Some thugs on Wednesday invaded the Senate chamber during plenary at 11.30am and made away with the mace.
The three invaders entered the chamber about the same time that Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who was suspended by the Senate last week, walked into the chamber
The invasion occurred at the opening part of the plenary, when senators were presenting petitions from their constituents.
The men came in when Senator Samuel Anyanwu was making a presentation.
The sergeants-at-arms at the entrance of the chamber had challenged the men, with one of them engaging the invaders in fisticuffs.
The thugs, however, overpowered the security men.
One of them went for the mace where it was positioned, as the remaining two engaged those who tried to stop them. A female sergeant-at-arms was pushed down and was injured in the process.
The men, who quickly escaped from the chamber, were said to have got into a black Sports Utility Vehicle at the main entrance of the National Assembly complex and zoomed off.
It was gathered that when the vehicle was prevented from going out at the main gate, the driver manoeuvred the car and drove it out through the Presidential Villa exit.
The development disrupted proceedings as some senators, who were visibly shocked, moved towards the two ends of the chamber while the invasion lasted.
Omo-Agege, who was seated, watched as the drama played out.
The incident lasted less than 10 minutes.
Several minutes after the thugs had left, many of the lawmakers remained where they stood while some of them moved towards the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided.
Ekweremadu repeatedly called on the senators to settle down for continuation of the proceedings, describing the action of the three men as an invasion.
He said, “The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has just been invaded and we are not going to take it lightly. This is an institutional infraction. I want everybody to settle down. We will continue with our deliberations. Please settle down. If you are not a senator please leave this chamber now.”
The lawmakers later went into a closed session. When the session was re-opened, a new mace had emerged at the chamber.
In its first reaction to the incident, the Senate alleged that Omo-Agege led the suspected thugs into the chamber.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly, in a statement issued by the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, said the act was an attempt to overthrow the legislature.
The statement read in part, “Today, some armed hoodlums, led by suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, walked into the Senate’s 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 mobilise their personnel to retrieve the mace and apprehend the mastermind and the perpetrators of this act.”
Retrieve mace within 24 hours –N’Assembly
Members of the House of Representatives, who came to express support for the senators, were later ushered into the Senate chamber.
The joint session resolved that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris; and the Director General of the Department of State Services, Lawal Daura, must recover the stolen mace within 24 hours
Deputy Speaker of the House, Yusuf Lasun, who led the Representatives, stated that there would not be democracy without a functional legislature.
Welcoming the representatives, Ekweremadu said the lawmakers would get to the root of the matter, adding that the police and DSS bosses should be given one week to recover the mace.
Ekweremadu said, “I believe that I speak the mind of all of you here if I say that security agencies must recover our mace within seven days.”
The lawmakers, however, shouted, “No!”
Reducing the duration, Ekweremadu said, “We are giving the Inspector-General of Police and the Director General of the DSS to recover our mace within 24 hours.”
The lawmakers chorused, “Yes.”
Ekweremadu added, “We have decided to go through everything on our Order Paper for today, even if it takes us till 6pm. We will conclude everything here because that is what we are being paid to do.”
One of the items listed on the Order Paper was the second reading of the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill, which seeks to reshuffle the sequence of polls during general elections.
Omo-Agege whisked away
Omo-Agege, who was accused by the Senate of being behind the invasion, was whisked away as he stepped out of the chamber.
It was said that he was arrested by policemen led by the Commissioner of Police, FCT Command, Sadiq Bello, who was accompanied by the Divisional Police Officer, National Assembly Police Division, A. Sulu-Gambari.
The lawmaker was marched from the door of the chamber into a police waiting pick-up with number plate, 840 NPF, and was whisked out of the premises.
The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, commended the leadership and members of the Senate “for standing up firmly in defence of democracy” with their decision to defy those who machinated the attack.
Saraki, who is attending the Spring Meeting of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund in Washington, also lauded the swift reaction by the leadership and members of the House of Representatives “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.”
He added, “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 root of this assault on democracy and ensure that those who are responsible, no matter how remote, are brought to justice.”
‘Omo-Agege was not arrested’
However, sources at the FCT Police Command stated that Omo-Agege was not arrested by the police.
One of them said the embattled senator later came back to attend the Senate plenary few minutes after he was escorted out of the NASS premises.
The senior police officer said Omo-Agege was simply taken away from the NASS premises for security reasons.
