By Dayo Johnson, Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu, Henry Umoru, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Omeiza Ajayi, Dirisu Yakubu & Ike Uchechukwu
•Why did a suspended Senator come to Senate with non-state escorts?
•How did a suspended Senator gain entrance into the Senate chambers?
•Why did the Senate leadership allow a suspended member sit at plenary?
•I acted on legal advice — Omo-Agege; matter should be probed—FG
ABUJA—IT was questions time last night as many Nigerians queried the sufficiency and competence of security arrangements in the National Assembly, which made it easy for thugs to enter the hallowed chambers of the Senate and snatch away its symbol of authority, the Mace.
Even more questions followed the incident, with some querying how a suspended senator, accompanied by no less than 15 persons could easily gain access to the National Assembly Complex.
The legislator at the centre of the drama, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was last night in police custody following his arrest after he led thugs into the Senate chambers to disrupt the Senate sitting. He was later released. Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who was presiding and many other senators were briefly bundled into the tea room as the thugs rained mayhem on the chambers before taking away the Senate mace.
A female National Assembly security official fainted after she was slapped by one of the thugs who, on their way out of the National Assembly, also abducted Senator Adeola (Yayi), the senator representing Lagos West.
Senator Adeola was bundled into the escape SUV vehicle where the heavies had earlier put the Senate Mace. He, however, fought his way out of the vehicle at the car park before the invaders left the National Assembly complex.
Senator Ekweremadu, who held fort in the absence of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, yesterday evening, visited the Presidential Villa where he briefed Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari on the issue.
The incident, which was the first recorded invasion of any of the chambers of the National Assembly immediately roused a nationwide uproar with the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP joining in the condemnation.
After normalcy was restored, the leadership of the House of Representatives paid a solidarity visit to the Senate which in its immediate response called the invasion an act of treason.
Senator Omo-Agege, the man at the centre of the whole event, who started serving a 90-day suspension last week sat through while the Senate deliberated on the mayhem in closed session. He was, however, picked up by the Federal Capital Territory Commissioner of Police once the Senate closed sitting for the day.
How it all started
The mayhem unfolded at 11:16 a.m., when Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central) entered the Senate chambers barely 15 minutes after commencement of the day’s plenary which was presided over by Senator Ekweremadu.
He arrived as petitions from senators were being taken. Though he was not supposed to enter the chambers, the heavies numbering about 15 overpowered the Sergeant-at-Arms’ officials to force the suited Omo-Agege inside the chamber.
Eight of the thugs entered the chambers while the remaining took position outside.
As they overpowered the unarmed Sergeant-at-Arms officials, one of them shouted: “Nigeria belongs to all of us, we are all Nigerians, we have come to bring in our Senator to have his seat as our Senator.”
As he entered the chamber, Omo-Agege went straight towards the dais where Senator Ekweremadu sat in the chair of the presiding officer. Ekweremadu, it was gathered, was then escorted by National Assembly security to the tea room where he was joined by other senators who came to seek refuge.
As the drama unfolded, one of the thugs grabbed the mace and sprinted towards the door but was immediately tackled by officials of the Sergeant-at-Arms who were overpowered as other heavies joined to fight off the National Assembly security officials.
Some of them were injured, and a female official reportedly fainted upon a slap by one of the thugs.
Some of the thugs, who were well dressed and some in safari suits proceeded with the mace into a waiting black SUV.
Meanwhile, as they were rushing out, Senator Olamilekan (APC, Lagos West) arrived the National Assembly premises and met the ongoing commotion and tried to make his way back to his vehicle but somewhat mistook the vehicle of the invaders as his own. The heavies, seeing him pushed him inside their vehicle with the mace they had taken.
“They just pushed me into the car. Before I noticed what was happening, two men entered the same car with the mace of the Senate and took off.”
The senator tried to fight them off, asking who they were but he was rebuffed as they abducted him. But he eventually forced himself out of the grip of the invaders at the car park of the House of Representatives.
“I had to open the door of the car and managed to squeeze myself out of the car forcefully before the car zoomed off towards the exit gate at the back of the House of Representatives chamber,” the senator told Vanguard yesterday.
As the hoodlums took their leave, they left Omo-Agege, who is secretary of the Parliamentary Support Group for Buhari, behind in the chamber.
