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Wase denies saying Nigerians in Diaspora have no right to file petitions at home

THE Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Idris Wase, has denied  saying Nigerians in the Diaspora have no right sending petitions to the House on issues happening in Nigeria.

In a statement issued yesterday to deny making the earlier statement, Wase said he is not in doubt of the eligibility of Nigerians abroad to file petitions, but was only concerned about the legal identity of the group in question.

Wase, representing Wase Federal Constituency in Plateau State, had said Nigerians in the Diaspora have no right to file a petition on issues at home.

He made the statement on the floor of the House while presiding over a plenary session, and shocked many Nigerians when a video clip of the session went viral.

He said this when a lawmaker, Mark Gbillah, representing Gwer East-Gwer West constituency of Benue State, attempted to submit a petition filed by Mzough U Tiv Amerika on insecurity in Benue, Nasarawa, and Taraba.

Gbillah, a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, had explained that he was submitting the petition on behalf of MUTA because indigenes of the affected states had been sacked from their ancestral lands.

Before he could speak further, however, Wase, who is of the ruling All Progressives Congress, said, “Honourable Gbillah, did you say Tivs in America? What do they know about Nigeria? What is their business? They can’t sit in their comfort zones and know what is happening in Nigeria.”

The Deputy Speaker argued that Nigerians abroad have no rights to file a petition on the crisis, stating that it would be understandable “if this petition is coming from those who are within the country.”

In response, Gbillah argued that Nigerians abroad should be able to file complaints because they have family members residing in the state.

Wase quickly countered by asking if MUTA was duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

But Gbillah responded by saying Section 40 of the constitution does not stop citizens from freedom of association.

Gbillah argued that Nigeria had been pursuing a policy of inclusiveness for its citizens in the Diaspora, an aim that would easily be defeated if the same category of Nigerians cannot be allowed to speak on raging matters of national concern.

“I’ll refer you to the functions of the committee on Diaspora, if you go through that, it is nothing relevant to what you’re now presenting, I’m not convinced that we have to take that petition,” Wase said.

His comments had generated widespread criticisms with many accusing him of ignoring  the plight of the displaced persons

But reacting to the development through a statement titled, ‘ My argument was about legality of petitioners’ signed by his Press Secretary, Umar Puma, Wase said his contention was on the “legality of the petitioners and not on whether Nigerians in the diaspora have a right to petition the house or not”.

He 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 Honorable Mark Gbillah was on the LEGAL IDENTITY (and flowing from that, the LOCUS) of the Petitioners and not on the whether Nigerians in the diaspora have a right to petition the House or not,” the statement read.

“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.

“Note 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.

“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 organized, 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.”

Wase added that while the house has in the past entertained petitions, those submitted 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.”

“The Deputy Speaker reiterates the commitment of the 9th House of Representatives 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 the diaspora; while also upholding the sacred principles, rules and procedures of parliamentary,” the statement added.

Though he did not mention this in his statement, the reaction from the deputy speaker may have been prompted, apart from the deluge of negative reactions that his statement attracted from the public, by the protest letter written by the community of Nigerians in Diaspora to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.

The community  asked Wase to retract his statement on Nigerians in the Diaspora and tender unconditional apology, among other demands, within fourteen days of receiving the letter.

The community said failure to do so within fourteen days of receiving the letter, may lead to withholding, but not limited to, home remittances.

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