According to a highly placed source, the thugs came from Okene town in Kogi Central senatorial district and their nick names were given as Top Gel and Dragon. The source further said that ‘’the guy who took the mace is called Dragon while Top Gel was just part of the squad.’’ He revealed that the hoodlums headed straight to Kogi state Liaison Office in Abuja after the invasion. Significantly, Governor Yahaya Bello is an unrepentant supporter of President Buhari’s reelection.
The invasion of the Senate chamber by armed thugs has been variously described as an assault on democracy; a failed coup d’etat; and the desecration of the Senate among others. In this report, EZREL TABIOWO examine the issues that led to the attack and the aftermath of the invasion.
In March, Senator Samuel Nnaemeka Anyanwu, a law maker from Imo state, had decried how all manner of people gain access to the National Assembly. The law maker, in a point of order, argued that the laxity “could lead to breakdown of security one day.’’ Specifically, that day came last Wednesday, when hoodlums invaded the Senate chamber, rough-handled security men and carted away with the mace, its symbol of authority.
At about 11am on the said day, Senator Ovie Omo Agege, a suspended legislator, was at the security check point of the NASS complex nicknamed ‘White House’, the edifice which houses both chambers of the National Assembly. At the gate, the Sergeant-at-Arms was said to have cleared the way for the senator, in spite of the fact that Ovie Omo Agege, was supposed to be on suspension. The security men reportedly attempted to question the ferocious-looking men with heavy built, that accompanied Omo Agege, but the senator quickly intervened, saying “we are together.’’
Thereafter, Senator Agege and his crowd forced their way into the Red Chamber as the plenary session was commencing. Thereafter, they seized the mace, injured security men that stood in their way and dashed out of the chamber, as some law makers scurried for cover while others watched helplessly. Afterwards, the invaders jumped into a waiting black jeep and raced out of the National Assembly premises through the back route.
Simultaneously, a group of activists were at the main gate of the parliament, protesting the nonpassage of the 2018 budget while the Senate was under siege. As a result, attention was diverted to the main gate as security was beefed up around it, to avoid break down of law and order. However, unknown to them, mayhem was being unleashed in the hollowed chamber.
The genesis of the attack could be trace to February, when 10 senators staged a walk out from the chamber, protesting the adoption of the new sequence of elections. Controversial sequence of election On February 16, 2017, the two chambers of the National Assembly passed an amendment that altered the sequence of elections, upturning the order of elections approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Specifically, INEC’s time-table had put presidential and National Assembly elections before the governorship and House of Assembly polls.
However, the National Assembly amended the Electoral Act and scheduled the National Assembly election to hold first, followed by gubernatorial and House of Assembly polls, with the presidential election billed to hold last.
The Senate, after the vote on the amendment, dissolved into chaos as Senators Abdullahi Adamu; Kabiru Gaya; and Omo-Agege; raised a point of order, faulting the procedures adopted for the passage. However, Senate President Bukola Saraki ruled them out of order. In anger, Senator Adamu led nine of his colleagues to address journalists on their objection. Specifically, Senators Omo-Agege, Ali Wakili and Abu Ibrahim, as well as Senators Abdullahi Gumel, Binta Masi and Yahaya Abdullahi, including Andrew Uchendu and Benjamin Uwajumogu were present at the briefing. In particular, Omo Agege pointed out that the amendment was targeted against President Muhammadu Buhari.
In any case, only 36 members were on the floor, when the Electoral Act was amended, he further argued. According to the senator, “36 people cannot determine the destiny of 360 people in the House of Representatives, which is now being carried over to 109 in the Senate.” Omo Agege suggested that the amendment should have been deliberated upon extensively before a decision was taken. Omo Agege apologises On February 21, Senator Dino Melaye descended on Omo Agege for criticizing the re-ordered sequence of elections.
Melaye, who represents Kogi West, raised a point of order to accuse his colleague of denigrating the senate, especially by alleging that the amendment was targeted at Buhari. According to him, Omo Agege’s allegation “is in bad taste.’’ Melaye recalled that, “when I was following the president, campaigning and working for him to become the president of this country, Ovie OmoAgege was labouring in the Labour Party.” In the end, the matter was referred to the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee for investigation.
However, a day after his case was referred to the Ethic committee, enator Omo-Agege attended sitting and tendered an unreserved apology. The senator, while addressing Deputy Senate President Ike Ekwerenmadu, the presiding officer, said, “Mr President, with certain remarks I made in the course of that press interview, which my attention has been drawn to, has been offensive not just to senator Dino Melaye but to the entire senate. I rise today to apologies to the leadership and the entire senate. Mr. President, I take back my words.”