As order was restored, the Senate immediately went into a closed session during which the issue dominated proceedings.
Interestingly, Omo-Agege, who was suspended last week, sat through the session.
It’s treason — Senate
While the Senate was in session, Senate spokesman, Senator Abdullahi Sabi, issued a statement describing the action as tantamount to treason.
He said: “Today, some armed hoodlums led by suspended Senator, Ovie Omo-Agege, walked into the Senate plenary and seized the symbol of authority of the Upper Legislative Chamber, the mace.
“This action is an act of treason, as it is an attempt to overthrow a branch of the Federal Government of Nigeria by force, and it must be treated as such. All security agencies must stand on the side of due process and immediately mobilize their personnel to retrieve the mace and apprehend the mastermind and the perpetrators of this act.
“This action is also an affront on the legislature, and the Leadership of the House has come to express their support against this action.”
Reps pay solidarity visit
Meanwhile, as news of the development filtered into the House of Representatives, members became agitated, and a resolution was taken that the House should suspend deliberations to pay a solidarity visit to the Senate.
Speaking when he received the House delegation led by Lashun Yusuf, the deputy speaker, who presided in the House, Senator Ekweremadu vowed that the Senate would get to the root of the matter.
“They attempted kidnapping two of our senators. They were eventually left off, but we decided that we will not be intimidated by the circumstance,” Ekweremadu said.
“We 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 to represent them.
On his part, the deputy Speaker, Yusuf said: “Let the pretenders know that it is the Assembly that defines democracy.
“We are in solidarity with you, and we will make a resolution to ensure that the mace is recovered within 24 hours. You can be rest assured that whatever touches you, touches the House of Representatives.”
Following the closed session, which lasted about 50 minutes, the Senate resorted to plenary with Omo-Agege still seated. The senator regularly exchanged banters with fellow members of the Buhari support group including Senators Abdullahi Adamu, APC, Nasarawa West; Senators Ben Uwajumogu, APC, Imo North; Andrew Uchendu, APC, Rivers East; Nelson Effiong, APC, Akwa Ibom South; Abu. Ibrahim, APC, Katsina South; Abdullahi Gumel, Jigawa North West, and Tayo Alasoadura, APC, Ondo Central.
It was gathered that the Senate during the closed session resolved not to be deterred by the incident as they vowed to proceed with all items slated for the legislative day.
After the Senate adjourned at about 1.47 p.m and as Omo-Agege came out of the chambers, he was picked up by the Commissioner of Police, FCT, Sadiq Bello at exactly 1:58 p.m. with the National Assembly Divisional Police Officer, Sulu Gambari in attendance.
Senator Omo- Agege tried to resist arrest, but unlike his heavies, he was not successful as policemen held him by the belt and moved him into a waiting Hilux Police van with number plate Police 840 NPF.
Saraki hails senators
Also speaking on the development, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who is in Washington D.C. for the World Bank Spring Meetings, hailed the Senate leadership and senators for standing firmly in defence of democracy against the attack.
In a statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki said: “I have just been informed that some hoodlums invaded the Senate chambers, forcefully took away the mace and assaulted some of our Sergeant-at-arms on chamber duties. I am delighted that the Senate stood up to them by disregarding their unreasonable and shameful action and went on with the day’s proceedings as slated in the Order Paper.
“My commendation goes to my deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, other members of the leadership, my colleagues, the leadership and members of the House of Representatives for standing in defence of democracy, parliamentary sanctity, and constitutionalism.
“I associate myself with the comments of the Deputy Senate President that we are ready to get to the roots of this assault on democracy and ensure that those who are responsible, no matter how remote, will be brought to justice.”
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, several members took turn to denounce the mayhem in the Senate with several lampooning the security agencies for allowing the breach in security.
Yesterday’s attack came a day after stakeholders of the APC in Delta State petitioned the national secretariat of the party on the suspension of Omo-Agege over his claim that the Senate changed the order of elections to the disadvantage of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The petitioners had warned of a possible breakdown of law and order, asking relevant agencies to wade into the issue.
“Therefore, to avoid a possible break down of law and order in this matter, we call upon the AGF, the Inspector-General of Police IGP, the Director-General DG of the Department of State Services DSS and all relevant security agencies to promptly move in to enforce the law of the land by allowing Senator Omo-Agege to peacefully resume the work our people elected him to do for them.
