By Emman Ovuakporie, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Joseph Erunke and Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—Heavily armed policemen, yesterday, invaded the National Assembly complex, tear-gassed and tried to prevent members of the House of Representatives, including the Speaker, Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, from entering the complex.
This forced some lawmakers to scale the fence in order to enter the chambers for their legislative duties.
In an unprecedented action since return to democratic rule, the police fired tear gas in the arcade of the complex after several legislators, who had escorted the speaker, successfully breached the Police barricade to smuggle him inside the main complex of the National Assembly.
A number of legislators who could not pass through the side gate where the speaker went through, eventually scaled the fence to enter the complex.
Once in the chambers, members who were provoked by the development almost went into a riotous mood and some even tried to fence out President of the Senate, Senator David Mark who interrupted proceedings in the Senate to cross the lobby to investigate the developments in the House. Livid members also, yesterday, commenced collection of signatures in support of an impeachment notice against President Goodluck Jonathan and 120 signatures had been collected by last night.
Following his discussion with the speaker, Senator Mark ordered shutdown of the National Assembly complex till next Tuesday. He also summoned the Inspector-General of Police, Suleiman Abba to report on Tuesday to give explanations for the development.
Meanwhile, the Police yesterday cited receipt of intelligence information on the possible invasion of the National Assembly by hoodlums for their action.
How it started
The House of Representatives which was on break was reconvened, yesterday, following a letter from the President seeking legislative approval for the extension of emergency rule in the three troubled states of the North-East.
However, ominous signs of trouble were first noticed on Wednesday night with the beef-up of security in the National Assembly complex. By yesterday morning, the security cordon had been significantly beefed up with several detachments of heavily armed regular and mobile policemen including hooded security agents manning all entry points into the National Assembly complex. Entry was, however, limited to only the main gate near the Eagle Square and everyone including legislators were thoroughly quizzed before being allowed entry. Before Tambuwal arrived, the Deputy Speaker, Chief Emeka Ihedioha had arrived around 10.35 a.m. and was easily passed on by the Policemen.
Situation, however, came to a head at about 10.38 a.m. when Speaker Tambuwal in the absence of police security approached the first gate and met a cordon mounted by policemen who refused him entry. The speaker, who was escorted by several House members, remained inside his vehicle while the members came out and asked the policemen to remove the barricade for the speaker. The policemen were unmoved, forcing a physical engagement with the members who eventually overpowered the policemen, allowing the speaker’s convoy to proceed along the main road leading to the second gate which was, however, firmly locked against the convoy.
Again, the lawmakers, now already worked up, engaged the policemen but the policemen were unmoved and the speaker had to step down to confront the policemen.
Tambuwal faces policemen
“Gentlemen, my names are Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and I am the Speaker of this House,” Tambuwal told the policemen who all without exception ignored him and turned their backs on him.
Again, the speaker said: “I am here as our constitution demands to go in and preside over the sitting of the House. Officers, I would like to know who is the commanding officer here.
“Can you identify me as the Speaker of this House?”, he asked. The policemen who stuck to their guns remained mute, leaving the speaker to himself.
Having received no response from them, Tambuwal moved back and stood in the sun, waiting for a likely commanding officer to come.
By 11.20 a.m. the speaker having been tipped off about a small gate which was half opened, marched forward alongside a few members and made his way in before the police could realize.
Even after the speaker had smuggled himself in, the police were unyielding as they kept other members of his entourage outside forcing a number of them to scale the gate into the National Assembly complex.
Among them were the Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila who last night described Thursday (yesterday) as a day that would forever live in infamy being the day he had to jump the fence to where he works.
Among other notable persons who scaled the fence to enter the National Assembly complex were the deputy minority leader, Suleiman Kawu (Kano); Bimbo Daramola (Ekiti), Samuel Adejare (Lagos), Mohammed Bago, Niger; Babatunde Adejare, Lagos; and Aman Pategi among many others.
After the speaker and his entourage successfully entered the second gate, they were met by some other legislators who came in from within the chambers to receive him and marched in solidarity through the arcade to the White House, where the main chambers are located. As they marched, the police in a last
minute burst to deter the lawmakers fired tear gas in their direction, but the speaker and his entourage were determined as they marched purposefully towards the main building and once inside proceeded straight into the chambers were the speaker was hailed by members who sang solidarity songs of victory. Tear gas was also hurled into the lobby leading to the Senate and House chambers as a final act of deterrence, but it was to no avail.
The songs of victory were interspersed with expressions of anger and many members shouted in condemnation of the executive arm of government. It was not long before some members produced a piece of paper as they commenced the gathering of signatures in support of an impeachment motion against President Goodluck Jonathan who several members blamed for the unprecedented development.
Mark intervenes, shuts down NASS
Senator Mark who entered the chambers of the House on hearing of the development had a tough time approaching the speaker’s podium as many members who viewed him with suspicion sought to fence him out.
