuel subsidy was ill-timed coming at a time Nigerians were deeply scathed by the recent attacks by the Boko Haram group. The motion was well received by the majority of the House members who denounced the government action in strong words.
Not surprisingly, the removal of fuel subsidy was supported by some members notably, those with strong ties with the administration. One of those was Rep. Henry Dickson, the PDP gubernatorial candidate in the forthcoming Bayelsa gubernatorial election.
At the end of the debate, the House in a majority voice decision adopted a motion calling on the President to suspend the removal of the fuel subsidy in the light of the difficulties Nigerians are presently facing.
Another leg of the resolution was the call on organized labour to suspend the strike to allow for further consultations. Remarkably as the House was meeting, members of the Senate Committee on Labour led by Senator Wilson Ake were waiting in one of the committee rooms for a delegation of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC to dialogue on the proposed strike. The NLC officials shunned Senator Ake and his colleagues!