- N’Assembly gives security agencies 24hrs to retrieve mace
- Omo-Agege arrested, released, denies involvement
Damilola Oyedele, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Olawale Ajimotokan, James Emejo and Paul Obi in Abuja
There was widespread disbelief and outrage in the country Wednesday when thugs believed to have been led by Ovie Omo-Agege, the senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District in the Senate and a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), stormed the Senate and carted away its mace, the symbol of authority of the upper legislative chamber.
The incident, which took place while the Senate was in session, spread shock waves across the country, with Nigerians, the federal government, political leaders and parties condemning the act.
It took all of a few minutes to steal the mace, causing commotion in the National Assembly complex.
Stunned by the incident and the lax security in the National Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed corresponding motions, ordering the security agencies to recover the mace within 24 hours.
Also, Omo-Agege, who last week was suspended for 90 legislative days by the Senate, but allegedly led the thugs into its chamber Wednesday, was arrested by the police over the invasion of the National Assembly and theft of the mace.
However, sources disclosed that the plot to disrupt plenary Wednesday was concluded on Monday night at a meeting by the now proscribed Parliamentary Support Group, made up of ardent supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari, who had vetoed the Electoral Amendment Bill last month believed to be at the root of the invasion on the National Assembly.
The National Assembly last February had changed the order of the elections for the presidential poll to be conducted last. The amendment to Section 25 of the Electoral Act provides for the National Assembly polls to be conducted first, followed by governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, and then the presidential poll, all on separate days.
But Omo-Agege and some senators who later metamorphosed into the Parliamentary Support Group, led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nassarawa APC), had kicked against the amendment.
Addressing the press, Omo-Agege had claimed the motive was to weaken Buhari in the 2019 polls and that the Senate and the House did not follow laid down procedures for amending the bill.
The Senate thereafter mandated its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate him over his remarks.
A few days after the resolution of the Senate to investigate him, Omo-Agege apologised at plenary. But in a new twist in the saga, he turned around and sued the Senate.
At his appearance before the committee, of which he is a member, he declined to respond to any questions.
Consequently, the Senate, last Thursday, adopting the recommendations of the committee, suspended him.
Mace is Whisked Away
On Wednesday’s invasion, plenary had commenced in the Senate at 10.53 a.m., with the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu presiding in the absence of Senate President Bukola Saraki, who is away in Washington D.C. attending World Bank/IMF spring meetings.
The session was already ongoing with Senator Theodore Orji (Abia, PDP) presenting a petition, when Omo-Agege, at 11.13 a.m. led at least five thugs into the chambers and walked towards the mace.
One of the thugs, clad in a navy blue jacket and red shirt, was seen gesticulating towards Ekweremadu and shouting in Pidgin English: “Una think say na only una get this place (meaning do you think this place only belongs to you?).”
The senators who were taken unawares, looked on motionless while Omo-Agege reached the table bearing the mace. It, however, remains unclear if he was the one who picked it up or not.
As the senators looked on in a confused daze, one of the thugs was suddenly seen running up the steps towards the exit of the Senate chamber with the mace in his grasp.
With the senators scampering out of the way, some sergeant-at-arms (legislative security officials) tried to stop him, but in the ensuing melee, a female sergeant-at-arms was injured.
Another sergeant-at-arms struggled to retrieve the mace, but was overpowered when two of the hoodlums joined their cohort who had the mace, enabling him to escape with it.
The crowd that had gathered at the lobby of the assembly complex immediately scampered for safety as the thugs ran through the gathering to evade security men who tried to apprehend them.
The thugs escaped through the lobby’s back entrance into a waiting black sport utility vehicle (SUV) and drove away through the back gate, leading to the Presidential Villa.
As the incident unfolded, Omo-Agege stayed back in the chamber, although THISDAY gathered that he was prevented from leaving the room.
After the mace had been carted away by the thugs, the senators retreated into a closed-door session, which lasted for about 40 minutes, and emerged with a resolution to continue plenary, after an alternate mace was laid before the chamber.
On hearing what had transpired in the Senate, lawmakers from the House, led by Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yussuff Sulaiman Lasun, joined the Senate in solidarity.
At the resumed plenary, Ekweremadu said the Senate would not be intimidated and described the attack as an affront on democracy and on the parliament.
He also revealed that the thugs had attempted to kidnap two senators during the invasion.
“They attempted kidnapping two of our senators. They eventually left, but we decided that we will not be intimidated by the circumstances. We will stand by our democracy, we will defend our democracy,” he said.
Buoyed on by the lawmakers, Ekweremadu issued a 24-hour ultimatum to the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, and the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Lawal Daura, to retrieve the mace.
Ekweremadu’s comments on the alleged attempt kidnapping of the senators arose over the attempt by the thugs to bundle away Senator Olamilekan Solomon Adeola (Lagos, APC) when they initially arrived the National Assembly complex.
The attempt to abduct Adeola occurred at about the same time Omo-Agege had led the thugs into the chambers. Adeola was said to have been pushed into one of the three vehicles which Omo-Agege had alighted from.