On his part, the deputy senate president praised Omo-Agege stating that “it takes courage for a man to say sorry. However, he referred the apology to the Ethics committee. Moves to stop probe On April 3, Senator Omo-Agege filed ex-parte application before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, asking the court to halt “all further proceedings against the plaintiff (the senator) in respect of the allegations referred to the 1st defendant’s (Senate) Committee for Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition”, pending the determination of the main suit.
Furthermore, he asked the court to order parties to the main suit, earlier fi led on March 26, 2018, “not to consider, act on or give effect to any recommendation, resolution or decision of the 1st respondent’s (Senate) Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition.” The defendants to the suit are the Senate, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN).
However, the Federal High Court in Abuja rejected the ex-parte application, requesting that parties be ordered to maintain the status quo, by suspending all actions concerning the issues raised in respect of the case. Committee suspends Omo-Agege, constituents go to court Forty-three days after his apology, the senate suspended Omo- Agege for 90 legislative days. Specifically, the Senator Anyanwu-led Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee had recommended 181 legislative days suspension for him.
But following pleas from Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, and Senator Kabiru Marafa, Senate President Bukola Saraki reduced it to 90 days. Accordingly, the upper chamber also asked Senator Omo-Agege to withdraw his suit against the senate. In addition, the Senate mandated that ‘Parliamentary Support Group for President Muhammadu Buhari’ must be disbanded immediately. The next day, the Urhobo in Delta state dragged the senate before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, seeking for an order to stop the legislative body from denying the ethnic group representation, by suspending Omo-Agege.
The plaintiff s are Chief Alfred Okaka, Mr. Chris Agaga, Mr. Kingsley Okrikpo, Harrison Akpojarho, Manny Edu, Lyndon Ugbome, Moses Adegor and Godspower Emowhomuere. Specifi cally, they prayed for the court to hold “that the rights of the people of Delta Central senatorial district to an unfettered representation in the legislative business of the senate, by Senator Omo-Agege constitutionally guaranteed for a tenure of four yearscannot be abridged, diminuend, suspended, abrogated and or vitiated, except as stipulated by the 1999 Constitution (as amended.)”. Saraki, Ekweremadu, the Senate, Clerk of the Senate, the Department of State Services, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Inspector- General of Police and Senator Omo-Agege are defendants in the suit. In addition, the Urhobo prayed for the court to restrain Omo-Agege from appearing before any committee of the senate to defend himself on his claim that Buhari was the target of the bill to amend the Electoral Act. Hoodlums invade senate Barely one week after his suspension, Senator Omo-Agege stormed the National Assembly at about 11am last Wednesday, in the company of suspected hoodlums.
At the White House security point, the Sergeantat-arm had asked our reporter to give way for the senator, upon sighting the lawmaker. Without questions, Omo Agege was expressly allowed in but the sergeant-at–arm sought to know the identities of those following him in tow. However, the senator excused them and the hoodlums, with pistols strapped to their waists, gained entry into the White House, forced their way
Review of NASS security underway
Into the chamber around 11.16 am as Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu was commencing the legislative business of the day. Notwithstanding the fierce resistance put up by the sergeantat-arms at the entrance of the red chamber, the hoodlums had an upper hand, injuring the security personnel. Within minutes, they dashed straight to the floor and brazenly seized the mace. According to reports, the hoodlums had earlier positioned two unmarked black jeeps at both the front and back of the White House.
The thugs, after carting away the mace, jumped into one of the jeeps made their way out of the premises through the back route. According to a highly placed source, the thugs came from Okene town in Kogi Central senatorial district and their nick names were given as Top Gel and Dragon. The source further said that ‘’the guy who took the mace is called Dragon while Top Gel was just part of the squad.’’ He revealed that the hoodlums headed straight to Kogi state Liaison Office in Abuja after the invasion. Significantly, Governor Yahaya Bello is an unrepentant supporter of President Buhari’s reelection.
We ‘ll defend democracy-Ekweremadu
After the real-life drama, the bewildered senators hurriedly went into a closed-door session for about 50 minutes, with Omo-Agege also in attendance. At the end of the session, the lawmakers reconvened, as their House of Representatives counterparts joined them in solidarity. Thereafter, Ekweremadu briefed the joint session, where he recapped the day’s event and reaffirmed the senate’s resolutions.
According to him, ‘’at about11:30 am, some armed thugs invaded the senate chambers, assaulted some of our staff and some of the media persons, and forcefully took away the mace of the senate. They passed through the entrance and the gate and left the National Assembly with the mace. They attempted kidnapping two of our senators. They eventually left, but we decided that we will not be intimidated by the circumstance.’’ Continuing, he said that senators ‘’will stand by our democracy, we will defend our democracy.
