With infectious smile on his face, chivalrous nature in his being, soothing words in his mouth, patriotism in his heart, humility in his soul, intelligence in brain, compassion in his spirit, smattering of grey hair on his head, benevolence in his attitude, and highly collected, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila fits the bill of a perfect gentleman.
However, he was hitherto misunderstood by some Nigerians, including a couple of his colleagues in the Green Chamber. But all of that has changed rapidly since his emergence as Speaker on June 11.
To start with, Gbajabiamila is a man of his words. His yes is YES, and his no is NO. If he tells you this is white, even if you close your eyes and touch it, you would realise that it is truly white. If he tells you this is black, you can be rest assured that it is pure black. This is an attribute that many Nigerian politicians lack today.
As someone that covered the activities of the House of Representatives for five years, I got to know that this principle of being straightforward was one of the major things that caused Gbajabiamila the position of speaker in 2015.
In the build up to the contest in 2015, Gbajabiamila took his campaigns seriously and decided to meet all the 360 members-elect of the House then before the June 9 inauguration of the 8th Assembly. Most of the members he met wanted him to promise them the chairmanship of this committee or that.
But in his usual straightforward characteristic, Gbajabiamila would tell them to wait until he got there and that the decision to make anybody committee chairman could only be taken after his emergence as everybody would be involved in the process.
That singular action of being truthful angered some of his colleagues at the time, and they felt if he didn’t promise them something, they wouldn’t waste their time voting him. They wanted somebody that would promise them Heaven on earth. But as an insider, I know of members that were promised chairmanship of committees, but they either ended up with nothing or were appointed to committees they never envisaged.
Again, Gbajabiamila is meticulous and diligent in whatever he does. He pays attention to every detail in everything that is before him. At a time when many politicians feel they don’t have time to pay attention to details, Gbajabiamila is a different breed entirely.
As a matter of fact, he is a workaholic of a sort. Though he is 57, the Speaker feels he is still young, and truly he is young at heart and even in his physique. He is young in the way he does his things as you would never see any sign of fatigue in him due to his age. The agility in him is unmatched. Those that relate closely with him know this.
Gbajabiamila was often being misunderstood by some as being arrogant or boastful. But all of that has changed within just a month plus of his stewardship as Speaker of Africa’s most populous nation. Today, his colleagues know that the Speaker is not only humble deeply inside, but his humility has since become glaring for all to see.
That misconception was born partly out of the fact that during his 8-year tenure as the Minority Leader of the House, Gbajabiamila stood his ground to defend the opposition party, and of course Nigerians, no matter whose ox was gored. During the period, he always spoke in a direct and frank manner, which some of his colleagues at the time were never comfortable with.
Another reason for that misconception then was the fact that Gbajabiamila is a very intelligent and smart man, and because whenever he spoke, his intelligence came to bare, some were again not comfortable with that.
But all of that has now become history as both old and new members of the House now have a sense of belonging in the affairs of the House without being looked down on by the Speaker or anybody close to him.
A major attribute of Speaker Gbajabiamila that many Nigerians may not be aware of is the fact that he is very accessible. Yes, very accessible. Even as a journalist that covered the House for five years plus before I was moved to the Senate, I came to know that Gbajabiamila was one of the few lawmakers that I could access even in the middle of the night. He was and remains a journalist’s delight any day any time.
Apart from the fact that he has been a news-maker in the House, Gbajabiamila would give one adequate attention even on the walkway whenever you needed a clarification on an issue or you wanted him to react to one. He isn’t the type that would say ‘meet me in the office later.’ This is the trait that Gbajabiamila exhibits today. As Speaker of the House, his colleagues have access to him 24/7.
One thing that cannot be taken away from the Speaker is the fact that he is jovial, even with his aides. If one doesn’t know him facially, you would think he is a nobody if you spot him amidst his aides. He is not the ‘I’m the boss’ type, no, not at all. If he does this with his aides, what more of his colleagues?
If anybody was in doubt that Gbajabiamila is a man of his own, the appointment of his aides should be enough reason for such a person to wipe away that thinking from their mind. First, the Speaker took the bold step of appointing his Chief of Staff (CoS), Alhaji Sanusi Garba Rikiji, from Zamfara State.
As someone who means business, the Speaker made the appointment during his inaugural speech after his emergence on June 11. As a Yoruba man, many thought he would bring another Yoruba man to be his CoS. In carrying out the appointment, the Speaker said he considered merit, and indeed the Speaker made the right choice as the CoS is a round peg in a round hole.
After the appointment of the Chief of Staff, the next set of appointments was that of his media team, comprising six persons, done on Thursday, July 11 exactly one month after his emergence. Then came the appointments of 27 other aides to the Speaker, who will help him in the discharge of his duty. All the appointments were done not only on merit, they were also done without any form of undue influence from any quarters.
It is instructive to note that against every assumption, the Speaker picked three of his media aides from the National Assemby Press Corps – two from the House of Reps (Lanre Lasisi & Dele Anofi) and one from the Senate (myself). Before the appointments, a lot of people believed that he would bring ‘outsiders’ to man his media team. But the Speaker shocked everybody. Indeed, the National Assemby Press Corps never had it this good.
I know some people would have thought that being a Yoruba man, the Speaker would appoint only Yorubas into his media team, but as his Chief Press Secretary, I am not a Yoruba man, but I am from the North, Nasarawa State to be specific.
In the next four years, Nigerians will truly appreciate the leadership of this GREAT PATRIOT as the Number 4 Citizen of the country and know more about the man Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila
Krishi is the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker, House of Representatives
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