THISDAY also gathered that Adeola escaped when the vehicle was being driven out of the premises by jumping out of the moving car.
Arrested and Released
After plenary was adjourned for the day at 1.45 p.m., as Omo-Agege walked out of the chamber with Senator Adamu Abdullahi by his side, he was accosted by policemen who were waiting for him in the lobby of the National Assembly.
However, Omo-Agege protested, saying: “I cannot be under arrest. For what purpose.”
Flanked by policemen, nonetheless, he was guided to a police Toyota Hilux truck and whisked away at 1.55 p.m.
However, his arrest by the police was short-lived, as the embattled senator was released Wednesday, after pressure was purportedly mounted by the presidency on the IG to free him.
Confirming his release, a statement by his aide, Mr. Lucky Ajos, said his principal was let go by the police.
He added that Omo-Agege did not mastermind the stealing of the mace but had only gone to the Senate chamber to attend plenary.
“On Thursday, April 12, 2018, the Senate purportedly suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege. However, based on legal advice and his understanding of the current position of the law, Senator Omo-Agege today resumed work and sitting with his colleagues,” the statement said.
“Following the said media reports on the mace issue, the police authorities decided to hear from Senator Omo-Agege. He has told the police his perspective to help them carry out a proper investigation. He has since left the police station.
“Senator Omo-Agege trusts them to thoroughly investigate this very serious matter,” the statement added.
His release reinforced the suspicion that the presidency might have been in the know of the invasion of the National Assembly and theft of the mace.
Several loyalists of the president had been involved in lobbying the lawmakers in the Senate and House to defeat the initial plan to override Buhari’s veto on the Electoral Amendment Bill.
Saraki Hails Colleagues
Meanwhile, Saraki, in a statement issued from Washington D.C., commended his colleagues for defying the plan of the invaders and concluding Wednesday’s plenary.
In a statement by his media aide, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki said: “I have just been informed that some hoodlums invaded the Senate chamber, forcefully taking 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 Representatives 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 root of this assault on democracy and ensure that those who are responsible, no matter how remote, will be brought to justice.”
Expectedly, more reactions to the theft of the mace came hard and fast. In a statement issued by the Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate condemned the invasion of its chambers and abduction of its mace, describing the development as an act of treason.
The Senate added that it was an attempt to overthrow an arm of government by force.
“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 was an act of treason, as it was an attempt to overthrow a branch of the Federal Government of Nigeria by force, and it must be treated as such.
“All the 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 action,” the Senate said in the statement.
The House also passed a motion Wednesday asking the security agencies to recover the stolen mace within 24 hours.
The motion, sponsored by the House Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, came after a 30-minute delay in the lower legislative chamber caused by the incident in the Senate.
At the resumption of the day’s business, House members were particularly dumbfounded at the security breach in the National Assembly and the fact that the hoodlums had escaped unscathed.
According to Gbajabiamila, the National Assembly had come under attack, stressing that though a Senate issue, it affected the legislature as a whole. “What affects one affects the other,” he said.
He said information reaching him had shown that the thugs invaded the Senate chamber during plenary and forcefully seized the mace before escaping into a waiting vehicle in front of the White House of the National Assembly. “How this could be possible remains a wonder.”
He called for the total overhaul of the National Assembly security apparatus to forestall a recurrence.
Hon. Gabriel Onyenwife (APGA, Anambra) also described the development as shocking and worrisome.
He wondered: “If gold can rust, what’s the fate of other metals?”
He described the incident as a terrorist attack, noting that it was a total collapse of the democratic system.
“The National Assembly security has a lot of questions to answer. What were the security personnel doing? This attack must be thoroughly investigated, especially the complicity of the security services,” he added.
Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf (PDP, Kogi) said he doubted if the security personnel could be absolved of complicity.
“This was a well-planned attack and an attack on the institution of the legislature.”
On her part, Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje (PDP, Abia) noted that the armed attackers also attempted to abduct two senators.
“We are now under physical attack… Our democracy is under attack and if we lose the National Assembly, we lose democracy,” she charged.
Other lawmakers, who spoke off the record, were equally concerned over the ease with which the thugs accessed the chamber, considering the heavy presence of stern looking policemen in the National Assembly Wednesday.
There were unconfirmed reports that the thugs had presented police with ID cards at the entrance.
“We heard last week that the president’s people were planning to sponsor protests against us, and the protesters numbering up to a thousand would hinge it on our running cost,” a lawmaker told THISDAY.
Another lawmaker also said he would not be surprised if Omo-Agege was released Wednesday as pressure will be piled from “above” to free him.
His prophecy by evening came to pass.
However, before the solidarity visit to the Senate, the lower chamber could not reach a consensus on whether to select a delegation to visit the Senate, or if the entire House should embark on the mission.
Also, there were divided opinions on whether to adjourn sitting in solidarity with Senate.
However, Lasun, who was presiding, ruled that adjourning would mean playing into the hands of the detractors who may then claim victory.
