“They are just tax collectors. From the car park to those placed in every corner of the National Assembly complex, they are beggars…”
Abuja is an alluring city. Like a woman with succulent endowments, Abuja leaves you with feelings that may last a lifetime. For some Nigerians, a visit to Abuja is a life-long dream. For others, it is an end to itself.
For Abuja residents and visitors, it is often a rare privilege to visit the Three Arms Zone, which houses the three arms of government, executive, legislature and judiciary. However, only a handful of people are permitted entry into the Presidential Villa and the Supreme Court.
That leaves the National Assembly open to all manner of visitors, who come to the expansive complex to carry out their various transactions. There are legitimate visitors. They come around when they are invited by their legislators.
There are also gate crashers. They come into the complex invited. They are hustlers and, whenever luck smiles on them, they bump into lawmakers who sometimes part with some wads of naira notes. Paradoxically, in this season of change, when lawmakers are financially bleeding too, everyone has become a hustler in the National Assembly.
Since the invasion of the National Assembly by some hoodlums, allegedly in connivance with Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, security has been beefed up in the complex, especially around the White House, where the two chambers are located.
The intensified security has, however, not deterred uninvited visitors from gaining access into the building. Lawmakers who have repeatedly complained about strange faces who frequent their offices uninvited, have resigned to fate.
A lawmaker who spoke with Daily Sun in confidence, narrated how he was ambushed by some uninvited visitors while trying to walk down to where he parked his car. He claimed that he had to return to the entrance leading to Senate building to get some security men to accompany him to his car.
He said: “One evening, at about 7.30pm, I left my office and was walking down to the car park. Sometimes, like other senators, I drive myself to the National Assembly. But that day, something strange happened. It was just two weeks after the National Assembly was attacked.
“As I walked down to my car lot, I saw a young man who kept following me and was hailing me in their usual way when they need money. I ignored him as one of those people. He kept following me until I got to where I parked my car. As I was about to get in, he stood in front of my door and was begging and telling me about how frustrated he was. With the way he was talking, I was scared that he might do something funny.
“That was how I alighted from the car and called some idle sergeant-at-arms to chase the young man away. Out of curiosity, I asked them how people like that got into the building and they could not provide any answers.”
Some sergeants-at-arms have been accused of compromising their position. Some staff and other visitors, have complained of how they harass them and have turned themselves into beggars. They also complained about their poor dressing and how they are sometimes mistaken for touts.
One staff, who simply gave his name as Victor, for fear of being victimised, told our correspondent that they have informally complained to people the sergeants-at-arms report to. He said no action has so far been taken.
He said: “It is difficult these days to differentiate between touts in motor parks and these sergeants- at-arms. They look dirty, beggarly and so hungry. If you are a visitor to the National Assembly, you would think you were dealing with touts. Its so shameful and those who are in charge have refused to call them to order.
“They are just tax collectors. From the car park to those placed in every corner of the National Assembly complex, they are beggars. They beg without any iota of shame and I feel bad whenever I see them. It is terrible.
“We have seen their counterparts in other parliaments, even within West Africa. We see how they dress and comport themselves. They are not beggars. Why must our case be different in this world? Those in charge must call these people to order. They need to overhaul that unit before they bring shame to us.”
A frequent visitor to the National Assembly, who was one of the hustlers, told our correspondent how he secured his entry into the building. He said security agents (sergeant-at-arms), usually give him the entrance tag.
“I pay N1,000 whenever I am around. I have one particular guy who is always at the visitor’s stand. Once I am around, I just put a call across go him and he brings a tag for me. I then give him 1K (N1,000). Sometimes, if my outing goes well, I add to it.
“I do not have to be invited by anyone to get in there. It is easy. Just dress up like an aide to a lawmaker and nobody will ask you questions. It’s better than what it was in the past when we were not allowed in. It is much more easier today and I like it,” the visitor said.
When next you want to visit the National Assembly, you may want to adopt the same style. Since it’s now a free-for-all affair, maybe every Abuja resident may besiege our own Mecca.