•It’s treason against Legislature –Senate
Fred Itua, Abuja; Chinelo Obogo
Gangsterism played out at the Senate yesterday as a gang stormed the chamber during plenary and made away with the symbol of authority – the Mace.
Like a scene from Hollywood action movie, members of the gang quietly slipped into the Senate chamber and before senators could realise what was going on, they took hold of the Mace and headed for the door.
Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided at plenary, described the attack as an affront on the parliament. He vowed that those involved will be brought to justice.
Ekweremadu had hinted of the arrest of the suspects when he address journalists after meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
“The police are still investigating. We are going to find out details. Some of the suspects I believe, have been arrested and we will get to the root of the matter,” said Ekweremadu.
The security agency had earlier whisked away suspended senator from Delta State, Ovie Omo-Agege, who had appeared at plenary, to the surprise of his colleagues. He was, however, released after interrogation.
The snatching of the mace, according to sources, was an orchestrated plot to effect a change in the leadership of the Senate, headed by Dr. Bukola Saraki, who is away in the United States for the spring meeting of the IMF/World Bank.
To perfect the plot, 15 senators had reportedly met at the Abuja home of one of their colleagues from North-Central the night before yesterday.
According to a source, “the plan was to seize the mace, distrupt proceeding and force the chamber to abandon plenary. With the mace in their possession, the 15 senators would sneak back into the chamber, organise a kangoroo session during which they would impeach the leadership.
“But what they did not know was that there was a spare mace. So, rather than adjourn, Ekweremadu simply called for the spare mace and continued the business of the day. That deft move punctured the grand plot.”
Yesterday’s move was the second failed attempt to efect a change in the leadership of the Senate in less than one month. The first was on March 24.
On that day, Saraki, was billed to travel to Geneva, Switzerland for an official engagement. His aides and some senators, including Dino Melaye, had already gone ahead of him.
After attending the wedding ceremony of the daughter of Aliko Dangote, Saraki boarded a presidential jet in Lagos and was about to take off when he got a call tipping him of an alleged grand plot to remove him and his deputy. He aborted his trip and returned to Abuja late Saturday night.
Trouble started at about 11.20am, when the gang, entered the Senate complex in three vehicles- a Range Rover and two Land Cruiser SUVs.
At about 11.25am, it was gathered, the three vehicles were stationed in front of the main entrance leading to the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Policemen, Sergeants-at Arm and other security agents, who were on ground when the gang arrived, in their usual manner, did not suspect anything.
At about 11.30am, Omo-Agege stepped into the Senate chamber. Security officials who attempted to stop him, were sholved aside. Threemembers of the gang entered the Senate chamber and as Omo-Agege made for his seat. Without wasting time, they pounced on the mace stationed in front of the presiding officer.
One of the gang members, who wore an ash T-shirt and a white trousers, grabbed the mace and threatened to hit anyone who dared to stop him. Bewildered lawmakers scampered for safety, as he and the two others made their way out of the chamber into one of the three waiting vehicles.
In the waiting vehicles were other members of the gang, dressed in suit and African print. As the other three returned from the chamber and entered, one of them brought out white substance and unleashed into the air, as they zoomed out.
On their way out, they knocked down a staff of the National Assembly, who attempted to stop them. The operation lasted for five minutes.
The three vehicles drove out through the same Aso Villa gate by which they entered. The gate was manned by a combined team of security agents. Curiously, the gate, which is usually under lock, was open when the gang made its way out.
After the gang left the National Assembly complex with the mace, Ekweremadu instructed that the spare one be brought in. At about 11.45am, the Sergeant-at-Arm, brought in the mace, which was placed in the same position where the former was taken away. Lawmakers thereafter went into executive session. At about 12.20pm, the Senate reconvened into plenary.
At about 12.35, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yussuf Lasun, led members on a solidarity visit to the Senate.
Addressing a brief joint session, Ekweremadu gave the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Idris and the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Daura Lawal, 24 hours to recover the mace.
