The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Idris Wase, said his decision to prevent a member of the House, Mark Gbilah, from laying a petition last Thursday “was strictly based on rules of parliamentary procedures”.
The deputy speaker disclosed this in a statement by his media aide, Umar Puma, on Monday.
Mr Wase was reacting to a trending video, showing him preventing Mr Gbilah from laying a petition while he (Wase) was presiding during plenary session.
Mr Gbillah, who represents Gwer East-Gwer West constituency of Benue State, was presenting a petition by a socio-cultural association based in the United States but was disallowed from doing so by the deputy speaker.
The lawmaker explained the synopsis of the petition that some indigenes of his state had been sacked from their ancestral lands.
The video had since been trending with many Nigerians criticising the deputy speaker for not allowing Nigerians in diaspora to air their views.
But Mr Wase said the House could not grant him the leave to present the petition “because the petitioners were faceless and based outside the shores of Nigeria”.
Explaining his action further on Monday, the deputy speaker alleged that the reports in circulation had been “doctored, slanted and bent to give political and ethnic coloration to an event that was otherwise strictly based on parliamentary procedures”.
He said he prevented the lawmaker from presenting the petition “based on the identity(ies) of the petitioners and not based on the fact that they are based outside Nigeria.
“Whilst it would have been unnecessary to respond to such a show of clear mischief by mischief-makers with malicious intents, it has, however, become imperative to clear the air on the matter in order to educate the ignorant and reassure the enlightened,” Mr Wase said.
“To set the records straight, let it be categorically stated that the crux of the encounter between the Deputy Speaker, presiding as Speaker, and Honourable Mark Gbillah was on the LEGAL IDENTITY (and flowing from that, the LOCUS) of the Petitioners and not on the whether Nigerians in diaspora have a right to petition the House or not.
“The House of Representatives belongs to all Nigerians and can be accessed by all Nigerians wherever they may reside. However, like other arms of Government, (such as Courts of Law), Petitioners must follow laid down rules and procedures in presenting their petitions to the House, otherwise there would be lawlessness, disorder and chaos.”
He explained that as a rule, every petition must be presented by a sponsor on behalf of an identifiable petitioner who can either be an individual/groups of individuals or registered corporate entity.
He said, “In the current incident, the Sponsor of the Petition read the Petitioners as: ASSOCIATION OF TIVS RESIDENT IN THE UNITED STATES. For any experienced Parliamentarian, this very coinage raises a lot of technical questions. Are the Petitioners represented here in Nigeria via a Nigerian Office or a Legal Practitioner or are they totally absent from the scene? Are they registered as an Association with the Corporate Affairs Commission? If they are absent and a hearing were to be organised, who would the members of the Committee on Public Petition be addressing, questioning or interrogating? Would the Petitioners be able to give first hand witness testimony as to the issues raised in their petition?
“These and other technical complications were what the Deputy Speaker tried to interrogate, to which sufficient answers were not provided thus stalling the presentation of the Petition.”
He said he premised his action on Order 8, Rule 3, para. 5 (a)-(f) of the House rules which says, “Every petition must be signed by at least one person, followed by the addresses of the persons signing and a corporation should sign in a petition with its Common Seal.”
He said as a fourth term member of the lower legislative chamber and an old member of the committee on public petitions, he did nothing but bring to bear his experience in guiding the sponsor of the petition on the proper procedure to adopt in presenting the said petition.
“Note that the House has over the years entertained petitions from Nigerians in diaspora. However, those petitions were properly presented before the House without any ambiguity as to the identity of the petitioners or as to their locus and availability to speak to the issues raised in such Petitions,” he said.
He restated the commitment of the 9th House to continue “to promote freedom of speech and associations as well as provide platforms for all Nigerians irrespective of their religions or tribes or whether resident in Nigeria or in diaspora; while also upholding the sacred principles, rules and procedures of parliamentary democracy”.