Incessant security concerns at the National Assembly complex requires urgent redress, writes ADEBIYI ADEDAPO.
The alarming security threat at the National Assembly complex is worrisome and has been a subject of concern to successive management of the facility, which houses offices of legislative arms of government and its bureaucracy.
Despite strict procedures to securing a gate pass and presence of internal security agents commonly referred to as Sergeant-at-Arms, as well as operatives from all security agencies in the country, including the Nigerian Police Force, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Directorate of Security Service (DSS) and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) touts and persons with criminal intentions still find their way into the premises.
A few months ago, security operatives arrested five suspects for allegedly stealing diesel at the National Assembly complex, Abuja.
The suspects were caught with nine 25-litre and one 50-litre jerry cans containing diesel. The Volkswagen Golf with number plate, Abuja BV 464 RSH, allegedly used for the operation was also impounded.
Leader of the Joint Monitoring Team of the National Assembly complex, Mr. Usman Labaran, disclosed that the suspected thieves carried out the operation with the aid of an insider. He added that one of the two workers in the complex involved in the crime was arrested, while the other escaped.
“We have a joint monitoring team that has been patrolling the National Assembly complex with the police. I was at the Fire Service Station around 4.30am when they (the suspects) drove into the Assembly complex, claiming to be members of staff. I told security operatives not to take any action but allowed them (the suspects) to do what they planned before challenging them.”
Labaran stated further that he and other security men waited for the suspects for about 15 minutes, and challenged them as they were leaving.
“I threatened to damage the car if they did not stop. I called on people working with me; I called the police too. A Sergeant-at-Arms and a policeman chased one of them, who ran towards the bush, but they couldn’t apprehend him. He escaped.” he added.
The Head of the National Assembly Task Force, Mr. Daniel Adem, said security had been beefed up on the National Assembly complex premises. He said it was the reason why the suspects were caught.
In view of this ugly developments, the Senate recently raised the alarm over the porous security in the National Assembly and warned that if urgent steps were not put in place, hoodlums could take advantage of the situation.
The Senate also expressed worry that lawmakers were unprepared to handle any fallout of an imminent terrorist attack at the National Assembly, more to that senators have never been tutored on how to handle such crises.
The Red Chambers made reference to recent terrorist attack on the United Kingdom’s House of Parliament, called for tighter security within and around the National Assembly.
Senator representing Imo East senatorial district, Samuel Anyanwu was the first to raise the alarm, when he raised a point of order. Relying on Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules, Anyanwu called on the security apparatus of the National Assembly to step up their operations.
“I am worried about the security situation in the National Assembly. Sometimes, some of us stay here till 8pm. Around that time, we see all manner of people here and they bypass the security to come into offices here, and I am worried.
“One day, we may just be here and a bomb wpu;d go off. We need to call the people in charge of security here to take this issue very seriously. If what happened in the UK is allowed to happen here, there will be trouble. I have said my own.”
Leader of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, put the issue in a better perspective when he moved a motion to that effect. In his remarks, he condemned the terrorist attack in the UK.
Senator Mohammed Hassan who represents Yobe South senatorial district, buttressed Anyanwu’s observation. Hassan, complained that lawmakers have not been educated on how to escape or protect themselves in the event that there is a terrorist attack or a fire outbreak.
“As Senators, we have never been taught how to save ourselves in the event of fire or terrorist attacks. If a bomb goes off today, I am not sure any of us knows how we can escape from this building. We need to take this issue seriously,” he said.
Giving credence to the point raised earlier speakers on the matter, the Senator representing Rivers East, George Sekibo from said the sole aim of terrorists is to frighten the legislature and prevent it from carrying out its functions. He noted that, at the peak of terror attacks in the UK, some MPs were unable to speak on the floor over fears that they could be attacked.
According to Sekibo; “It is frightening when we hear terrorist attacks on legislatures. What happened in the UK is not the first. We need to ask what the terrorists want to achieve. They want to dismantle the legislature.