It is an affront on the Senate, it is an affront on democracy, it is an affront on the National Assembly, it is an affront on the parliament. But we are going to stand together to ensure that we continue with the assignment Nigerians gave us.’’ Similarly, Ekweremadu promised to get to the root of the invasion and to this end, he asked security agencies to recover the mace within 24 hours. According to him, ‘’we are giving the Inspector General of Police and the Department of State Security (DSS) 24 hours to recover our mace.”
Police hand over stolen mace
Significantly, before the ultimatum expired, the police recovered the stolen mace where the hoodlums were said to have abandoned it. According to a statement signed by the Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, SP Aremu Adeniran, the suspected miscreants had abandoned ‘’the mace at a point under the flyover before the City Gate, where a patriotic passer-by saw it and alerted the police.”
He, however, said that investigation into the incident is still ongoing to arrest and bring the perpetrators to justice. On Thursday, Deputy Inspector General of Police Habila Joshak handed over the mace to the Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Mohammed Sani Omolorin at 11.55am.
Condemnations trail invasion Reacting to the invasion, APC had described it as an attack on democracy and a desecration of the National Assembly. In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the party urged the security agencies to take all necessary steps to ensure that those responsible for the action are brought to book.
Conversely, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had fingered the ruling party and the presidency as having a hand in the invasion. In a statement signed by its image maker, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, the party criticized the security agents stationed at the National Assembly complex for allegedly doing little to stop the invasion. According to him, “APC has foisted on our nation an irredeemable autocracy, which has in three years of governance, gone beyond limits to force Nigerians to accept a government that has no respect for freedom and the ideals of democracy, particularly the constitutional separation of powers.’’
The spokesman said that it is curious that the attack happened on the day when the re-ordered sequence of election was billed for deliberation. “Equally strange is the compromising of security in the National Assembly paving the way for the invasion,” the statement read in part. In addition, Senator Shehu Sani had described the invaders and their backers as reactionary forces of evil and darkness. According to him, the invasion is ‘’ treasonable and nothing but an attempted coup d’état.’’
The senator further described the attack as ‘’an open and undisguised assault on our democracy and a desecration of our constitution. ‘’ Sani vowed that, “the senate will not be intimidated, nor will it compromise its independence. The armed invasion is a dangerous precedent for this and future generations of Nigerians.
If this can happen to the Senate, it can happen to the president, the presidency and the judiciary. In the same vein, former Vice President Abubakar Atiku described the attack as a dangerous precedent and an assault on Nigeria’s democracy by anti-democratic elements. According to him, the timing of the attack could not have come at a worse time, given the tension in the land.
The former vice president said that using illegal and unconstitutional methods to threaten the authority of a key democratic institution is unacceptable, evil, and condemnable. He argued that “if criminals could commit such security breach with impunity, it means that our entire democracy is in danger.”
Court restrains police from arresting Omo Agege
In the new twist, a Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, restrained the Police, the State Security Service (SSS) and the Attorney-General of the Federation from arresting or threatening the alleged sponsor of the invasion, Senator Omo-Agege.
Specifically, OmoAgege’s team of lawyers, led by Aliyu Umar, approached the court, asking for an interim injunction against further arrest or detention of the senator. They asked for court’s protection for the embattled senator, pending determination of a fundamental human rights case brought against the respondents. FCT Chief Judge, Ishaq Bello granted the four-point prayers and adjourned the matter till May 6. Earlier, the embattled senator was briefly detained last Wednesday but 6 Saturday 21 – Sunday 22, April, 2018 BLUEPRINT WEEKEND the police clarified their action, saying that their personnel merely escorted Omo Agege out of the National Assembly premises.
Senate summons IGP, DSS boss
Last Thursday, the senate went into a closed-door meeting and after the executive session, Ekwerenmadu read out the resolutions. Specifically, the senate ordered the InspectorGeneral of Police, IGP Ibrahim Idris, and the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Malam Lawan Daura, to appear before it on Monday. In summary, the security chiefs will brief the lawmakers on their effort to apprehended and prosecuted the hoodlums that invaded the senate.
Ekweremadu, in a prepared speech, noted that, “this legislative chamber, the nation, and the international community were treated to the theatre of the absurd, when armed men invaded the chamber to assault our staff and cart away the mace, the symbol of authority of the senate. It was a very sad testimony, a derogation, and total smear on our democracy and nation.’’ The Deputy Senate President praised his colleagues for their “understanding and maturity in the face of flagrant provocation.’’
In addition, he commended the leadership and members of the House of Representatives, the Management and staff of the National Assembly, especially chamber staff for their gallantry. Similarly, Ekwerenmadu thanked the media, civil society, the political parties, and the international community for the outpour of solidarity and concern. Indication has emerged that that the National Assembly may commence the use of access cards to the complex in order to tighten the security of the nation’s parliament.
However, unless the problems arising from re-ordered sequence of elections are solved, including whether or not the Parliamentary Support Group should remain, the crisis may continue even when the security of the National Assembly is reviewed.