“We are going to get to the root of this matter and I believe that I speak the mind of all of you here that security agencies must recover our mace within 24 hours.
“We are giving the the Inspector-General of Police and the Department of State Security 24 hours to recover our mace.
“We want to assure you that we refuse to be intimidated. We are going to carry out our assignment fully.,” Ekweremadu said.
Lasun agreed that the attack was an affront on the the legislature. He warned those behind it to be mindful of their action or they will destroy the country’s democracy.
“I have read a lot of books about representative democracy and what baffles me most is the fact that once you try to demean the institution of the Assembly, that means you are pretenders to the institution of democracy and that means that once your Assembly ceases to function, ostracise or want to muzzle it, definitely you are no longer practising democracy.
“Let the pretenders know that it is the Assembly that defines democracy and for the fact that we lack that knowledge and because of the way some of us started practising politics, a lot of Nigerian populace do not agree with the fact that if we have to develop, the institution of legislation must be well strengthened. Once you do not do that you should as well forget about democracy.”
Omo-Agege versus Police
While the whole drama played out, Omo-Agege was in the chamber. Despite his running suspension, he sat dutifully on his designated seat throughout the duration of plenary.
When the Senate adjourned at about 2pm, Omo-Agege was accosted by over 15 policemen, led by the commissioner of Police, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Sadiq Abubakar Bello. A mild drama ensued before he was finally led away.
Police commissioner: “Senator Omo-Agege, you are under arrest for what happened today in the Senate. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be used against you.”
Omo-Agege: “You have no right to arrest me. I have not committed any offence. Why do you want to arrest me? What have I done?”
Police commissioner: “When we leave here, you will be told. Please, kindly follow us.” He was led into a waiting Hilux van and driven out of the premises.
Meanwhile, Senate has officially reacted to the development. Its spokesman, Aliu Sabi Abdullahi, described the attack as an act of treason against one branch of the Federal Government.
He said: “Today, some armed hoodlums 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.”
President of the Senate, Saraki, in a statement, hailed the leadership and all members of the Senate “for standing up firmly in defence of democracy and the rule of law with their decision to defy those who machinated an attack on the Red Chambers of the National Assembly in which the mace was forcefully taken away.”
Saraki, speaking from Washington where he is attending the Spring Meeting of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF), also lauded the swift reaction by the leadership and members of the House of Representives in demonstrating their solidarity with the red chamber and thereby sending a strong signal that enemies of democracy and those who want to undermine the legislature will be resisted by all parliamentarians.
“I have just been informed that some hoodlums invaded the Senate chambers, forcefully taken 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 Representives for standing in defence of democracy, parliamentary sanctity and constitutionalism.
“With the way the Senate has defied those seeking to undermine it, we have sent out a strong signal that we are always ready to defend our constitutional mandate and nothing will deter us from this.
“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,” Saraki stated.
Senator Shehu Sani, in a post on his face book page, condemned the invasion as treasonable and an attempted coup‘d’état.
“It’s an assault on democracy and a desecration of an institution of democracy. Those who sanctioned, organised and supported this will someday do that to the Presidency or the Judiciary. I salute the courage of those Senators who heeded our call to stand firm and defend the parliament democracy. We appreciate the solidarity of the members of the House of Representatives and we salute the courage of supporting staff of the Senate that fell victim to the armed invaders.”
Also reacting, National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie, described it as a national embarrassment.
“It is a national embarrassment and a political brigandage taken to a ridiculous level. We are used to seeing members of parliament quarrelling with each other which also happens all over the world but introducing thugs to invade the hallowed chambers of the Senate in broad daylight to take away the mace and the entire nation watching is very embarrassing. As far as I am concerned, it portends danger for the country because if an APC Senator could have the courage to mobilis e fierce looking thugs to invade the senate to carry out this, it means that even the lives of the lawmakers are not safe.”