•As it was in 2000, so it is in 2018
•The two minutes’ madness in the Senate
By HENRY UMORU
Confusion reigned in the Senate last Wednesday after some hoodlums stormed the chambre and stole the mace.
Following the absence of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who was in Washington where he was attending the Spring Meeting of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF), the duty to preside at plenary automatically fell on the deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
In line with tradition, Ekweremadu led the Principal Officers into the chambers; took the official prayers; and began the day’s proceedings at 10:53am.
Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, All Progressives Congress, APC, Kano Central, moved for the approval of votes and proceedings of Tuesday, 17th April, 2018 and Senator Mao Ohuabunwa,’ People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Abia North, seconded.
After this, the next item on the Order Paper was the petition raised by Senator Yusuf Yusuf, APC, Taraba Central on behalf of a constituency member allegedly being harassed by the ICPC.
Senator Andrew Uchendu, APC, Rivers East also raised a petition on behalf of a constituency member against LNG just as Senators Samuel Anyanwu, PDP, Imo East, and Theodore Orji, PDP, Abia Central, raised petitions and, thereafter, Ekweremadu referred the petitions to the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions.
While this was on-going, some hoodlums, from no where, invaded the hallowed chamber, grabbed the mace and went away with it..
Without the mace, the Senate could not continue the session.
The armed thugs, who were allegedly led by suspended Senator Ovie Omo- Agege, APC, Delta Central, entered the chamber at 11.16am, barely fifteen minutes after the commencement of the day’s plenary.
The commando-style drama and stealing of the mace lasted two minutes.
The thugs, before entering the chamber, had pretended as if they were constituents of Omo- Agege who himself, despite been on suspension, allegedly forced himself into the chamber .
Frantic attempts made by the police and Sergeant – at – Arms to stop the thugs from running away with the mace proved abortive, just as it was alleged that when the thugs were stopped at the foyer, Omo- Agege was alleged to have told the Sergeart – at- Arms that they were his boys.
It was also gathered that the thugs, numbering fifteen, came in three Sports Utility Vehicles, SUVs, parked in front of the National Assembly. The allegedly followed the suspended senator to the chamber, but eight of them entered the chamber while others positioned themselves and took proper charge of the entrance to the premises while others manned the vehicles.
According to a source, while trying to lead Omo- Agege into the chamber, the Sergeant- at – Arms tried to block them from entering, but the thugs pushed on, saying: “Nigeria belongs to all of us. We have brought our senator to have his seat.”
The source said further that Omo- Agege immediately went in and looked straight into the eyes of Ekweremadu who was presiding. It was at that point that one of the thugs took the mace.
In the pandemonium that ensued, some security agents who tried to stop them were injured.
Many of the senators, who were apparently confused, had to rush to the tea room.
Many still wonder how such an attack could happen in the National Assembly where there are over 500 security men, with half of the number working everyday.
But the senators did not come out of the chamber as they immediately went into an executive session which lasted fifty minutes with Omo- Agege, even on suspension, in attendance.
Omo- Agege was flanked by the Chairman, Parliamentary Support Group for Buhari( Senate), Senator Abdullahi Adamu, APC, Nasarawa West; Senators Ben Uwajumogu, APC, Imo North; Andrew Uchendu, APC, East; Nelson Effiong, APC, Akwa Ibom South; Abu. Ibrahim, APC, Katsina South; Abdullahi Gumel, Jigawa North West and Tayo Alasoadura, APC, Ondo Central.
After the closed session, the senators continued with the plenary at 12.10pm, with another mace as they vowed that they will not be intimidated in the course of carrying out their duties as representatives of the people.
Immediately after the Senate adjourned, Omo- Agege, who wore black suit, white shirt and red tie to match, was picked up by the police.
The Wednesday theft of the Senate mace was the second time the upper legislative chamber would lose its symbol of authority temporarily in controversial circumstances.
The Senate had, in 2000, during the leadership of the late Senate President Chuba Okadigbo also lost its mace.
The difference between the Wednesday incident and that of 2000 was that in the case of the former, thugs from outside invaded the Senate and went away with the symbol of authority, while in the latter, the incident happened due the crisis that engulfed the Senate for weeks.
It will be recalled that Okadigbo, who died on September 25, 2003, was Senate President when then President Olusegun Obasanjo began moves to impeach him by using the Presidency’s loyalists in the Senate.
At the height of the crisis and in a bid to avoid his ouster, Okadigbo adjourned the Senate and allegedly took the mace away from the National Assembly to an unknown location and, when the police arrived Okadigbo’s residence to retrieve the mace, he told them they were only going to get the mace if they killed him. Okadigbo had told the BBC then: “The police arrived at 5.55 a.m. (0455 GMT) in six jeeps fully loaded with armed officers. They told me they had come to collect the mace and that they were acting on orders from the Inspector General of Police. I said I would never give them the mace. I have to be dead before you get the mace, I told them. This is executive lawlessness and is unprecedented in Nigeria’s history.”
It was also reported that after the police left his residence, Okadigbo took the mace with him to Ogbunike, his home town in Anambra State, and left the Senate’s symbol of authority in the custody of a seven-foot python. Okadigbo lost the battle to remain Senate President as he was impeached weeks later.
Although the mace could be said to have been desecrated on both occasions, what happened and the way of execution were remarkably different.
Another striking difference between the Omo- Agege episode and that of Okadigbo is that while the late Senate President allegedly took the mace to far away Anambra State, crossing many states, the Wednesday’s episode did not cross the City gate as it was still in the nation’s capital.
It will be recalled that barely 24hours after armed thugs carried out their action and went away with the mace on Wednesday, the police recovered and returned the symbol of legislative authority to the upper chamber.
Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG, in charge of Operations, Mr. Habila Joshak, returned the mace at exactly 11:55am on Thursday when senators were in executive session.
The police chief handed the mace to the Clerk to the National Assembly, CNA, Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Omolori, at the entrance of the central lobby of the National Assembly where the two hallowed chambers are located.
But one striking similarity between the two episodes is the fact that there was no casualty, against the backdrop that inspite of the rowdy nature of the chamber on Wednesday, the hoodlums did not shoot and no senator collapsed or died.
We watch as events unfold.