“He was only taken out of the premises for security reasons, he wasn’t arrested or detained,” the senior officer said.
When asked if the police would investigate the lawmaker as directed by the senate leadership, the source declined comment and referred all inquiries to the FCT police spokesman, Anjuguri Manzah.
Manzah did not respond to phone calls. He had yet to reply to a text message sent to his phone as of the time of filing this report.
The CP also refused to comment when he was asked if the police command would investigate the senator.
“I don’t know anything, please ask the PPRO,” Bello said on the telephone and hung up.
I was not arrested –Omo-Agege
Omo-Agege also denied being arrested by the police.
He said, “I was in protective custody. They said they were worried that I could be attacked. They took me away and protected me. They asked what transpired and I told them my version of the story, and they let me go. I did not commit any crime.
“What happened is this: the jurisprudence in this area is very settled. The Court of Appeal in the Bauchi State House of Assembly case, the Dino Melaye case in the House of Representatives and the Ali Ndume case in the Senate; the courts made it clear that a legislative house cannot suspend a member even for a day.
“That is the law and it has not been set aside. And this kind of judgment is for everybody. Even though I was not a party in those cases; the pronouncements are for the benefit of everybody.
“If the issue was settled, it means that whatever suspension they issued is illegal, null and void. That is why I said I would go to work. I went in and took my seat.”
The lawmaker also denied having a link with the thugs who carted away the mace in the Senate chamber.
“All the talk about mace; what is my business? I don’t know where that came from,” Omo-Agege said.
Ekweremadu briefs Osinbajo on invasion
A few minutes after the invasion, Ekweremadu met behind closed doors with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to brief him about the attack.
President Muhammadu Buhari is in London on official visit.
At the end of the meeting held inside Osinbajo’s office at the Presidential Villa, Ekweremadu told State House correspondents that the Vice-President had promised to join forces with the federal lawmakers to get to the root of the matter.
He said the invasion was not acceptable to Buhari and Osinbajo, just as it was not acceptable to members of the National Assembly.
Ekweramadu said, “We run democracy, we are all in one government and it is the responsibility of the President or the Vice President to ensure that there is law and order in the country.
“The Vice President has sympathised with us over what happened and he is going to join forces with us to get to the root of the matter and to make sure that this will not happen again.
“For us, it is 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, it is not acceptable to my colleagues and I believe it is not also acceptable to the President. So those who acted this script are on their own.”
When asked if it was right for suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege to gain access into the chambers after his suspension, Ekweremadu said, “It was a breach of the law for him to force himself into the chambers. The police are still investigating.”
FG orders probe of N’ASS invasion
The Federal Government said it had directed security agencies to unravel the circumstances surrounding the breach of security that led to the invasion at the Senate chamber.
In a statement by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the government added that the security around the National Assembly complex would be reinforced to prevent a recurrence.
APC, PDP, Atiku, others call for probe
The All Progressives Congress, the House of Representatives, civil rights groups, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party have called for a thorough investigation into the incident.
The APC, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, called on the security agencies to recover the stolen mace.
Abdullahi said, “The APC condemns this action and views it as an attack on our democracy.
“We, therefore, call on security agencies to to recover the stolen mace and ensure that the perpetrators and their sponsors are brought to justice.”
Members of the House of Representatives said an apt description of the attack was “terrorism.”
The members, led by the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun, had initially visited the Senate chambers to sit briefly with senators.
They later returned to the House to debate the invasion, following a motion moved by the Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila.
The leader told members to prepare against what he called a carefully planned affront to the legislature, “the very heart of democracy.”
He added, “This is akin to a terrorist attack; we must not give them the opportunity to celebrate this attack.”
Gbajabiamila noted that the invasion had again brought to the fore the urgency to strengthen security at the National Assembly.
“This attack simply meant that we have been sitting ducks here.”
Incidentally, some lawmakers from Ghana were on a visit to the National Assembly on Wednesday when the invasion occurred.
Gbajabiamila apologised to the visitors on behalf of the National Assembly.
A member from Anambra State, Mr. Gabriel Onyenwife, supported the motion, calling the invaders terrorists.
He said, “If the legislature is no more, what is the fate of democracy? Today, it is the mace, it could have been a senator or a member that the terrorists came to attack.
“The security personnel in the National Assembly must explain the role they played in this saga.”