“What is he doing here? Who invited him here?,” some House members were heard saying. He, however, eventually made his way to confer with the speaker following the intervention of the deputy speaker, Ihedioha. Following a brief audience with the speaker, Mark left the chambers back to the Senate chambers where he also conferred with the Senate leadership at the end of which he issued a statement ordering the shutdown of the National Assembly complex.
Mark said: “Because of the unfortunate incident of security invasion of the National Assembly today, as the Chairman of the National Assembly, I announce the shutdown of both the Senate and the House of Representatives till Tuesday next week when Senate will reconvene to hear what brought about the invasion from the Inspector-General of Police”.
Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President, Paul Mumeh, in a statement later said Mark was equally tear-gassed when he visited the House.
According to him: “An embarrassed Senator Mark, who had rushed to the House of Representatives’ chamber, ostensibly to address the situation, on hearing of the development, was thoroughly tear-gassed along with his colleagues while returning to his office after conferring with the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal and his deputy Emeka Ihedioha.”
Also after a closed-door session that lasted more than two hours, Speaker Tambuwal declared that with the House of Representatives under siege the House would remain adjourned till December 3.
Briefing newsmen after the closed-door session, House spokesman Zakari Mohammed declared that the House was under siege and called on the President to rely on provisions of the 1999 Constitution bordering on Sections 218, 217(2c) 33, 14, 42b to prosecute whatever situation in the country”.
He said: “The House needs a maximum of 10 days and a minimum of two days to sit on such a national matter but for now no extension of the emergency rule”. Reacting to a question on whether there was a move to impeach the deputy speaker, Ihedioha, Mohammed said “there was no plan like that by members”.
Compilation of signatures to impeach Jonathan
The impeachment threat against President Jonathan was, however, gaining momentum with as many as 120 having signed an impeachment notice to be issued when the House reconvenes next month.
Vanguard gathered that the essence of gathering the signatures is to ensure that by December 3 when the House reconvenes, an impeachment notice would be slammed on President Jonathan.
It’s no impeachable offence —Leo Ogor
Deputy Leader of the House, Mr. Leo Ogor was, however, dismissive of the threat, saying yesterday that “for now, those gathering signatures to impeach the President are wasting their time because the man has not committed any impeachable offence. Do you think that impeachment is a tea party and what offence are they relying on to impeach him?” he wondered.
“As for me, that is a non-issue for now because there is no grounds for such a move”.
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Police Affairs has summoned the Inspector-General of Police to explain why the National Assembly was invaded by his men.
Apparently angered by the development, many Senators who spoke with journalists after the three-minute session, condemned the development. In his reaction, Senator Olushola Adeyeye ( APC Osun Central), said the ugly incident clearly shows that Nigeria is in serious mess.
He said: “Going by what happened today, it is crystal clear that Nigeria is in a big mess and not just in crises. In fact, if not for the dexterity of people like the Senate President, David Mark, in managing the crises all along, the mess would have been bigger than this. Imagine security forces laying siege to the parliament of Nigerians and throwing tear gas here and there on their elected lawmakers because of power mongering.”
Also condemning the incident, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC Nasarawa West) described it as barbaric, disgusting and a very bad omen for democracy in the country.
“What has happened here today, partisan interest apart, is very bad and embarrassing not only to us the parliamentarians but to Nigerians generally.”
However, Senator Ehigie Uzamere ( PDP Edo South) called for caution among lawmakers over the incident since according to him, the Senate had already invited the Inspector-General of Police, Sulaiman Abba to appear before it on Tuesday next week for explanations on what led to the Police action.
He specifically chided Senator Adeyeye for running down PDP and President Jonathan over the incident by describing his utterances as unparliamentary.
Why we were at NASS — Police
A statement by the Police last night defended the action of its men in the National Assembly, yesterday, saying it was based on intelligence reports on the possible invasion of the National Assembly by hoodlums. In the statement issued by force spokesman, Emmanuel Ojukwu, an acting commissioner of police, the police said:
“Following an intelligence report of a likely invasion of the House of Representatives by hoodlums and thugs, the Nigeria Police Force promptly deployed its personnel to the premises to prevent a breakdown of law and order. Consequently, the Police cordoned off the area and began screening of all members and visitors alike.
“In the course of this lawful exercise, Alh. Aminu Tambuwal, CFR, arrived the venue with a motley crowd, who broke the cordon, assaulted the Police and evaded due process and the Police had the duty to restore order and normalcy, using lawful means.
“The IGP seizes this medium to warn all political actors and their followers to respect constituted authority and due process and to desist from the use of thugs to pursue their agenda.
“The Nigeria Police shall continually apply all lawful means to prevent a breakdown of law and order in all segments of the society and shall apply the full weight of the law on any political actor who violates the peace and security of the nation.”