Battle for Control of Nigeria’s National Assembly

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The ruling party All Progressives Congress has been losing grounds in past few days as many notable politicians, especially legislators, dump the party for other ones thereby prompting power struggle at the Senate and the call for the resignation of Bukola Saraki as Senate president

By Olu Ojewale

IT was a day of high drama at the National Assembly on Tuesday, August 7. Very early in morning at about 6:55 am, while a good number of people were still preparing to go to work, the nation’s seat of legislature had been surrounded by armed masked men from the Department of State Security Services, DSS. Their mission was allegedly to prevent lawmakers from gaining access into the National Assembly. In the ensuing encounter, and with so much hues and cries of the legislators and Nigerians, the lawmakers were able to gained access into the building.

At the end of the siege, which lasted until late afternoon, the DSS operatives stood down after receiving reports that acting President Yemi Osinbajo did not authorise the deployment and had also fired Lawal Daura, the director-general of the secret police, as a consequence. Osinbajo said the siege was “a gross violation of constitutional order, rule of law and all acceptable notions of law and order.”

Hence, he directed Daura to hand over to the most senior officer in the service immediately. Consequently, Mathew Seiyefa has stepped in as new head of the secret police in acting capacity.

That notwithstanding, it was suspected that the action of the DSS must have been directed by the Presidency given the tense relationship between lawmakers in the ruling APC and those that had crossed from the party to others, especially the PDP.

Indeed, the leadership of the National Assembly had summoned an emergency meeting for Tuesday, August 7. Bankole Onmisore, special assistant to the Senate president on International Relations, called the meeting via his Twitter handle on Monday, August 6.

Osinbajo
Osinbajo

The tweet said, “NASS leadership will tomorrow meet at noon to consider some national issues. The National Assembly leadership comprises both @NGRSenate and @HouseNGR.

“It will be followed by another meeting with the leadership of @inecnigeria led by its Chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu.”

The meeting was to be attended by Bukola Saraki, Senate president; Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the House of Representatives and the principal officers of both chambers who would be briefed by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the 2019 general elections.

Besides, the leadership of the National Assembly was also to discuss the recent defections in view the ongoing controversies in both chambers, especially the clamour for Saraki to resign as Senate president.

This, perhaps, prompted a group of legislators known as the Parliamentary Democrats Group, PDG, to declare that the Senate and the House will reconvene only after getting assurances that there would be no attempts to remove the leadership of the National Assembly.

Timothy Golu, the spokesman for the PDG, in a statement on Monday, August 6, said: “Our leaders are meeting to brief us on the appeal by the Presidency for us to reconvene. There must be assurances that no illegality will be attempted against any of our leaders.

“We are worried by the statements from some anti-Saraki senators like Adamu Abdullahi and Ali Ndume to the fact that the Senate president must be changed.

“Talks are ongoing and as long as there is no threat to our democratic peace, we can reconvene to attend to issues.”

The group said that only lawmakers could decide among themselves to change their leadership and not through interference by the executive arm.

“The legislature is an independent arm of government and as legislators, nobody can dictate to us. So, we advise the Presidency and the ruling APC to allow us to decide our fate.

“Our presiding officers are doing well and we have no cause to complain. Those stoking embers of discord in the parliament should kindly stay off,” the PDG said.

Similarly, the PDP members of the House of Representatives on Monday, August 6, raised the alarm of a plot to invade the Senate and reconvene it by force.

The caucus, therefore, warned that the plot, allegedly to be executed by “a small group of senators” aided by security agencies, could lead to a total breakdown of law and order at the National Assembly should the plan be hatched.

Ahmad Lawan
Ahmad Lawan

Rising from an emergency meeting, the caucus said that the plotters would pretend that they wanted the Senate to discuss urgent national issues, whereas the real intention was to remove Saraki, and Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy Senate president.

Chukwuka Onyema, deputy minority leader of the House, who signed a statement on the position of the caucus, said any illegal reconvening of the Senate would not stand.

The statement said in part: “The procedure for reconvening the National Assembly is unambiguously stated in the rules of both Houses of the National Assembly. These rules draw their constitutionality from Section 60 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“When the National Assembly stands adjourned to a fixed date, it may only be reconvened at an earlier or later date when the leaders of the political parties in the National Assembly make a written representation to the presiding officers, stating that there is a need to convene plenary to attend to matters of urgent national importance.