A lawmaker from Osun State, Prof. Mojeed Alabi, said the invasion was a “failed coup” which should be met with appropriate penalty for coup plotters.
More members condemned the attack. They include the Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Relations, Mrs. Nnenna Ukeje; Tajudeen Yusuf, Karimi Sunday, Toby Okechukwu and Ahman Pategi.
In its resolution, the House asked security agencies to “recover the Senate Mace within 24 hours.”
The PDP described the incident as a direct assault on the legislature and a bold attempt to truncate Nigeria’s democracy.
A statement by the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, alleged that the invaders had been emboldened by a series of interference and direct attacks by the APC and the Presidency on the National Assembly.
Ologbondiyan said, “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.
“Is it not strange that a legislative day appointed to further deliberate on the re-ordering of sequence of elections will be the day that strange elements would invade the National Assembly, particularly, the hallowed chambers of the Senate, to disrupt legislative proceedings and seize the mace?
“Equally strange is the compromising of security in the National Assembly paving the way for the invasion.”
Ologbondiyan urged Nigerians to reflect on the series of alleged assaults on the legislature under the current dispensation, including alleged persecution and harassment of the leaders and members of the Senate on trumped-up charges, “such as declaring a serving senator wanted by the police.”
Ologbondiyan said, “We urge the National Assembly to use every legislative instrument to protect itself from external aggression, as well as unravel every person, office and institution that played any role in this wild attempt to scuttle our hard earned democracy.”
Abubakar however condemned the invasion, saying the incident was 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, it represents a grave danger to the survival of our democracy,” he said.
Abubakar said that given the tension in the country, the timing of the attack could not have come at a worse time.
The former Vice President noted that it was inconceivable that hoodlums could force their way into the Senate chamber and take away the mace.
Abubakar, who noted that many people died to bring the democracy about, called for an immediate investigation into the incident and the prosecution of those involved.
Invasion must be investigated –CACOL, CDHR
The Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights said the invasion must be thoroughly investigated.
The CACOL Director, Debo Adeniran, said, “The invasion was unfortunate and must be thoroughly investigated. The suspended Senator, Omo-Agege, may have had his rights trampled upon, but if he is found to have sent the thugs, he must be duly punished.”
Also, the CDHR President, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “I do not want to completely accept that the invasion was orchestrated by the suspended senator. But assuming that it is true, it will be more unfortunate and a very terrible situation for him. What was Omo-Agege doing in the Senate when he had already been suspended? All these must be thoroughly investigated.”
Sagay blames Saraki for crisis
In his reaction, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), blamed Senate President Bukola Saraki for the crisis.
Sagay explained that Saraki and his minions in the senate had been provoking people to take the law into their own hands.
The senior advocate said this during an interview with one of our correspondents.
He said, “This Senate led by Bukola Saraki has been provoking Nigerians for a long time. What happened today (Wednesday) was illegal; there is no doubt about that. But the provocation that this particular Senate has been inflicting on Nigerians has reached a boiling point.
“You cannot be enjoying the huge and enormous resources of the people, living in luxury and at the same time refusing to do your job, making trouble with the executive at the slightest opportunity, bringing the government to a standstill and then turning members of the Senate into puns who can be pushed here and there.
“I think Saraki has gone too far. While what happened today is illegal, I have no doubt in my mind that he and the group that surround him provoked it. Ultimately, I hold Saraki responsible for what happened today.
It is an embarrassment, says ACF
The Arewa Consultative Forum described the invasion as an embarrassment to democracy.
The National Publicity Secretary of the Forum, Alhaji Muhammad Biu, in a statement said the action was the height of irresponsibility.
The forum called on security agencies not only to protect the seat of democracy, National Assembly, but to also institute investigations into the immediate and remote causes of “this ugly incident.”
The ACF said, “The Arewa Consultative Forum condemns the attack on the citadel of democracy. It is the height of irresponsibility on the part of the perpetrators of this unruly behaviour, to say the least.”
Invasion, sign of Nigeria’s end – MASSOB
The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra says the invasion of the Senate chamber is a sign that Nigeria as an entity will soon come to an end.
In a statement by MASSOB’s Director of Information, Edeson Samuel, the group said Nigeria could no longer stand as an indivisible nation.
The statement read in part, “Although we do not support anarchy, the development in the senate has vindicated us.
“The senators should return to their constituencies because there is no longer constitutional power backing them.”