Last Thursday, Mr. Idris Wase, the Deputy Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, publicly shouted down Rep Mark Terseer Gbillah, from presenting a petition on the forceful acquisition of land in his Benue Gwer east/Gwer west federal constituency by herdsmen.
Wase, who presided over plenary, rejected the petition from “Mutual Union of the Tiv in America,” saying Nigerians in the diaspora do not “really know” the situation in Nigeria and thus are not eligible to file petitions. Without listening to or reading the petition, Mr. Wase concluded that the petition lacked merit just by hearing its introduction. All attempts to convince the Deputy Speaker to allow the reading of the petition were frustrated.
In the most verbally aggressive words, Mr. Wase said, “If they are in America could they really be an interested party here? Do they really know what is exactly going on?
“I don’t want to make a blanket statement regarding those who are in diaspora.
“If this petition is coming from those who are within the country, I believe it has a loco standing. But those living in America, then coming to lodge complain.
“If there are Nigerians, they are Nigerians, but I don’t know if they have dual citizenship.
“Are they registered with Corporate Affairs? If they are Nigerians and living in Nigeria and bringing issues, I agree. But somebody in America who is far away from this country.
“I am not convinced that somebody from America can come here and then delaying issues in Nigeria. I am not convinced.”
To start with, section 40 of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution provides for freedom of association. Section 39 of the same Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Section 4 of the Constitution gives the National Assembly powers to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the country. This “country” (Nigeria) according to Section 2 of the Constitution is one indivisible, indissoluble and sovereign entity. No part of it, according to Section 1 shall be taken illegally.
Years of persistent herdsmen attacks in Central Nigeria have led to an estimated 60,000 deaths. More than 50 villages have been sacked in each of the affected States with many of them forcefully occupied by the attackers. The power of the Constitution to secure lives of citizens and prevent unauthorized persons from taking any part of the country illegally, was what the Tiv community in America sought to invoke. But Mr. Wase, without a thought quashed the petition.
Mutual Union of the Tiv in America is an affiliate of Mzough U Tiv (MUT), a local association of the Tiv tribesmen in Nigeria, which is registered with the CAC. This was stated in the opening paragraph of the quashed petition, which the Deputy Speaker out of what seemed to be a display of bias did not allow to be heard.
He also claimed Nigerians overseas have no right to complain on things happening in the country. But there are ongoing debates on the creation of polling units for citizens to vote from their overseas bases. Many of them fly home during elections to vote. During election campaigns, politicians hold consultations with them. This is because of their electoral value, and their stake in the nation.
The Federal Government of Nigeria, in July 2017 signed the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) Establishment Bill into law and in 2019, declared July 25 of every year as National Diaspora Day. The Nigerian House of Reps itself has a Committee on Diaspora Affairs. But the Deputy Speaker feels that Nigerians outside have no rights to comment on issues in the country.
Himself, Mr. Wase attended an executive course in Strategic Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, United states in 2016 while serving as Rep member. Like him, many Nigerians are overseas studying, with some running businesses on temporary Visa. If being overseas strips one of their right to comment or be concerned about issues in Nigeria, Maje ought to have resigned as Rep member before going for his course.
This is the same group that last year sent about $25 billion into the country as donations and welfare to family members and communities, increasing cash flow and reducing government’s burdens. These remittances by Nigerians in the diaspora was more than 80 per cent of the country’s annual budget and formed about six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Officials said. But Mr. Wase rejected the argument of his colleague that the petitioners have families in Nigeria who are currently forced to stay in IDP camps. Does this not technically endorse land grab, making him a party to the crime? This is not the first time the lawmaker is showing these types of sentiments at a time crucial action is needed to save suffering Nigerians from death in line with their rights to life as enshrined in the Constitution.
In June 2018, while the whole world was mourning the murder of over 200 farmers in Plateau State, Mr. Wase without condemning the killers stood on the floor of the House to accuse the immediate past Governor of the State, Jonah Jang of training terrorists in Israel. This was clearly to crucify Jang for introducing a State owned neighborhood watch, whose first set of employees trained in Israel. Wase claimed to have documents to prove his claims but never availed them despite being promised security cover. One expects that the lawmaker would rise above his sentiments having been elected Deputy Speaker, a position of responsibility and national concern. His election to that office was celebrated in Plateau beyond sentiments. But he does not seem to overcome the emotion.
Maje spent years in Activism before he was appointed as Executive Secretary, Plateau State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board from 2005-2006, a position that ought to have shaped his love for peace and general human welfare. Shortly after that, he was elected as Member, Federal House of Representatives, Wase Constituency, a position he has held to date, which ought to have shaped his understanding of governance and the need to eschew anything that resembles bias.
Today, there is increasing demand for military and humanitarian aid in the Northeast and Northwest regions following attacks by Herdsmen. As one-time Chairman House Committee on Federal Character, who fought to ensure Justice, Equity and Fairness as claimed by his website, Wase should have considered the plights of the people mentioned in the petition.
Having served in as Governing Board member of the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Regional Representative for West Africa to serve on the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) International and currently Deputy Speaker, Mr. Wase has a duty to save himself from the negative image he is currently attracting for himself.
He could begin by reintroducing the quashed petition and if possible, apologizing publicly for his biased reaction to it the last time. This is not for anyone to gain but to redefine him as a credible, patriotic, fair and caring leader. His ambition cannot end in the House of Reps. Everyone dreams to grow. Amending his ways and publicly showing his change of attitude toward suffering people from religions and tribes other than his might be his ticket to securing bigger responsibilities later.