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Faceoff With the Police: We came face to face with barbarism — Hon. Zakari Mohammed

Insists members rose in defence of democracy

By Jide Ajani

The spokesman for Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, in this interview, a day after the face-off with the Police, insists that there was an agenda and a script that was meant to be played out. He was, however, quick to slam the police, maintaining that what happened was an assault on democracy.

Excerpts:

How would you describe the events of yesterday in the National Assembly?

Well, I would say yesterday’s event represents one of the missteps in this Fourth Republic.

First, it started with the withdrawal of Mr. Speaker’s security details after moving from one party to another. That was discriminatory because we’ve seen people move from party to party across the board – that is from PDP to APC and vice versa.

The issue of cross-carpeting is an issue for the courts to determine but the Inspector General of Police (who has just been appointed) has turned himself into a law court, interpreting the Constitution to suit what he thinks is right and wrong.

Section 68(1)g which they are quoting, go there and read it – it never mentioned the issue of withdrawing privileges.

But that matter is before the courts so it would not be wise to talk about it now.

You people were in the assembly yesterday, to do what?

We heard that Mr. President sent a letter to the Speaker of the House that he needed to extend the emergency rule which commenced in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe in May, 2013. We had had three extensions and, if yesterday’s had been granted, we would have had the fourth one. We were on recess doing oversight when we were called back to discuss the matter.

We arrived in the company of the Speaker at the gate of the National Assembly and Mr. Speaker introduced himself as Speaker of the House but the policemen ignored him. At that point, it became clear to us that the sponsors of this act that was playing out had their own agenda and part of the agenda was that they were not interested in the content of the letter which had been sent to the National Assembly.

Why do you think so?

Look, if you ask a man to come and perform a particular function and you are the selfsame person that is now hindering him from performing that function, then there is more to it.

But it’s not been established whether the IGP was just acting out his own script or whether some people ordered him to so act?

Police attack at National Assembly: Lawmakers scaling gate of National Assembly as Police blocked National Assembly gate in Abuja. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan
Lawmakers scaling gate of National Assembly as Police blocked National Assembly gate in Abuja. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

Whoever may be acting out the script, the police is not a vigilante group or a band of overzealous Boy Scouts.

This is an organ of government. Yesterday was not the first time we would be going in or coming out of the assembly complex.

We’ve heard the excuse the police gave for its action but in a civilized environment, what stopped the IGP from informing members that ‘because of XYZ reasons, we are going to enforce stricter policing of the assembly?’. That way, it would be done in an orderly manner.

Members have their ID cards and before any member is allowed in, he or she would have to display the ID card. If that had been the case, things would have been orderly.

The police claims that it was in the process of doing its work that members of the House became unruly.

The tragedy that is unfolding today is that people who should be responsible in conduct and speech seem to enjoy concocting lies and mis-informing members of the public.

Let us be clear-headed here. If you say funny people or thugs are coming to invade the assembly, would they display a form of sartorial flamboyance or dress in this manner?

Anybody can dress any how.

Secondly, the police should be able to tell us what their mission really was there yesterday.

The 360 members of the House each has an ID card.

The police is claiming that its officers and men were assaulted.

Let the police provide evidence that its men were harassed.

Even after members had gained access into the assembly complex, it was at that point that the police fired tear gas into the complex.

The last canister fell right at the feet of the Speaker. He had to scamper into the foyer before he was hurriedly rushed into the chamber.

Let us assume that the first one that was fired was an accidental discharge; so what happened to the second one, the third and the fourth which landed at the feet of the Speaker in the foyer?

Zakari Mohammed
Zakari Mohammed

That was a barbaric thing to do.

Of course people will sit and begin to analyse the events of yesterday.

We came back yesterday because there was a job to be done; so why stop us?

No one is saying the police should not function. But let due process be followed.

That same gate was where the Senate President passed through; where the Deputy Speaker passed through.

If it was a case of mistaken identity, that would have been different.

Some people had already gotten in while we waited for our turn and once it got to the Speaker’s turn, trouble started – anyone caught in that situation would have suffered the same fate.

So the members thought the next thing to do, as if trying to prove a point, was to scale the barricade. Being honourable men, why didn’t the members just go back?

Unfortunately, that is why you do not ignite a wrong process because, when you start it and it appears very suspicious, a lot of things and factors come into play and it muddies the waters.

Firstly, the members were not trying to prove any point.

If I have to come into my house and somebody is trying to stop me, then that is an affront. Mind you, in 2011, when the Speaker was to be sworn-in a similar scenario played out. For a few of us who were coming in for the first time, it looked very strange.

Let us not rationalize the conduct of the honourable members but you must agree that every action would come with a reaction, the type of which you may not even be able to determine.

So why didn’t the members just go back?

In an ideal environment, yes, that would have been the wisest thing to do. But what we had on our hands yesterday was not ideal.

This is a country where seven lawmakers in an assembly of 26 impeached a Speaker whereas the law says you need 18 or two third majority.