“As Elders and Leaders, we have been laboring to control our youths over the great anger being generated across the land because of this oppressive and draconian ‘suspension’.”
Ekweremadu briefs Osinbajo
Senator Ekwermadu speaking after visiting Vice President Osinbajo who he briefed on the issue said: “I’m sure you are aware of the Senate invasion today (yesterday) and we have to come and brief the Vice-President because the President is not in town. It is appropriate for him to know. We are in a democracy; we are all in one government,” he said.
“It is the responsibility of the president or the vice-president to ensure that there is law and order in the country and once we have this kind of major development, it is important that he is briefed at the earliest opportunity.
“For us, it’s a threat to our democracy, the invasion of the parliament is not acceptable to any person, its not acceptable to me, it’s not acceptable to the VP, it’s not acceptable to my colleagues, I believe it’s not also acceptable to the President; so those who acted this script must be on their own.”
While appealing to the media to rebuff such acts, he flayed Senator Omo-Agege for his conduct.
“All we need to do as a country is to ensure that this is forestalled and I want to appeal to the media to help us discourage this kind of brigandage so that people have to behave in a very responsible manner. But let me assure you that we are on top of the situation, we did our sitting today and we are going to continue tomorrow,” he said.
“Having suffered suspension, does Omo-Agege have legal rights to enter the chamber? It was a breach of the law for him to force himself into the chamber. As I said, police is still investigating; we are going to find out the details of those who aided him to come in and then some of them I believe have been arrested and we will get to the root of the matter.”
I acted based on legal advice — Omo-Agege
Reacting to the development, yesterday, Senator Omo-Agege, through his spokesman, Lucky Ajos said he acted based on legal advice.
He said: “On Thursday, April 12, 2018, the Senate purportedly suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege. However, based on legal advice and his understanding of the current position of the law, Senator Omo-Agege today (yesterday) resumed work and sitting with his colleagues. A few champions of the unconstitutional, invalid and tyrannical suspension tried to stop him but those who opposed it welcomed and protected him throughout the sitting. We are grateful to the many distinguished senators who stood by Senator Omo-Agege.
“We are aware of several media reports suggesting that Senator Omo-Agege personally removed or encouraged anyone to remove the Mace of the Senate. This weighty allegation is not true at all.
“Following the said media reports on the Mace issue, the Police authorities decided to hear from Senator Omo-Agege. He has told the Police his perspective to help them carry out a proper investigation. He has since left the Police. Senator Omo-Agege trusts them to thoroughly investigate this very serious matter.
“We are also aware of a statement allegedly issued by the Senate Spokesperson, Senator Abdullahi Sabi. Without any investigation, Senator Sabi willfully, deliberately and unfairly made very serious allegations against Senator Omo-Agege on the Mace incident. We are carefully studying Senator Sabi’s allegations to ascertain their full ramifications. Appropriate responses will follow, as may be necessary.”
FG calls for probe into NASS invasion
The Federal Government has expressed shock at the invasion of the National Assembly and the subsequent snatching of the Senate mace by thugs, yesterday.
In a statement in Abuja, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the security agencies have been directed to immediately unravel the circumstances surrounding the breach of security that led to the invasion.
He said the security around the National Assembly complex would also be reinforced to prevent a recurrence.
APC condemns attack on Senate
Meanwhile, strong condemnation of the invasion came from political stakeholders and lawyers, yesterday.
The APC in a statement urged security agencies to take steps to arrest the sponsors and perpetrators of what it described as the shameful act.
In a statement signed by its spokesperson, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the party said; “The attention of the All Progressives Congress, APC, has been drawn to the invasion of the Nigerian Senate by suspected thugs who disrupted Wednesday’s plenary and made away with the mace.
“The APC, hereby condemns this action and views it as an attack on our democracy and a desecration of the hallowed institution of the National Assembly.
“We, therefore, call on security agencies to take all necessary actions to recover the stolen mace and ensure that the perpetrators and their sponsors are brought to justice”.
PDP flays APC government
The national chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus speaking with newsmen in Akure on his way to Ekiti State described the invasion of the National Assembly as another worrisome indication of the breakdown of law and order in the country.
