*says Nigeria must prevent massive outbreak
*establishes strategic response team
*House set to pass law on SIP, fresh economic stimulus
By AUSTIN OWOICHO, Abuja
Gbajabiamila said although the government has done its best to reach as many Nigerians as possible, evidence showed that many Nigerians in need are yet to get any form of palliative.
“The commendable palliative schemes initiated by the administration have helped alleviate the sufferings of some of our most vulnerable populations.
“However, many of our people have not benefited from any of the implemented measures. It is necessary that we act to ensure that as many people as need help, are reached. We must also ensure that the distribution of interventions across the country is inclusive and equitable,” the Speaker said in his address to his colleagues at the resumption of plenary session on Tuesday.
Gbajabiamila added that: “At times like this, there is a tendency for the existing faultlines of a nation to become dangerously exacerbated. The government must not be complicit, by acts of omission or commission in any such aggravations, as such will only make it more difficult to maintain the unity of purpose, that is essential to our nation’s survival at this delicate time.”
He called on “the administration to take advantage of the unique insights of federal legislators in targeting the distribution of some essential palliatives.
“When federal government interventions do not reach those that need, we are the first to receive complaints and have to explain to our constituents the reasons why they do not qualify or why they have been left out. Our grassroots interactions provide knowledge and context that can be useful to ensure that the hardest-hit communities receive help.”
Gbajabiamila said in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, Nigeria must do everything possible to prevent large scale outbreak of the pandemic.
“The restrictions imposed on our people as a result of the lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States, the Federal Capital Territory and the curfews imposed by other State Governments are a necessary intervention. These restrictions are a marked departure from the norm, and many of our people are understandably having a hard time adjusting.
“Honourable colleagues, as leaders in your constituencies, you must ensure that the people in your local communities understand the reasons for these restrictions, and adhere to all preventative measures such as handwashing, social distancing and other guidelines set out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
“Our best hope is to prevent the massive outbreak of this disease in Nigeria. If we fail to do that, and this disease begins to transmit at scale, all our worst nightmares will become manifest at once, and our misfortunes will compound beyond our ability to respond. We will be left to seek our recover, with limited resources in a long and brutal process from which we cannot emerge unscathed. We must keep in mind this unfortunate truth and act accordingly.
“Many have postulated that our current approach to managing the pandemic will not yield the results we desire. It has been suggested that we should look at other alternatives in dealing with this virus; alternatives that are more suited to our economic structure and cultural makeup and are custom-made to our way of life.
“Recommendations have also been made to the effect that we should lift the lockdown, open up the economy with restrictions, including the compulsory wearing of masks in public places. We will consider all of these recommendations and more. Whichever way we go, the total defeat of this virus must be our immediate goal and our highest priority.”
The Speaker revealed that in preparing for the new reality the country faces, he has established a Covid-19 Strategic Response Team (CRST) with a broad mandate to develop interventions and reforms and to update the Legislative Agenda to reflect Nigeria’s post-Covid realities and priorities.
“The Strategic Response Team will be supported by a group of technical experts, private sector leaders and representatives. Their experience and expertise will ensure that the policy proposals presented to the House are rigorously grounded in a fact-based reality.”
Gbajabiamila said the House would work on legislation in that regard, saying “We intend to bring these unique perspectives in our ongoing work to codify the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) into a Bill that will be considered by the House at our next adjourned date.
“We will also at that time seek to pass a second Economic Stimulus Bill to provide necessary relief to individuals and corporate organisations in Nigeria. We expect that before then, the Senate will quickly consider and pass the first Economic Stimulus Bill which has since passed in the House and now awaits concurrence by the Senate.”
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated global economy, and that “at a time when the social welfare demands on the public purse are higher than they have ever been, our present reality calls for nothing short of a wholesale reform of our governing structures, systems and processes.
“Any such efforts must of necessity, begin with drastic reductions in the cost of governance coupled with determined efforts to drive economic diversity and innovation in the non-oil sector.”
“There are no longer any sacred cows, protected spaces or classes. Every area of our national health policy, economic policy, tax policy, education policy and security architecture are now on the table for reform.
“We must turn this moment of profound crises into an opportunity to make the hard choices we have too long deferred but can now no longer avoid if we are to survive as a nation. This House of Representatives is ready, and I trust that we will find allies in government and across our country who are prepared to make the changes that our country needs to survive, recover and thrive.”
He reiterated the call on the government of the Peoples Republic of China to ensure that Nigerians and people of African descent resident in China receive the human right protections to which all citizens of the world are entitled in view of continuous reports of mistreatment of Nigerians in that country.
“These are the same rights and privileges the people of China receive in foreign lands, including here in Nigeria. Where there are credible cases of discrimination, harassment or rights abuses against our citizens, swift and visible action must be taken by the Chinese authorities to safeguard lives, livelihoods, property and the sense of human dignity of Nigerians and fellow Africans.”
While commending President Muhammadu Buhari for all the actions taken so far, the Speaker also lauded the efforts of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), well-meaning Nigerians that have contributed to the fight against the pandemic, among others.
He also thanked his colleagues for their contributions to the welfare and wellbeing of their constituents in this challenging time.