By Orkula Shaagee, Abuja
Speaker House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has charged media practitioners in the country to rise to their responsibility of ensuring that those who hold public offices are accountable to the populace.
Gbajabiamila stated this in Abuja yesterday at the opening ceremony of a one-day seminar organized by the House of Representatives Press Corps on Fight Against Corruption: Setting Agenda for the 9th House of Representatives.
The Speaker, who lamented that corruption in public office severs the relationship of trust and accountability that ought to exist between the leaders and the people they lead, expressed concern that media houses and media practitioners have failed to utilize the recently passed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)to hold public officers accountable.
“When the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed into law, many critics worried that the press would abuse the law to demand access to information that isn’t covered by the mandate of the Act.Those critics recognised that the Act provided an enormously powerful tool for truth-seekers to identify and expose malfeasance in public office. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that you in the press have fully embraced the possibilities of the Act. Media houses have not invested in training personnel and providing resources for investigative journalism. This needs to change, because as those of us in public office have a mandate to fight corruption by building a culture of transparency within our institutions, and by empowering law enforcement to do its job effectively without fear or favour, you too have an obligation to hold us to account, and to do so honourably, Gbajabiamila said.
According to him, success in the fight against corruption requires that we build accountability and transparency into the fabric of our institutions. From the executive to the legislature and even the judiciary, we must let the light into the inner workings of all the branches of government; the ministries, department and agencies through which they operate. Budgets should be public; citizens have a right to know who is spending their money and what it is being spent on.
Similarly, he said corruption has for too long denied us the resources and the will to invest in our communities and make the radical choices essential to prosperity and progress. We have only now begun to correct the errors of the locust years. We must not look back, we must not waiver, and above all, we must not fall into the false comfort of believing that this is somebody else’s fight. We are all responsible, we are all obligated.
I congratulate you on the occasion of this seminar. I hope that all who participate here today will emerge from this gathering with a renewed determination and commitment to save our beloved country from the ravages of public corruption.
Also speaking, Auwal Musa, Executive Director of Civil Society Organizations, said it was expedient that the next phase of government’s anti-corruption programme be anchored on clear anti-corruption strategy, active support and involvement of citizens groups and the legislature while the fight must prioritize prevention and sanction to win back public support.
He stressed that there was the need to strengthen anti-corruption institutions, provide adequate protection and encouragement for whistle-blowers, and intensify media and public consciousness in demanding transparency and accountability in governance.
“The role of the National Assembly is clearly defined in the Nigeria constitution; making laws for the well-being and development of the people and our democracy, oversighting the Executive arm, among other things. The biggest threat to these roles is first “the attitude of the lawmakers’ followed by the general apathy and distrust for this important arm of government,” Musa said.
Oladayo Olaide, Representative of the McArthur Foundation urged the House of Representatives and the National Assembly generally to pay more attention to its oversight function so as to measure the performance of Ministries, Departments and Agencies with regards to budgetary votes so as to identify cases of corruption.
Yuletide: Reps Press Corps Visits Abuja Children’s Home, Presents Items
By Ubong Ukpong, Abuja
The House of Representatives Press Corps, at the Weekend, visited the Abuja Children’s Home located at Karu, in the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), with various items showered on the children, in the spirit of the Yuletide.
The journalists who embarked on the humanitarian gestures, presented various items including bags of rice, cartons of noodles, pasta and clothing among other things.
The Corps also made a cash donation for the treatment of a numerological ailment of one of the children in the home.
Chairman of the Corps, Comrade Grace Ike, who led members to make the donation said the gesture was in the spirit of Christmas, which is to show love through sharing of gifts.
She said, “We are members of the House of Representatives Press Corps. You can call us parliamentary reporters and we feel it is the right thing to extend our hands of fellowship to people.It is Christmas and we all know Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
“A lot of people would say journalists, what are we doing here? Our own is to inform, educate, enlighten and let the people know what is happening.
“We are the conscience of the society and that is why we are here. So we have our token to present. Do not look at the quantity of what we are giving. Look at the intention behind what we are doing. Like I would always say, it is good to give and the greatest of it all is love and love simply means affection.
The Administrator of the Home, Musa Danjuma Yakubu, expressed gratitude for the gesture, just as he called on well-meaning individuals and organizations to emulate the gesture.
He highlighted the challenges of the Home including feeding, operational vehicles, dilapidated structures, and perimeter fencing, among others.
“We appreciate your coming and the most important thing is that it is not as little as you see. We appreciate the effort of your people. There is nothing that is too small for us. Every other thing, whether food, school fees and all those things we appreciate and it is people like you among other people who come to help with one thing other the other.
“For the school, we have students that are even in the university and one graduated and is already working. Another is on the four hundred level and one would be going to the university in Nasarawa State University by February next year if there is life. So we appreciate your coming.