We were all in this country when three lawmakers sat down and were trying to impeach the governor of a state. Look, let me tell you, if it had happened, that is how it would have passed.

As students of history, we need to be guided by these realities because this is a democracy that was fought for and we would not just sit and watch some evil people scuttle it with shenanigans.

People should stand up to this nonsense.

That is the curious part of it? Police conducted searches and they looked orderly…

(cuts in) The first gate had no problem. The last gate was where all the drama started.

When we arrived, there was a long queue of vehicles and it was orderly.

It was when it got to the turn of the Speaker that the policemen stood in front of his car and stopped him.

Even attempts to let them know that this was the Speaker fell on deaf ears.

It was at that point that we knew that a game was unfolding.

What happens normally is that before the Speaker leaves his house in the morning, some members who have businesses with him would meet him at home and thereafter drive together to the assembly.

At some point, we thought the policemen needed to get instructions and the Speaker himself came down from the car, introduced himself to the policemen but he was simply ignored – as if he did not exist.

Just to demonstrate how desperate these people were, we also saw some hooded men with guns in the assembly complex.

One of them came face to face with the Speaker and he was pushing the Speaker back until members forced him aside – and we had complained about this rascality, a situation whereby you have hooded men carrying guns and moving about freely. If you have a legitimate assignment as a law officer, why wear hood (no names for identification)?

So if these guys commit any crime, how do you identify them?

Did members for once think of their safety or perhaps gave thought to the possibility of accidental discharge possibly leading to loss of lives in that exchange that ensued?

There are ways of passing information across.

The police knew we were coming for a special session. The Police Commissioner in the FCT could have as well communicated to the Senate President or the Speaker explaining that for some reasons, we, the police, would operate in a different format, members would have prepared their minds.

Two, we had our ID cards. Nobody is saying the police should not do its job but it should do it job decently.

The FCT Police Commissioner was around and on ground when his men behaved the way they did.

But what if the scare the police talked about had been real and members got in there and something happened, wouldn’t we all still have come out to blame the police for not doing its job?

These people had their agenda and they wanted to play out the script which they had.

Let us assume and, even for once, believe that there was a bomb scare, why did the police allow the Senate President to enter? Why did they allow the Deputy Speaker to enter? Was it that they wanted to expose these people to danger?

It was when it got to the turn of the Speaker that the gate was shut.

At that point, it became obvious that there was a plan to stop us.

The National Assembly is not Wuse Market

Please lead us through what then happened because there is a confusion as to whether the House sat after the Senate President had shut down the assembly or….

No. After we defied all the shenanigans by the police, we forced our way into the chamber and the agenda for the day was just one important matter according to the notice that invited us.

At some point, when we were trying to settle down, the Senate President walked in, excused the Speaker and, along with the Deputy Speaker, they had a chat for some five minutes privately and the Speaker returned to his seat.

The Speaker profusely apologized to members regarding the events that happened and the way they got into the assembly.

He told us we had a national assignment to do and he read Mr. President’s request concerning the extension.

The question we asked was, between the first and the third extension we granted, what has happened? What progress did we make?

The Deputy Majority Leader moved a motion that Mr. President is empowered by the Constitution and the Armed Forces Act (Section 8) empowers him to deploy the military to troubled spots in the country.

We believe that that option is open to him and we agreed that when we reconvene later in December, we would invite the Service Chiefs.

Was the decision not to extend the emergency rule predicated on the earlier events of the day, a tit-for-tat?

Tit-for-tat? No. We have gone past that stage. Members of the House do not vote along party lines. Partisanship is not always the matter.

We listened to our colleagues who live in those places and got feedback from them.

Look, it is Adamawa, Borno and Yobe today; it could be any other part of the country tomorrow.

Yes, people have talked about the successes of emergency rule but, between you and I, we know how many towns have since been captured by insurgents over time, particularly during the emergency rule period.

Yes, again, we need to commend the work our soldiers are doing, but if you keep applying a medicine to an ailment for so long and the desired improvement is not coming, then you need to change course. It is commonsense.

The President has wide powers.

The decision we took was a product of a reflection of what is on ground. Look at the way the locals are now working with the military to make gains – that’s another improvement.

We can go into the realm of the academic and begin to make arguments for and against emergency rule, but what we are saying is that must we be stuck with emergency rule?

We need to reflect too on why the Senate, since Tuesday, has not been able to come up with   an approval. And, in any case, we have looked at it, being very close to the grassroots, we have come up with the provisions of Section 8 of the Armed Forces Act.

Solution to insurgency in the North East is there in the North East.

So, why were some members shouting at the Senate President?

The two chambers have cordial relations since this 7th Assembly. The Senate President, feeling concerned about what happened, came over to the House to see the Speaker.

In a House of 360 members, some who were traumatized and overwhelmed vented their anger, but that is not the position of the House. It was just one honourable member who was making a point and asking question. Some people even went as far as carrying the rumour that the Senate President was slapped. He was never harassed.


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