“A few minutes ago, in the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we were informed that hoodlums forced their way into the Senate chamber and carted away the mace.
“What that means is that the country is totally broken down. Insecurity all over, from the North to the East to West, people are dying on a daily basis.
The PDP in its formal response articulated by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondinyan, while chiding security men at the National Assembly, said the invasion was reflective of the way and manner the Buhari presidency has attacked the institution of the National Assembly.
“We note that this offensive has been emboldened by series of interferences and direct attacks by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Buhari Presidency on the institution of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate.
“The 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.
“Is it not strange that a legislative day appointed to further deliberate on the re-ordering of sequence of election will be the day that strange elements would invade the National Assembly, particularly, the hallowed chambers of the Senate, to disrupt legislative proceeding and seize the mace?
“Equally strange is the compromising of security in the National Assembly paving the way for the invasion,” the statement read in part.
The party further charged the federal parliament “to bring forth every legislative instrument to protect itself from external aggressions as well as unravelling every persons, offices, and institutions that played any form of roles in this wild attempt to scuttle our hard earned democracy.”
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar also expressed dismay at the incident, describing it as a threat to the nation’s democracy.
In a press release by the Atiku Media Office, the PDP chieftain warned those who may have aided and abetted the perpetrators of the act to be wary of such actions in the future.
He said: “I am utterly embarrassed, shocked and outraged by this ugly development because it is not only a threat to a major democratic institution but also represents a grave danger to the survival of our democracy.
“If criminals could commit such security breach with impunity, it means that our entire democracy is in danger.” He warned “those behind this illegality to avoid creating a monster that could consume them.”
Atiku urged law enforcement agents to immediately swing into action, saying: “This attack by thugs should not go unpunished no matter who is involved.”
Senior lawyers were, however, divided on the import of the invasion.
It’s a minor criminal charge—Sagay
Interpreting the legal implication of the incident, Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, PACAC, Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, said: “The legal implication is not different from the consequences of similar actions. The worse that can be attributed to him in terms of charges is causing a public disturbance. It is certainly not a constitutional matter. It is a minor criminal charge.
“They (Senate) would like it to be a treasonable offence but, it is not. An offence can be treasonable when somebody tries to overthrow a government but that issue does not arise.”
Only evidence, offence can say if it’s treasonable—Ubani
Also, the Second Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Monday Ubani said: ‘’Issues are resolved through a judicial process. Employing any other extrajudicial measure is actually not the proper way. Somebody can read meaning into whatever happened. I will not jump to conclusion on whether the action is treasonable or not.
“It is the circumstance, evidence, and the offence if it is well defined under the law that can say what constitutes a treasonable offence. But the best approach to resolve any issue is through the judicial process. An extrajudicial process is condemnable.
“I know Omo-Agege personally. He is a fine gentleman and I have heard him make submissions about Nigeria. He is somebody that is very passionate about this country. Some of us had condemned the act of suspending a lawmaker over his views. There is freedom of speech in the constitution and the procedure of the Senate should not curtail that right.
“The issue of two maces is very strange. I am not too conversant with the legality of having two maces at a time. But the argument will be that those two maces were not used at the same time. One was taken away while one was brought to replace the one that was taken away. Were they (Senators) envisaging that an issue like this would arise? If that is the case, it means that they may be having more maces.”
It’s a treasonable offence—Ozekhome
Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said: “What happened in the Senate today (yesterday) is a national shame and it is a sad day for democracy. The invasion of the hallowed chamber of the Senate and the carting away of the mace which is a symbol of authority, is the civilian equivalent of a military coup. As far as I am concerned, the offence is treasonable because the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act of 2004, does not include or accommodate criminal acts done on the floor of the Senate.
“I, therefore, call on the Senate to ensure that whoever orchestrated the incident is arrested and prosecuted. I suspect executive connivance with Senator Omo-Agege because the Police at the National Assembly and other security agencies did not arrest the hoodlums, who took the mace away.
“Why was Senator Omo-Agege so incensed about his suspension for 90 days when he was a member of the Ethics and Privileges Committee that suspended Senator Ali Ndume last year?”
On his part, Mr. Mba Ukweni, SAN, said: “The House cannot sit properly without the mace and if any person is on suspension, he should remain suspended. The Senate is the highest lawmaking body in the country. It cannot sit without a mace.”