“As for feeding, well, what you have brought we would use judiciously but the challenges are surplus. Security wise just like somebody said he was here ten years ago, the perimeter fencing is breaking down. And we have a building that is almost sinking, the girls’ hostel. It was donated by one organization but I think there is a problem with the water system. I know water must find its level so it is sinking.
“We are also hoping that with time somebody would take up the responsibility of renovating them. And if you look a few metres away, it was recently commissioned on the 16th of December 2022, a skills acquisition centre donated by the NDIC (Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC). Part of it has been completed. We want to equip it.
“We have some tailors among our children. Some do shoemaking. The one I am wearing was done by one of our children in this home. He does it once in a while he is still in secondary school. We have a lady that just graduated from hairdressing.
“Other challenges are if you look at our vehicles they are almost obsolete. We do not even have utility vehicles. We have buses. One is grounded and another is working but just halfway it is down. So we need vehicles.
“Also the hostel, well the hostels are in order. The female hostel is there. The male hostel is there and we have nannies that take care of them. They do shifts and once a week, they go. We have a dining hall where they gather to eat. Some of the children go to secondary school.
“We have a physically challenged that attends school in Kuje. So she goes there and we look for a nanny that would take care of her. And one goes to a secondary school nearby. But the primary school is just within the home.
“So these are basic things that we have. And we have a hall. Sometimes we rent it out for activities. The only thing is that we do not allow alcohol here so that it does not have a negative effect on our children.”
FG Releases Twitter Negotiation Proof after Suspension
By Loveth Eze, Abuja
The Federal Government has refuted the allegation by a former Twitter staff that the micro-blogging site did not negotiate with the Government in the wake of its suspension.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, yesterday in Abuja who discredited the claim also released to the media, the proof of the negotiations with the government.
It would be recalled that on June 4, 2021, Twitter operations were suspended in the country following the micro-blogging site’s alleged persistent use of activities that were capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Contrary to the claim by the former Twitter worker, the minister said there was a long-drawn negotiation between Nigeria and Twitter at the instance of the latter, following the suspension of the platform.
“Seven days after the suspension, precisely on June 11th, 2021, we received a letter, addressed to President Buhari, from Twitter’s Vice President in charge of Public Policy, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Sinead McSweeney, seeking to meet with us on the Twitter suspension.
“That letter kick-started a number of activities that culminated in the extensive negotiation,” he said.
The minister said after receiving the letter, the federal government announced its team to discuss with Twitter.
Mohammed said he chaired the team which comprised the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Ministers of Communications and Digital Economy and Foreign Affairs.
He said other members of the team were the Minister of Works and Housing, Minister of State for Labour and Employment and the Director-General, National Intelligence Agency.
Mohammed said following the composition of the team, they received another letter from a group, Albright Stonebridge Group, which was working at the behest of Twitter.
Other members of Twitter team, according to the minister included, Karen White, Senior Director, Public Policy, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa; Ronan Costello, Senior Public Policy Manager, Africa, Europe, Middle East;
Also on the Twitter team were Emmanuel Lubanzadio, Head of Public Policy, Sub-Saharan Africa; Jim Baker, Deputy General Counsel, and Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Senior Adviser, Albright Stonebridge Group.
“The back-and-forth negotiations culminated in a series of agreements that paved the way for the lifting of the Twitter suspension in January this year.
“Gentlemen, with the facts that we have supplied, you can now see that the fellow who reportedly alleged that Twitter did not negotiate with Nigeria is either being economical with the truth or didn’t even understand the workings of the company where he worked,” he said.
The minister said he released the proofs following requests from the media seeking a response to the allegation by the former Twitter worker and to set the records straight.
Lawmakers Appraise 9th Assembly, Laud Journalists For Watchdog Role
By Ubong Ukpong, Abuja
Some Members of the House of Representatives over the weekend gave thumbs up to to leadership and members of the 9tg House for the unique way in which they conducted their affairs and the successes recorded as a result.
The lawmakers who are chairmen of very key committees of the House were unanimous in their verdict regarding the performance of the 9th Assembly, crediting same the operational style of the leadership and the watchdog role of the media.
This was at the end of year get together and award ceremony organized by the House of Representatives Press Corps over the weekend in Abuja.
Chairman, House of Committee on Power, Hon. Magaji Da’u Aliyu, who was honoured with an award of the Most Impactful Power Committee Chairman of the House’ attributed the uniqueness and the success of the 9th Assembly to the leadership quality and style of the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila.
He expressed delight at the milestone achieved by the 9th House, adding that not for the leadership quality and style of the speaker, the height attained by the House wouldn’t have been possible.
“He said, “I am proud of the 9th National Assembly. I have been around for sometime but the 9th Assembly we think we did a lot of things differently. We worked together. We worked very hard and were able to achieve our set out targets. All these goes to the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, for the kind of leadership he has offered to us.