Eventually, the House resolved that all members should pay the solidarity visit to the Senate and consider all the items listed on Wednesday’s agenda.
It further condemned in totality, the invasion of Senate, describing it as an unwarranted assault on democracy.
Ekweremadu Briefs Osinbajo
Later in the evening, when Ekweremadu met with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the State House, Abuja to formally report the invasion of Senate chamber to him, he said formally reporting the matter to the vice-president, in view of the absence of the president, was imperative.
He said the invasion was totally unacceptable, noting that he was confident that the act was also unacceptable to both the president and vice-president.
Ekweremadu, who spoke to State House correspondents, said the vice-president sympathised with the Senate over the irrational act and assured him that he would collaborate with the upper chamber and ensure that they get to the root of the invasion.
“Well, I’m sure you are aware of the Senate invasion today (yesterday) 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 a 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, and once we have this kind of major development, it is important that he is briefed at the earliest opportunity.
“The Senate President is out of the country. It is therefore my responsibility to come over and brief the vice-president. He has sympathised 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’s not acceptable to me. It’s not acceptable to the VP. It’s not acceptable to my colleagues. I believe it’s not also acceptable to the president.
“So, those who acted out 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 can 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. Having been suspended, Omo-Agege did have the legal right to enter the chamber?
“It was a breach of the law for him to force himself into the chamber. As I said, the police is still investigating this matter. 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, we will get to the root of the matter,” Ekweremadu said not knowing that Omo-Agege had regained his freedom.
But in another reaction to the incident, the federal government expressed shocked over the invasion of the National Assembly and the theft of the Senate mace by thugs.
The Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said in a statement that the security agencies had been ordered to unravel the circumstances that led to the breach of security and the invasion.
The minister added that the security around the National Assembly complex would be reinforced to prevent a recurrence.
Similarly, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) condemned the invasion. A statement issued Wednesday by the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdulahi, described the incident as an attack on democracy.
According to the ruling party, “The attention of the APC has been drawn to the invasion of the Nigerian Senate by suspected thugs who disrupted Wednesday’s plenary and made away with the mace.
“The APC hereby condemns this action and views it as an attack on our democracy and a desecration of the hallowed institution of the National Assembly.
“We therefore call on the security agencies to take all necessary actions to recover the stolen mace and ensure that the perpetrators and their sponsors are brought to justice.”
In its statement on the incident, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also condemned the invasion of the National Assembly and the seizure of the mace.
The PDP described the attack as a direct assault on the legislature and a bold attempt to truncate Nigeria’s democracy.
In a statement issued by PDP spokesman, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said the National Assembly should take measures to secure its chambers.
“We note that this offensive has been emboldened by a series of interferences and direct attacks by the APC and the Buhari presidency on the institution of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate.
“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 on a legislative day appointed by the National Assembly to further deliberate on the re-ordering of sequence of the elections, was the same day invaded by strange elements, particularly the hallowed chambers of the Senate to disrupt legislative proceeding and seize the mace?
“Equally strange is the compromise of security in the National Assembly paving the way for the invasion.
“PDP has maintained that the parliament all over the world is the bastion of democracy, without which government becomes autocratic and totalitarian.
“We urge Nigerians to pause and reflect on the series of assaults on our legislature under the current dispensation; and the persecution and harassment of the leaders and members of the Senate on trumped-up charges, including declaring a serving senator wanted by the police.
“We therefore charge the National Assembly to bring forth every legislative instrument to protect itself from external aggressions as well as unravelling every person, office and institution that played any form of role in this wild attempt to scuttle our hard earned democracy.
“Our nation has accepted democracy as the best form of governance. Those whose adrenaline cannot accommodate democracy and its constitutionally guaranteed tenets should either shape up or be forced to conform with the best ideals of democracy,” the PDP said.
Also, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar described the attack on the Senate as a dangerous precedent and an assault on Nigeria’s democracy by anti-democratic elements.
A statement by his media office quoted Atiku as stating: “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 given the tension in the country, the timing of the attack could not have come at a worse time for Nigeria, warning that using illegal and unconstitutional methods to threaten the authority of a key democratic institution was unacceptable, evil, and condemnable.
The former vice-president considered it inconceivable that hoodlums forced their way into the Senate chamber and took away the mace.
“If criminals could commit such a security breach with impunity, it means that our entire democracy is in danger,” Atiku said, further warning those behind the illegality to “avoid creating a monster that could consume them”.
Atiku reminded Nigerians that so many people had died for the country’s democracy and called for an immediate investigation into the incident and the prompt prosecution of those involved.
“It is unacceptable and reprehensible to subject the National Assembly to this intimidation and humiliation. This attack by thugs should not go unpunished no matter who is involved,” he added.
While likening democratic institutions to the human body Atiku said: “If one organ is harmed, it affects others.”
He urged those pushing the county’s political temperature to dangerous levels to cease and desist as they were playing a game of Russian roulette with Nigeria’s hard-earned democracy.
Atiku also called for unity, calm and an end to the “culture of political disunity that is tearing the country apart”.