“If this place is bombed one day, some of us will be scared to speak our minds. When there was the issue of Boko Haram few years ago, some Senators could not speak against insurgency. Every day, we get up to condemn people in high offices. We need to set up a process to protect ourselves. We were elected to speak for the people. We should not be scared.”
But beyond the terrorist threat, there are more security challenges within the expansive National Assembly complex. Day in, day out, there are reported cases of theft or security breach. However, not one culprit has been charged to court by security agents attached to the complex.
For instance, security sources familiar with the recent developments in the National Assembly claimed that, between January and December, 2016, a 2003 Toyota SUV, a 1999 Honda Accord, a 2001 Toyota Camry and a 2003 Honda Civic were reported to have been stolen at the car park, outside the complex.
Similarly, hoodlums who specialise in car theft have extended their trade to car battery theft within the premises of the National Assembly. The battery of a Honda Accord salon belonging to a photojournalist with The Sun Newspaper, Mr. Mudashiru Atanda, was stolen in October 2016, after fruitless attempts to steal the car.
According to Mr. Atanda; “I parked my vehicle in the space allotted to journalists and legislative aides, but was shocked upon my return in the evening. From a distance, I saw the bonnet of my vehicle open. I knew something was wrong, since I did not leave it open in the morning when I drove in. When I opened the bonnet, I realised that my car battery was gone. I also discovered that attempts were made to open my car. I had to call my mechanic who brought another battery from his workshop in Nyanya before I could leave the place. I have heard similar stories, but I did not believe until it was my turn to experience it.”
The National Assembly complex is now very porous that the Sergeant-at-Arms cannot account for the number of vehicles parked within the premises on daily basis. Many of these vehicles are parked in unauthorised areas, which also attract attention of the Federal Road Safety Corps officials operating within the premises.
However, regular clamping of vehicles parked in authorised areas and sometimes deflating their tyres, surprisingly did not deter the act, this breach of process, undoubtedly poses serious security danger to lives and properties.
To this end, the management of the National Assembly has resolved to tackle the situation head-on.
A senior management staff who spoke to Leadership Sunday on the matter noted that the management is worried about the massive influx of members of the public into the precinct of the Complex.
According to him, not fewer than 4000 visitors are revived in the complex on Daily basis, so also is vehicular pressure, fusing unwarranted traffic congestion.
“The management is also concerned are mostly not on appointment with legislators or civil servants, rather, they come around to perpetrate crimes and criminalities, even in the face of over 500 security agents. The pressure of these visitors most times overstretch and threaten the peaceful and serene environment at the complex, thereby resulting to bickering and most times fistcufs with security personnel,” he said.
He however disclosed that the management is working on better security strategies, to ensure that the National Assembly complex is safer for authorised persons.
“As a result of this ugly development, the management is evolving a strategic measure towards stamping the excesses of some of the visitors. The management plans to strictly enforce the master plan of the National Assembly, by removing all shanties, sheds, containers and other illegal structures within the complex. In replacement, the management plans to rehabilitate behind the Annex and restore it to its original use,” he stated.
Another senior official in the Sergeant-at-Arms office also revealed that the management will soon commence enforcement of parking permits, while visitors must also obtain temporary parking permit. He also said staff and legislative aides who wish to leave their vehicles for more than 24-hours would have to obtain a multi-day permit.
According to the Sergeant -at-Arms personnel, security gadgets provided for both the Senate and House of Representatives whould be put to proper use by the security personnel, with a view to discourage indiscriminate use of firearms in the hallways, lobby and offices.
He assured that security measures at the National Assembly complex will be more effective in the coming weeks, adding that new modalities will be set for business operations in and around the premises
“No item must leave the premises of the National Assembly without due authorisation by the appropriate department. Operations of business outfits within the National Assembly complex will be effectively regulated and moderated, modalities for operations in the business village is underway. In addition, banks must sight National Assembly identify cards before rendering their services to persons. Most of these visitors use all these business outfits as avenues for meetings and consultations. This negates and frustrates all efforts of the management to create a peaceful and conducive environment,” he stated.