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Friday, January 29, 2016

THE NIGERIA-SAUDI ARABIA PARLIAMENTARY FRIENDSHIP GROUP




On Wednesday, 27th January 2016, His Excellency, Sheikh Fahad Abdullah Sefyan, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hosted a dinner at his residence for members of the House Committee on Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Parliamentary Friendship Group, from the National Assembly. I was also invited.




The Saudi Ambassador addressed his guests shortly before the dinner where he told them they honoured him by honouring his invitation to the dinner in his house. He thanked the Honourable Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, of the House of Representative, and his colleagues for the diligence they showed in bringing about the Friendship Group. The Ambassador reiterated the mutual benefit that this parliamentary liaison would elicit for both countries aside the cultural and commercial relations both countries already enjoy through bilateral relations.


As the Committee is planning a visit to Saudi Arabia, he urged the members of the House of Representatives, who are also members of the Friendship Group, to kindly defer their visit until after the visit of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, which will hold in about 3 weeks. The request was at the instance of the leader of the Saudi Parliamentarian Delegation to Nigeria. This change in timing, according to him, will afford members of the Green Chambers the opportunity to deliberate on some of the issues the President is likely to raise during his visit to the Kingdom.




On terrorism and violent extremism, Sheikh Fahad said Saudi Arabia is facing challenges on myriad fronts, exacerbated by external influences, hence the Kingdom’s intervention in Yemen with the purposes of restoring peace as well as establishing a legitimate government, and formation of the Islamic Military Alliance Against Terrorism (ISMAT). He made it clear that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia exerts great effort in the achievement of peace and stability in all parts of the planet. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia is not alone in the fight against terror, noting that Nigeria is also involved in its own battles against violent extremism. He stressed the importance of collaboration in routing terrorist, who kill and maim the innocent in the name of a religion that abhors and severely punishes the taking of life without a just cause.


Sheikh Fahad concluded by stating his desire of seeing more engaging visits between the authorities concerned in both countries in order to foster stronger bilateral relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.





In his response, Honourable Dr. Abdullahi Balarabe Salame, Chairman Committee on Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Parliamentary Friendship Group, traced the longstanding relations between the two countries, even before the latter assumed the appellation of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, more than two hundred years ago. He presented gift items to His Excellency, the Ambassador, including a book written by Sheikh Abdullahi Ibn Fodio, which (he), Honourable Dr Abdullahi annotated. 





It is in order, I suppose, to give a brief background of the Committee on Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Parliamentary Friendship Group.


On Monday 25th January 2016, the House of Representatives inaugurated a 9-man committee called the Committee on Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Parliamentary Friendship Group. The Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yusuf Sulaimon Lasun, who inaugurated the committee, said the idea to create the group came when a delegation from the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia, led by Prince Khalid Abdullahi, paid him a courtesy visit to commiserate with Nigeria over the death of many of its citizens in the last Hajj. After the visit, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, directed that the Committee be formed. The Deputy Speaker had the honour of inaugurating it.

The Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Parliamentary Friendship Group was created for stronger ties and cooperation between the two legislatures. The Friendship Group, chaired by Hon. Abdullahi Barabe Salame (APC, Sokoto), is to midwife the creation of a friendship interface and expand the diplomatic space through bilateral cooperation, as encapsulated by earlier discussions with the Shura Council. The Deputy Speaker, in his speech during the inauguration, informed the gathering that the Committee was a response to the sentiments of those who attended the first meeting with the Shura Council last year.

He hinted that the committee would help address several national challenges requiring bilateral cooperation and urged the members to be committed and show exemplary conduct. The Committee Chairman said the group would foster bilateral ties in trade and investments, parliamentary technical cooperation and exchange between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia as well as create a new alliance in religious and cultural sectors.



The Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia, also known as Majlis as-Shura or Shura Council, is the formal advisory body of Saudi Arabia. It has powers to propose laws to the King and cabinet, but enactment and enforcement is left to the King. It has 150 members. It is headed by a Speaker and their role is very similar to the role of the Nigerian House of Representatives. The current speaker is Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al ash-Sheikh, in line with a tradition that kept the post in that family. The Assembly is based in the Al Yamamah Palace, Riyadh.


The Saudi Consultative Assembly predates Nigeria. It started in 1924 when King Abdul Aziz arrived in Makkah. He made Shura a foundation of his government in order to fulfil the divine order by applying Shari’ah (Islamic Jurisprudence) and Shura as part of it. He intended to establish an Islamic Shura state applying Shariah as it is prescribed in the Qur'an and authentic Sunnah (deeds and teachings of Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him).

The Shura Council has witnessed a lot of changes over the years but the year 1927 is considered the actual founding date of Majlis Ash-Shura during the reign of King Abdul Aziz who inaugurated the council's first session on Sunday 17th July 1927.


During the reign of King Abdul Aziz, the Council was modernised to cope with the rapid developments the country has seen in recent years in all fields, and to keep pace with the demands and requirements of modern times. This started a new page in the long history of Shura in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. You can visit https://www.shura.gov.sa/wps/wcm/connect/ShuraEn/ to read more about the Council.


In January 2013, King Abdullah issued two royal decrees, granting women thirty seats on the council, and stating that women must always hold at least a fifth of the seats on the council. Women first joined the council in 2013, occupying thirty seats. With a 20 percent quota for women in the Shura Council, Saudi Arabia is 74th position in a list of 187 countries in terms of female representation in parliament. Notably, there is a higher percentage of women serving in the Saudi Arabian Shura council than in the U.S. Congress. This is in a country the West prefers to call 'oppressive'. The irony is somehow lost on them. Less than 10 per cent of Nigerian lawmakers are female, by the way.


Any lawful and useful collaboration like this is welcome. I would love to see the two countries learn from each other in areas of mutual benefit. My only fear is that some disgruntled elements may politicise this and call it an effort to Islamise Nigeria. I hope they will remember who requested the Committee to be formed and its actual aims. I hope we are growing beyond mere rhetoric.


Long Live Nigeria, Long Live the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!

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