Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabimila’s alleged comparison of secessionists groups with Boko Haram and ISWAP has been enmeshed in controversy. PHILIP NYAM examines the interpretation of the lawmaker’s speech
This is certainly not the best of times for the speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabimila.
A week ago, his address to welcome his colleagues from the long vacation drew the ire of some sections of the country for allegedly comparing the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Yoruba Nation agitators, to Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).
The speaker had while welcoming lawmakers spoke about a whole lot of issues and outlining plans and target of the lower House in the new legislative year. But expectedly, it was the security matter and particularly his comparison of selfdetermination agitators in the southern part of the country with Boko Haram and ISWAP that attracted the attention of the majority.
The attention was not unfounded because the nation has been bedevilled with a strange form of insecurity, which is a source of concern to all peace-loving citizens. The speaker aptly captured this when he observed that “Insecurity remains an overwhelming threat to all our nation’s people and a hindrance that further delays the attainment of the critical development objectives necessary to put our country on the path to peaceful prosperity.”
He added: “Therefore, the 9th House of Representatives will continue to take action as required to address statutory deficiencies that limit the ability of our national security apparatus to respond effectively to the myriad manifestations of insecurity in our country.
“In this parliamentary session, we will prioritise national security bills that seek to implement the varied recommendations of the summit. This is not to suggest that we will abdicate action on other matters of national concern.
“We only reaffirm our commitment to do all that we can to defeat those who have made it their cause to impose on our country an unending orgy of carnage and inflict our people with devastating grief.”
He sounded a note of warning to troublemakers, saying: “Let it be apparent to those who have made themselves enemies of Nigeria that this 9th House of Representatives will respond to the audacity of their evil with every tool and resource at our disposal, and we will not be deterred.
“In our last session, we convened a National Security Summit to deliberate on the issue and articulate recommendations for executive and legislative action.
The leadership of the House of Representatives presented the report of that summit to President Muhammadu Buhari, and we received assurances that the recommendations will be duly considered and implemented. We will follow through to ensure that commitment is met.
“At the same time, we have began to take legislative action to implement the summit’s recommendations on statutory reform, amendments and the enactment of new legislation.
Several such bills have already passed the second reading and now await action in the responsible committees. I urge the chairmen and members of those committees to act quickly and conscientiously to bring those bills to the floor as soon as is practicable.”
Continuing, Gbajabiamila said that thus far, members of the Green Chamber have rightly focused our national security concerns on the machinations of extremist insurgents, who seek to remake Nigeria in the image of their discredited theocracy and bandits, who maraud and terrorise whole regions for profit.
“We must now add to these concerns an emerging threat that presents the same clear and present danger. In the South of Nigeria, East and West, miscreants and criminals masquerading as separationist activists have emerged to wreak havoc, take lives and commit economic sabotage against fellow Nigerians and against the state.
“These people, in their inclination for devastating violence against fellow citizens, their appetite for the destruction of private property, their disruption of academic activities, commerce, and industry, their propensity for defiling institutions of the state, society and community, their refusal to engage in debate, or to consider the possibility of dissenting opinions and alternative viewpoints, are no different from Boko Haram and ISWAP.
Given space and time, they will take our nation down the same path of destruction,” he said. Trouble, however, started when some media reports interpreted the speaker’s comparison of “miscreants and criminals” with Boko Haram and ISWAP, and consequently linked it to IPOB and Yoruba Nation agitators.
Following the reports, a statement signed and issued by the speaker’s Special Adviser on Media, Lanre Lasisi. read: “It has come to the attention of the Office of the Speaker, House of Representatives, that some media reports on Wednesday, September 15, claimed that the speaker, in his welcome address to his colleagues at plenary, purportedly said IPOB and Yoruba Nation agitators are the same with Boko Haram.
“In view of the impression created by the said reports, it has become necessary to clarify that the Speaker, in his speech, never mentioned any group. For the records, the speaker said some miscreants and criminals are taking advantage of the separationist agitations to carry their activities.
“Here under is what the speaker said: “We must now add to these concerns an emerging threat that presents the same clear and present danger. In the South of Nigeria, East and West, miscreants and criminals masquerading as separatist activists have emerged to wreak havoc, take lives and commit economic sabotage against fellow Nigerians and the state.
“These people, in their inclination for devastating violence against fellow citizens, their appetite for the destruction of private property, their disruption of academic activities, commerce, and industry, their propensity for defiling institutions of the state, society and community, their refusal to engage in debate, or to consider the possibility of dissenting opinions and alternative viewpoints, are no different from Boko Haram and ISWAP. Given space and time, they will take our nation down the same path of destruction.
“From the above, there was nowhere that the speaker mentioned the name of any group. What was conspicuous in the speaker’s speech was the focus of the activities of miscreants and criminals and its effect on the country. “The speaker never condemned secessionists or compared them to terrorists.
As a matter of fact, the speaker is not alone on the concern about an apparent emergence of a band of miscreants and criminals as different patriotic Nigerians have expressed similar concerns and even condemned the act of maiming, killing, destruction of property and other criminalities perpetrated by the masqueraders.”
Although there have been some allegations of violence, arson and destruction against IPOB and Yoruba Nation agitators at different times, they have always denied involvement in such criminal acts.
And to be fair to the speaker, even if he was referring to these two groups, he never mentioned them and cannot be said to have called them out.
Also, some analysts are of the view that in spite of the fact that journalists can interprete news, since the speaker explained that he was only referring to criminal elements masquerading as members of these groups, his explanation should subsist.