REMARKS BY THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, REP. FEMI GBAJABIAMILA ON THE NATIONWIDE #ENDSARS PROTESTS AND THE RESPONSE OF THE HOUSE TO THE CALLS FOR WHOLESALE REFORMS OF THE NIGERIA POLICE FORCE (NPF). TUESDAY, 20TH OCTOBER 2020.
1. Good morning Honourable colleagues, thank you for being here this morning.
2. About two weeks ago, I spoke to this honourable House about the need for urgent, substantive, and wholesale reforms of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and an overhaul of our nation’s internal security and policing framework.
3.This honourable House debated the failures of policing that have caused our nation’s youth to take to the streets in their numbers, demanding that Government live up to our primary obligation to ensure the security and welfare of our people.
4.The nationwide protests that gave impetus to our deliberations that day have not abated. They have gotten more serious, with many reported instances of violence between state actors and protesters, between protesters and armed thugs who seek to hijack the passion and idealism of these protests for other nefarious purposes.
5.The Federal Government of Nigeria has acted to dissolve the Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS), whose gross abuses of power are the proximate cause of this present unrest. The Government has moved to set up, through the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a national judicial panel of inquiry, in addition to similar panels set up by the federating state governments.
6.The House of Representatives has committed to a programme of reforms. We resolved to collaborate with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in this effort and to ensure that draft legislation is ready for consideration within thirty days.
7. None of these actions have sufficed to convince the ever-growing numbers of protesters to withdraw from continued agitation. From Lagos to Awkuzu, from Port-Harcourt to Kano, Abuja and Enugu, the protests have continued relentlessly, with good cause. Whatever else may be driving this moment, our people expect more than commitments. They expect action, and we must deliver.
8.This House will live up to the commitments we have already made, whilst we continue to seek avenues to do better and achieve more. Even as we act to establish systems for police accountability to ensure that the abuses of the past never happen again, we must seek the full measure of justice for what came before.
9.We owe this to Tiyamu Kazeem and Tina Ezekwe, Tony Zitta and Anita Akapson, to Chijioke Iloanya and Jimoh Isiaq, Kolade Johnson, Modebayo Awosika and far too many others.
10. We owe it to the families they left behind, to those who even now do not know if their missing son, their long lost sister, their father, is buried somewhere in a shallow, unmarked grave, put there by those whose duty it was to protect them.
11. We owe this much to the young people who have such high hopes and lofty aspirations for this nation that they are willing to risk their lives, brave the sun and rain, through night and day, to demand that all of us, one nation under God, live up to the better angels of our nature, and be better than what we are now.
12. On Wednesday last week, the leadership of the House met with the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). This meeting was in furtherance of the House’ resolution to partner with the Association to develop legislation that implements a new framework for holding police officers accountable when they fail in the performance of their duties under the law.
13. Following from that meeting, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata constituted a Committee, led by the eminent Professor Deji Adekunle, SAN to work with the House of Representatives to develop a Bill for the House within the timeline we have pledged. The Committee has resumed its assignment. I thank Olumide Akpata and the leadership of the NBA for their support. I also thank Professor Adekunle, SAN and members of the Committee, all of whom volunteered for this assignment, for recognising the urgency of the moment and acting with dedication and in good conscience, in service of our beloved nation.
14.Two weeks from now, the House will receive and immediately begin to consider legislation that seeks to establish a system of independent, responsive accountability that:
a. Holds erring members of the Police Force to account for their conduct in the performance of their duties;
b. Imposes civil and criminal liability for violations of the law and the Police regulations;
c. Ensures that officers found who engage in unauthorised, unlawful use of force are expelled from office and subject to the full penalty of the law; and
d. Prohibits with severe penalties the practice of using illegal incarceration as a cudgel to extort law-abiding citizens of their hard-earned resources.
15. We will establish a system of citizen-led accountability for the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) because in the democracy we have set out to build, the police are not above the citizenry, they are servants of the people. The police are not above the law; they are its guardians.
16. As we endeavour to hold our nation’s police to higher standards of personal and professional conduct, we must also make sure that we provide for the welfare of the men and women to whom we assign such significant responsibilities in our collective interest. From minimum police recruitment requirements, through to training, everything must change, if we are to have a police force that meets our nation’s needs and upholds the law of the land with integrity and professionalism.
17. Honourable colleagues, independence for any nation is not a function of a singular declaration; it doesn’t happen one time. Freedom is earned through generations, over and over again, by the sacrifice of patriots who band together to achieve for themselves and leave to their descendants, the inheritance of a more perfect union.
18. Sixty years ago, our country gained its independence from the British who until then had charted our course and devised our fate. Twenty years ago, when we set off the shackles of the military dictatorship, to commit once more to this grand experiment in civil governance, we gained independence again.
19.Today, we are witnessing across Nigeria, a call for a fundamental rethinking of our nationhood. As we sit here in this hallowed chamber, a new independence movement is roiling our nation. A generation of young people, who came of age in the years of our democracy have looked upon what we have built and decided that we can do better.
20. We will do well to heed this call and what it portends for Nigeria. Let us take the opportunity of this moment to do the hard things, make the right choices and pursue those objectives that drive progress and put us in good stead for generations to come.
As Speaker of this House of Representatives, let me say now for the records to reflect, and in the expectation that I would be held to account:
• I will not sign off on a 2021 Budget that does not include adequate provisions to compensate those who have suffered violence and brutality at the hands of the police in Nigeria in the last two decades.
• I will not sign off on a budget that does not meet the reasonable demands of the ASUU, to which Government has already acceded. There is no better time to rethink the system of funding for higher education in Nigeria. The current system does a great disservice to our children and our country, and we must commit to changing it so that we can free our institutions of higher learning to be citadels where innovation thrives, and excellence is a given.
• With my colleagues in the House of Representatives, I will visit over the next week, some of the families of those who have lost loved ones to police brutality and when we come back, we will work together to honour the memory of those we have lost.
• The House of Representatives will pass an Electoral Reform Bill in time for the next general elections so that we may continue to improve the process of electing our political representatives at all levels.
• I will support the amendment of the constitution to ensure that the provisions on fundamental human rights have teeth, resource control is dealt with equitably and that the next generation of Nigerians does not inherit evident dysfunctions of our current system.
21.This is my commitment, and I ask the support of the House of Representatives for this and more. Let us through the grace of God and with humility work together to bring peace, security, justice and prosperity for all our nation’s people.
22.To the young people across Nigeria who have led these protests, whose call for change has brought about this historical moment, you are the midwives of national rebirth. You have moved a nation to action, and now you must join in doing the hard work of making real the vision of a more just, more prosperous, and more resilient nation.
23. We see your true cause. Please do not allow your righteous cause to be hijacked by those with base motives, who see in this moment an opportunity to pursue vendettas, to spread division, exploit the many existing fissures that exist in our society and bring our nation to its knees.
24.You have raised your voices and marched to demand a better Nigeria. From Abuja to Washington, to Calgary and London, your voices have been heard. Do not allow anybody to convince you that to withdraw from the streets now is to concede defeat.
25.This is the time to move your agitation from the chaos of the streets to the painstaking deliberations and strategic partnerships that birth policy and produce legislation. It is time to mobilise your voices in support of specific policy interventions that will deliver on our shared objectives of national renewal and a country that reflects the best of us. I thank you, your country thanks you, and history will be kind to you.
26. God bless you all, and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.