There was uproar in the National Assembly yesterday when armed thugs led by suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta South) invaded the Senate chamber and forcefully carted away the mace in a manner akin to a terrorists operation.
Although the operation by the thugs numbering about five began at about 11:30am and lasted for just less than ten minutes, the commotion, which erupted in the National Assembly premises, continued till 12:10pm before normalcy was eventually restored in the place.
The Senate had on Thursday April 12, 2018 suspended Senator Omo-Agege for alleging that the reordering of election sequence by the National Assembly was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.
Yesterday’s plenary session in the Senate was disrupted for about an hour, while lawmakers and staffers as well as visitors were seen scampering for safety.
The security agents who barricaded the entry and exit routes in search of the hoodlums further prevented human and vehicular movement, but the thugs were nowhere to be found.
There was heavy gridlock, as motorists were held up for a long time, leading to complete blockage of the road leading to the Federal Secretariat.
Official and commercial businesses within the premises of the National Assembly were halted, just as banks and telecommunication operational offices were shut down.
Also, security operatives were seen discussing in clusters, while others combed the entry and exit points of the White House where the Senate Chamber is situated.
The plenary presided over by Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu had commenced before the thugs stormed the Red Chamber.
Eyewitnesses said the stern looking thugs gained entrance to the premises of the National Assembly through the main gate, which is heavily secured by security operatives, including men of the Police and DSS.
National Assembly workers told our correspondents that the assailants were accompanied to the chamber by suspended Senator Omo-Agege.
LEADERSHIP gathered that as the hoodlums grabbed the mace and were walking away militantly, the Sargent-at-Arms who struggled to retrieve it were obviously overpowered and pushed away.
The armed thugs who marched out of the Red Chamber with the mace quickly entered into awaiting tinted Toyota Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) that was parked at the entrance of the White House and speedily drove off through Villa gate.
The Senators had no choice than to resume plenary with a new mace barely an hour after the armed thugs stormed the National Assembly and carted away the mace.
The new mace was smaller in size and more coloured than that of the bigger one that was earlier moved. The plenary, which was disrupted at about 11:30am, resumed by 12:10pm.
On resumption of plenary yesterday, the Senate gave the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Kpotum-Idris and the Director General of the Directorate of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, 24 hours to produce the mace that was removed from the Red Chambers by suspected thugs.
Asking the IGP and the DG DSS to produce the mace within 24 hours, the lawmakers queried why such a criminal operation could be carried out in the National Assembly without security operatives averting it.
Consequently, the upper chamber asked the IGP and DSS not only to produce the mace that was moved within 24 hours but also to equally arrest and prosecute the thugs who stole the mace.
Giving the 24-hour ultimatum, deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over plenary said, “This is an affront on the Senate, affront to the parliament and to our democracy but we are going to keep to the assignment our people gave us. We are going to get to the root of the matter.
“The Senate is saying that security agencies must recover our mace. So, we are giving the Inspector General of Police and Director General of DSS to recover our mace within 24 hours”.
Describing the incident as totally unacceptable and said it was not only an affront to the Senate but to democracy, Ekweremadu however assured that the National Assembly will deal wit the situation fully, warning the invaders to not take democracy for granted.
Senator Omo-Agege Arrested
Meanwhile, fierce looking security operatives yesterday arrested Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central) for allegedly leading thugs to invade National Assembly and carting away the mace.
He was arrested at the Senate Chamber lobby after plenary session, and was bundled into a waiting security Toyota Hilux van marked NPF 480 by a team of policemen led by a commissioner of Police, Sadiq Bello.
Presidency Condemns Act, Calls For Probe
Meanwhile, the presidency yesterday condemned the invasion of the Senate Chamber by thugs suspected to be sponsored by Senator Omo-Agege agege, saying it will join forces with the Senate to probe the act.
Deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, who disclosed this after meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the presidential Villa, said he was in Aso Rock to brief the vice president on the fracas since the president was not in the country.
He noted that Osinbajo sympathized with him and promised to join forces with the Senate to get to the root of the matter to make sure it never happens again.
He said, “Well I am sure you are aware of the Senate invasion today and we have to come and brief the vice president because the president is not in town. So, it was appropriate for him to know what transpired because we run democracy, we are all in one government.
“It is the responsibility of the president or the vice president to ensure 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. So, Senate president is out of the country; it is therefore my responsibility to come over and brief the vice president.