“In such an event, the presiding officer may give notice to members of a date that the National Assembly is to reconvene. In the present instance, there has been no such notification to either the Senate president or the speaker of the House of Representatives.”

As the plan for the meeting was going on, Ahmed Lawan, the Senate leader, who had visited Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, spoke to State House correspondents on Monday, August 6, of the need for the National Assembly to reconvene immediately in order to address some requests made by President Muhammadu Buhari.

He said that the need for the federal lawmakers to reconvene from their ongoing vacation formed part of the discussion he had with the acting president, saying: “I have come to brief him (Osinbajo) on the situation in the Senate and the discussion also considered the need for the National Assembly to reconvene immediately for us to pass the virement on the supplementary budget presented by Mr President.

“You know that the budget for 2018, the capital aspect will be largely funded by foreign facilities, loans. Now we need to approve that.

“We also need to approve other important and essential requests, especially that of INEC and other security agencies for our security to be improved.”

Yakubu Dogara, speaker of House of Representatives
Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the House of Representatives,

On his part, Ita Enang, senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly Matters (Senate), restated his appeal to the National Assembly to suspend its ongoing vacation in national interest.

He said if the federal lawmakers failed to approve the request soon, it might lead to complete government shutdown.

All that did not seem to convince the PDP lawmakers, who stormed the National Assembly on Tuesday morning, to ensure the plan to remove Saraki and Ekweremadu did not succeed. But they were barred from entering the NASS building by the DSS operatives, thereby lending credence to an alleged plan against the Senate leadership.

Ever since the incident, the unpleasant episode has remained a talking point in the public domain. So many innuendoes, fabrications, allegations and counter allegations have been trailing the DSS’ inglorious action.

Indeed, days before the before the DSS siege, the leadership of the ruling had been calling on Saraki to resign his post as Senate president because of his defection from the ruling party to the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP.

Besides, the ruling APC has also been angling towards taking control of the National Assembly because of the defection of some other lawmakers to the opposition PDP.

Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, August 8, in Abuja, on the whole saga, Saraki commended Osinbajo for doing what was right, following the termination of the appointment of Daura.

“His (Osinbajo) decisive action went a long way towards restoring confidence. It sent a powerful message – that the DSS cannot be recklessly deployed against institutions of our democracy. Mr. Acting President did the right thing,” he said.

He, however, said the damage control so far does not address the question of how such an incident happened in the first place.

Saraki also described the barricade as an act of cowardice by those seeking to carry out an illegal impeachment of the leadership of the Senate against the provisions of the law.

He stated that while much was expected of the nation, the individuals were allegedly seeking control at all costs and not considering the injury to democratic norms. He insisted the barricade of the National Assembly was to effect a leadership change in the Senate.

Saraki said: “Some of you may recall that about two years ago or three years ago, I stated that there was a government within this government, to a purpose that was not in the interest of what the people voted for.

“Despite the threat to our lives, we shall continue to fight impunity and injustice in this country. Happily, by the actions that Nigerians took yesterday, they demonstrated our strong resolve as a nation not to give ground to oppression.”

That notwithstanding, the APC appears not to be willing to allow Saraki to continue in office as Senate president.

In a statement on Wednesday, August 8, by Yekini Nabena, its acting national publicity secretary, the APC claimed that Saraki lacked the moral ground to remain in office as Senate president, after his defection to the PDP.

Omo Agege
Omo Agege

“We reiterate our call for the Senate president to resign from the position immediately as he no longer has the moral and legitimate ground to occupy that position as a member of the minority PDP.

“Going by the popular axiom, the majority will have their way, but the minority will have their say,” the ruling party said.

Reacting to the invasion of the National Assembly complex in Abuja, by security operatives, the APC said that while the party had some contention with the leadership of the National Assembly as currently constituted, the legislature must remain an independent arm of government.

It argued that the legislature should be allowed free reign for vibrant contestation of ideas and values among its members, within the context of their constitutional mandate and for the benefit of the Nigerian people.

However, the ruling party said it had investigated the incident and uncovered a plot to cause violence in the legislative chamber in a bid to allegedly stop the Senate president’s impeachment.

The APC asked the security agencies to also investigate all claims and ensure those involved in the shutting down of the National Assembly are brought to justice.

