Reps silent on cost of chamber’s electronic system

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, on Friday, inspected the new facilities installed in the chamber to reconfigure the system from analogue to digital.

Gbajabiamila, who was guided by his aides to test the gadgets, was accompanied by the Chairman, House Committee on Services, Wale Raji; Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu; and the Clerk to the House, Rufus Giwa, among others.

The Speaker and the House’ spokesman, however, kept mum on the cost of the project. Both of them separately claimed it was installed by a Nigerian firm for free.

The House chamber would now become digital as the National Assembly resumes plenary on Tuesday, as several electronic gadgets had been installed in the chamber to aid legislative proceedings.

Though there are 360 members of the House, our correspondent observed that the monitors attached to each seat were numbered serially, with the last seat being 371.

Giwa and the acting Deputy Clerk, Yahaya Danzaria, had the devices attached to their seats. They were also attached to each of the two seats beside the clerks, where presiding officers sit during Committee of the Whole.

The Speaker now has two screens, one like the regular ones installed on lawmakers’ seats and the other being the control screen.

After the assessment, Gbajabiamila said, “You can see what is going on. The chamber has been upgraded to perhaps the most modern technology that exists in the world today. What we had here prior to this was perhaps the most obsolete system for any legislative house, to the extent that the spare parts are not even available for sale anymore.”

Gbajabiamila also stated that members would be signing in electronically, which would prevent fraudulent signatures.

He added, “Another feature is that when you have foreign guests who do not speak English, which is our lingua franca, we have the capacity on each unit (for the guests) to plug in and the system can translate automatically to whatever language the foreign guests speak, so they can follow discussions on the floor.”

Gbajabiamila noted that the installations had been on for two months, since the National Assembly went on break in July.

Meanwhile, Kalu allayed the fears allegedly expressed by some members on the electronic system.

He said, “Beyond that, the team has done a good job by picking some members of the clerk’s workforce and the sergeants-at-arms to groom them on how to use the system. So, if you are working and you have issues, you just raise your hand and a sergeant-at-arms will come to guide you.”

Kalu, while briefing journalists after the tour, also noted that it would now be known “who attended plenary and who didn’t.” He added that the ‘paperless’ system will cut costs.

He said, “We are going to have a session on resumption where every member will sit with those who have installed this system to learn. It is very simple. If you can use your phone, you can use that technology. It is clear, it is not complicated; it is very user friendly. I understand what you are saying, that some people are scared when they see a computer. We are going to make sure that we remove that phobia by creating sessions – not one. Periodically, we will interact with members to be able to know.

“Beyond that, the team has done a good job by picking some members of the clerk’s workforce and the sergeants-at-arms to groom them on how to use the system. So, if you are working and you have issues, you just raise your hand and a sergeant-at-arms will come and guide you. So, it is going to very tidy and simple.”

While answering another question on the cost of the project, Kalu echoed what the Speaker said earlier.

He partly said, “If you listen to the Speaker very well when he was speaking, he mentioned the name of a good Nigerian who decided to partner with us and deliver this as his Corporate Social Responsibility; the CSR of his company. He is going to be invited to the House and announced to Nigerians, and celebrated for what he did for nation building.

“A good Nigerian out there saw it as a need and believed that we can deliver the best as other parliaments in the world. And it was shameful for somebody like him to have a parliament in Nigeria that is still operating in the old traditional, not-so-productive manner. E-parliament is the best all over and he considered it as their CSR and delivered it to the House.”

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