“He has sympathized with us over what happened and he is going to join forces with us to ensure that we get to the root of the matter to make sure that this will not happen again. For us, it’s a threat to our democracy, the invasion of the parliament is not acceptable to any person, it is not acceptable to me, it is not acceptable to the VP, and it is not acceptable to my colleagues. I believe it is not also acceptable to the president. So, those who acted this script must be on their own.
“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”.
Asked if Omo-Agege has legal right to enter the Red Chamber since he was on suspension, he said, “It was a breach of the law for him to force himself into the chambers. As I said the Police are 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.
In the same vein, the federal government has ordered security agencies in the country to immediately unravel the circumstances that led to the breach of security and invasion of the National Assembly by thugs.
A statement issued in Abuja yesterday by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammedk, condemned and expressed shock over the invasion of the Red Chamber and the subsequent snatching of the Senate mace.
He however said the ‘’security agencies have been directed to immediately unravel the circumstances surrounding the breach of security that led to the invasion.’’
He assured that the security around the National Assembly complex would also be reinforced to prevent a reoccurrence.
Reactions Trail NASS Invasion
Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday described the attack on the National Assembly and the carting away of the mace from the Red Chamber by thugs ash act of treason that cannot be tolerated.
Senate Spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, who stated this in a statement said, “Today, some 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”.
On his part, Senate President Bukola Saraki commended 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 Chamber of the National Assembly in which the mace was forcefully taken away.
Saraki who spoke 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 Representatives in demonstrating their solidarity with the Red Chamber.
This, he said, sends a strong signal that all parliamentarians will resist enemies of democracy and those who want to undermine the legislature.
In a statement signed by his Special Adviser on media and publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, the Senate president said, “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.
Also, the House of Representatives condemned the attack on the Senate chamber, saying it is an attack on Nigeria’s democracy.
Like the Senate, the House also directed the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris to recover the Mace within twenty-hours.
The decision followed the adoption of a motion of urgent national importance decrying the attack brought by House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila.
In his lead debate, Gbajabiamila who said that such attack on the Legislature was a threat to Nigeria’s democracy noted the need for Nigerians to ensure that the country’s democracy is preserved.
The House leader also bemoaned the near absence of security in the National Assembly Complex which he maintained is “too porous” as opposed to its counterpart the world over.
In adopting the motion, the House also ordered an investigation into the incident, even as it called for total overhaul of the security in the complex.
Earlier, Deputy Speaker Lasun Yussuff who presided over Wednesday’s plenary led members of the House on a solidarity visit to the Senate.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) also condemned yesterday’s invasion of the Senate by suspected thugs, describing the incident as an “attack on our democracy” and a desecration of the hollowed chambers.
In its reaction signed by the national publicity secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the APC tasked the security agencies to recover the stolen mace and punish perpetrators and their sponsors.
On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday condemned the invasion of the National Assembly, saying the seizure of the Senate mace as a direct assault on the legislature and bold attempt to truncate Nigeria’s democracy.
The leading opposition party said that the offensive has been emboldened by series of interferences and direct attacks by APC and the Buhari presidency on the institution of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate.
A statement by the national public secretary, Kola Olagbonidyan, noted: “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”.
Also, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar yesterday condemned the invasion of the Senate chamber by hoodlums and the carting away of the Mace.
Reacting to the incident in Abuja, Atiku described the attack as a dangerous precedent and an assault on Nigeria’s democracy by anti-democratic elements.
“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”, he said.
Also, chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Ant-Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), said, “Nigerians would soon be fed-up with the Senate and its leadership. The major populace may soon rise up against them because of the way and manner they are running down the federal government and visiting hardship on Nigerians. They tend to carry on as if they are emperors running an empire. They delay budget passage, refuse to confirm federal government appointments, give directives and attempt to take over the running of the executive functions.
‘’It is high time the tyranny is challenged and what happened today may just likely be a preamble if they don’t call themselves to order. As for Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, he can argue his matter in the court, leading the court to hold that the suspension is illegal’’.
On his part, Mr Emeka Ngige (SAN) said, ‘’What has happened today is an eye opener to the National Assembly that it requires to beef up its security. For thugs to come into the place where ordinary person drops his phones to guarantee his or her entry gives so many foods for thought on how those thugs were able to gain entry into their precinct This calls for investigation and whoever is found wanting or found to have compromised the security setup of the National Assembly should be brought to book”.
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