I’d like to thank you Mr. Speaker for yielding to me the floor on this very auspicious day to deliver what is undoubtedly my last speech on the floor of this hollowed chambers; a place that has become my home for the past 12 years. I feel a deep sense of loss not because today I join the league that makes up the bleak statistics of unemployed Nigerians under the age of 50 but because I am walking away from relationships I’ve built over the last 12 years that have woven into making me the person that I am today.
I can’t speak about today or the future without looking at the past and the past is one that was built up by a lot of people. I remember very vividly coming in here, making friends with people like Hon. Dogara, Hon. Chuchu, Ofor Chukwuegbo. At the time, I doubt if any of us would have believed that Dogara today would be SPEAKER Dogara and number 4 citizen of our great country. I found this place to be a place of enormous possibilities and yet walking in, it was so hallowed in a hollow sort of way and it sought to swallow me up.
I must say that I was scared, I was unsure and of course I came in here not knowing what to expect and as they say “The only thing that prepares you for the job of a legislator is the Legislature”. I learnt that lesson first hand.
I’ll never forget looking in awe at Legislators such as Hon. Halims Agoda; walking into the chambers with his huge pile of books and arrange them on the front row and belt out facts in a way that seems that he was a Master; he was indeed a Master. I remember sitting down in my seat, looking at him and saying one day, I’ll seat in that seat and one day, I may try to be as good as him.
Another person who I remember vividly; who in spite of what his (political) fortunes have become, was another huge influence on me; Hon. Farook Lawan. Farook Lawan would walk into the chambers in his oversized “babariga” and in his small voice would stop by my seat in his small voice and say almost like a father to a child and say “How’re you doing today”? and I just thought they were the masters and indeed they were the Masters of the legislature, they owned the floor and they did things in ways that could only inspire confidence.
So when I hear my colleagues speak to the fact that if I inspire them, it fills me with warmth and it means that the baton that was handed over to me by my legislative forebears didn’t die with me. I hope I passed it on to younger legislators. One of the greatest things that happened to me was the day that Hon. Halims Agoda who had left the House at the time called me and he said “Nnenna, I watched you on Television, and I’m very proud of you”. For me, that was the day that I became a legislator.
Hon. Femi Gbaja; my friend and brother, a relationship that was forged even before I came into the House owned the opposition bench and almost made it fashionable being in the opposition. I watched him take on the government of the day and admired the freedom he had to criticize some policies that even I found obnoxious but was constrained because of my affiliation. I almost envied him until the day when I got the opportunity to be in his shoes and I hope I did a good job in the opposition.
Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal my big brother showed me care and love and took charge of my legislative life as of duty. He appointed me to be the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee even when I protested vehemently that I had neither experience nor understanding of Foreign Policy. He said to me “My Sister, I know you can do it”. Even though he is not one who is generous with his praise, the minute he calls me and says “what trouble are you causing again”, I know he’s approved of something I’ve just done or said and I thank him for that along with his deputy; Hon. Emeka Ihedioha for giving me the opportunity to serve in the capacity that was to define the trajectory of my life.
As they say, “all good things must come to an end”, this is one of such things. But before I say that, I must acknowledge that my colleagues gave me the best curtains on this phase of my life. When they sought to celebrate my Honorary Causa 2 weeks ago, I wept shamelessly. My father would always say to me “Always hide your emotions except to show love” and I think that he was almost prophetic ‘cos the tears that I cried that day were tears to show the love that I felt for this place and for the people and the relationships I had forged.
There is a saying that goes “Death is at once the end of the body’s journey but the beginning of the soul’s journey and if people can find hope and transition is something as terrifying and final as death, then this is just the beginning. I must say that the National Assembly has given me the opportunity to touch lives in ways that I do not think was possible. I have Ndi Bende to thank for they gave me the opportunity to find a platform. In the words of Napoleon Bonapart, “Just give me a platform and I shall shine”. He further goes on to say “Until you spread your wings, you have no idea how far you can fly”
Ndi bende gave me the platform and I’m eternally grateful to them. I can’t thank them enough for taking a chance on me and putting that gamble in me. Not only did they give me the opportunity, they actually called me “Ada Bende” (the first daughter of Bende) and I think that that is the greatest respect and love that anybody can show and I am eternally grateful.
To God of course who directs my footstep in every way. I always say that my life is a blank canvass and that God who is an amazing painter would paint the colors he wants on that canvass and God painted the canvass in a way that the colors are vibrant, my (ploom) shine and HE continues to add iridescent. When I think that the colors are dimming on that canvass, God (just) puts another shiny color on that canvass, I just thank HIM very much.
John McCain; one of the greatest legislators in my opinion who ever lived said “he wanted to thank the American people for giving him the opportunity to serve something larger than himself; his Country”. I must borrow those words. I want to thank the Nigerian people for giving me the opportunity to find that I even had it in me to serve something larger than myself.
I’d take this opportunity to thank every Nigerian that I meet every day on the streets, in the market, in malls, at the airport who just walk up to me and say “I’m proud of you”. This job has given me the opportunity to receive prayers from people who I don’t know, women who just walk up and say the nicest kindest things, God bless you; God keep you and we just love you. Who would have thought that a legislator would feel like a rock star?
I know that the legislature is the most vilified arm of government. It is very stressful work. People make demands that are sometimes unrealistic, people say nasty things about the legislature and put you out there in the spotlight but it is things like this that make all the difference and make this job worthwhile. The ability to put a smile on people’s faces and reach inside of you and become a decent human being is one that is amazing and one of the feel good factors that we get from this job.
