EndASUUStrike: Gbajabiamila, epitome of exemplary leadership and matters arising

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My first and last encounter with the honorable speaker, Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila, was at the public hearing of an Agricultural Bill after the commencement of the 9th Assembly. He walked into the venue of the event quietly and seamlessly without the paraphrenia and dust-raising protocol, talked to the audience, prayed for fruitful deliberation, and then walked out. I was impressed by his business-like look, core humility, and simplicity, and hardly believed he was the speaker of the National Assembly. Over the years, the conducts or misconduct of the National Assembly members leave much to be desired. Their conduct from the padding of budget, to the so-called constituency projects and earning jumbo salaries and allowances (perhaps, the highest in the world monetarily) to themselves has made many Nigerians lose hope in finding a saint among them, it is like finding a virgin in the maternity ward.

Yet, this gentle-looking man, Gbajabiamila emerged as the second important personality in the Assembly. He is certainly different from the typical Nigeran politician who speaks from both sides of the mouth, and whose guiding principle is “the end justifies the means”. Gbajabiamila has proved to be a master strategist in the way he controls the lower house in many national issues that would have ended up in rancor. He has earned the admiration of the National Assembly watchers and indeed many Nigerians.

Gbajabiamila was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2003, representing the Surulere-I constituency of Lagos state. He was the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives in the 7th National Assembly. Despite his vast experience in legislation and Nigerian politics, Gbajabiamila’s name was not ringing the bell outside the National Assembly, before he was elected the speaker. However, as early as his first two years in office, Gbajabiamila’s scorecard as the speaker was impressive; 41 bills were passed out of the 853 bills considered within the period, 105 passed second reading and 66 bills were awaiting action by the Committees.

His calmness, doggedness, and self-confidence in pursuing pro-people agenda endeared him to Nigerians. Remember, Gbajabiamila flew to Ghana when Nigerian traders and other foreign nationals were to be treated with a draconian trade policy, which the country was about to implement. His presence in Ghana miraculously solved the issue. The Nigerians living in Ghana and some of us monitoring the event were happy about it, The xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other nationals in South Africa attracted him to that country and his appearance made the problem disappear.

His latest intervention in ASUU’s eight months of industrial action is giving respite to what looks like an unsolvable problem. As you are reading this piece, all public university students and lecturers are dusting their books for the herculean task ahead. Although, the lecturers are still hungry as they were denied their eight months’ salary due to an anti-labor, draconian policy called “no work, no pay”, the type that was never applied even during the military era, do the lecturers have the strength to dust their lecture notes and return to classes with an empty stomach?

Society should give the loudest applause and deep-hearted commendation to the speaker, Gbajabiamila for excelling where many prominent Nigerians have seemingly failed. How was it possible?

Gbajabiamila keenly observed the lackadaisical attitudes of the principal officers responsible to address the issues, efforts of concerned and highly-placed Nigerians, and counter-productive efforts of the master pretenders in the Ministries of Education, Labor, and Communication. He similarly observed how these pretenders teamed up with mischief makers to misinform Nigerians on what needed to be done to address the situation. An embarrassing situation was created for the government when rejected reports of its negotiation committees. He equally observed the helplessness of about 2 million university students who have remained idle in their houses.

Again, Gbajabiamila noticed the sacrifices of the lecturers and other university workers who passed through Easter, Ramadan, and two Eids celebrations without salary. Some paid supreme prices with their lives and many became bankrupt, impoverished, highly indebted, and disenchanted under the “democratic” dispensation. There was a pathetic case of a medical-academic doctor who was sick, could not financially afford to treat himself, nor could he burrow from friends and colleagues who were in the same shoes and eventually succumbed to the cold hands of death, what a society!

Seven months into the strike, there was an upsurge of youth restiveness across the nation, the situation was getting dicey and worsening by the day, and efforts to resolve the lingering ASUU strike were failing. It was at that critical moment when the timebomb was ticking that Honorable Gbajabiamila felt it was the time to act and decisively he acted. Instead of following the traditional way of running to Aso Rock and appealing to Mr. President, he did something slightly different. First, he gathered facts and figures about the ASUU-FGN imbroglio, then, serially consulted the key stakeholders individually and in groups on how to address the issues raised.

Then, he gathered all the relevant government functionaries and the ASUU team, created an amiable atmosphere for fruitful deliberation, and allowed them to express themselves to their satisfaction. As an experienced and skillful speaker of the House of Representatives, Gbajabiamila led the discussion to a sort of agreement by both parties. In each of the four such meetings, he brought out a press release of what transpired and the next line of action. After the extraction a kind of consensus with ASUU shifting ground, he headed for the big task – seeing and obtaining the President’s nod. As a master strategist, Gbajabiamila was able to pursue Mr. President to shift ground, thus, both parties (FGN and ASUU) were able to agree and the strike was speedily suspended.

This is a highly commendable effort that makes Gbajabiamila my man of the year and hero of university education in Nigeria. However, when a snake is killed, you don’t go celebrate until the head is severed from the body. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, your task is yet to be over until a strategy is put in place to ensure fulfillment of the agreement as when due by the Federal Government. Historically, all the past agreements were dually and willingly signed by both parties (ASUU and FGN).

They were signed after strenuous, time-consuming, and rock-breaking negotiations but the FGN was always reneging from the start of agreement implementation. This has been the major cause of all the ASUU industrial actions from 2009 to date. In the event of facing an unimplementable part of the agreement, nothing stops the parties from coming back to the negotiation table. Nigerians are tired of hearing about the ASUU strike and Gbajabiamila’s intervention is a solid foundation for ending the strike but he needs to complete the edifice. May God give him the wisdom to finally make ASUU strike a history, amen.

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