This 9th Assembly is scandal free and we also wish to commend ourselves for that. I also wish to commend the Press Corps for keeping us on our toes trying to make us do the correct things because if you know that there are people watching you, that would make you do the right thing. we would continue to work together,” he said.
The Lawmaker also expressed regrets over the manner in which journalists are treated in Nigeria despite the importance of the work done by journalists.
He said everything possible must be done to ensure that journalists are happy and they are doing their work well.
He lauded the Press Corps for always keeping the lawmakers on their toes and always ensuring that the right things are done both at plenary and committee level.
Spokesman of the House, Hon Benjamin Kalu, who also received an award as the Most Outstanding Spokesman of the House, lauded the Press Corps for its effort in strengthening democracy.
He said the Corps has given stability to the image of the National Assembly.
He also said journalists were not getting what they deserved and more should be done to take care of them.
“I appreciate the Press Corps for the stability they have given to the image of the National Assembly. It has not been like this before. Rancour free, acrimony free. There is this integrity in the mind of Nigerians about the NASS. The confidence level has gotten from where it was to where it is at the moment not because of only what we did but also because of how you showcased what we are doing to the Nigerian people. People are beginning to understand that this fulcrum of democracy is actually playing a vital role in the advancement for our democracy.
“We have been believers of participatory democracy, where we bring the people to the centre stage and what my committee has done is to increase the level of interaction and engagement between the people and the parliament. We make ourselves available and accessable to journalists.
“We must attend to your call and that has placed us on our toes to be one step ahead. So that we would not fail in your expectation in making sure we are resourceful with the right information that would guide your publications to enable people understand better, to make Nigerians understand our story from the horse’s mouth.
“These and more other sectoral engagements we have carried out in the country shows that the parliament wants to harvest the opinion of the people so as to formulate our policies and laws in line with the desires of the people, based on the needs analysis gotten from the collective opinion of Nigerians. You have helped us achieve that by making sure you don’t tell the stories the way they are not. You have decided to make sure that at all times what you presented to the public was nothing but the truth and I commend you,” Kalu said.
He again restated that bugdet of the National Assembly was too small for it to run efficiently.
His words: “The budget of the National Assembly is low. We cannot function as expected by the mandate of the constitution relying on that budget. People can criticize it the way they want. I have said it from the day one I came to the National Assembly, you cannot get the efficiency that we want to drive the legislature by depending on the current budget as it is. I am hoping that we would push it forward to accommodate other responsibilities of ours.”
Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Hon Muktar Aliyu Betara, said the 9th National Assembly’s successes would not have been possible without the efforts of the Press.
Aliyu, who received an award of Excellence as the Champion of Legislative Reform, was represented by Hon Mohammed Kabiru.
Expressing appreciation for the award, he said, “Journalists are considered to be judges of any society. They see it from an eagle eye perspective and give good reportage for people to understand what is going on in the society.
“I thank you for the award and commend you for a good job you have done. The 9th Assembly’s success that have been recorded would not have been possible without the Press Corps,” he said.
Also the Chairman, House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Hon Sha’aban Ibrahim Sharada urged journalists not to compromise in their profession.
Sharada, a governorship candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) for Kano State in the 2023 election also received an award as the Most Impactful Committee Chairman on Intelligence Matters, just as he recalled his journey through the journalism profession before joining politics.
He said: “I feel honoured by this award. Journalism is a profession I have always loved to practice. Having acquired my first degree, I practised for more than 11 years before politics. My experience in journalism has greatly impacted my life and afforded me the ability to stand out in every field I find myself. My advice to journalists is to cherish and adore the profession and put it above other consideration.”
Director General/Chief Executive of Teen Ambassadors Foundation, Dr Paul Adiwu, also reiterated the commitment of the foundation towards empowering the next generation of leaders with opportunities to connect with like- minded peers, trail blazers and influencers, develop global confidence and critical skills, and transform their visions for a better future through innovative actions.
He said this as he received an Award of Excellence in Outstanding Humanitarian Service by the Press Corps.
He said the Foundation is currently building a technology laboratory for Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education Training “which by the grace of God will be fully operational from the first quarter of 2023.”
The elated Awardee, While expressing gratitude to the Leadership of the House of Representatives Press Corps, dedicated the award to God Almighty, his Family and the Medical Outreach Team of Teen Ambassadors Foundation currently on Medical Outreach in Kaduna.
An award was also presented to the Hon Frederick Agbedi, as the Voice of the Niger Delta in the 9th Assembly.
Recipients amongst committee clerks include, Caroline Asan as the Most Committed Committee Clerk in Budgeting Process; Mallam Wali Shehu as the ‘Most Media Engaging Constitution Alteration Committee Clerk; Abdulsalam Olalekan as the ‘Most Successful PIB Committee Clerk in the House’; and Mathew Okuta as the ‘Most Media Conscious Clerk in War Against Corruption.’
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