Richard Nixon said in his biography when he was narrating the “Yum kipur” wars, that when Goldyr Mayer called him, he said “…..And in that moment, I knew the reason I was called upon to be the President of the United States”. I was scared I probably won’t find the reason I was called to be a member of the House of Representatives but I have had several times when I thought “this is the moment; be it a child who was raped and you find justice, or a mother (widow) who is seeking money to pay for her child school fees and you do that, or be it a piece of legislation that brings back our country from the brink of destruction and interventions in our foreign policy direction that saved our country from embarrassment and upheld our position in the comity of Nations; be it helping a young adult who has lost his way and has taken to drugs and you just talk him through it because this place gives you the legitimacy to have that conversation in a way that makes you and “important” person in the society and you impact that life; those are the things that matter the most.
I’ve had so many of such times; be it when Christian pilgrims needed intervention or the Mu’Haram issue with the Muslim pilgrims; or when you give an old Muslim woman whose lifelong desire is to go to the Holy land and you create an opportunity for her to fulfil that dream; in those moment, I felt justified to be a Member of the House of Representatives, that I was worthy of the opportunity that God has given me and I can only have God to thank.
What would I like to see in the Legislature? I’d like a situation where Nigerians understand the legislature a bit better and recognize that it is the only arm of government that gives legitimacy to this Democracy; that the legislature is the bridge between government and the people and without the National Assembly standing as Canon-fodder for the people, Nigeria and other democracies like her may slide into fascism and tyranny. The National Assembly is the “Legitimizer” of our democracy.
I have a few regrets as well. There were certain bills; my legislative baby, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons Commission bill was one that I have rigorously pursued for 8 years and unfortunately was not signed into law and I’m hoping that the next Assembly will find it as important especially at this phase in our country’s dark history and push for that piece of legislation to be signed so that we can have a commission and mop up the over 100million illicit weapons that are presently in circulation in Nigeria.
Another legislation that I’d like to see signed into law is the Veterans bill and the Military trust fund bill. In my opinion, the men and women in uniform are our line of defense and they give us the opportunity to go to sleep every night. It may not be the best Military but you only get the military you pay for. Therefore I think it is time for us to fund our Military and also get a commission that takes care of the welfare of Veterans; those who have fought and bled for Nigeria.
I’d also like to see a gender friendly legislation that gives women some kind of leverage. We seek 35% but any kind of legislation that bridges the gap on women and create some kind of affirmative action for women to have a place at the table is another piece of legislation that I’d like to see pass.
To my colleagues that made it back to the House of Representatives, I want to congratulate you. I know that running an election is very daunting; if it wasn’t easy, I would be here again. I’d like to tell you that in spite of the fact that over 2/3 of you were freshmen in this 8th Assembly, you must continue to carry on the baton and pass on the torch. You must continue to train the new entrants so that they realize and understand that:
this institution battles for existence in the tri-party relationship between the Executive and the Judiciary
the independence of this institution is paramount and at all times it must be protected and upheld
that hope is the only ……… of a leader and as legislators, we must do everything to inspire hope in our constituents
I Chaired the Committee on Foreign Relations for 8years and I witnessed Nigeria’s foreign policy go from glorious days to days that have become almost inglorious and one thing I’d like to highlight is that a strong foreign policy is essential to Nigeria remaining relevant and free.
We must develop a global strategic approach that highlights cost and benefits; leveraging on our huge population and therefore large market to balance out economic deficit and trade imbalances.
Our domestic policy must be one that centers on human resource development so that what is fast becoming a disadvantage to us can be quickly turned around to our largest export; Skilled Human Export.
We must be reminded that foreign policy should be dynamic and must reflect realities. The days of big brother are almost coming to an end and while we will always hold our position in the Sub-region and maybe in the region, we must be minded that our primary interest is still the Nigerian people and what accrues to us by the relationship we forge.
We must befriend our friends most loyally, be reminded that while we seek deeper multilateralism, the strongest countries deepen bi-lateral relations; that while personal and parochial interest will always exist, our dwindling economic realities challenge the age long beliefs that might is right in foreign policy.
We must therefore think more strategically and formulate a foreign policy premised on balance, reciprocity, mutual respect developed by many, believed by more and driven by all; s foreign policy that has a more actionable synergy between our defence, migration, economic and climate change policy that will be driven by men and women of unapologetic patriotism, nationalism, intellect, ability and desire to improve self and country.
In my time in the National Assembly, I was honored with so many awards (I love and cherish all these awards) and for that I thank all the people who found me worthy of these awards. (Best this, best that) The one that strikes me the most is the one that was given to me by the staff of the Assembly, “Most Humble Member of Parliament. I want to thank them ‘cos that is the award that keeps me grounded and make me realize that indeed that no matter how high I soared, I was still human. it reminds me that while eloquence may be admired, being a wordsmith required, the one thing that truly matters is putting a smile on people’s faces, knowing their names and making them feel that no matter how lowly their job may appear, it is the most important job in the world.
Clerks of my Committee; Mr. Zakari (rtd), Mr. Muhammed Ali and their support staffs, (and of course) the civil servants who’ve been amazing to me, beginning with the clerk of the National Assembly, the clerk of House of Representatives; they’ve always given me preferential treatments. From Atiku, (former Atiku, he knows himself) to the sergeant at arms, the production unit; the heart and soul of the National Assembly, the guys in the Business and rules department, the Ladies in the Chambers, the press corps, my personal staffs and all of my colleagues, my sister Hon. Binta; the sweetest kindest most supportive woman I know; I couldn’t have asked for better.
I would want to mention Omale, I will miss you, I’m also grateful for all the “wahala” you gave me. I believe this is just a transition; I take you with my heart but I’m not going far away, I shall always be around.
Farewell has the sweetest sound of reluctance so I shall not say goodbye. It is from me a farewell.
Thank you very much.
Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje
Chairperson; House Committee on Foreign Relations