Many Nigerians have expressed outrage at the decision of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila to celebrate his mother’s birthday in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Nigerians took to social media to express their outrage after the speaker’s aide confirmed the party with an activist saying such actions make citizens lose trust in their government.
Lanre Lasisi, Mr Gbajabiamila’s spokesperson, said in a statement Tuesday that the speaker’s mother, Lateefat Gbajabiamila, on Monday celebrated her 90th birthday in Dubai.
Mr Lasisi said this in response to a report by Sahara Reporters which accused his principal of using public funds to take 300 guests on a jamboree to Dubai.
While Mr Lasisi affirmed that the party truly held, he refuted the claim that the event fed on public funds.
“It was strictly for family members and a few childhood friends for which no public funds were appropriated or expended,” Mr Lasisi wrote in his statement. “Indeed not a single politician nor a legislator was present at the event.”
Mr Gbajabiamila is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress and has been a member of the green chamber since 2003.
He represents Surulere I Federal Constituency of Lagos State and has held key principal offices in the House. He was the minority leader in the 7th assembly, the majority leader in 8th assembly and now speaker in the 9th assembly.
The public outrage he has got since the report was out that he celebrated his mother’s birthday on March 2 in Dubai has been premised on the privileges he has had as a representative for 17 years on.
In 2018, he got similar public bashing, when he, apart from a one-day lavish party, gifted his wife, Salamatu Gbajabiamila, a Mercedes G-Wagon, reportedly priced at $300,000, with a number plate customised with the fond word “ASSURANCE” for her 50th birthday.
Suspicion was rife then that the speaker could be living beyond his legal means. This is because in 2017, for instance, the only time the spending of the National Assembly has been made public since 2012, members of the lower house earned an annual pay of $42,000 (approximately ₦13 million).
Olanrewaju Suraj, Chairman, Civil Society Network Against Corruption, said such an action makes the public lose their trust in the government, especially in a country sitting atop the poverty log in world.
Also, being a House member since 2003 “without any other clear stream of income,” Mr Suraj believes the speaker’s Dubai expedition is another “show of how lucrative public offices are, with Nigerians being at the receiving end.”
Call for probe
Coming at a time when members of the House of Representatives are welcoming batches of exotic cars for themselves, the speaker’s show of opulence deserves to be probed, Mr Suraj told PREMIUM TIMES.
The anti-corruption advocate called for an investigation into the House Speaker’s spending spree.
He said as a top official, Nigerians deserve to know what Mr Gbajabiamila has acquired over the period he has had access to their resources.
“You have insurgents killing citizens everyday, you have IDPs, then you have this sort of display of opulence? The world would be laughing at us,” Mr Suraj noted.
Some Nigerians chided the speaker in the comment section of the his rebuttal on Facebook, posted by his spokesperson, Mr Lasisi.
They questioned why he as the number four citizen did not lead by example by “pumping” money into an already booming economy like Dubai’s at the expense of Nigeria’s.
“Our public office holders too should not be unnecessarily stirring the hornet’s nest,” Isiaka Wakeel, a journalist commented. “You confirmed here that the speaker took people to Dubai for his mother’s birthday. That alone is enough to incur public anger.”
Another Nigerian, Malachi Opeyemi, Monday, in an obvious response to Mr Lasisi’s denial of having a politician on board the trip, noted that “someone from ward G an (executive) member was selected for the trip so it’s still a political matter.”
Similarly, Joe Igbokwe, APC Lagos spokesperson, was met with similar criticism,when he posted the speaker’s statement on his Facebook wall.
Although some were indifferent about the event, majority of the commentators berated the speaker’s choice of Dubai above Nigeria for the birthday.
“Let’s even assume it is (from) private fund, is there nowhere in Nigeria the party can hold?” Ekezeh Ishioma Sabastine, a Facebook user, asked. “How many political leaders from Dubai or other countries come to Nigeria for birthday bash. Nigeria leaders must lead by example and practice what they preach.”
Biodun Adeniran, another user, said Nigeria’s progress and development is tied to how public officials respect the trust placed in him. “Nobody will query a private person for such frivolities, but it’s indecent of a public office holder who promised us a change.”
Other Nigerians took to their Twitter to pour out their minds. Below are some of their comments:
Waww.. He had to celebrate it in Dubai?? It's not good for optics even if he sponsored the trip personally.. He is not longer a private person… he is the number 4th person in the country.
— Erickson (@Ericodong3) March 3, 2020
This action can’t be defended anywhere my broda. You guys have just created wrong perception for the Speaker with that action
— Morgan Omodu (@adungbe) March 3, 2020
Gbajabiamila, na person name be this ?
If na our money him use, God Co punish am and him family mtcheew
— mayor of Raffia_city👑 (@UkangaC) March 3, 2020
Sensible people knew it was a lie. This was a private affair and we politicians, no matter how close we are to the speaker stayed back at home. The one for the public was held in Lagos last week which we all attended. https://t.co/aDAOZOp9Ur
— Oloye Akin Alabi (@akinalabi) March 3, 2020
So he can’t travel to Dubai and chill anymore , why are we so partisan in everything ehn . There’s no crime in traveling out and giving your mom a beautiful birthday celebration!!
— Dèmòlàá (@de_mola100) March 3, 2020
If the story is not true…kindly sue them. If not…then shut the hell up and own your misappropriation jejely. You people keep stealing money with reckless abandon and expect the whole country to take it hook line and sinker. Thank @SaharaReporters for this…evil leaders.
— Ceasar (@keljykz2) March 3, 2020
Truly, there's no crime in spoiling your loved ones and taking them on Vacations. But it becomes a crime when it's a new habit, especially when you just became the Speaker of the National Assembly and the vacation was sponsored with public funds. Its also a moral issue.
— Nwoke Alexander Jr. (@alex2j2) March 3, 2020
This story broke like 48hrs ago on @SaharaReporters and you are just responding with this terse and ridiculous press release? The allegations made by SR against @femigbaja are grave and bothers on corruption. If it is a false allegation, why are you guys not demanding retraction?
— Obansa P. S (@Piusobansa) March 3, 2020