“We call on security agencies and relevant bodies to as a matter of urgency probe these findings and take all necessary and legitimate action to stop these illegalities which pose a direct and ominous threat to our democracy,” the APC said.

On his part, Ovie Omo-Agege, an APC senator from Delta State, dismissed the claims by the PDP allegation. He said, “The allegation is totally unfounded, it is a figment of their imagination and I don’t know where this is coming from. They had better focus on protecting Saraki if they must.

“However, they must understand one thing: nobody elected Saraki a monarch. He was put there (as Senate president) by senators and the senators can remove him when they believe it is time. My position on this is very clear and I have never hidden it, the moment he stopped being a member of the APC, he had lost not just the moral right but also the legal right to remain as Senate president. I expect him to do the right thing, to step down from that office and allow the majority party to appoint or elect a replacement.”

In any case, an unconfirmed report alleged that the APC lawmakers were given $1 million each to remove Saraki from office.

All this, perhaps, also informed the opinion of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.  While condemning the invasion of the National Assembly by security operatives, Abubakar alleged that the invasion was geared towards forcefully changing the Senate’s leadership.

The former VP, in a statement in Abuja, on Tuesday, August, 7, condemned what he described as “atrocity;” and called on all those involved “to put Nigeria first and abandon this madness.”

According to him, the constitution of Nigeria, as amended, guarantees both the independence of the legislature and separation of powers and as such, he said: “Nigeria is a democracy, not a military dictatorship and we, the people, will never return to tyranny.

“I, therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari and acting President Yemi Osinbajo to stop hiding behind one finger and live up to their responsibility of upholding the constitution and law and order, which they swore to on May 29, 2015.”

OzekhomeOn his part, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, and human rights activist, said the crude invasion and condoning off of the NASS, was hatched by the Presidency to illegally and unconstitutionally overthrow the leadership of the Senate, by force of arms. Based on the event of Tuesday, August 7, the lawyer asked Nigerians and “the international community should brace up for tougher times ahead, in the fight for the control of the heart and soul of this beleaguered nation.”

For him to believe that Daura was not ordered to do what he did, Ozekhome said the law must be allowed to take its course. “There is no way that Daura, not being the president and commander-in chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic, even with the intoxicating and inebriating effect of power liquor, can unilaterally, whimsically, capriciously and arbitrarily lay seige on the NASS without presidential directive, or at least approval, whether tacit or overt, of the “ogas at the top.”

To that extent, he said that “Sections 37 to 43 of the Criminal Code and sections 410 and 415 of the Penal Code, which operate in the southern and northern parts of Nigeria, respectively, deal with the offences of treason and reasonable felonies,” should be invoked to deal with the invasion.

“Let the law now take its full course. It is no respecter of any person. Enough is enough. Nigeria cannot descend lower than this lowly abyss, this unenviable nadir. Let the president exonerate himself, for once, by speaking up loud and clear in condemnation of these subversive and criminal acts against Nigeria’s sovereignty. He should not hide behind the facade of the now well known usual condescending ostrich-like pretentious taciturtnity and indifference. No. It is not acceptable to the overwhelming shocked and angry Nigerians.”

Indeed, Chidi Odinkalu, a lawyer and former DG, National Human Rights Commission, noted: “The news is not that the Ag. President has fired the outlaw DG SSS. It is that all of the SSS staff have broken out in spontaneous jubilation at his sacking! SSS officers are dancing. They know they had a terrible DG in Lawal Daura. The happiness and joy among the officers and rank and file of the SSS cannot be an act. It is real!”

On its part, The Punch in its editorial on Wednesday, August 8, said President Buhari should be held responsible. It noted that under Buhari, the country is rapidly descending into a full-blown dictatorship, which began shortly after he took office.

Recalling the events of the past three weeks, the paper said the abuse of power by the Buhari administration is only reaching epidemic proportions as the 2019 elections draw nearer.

It, therefore, warned:  “The loss of trust in someone in whom voters had placed so much hope in 2015 is disturbing.  Our state institutions should be seen to be conscientious and accountable. Buhari should refrain from further plunging Nigeria deeper into an abyss of unnecessary crisis, the type that is capable of showing the country in a bad light. A country already blighted by unprecedented levels of insecurity – terrorism, militancy, robbery, uncontrolled bloodbath and other acts of criminality – should not allow herself to be sucked in by an eddy of self-contrived political instability. What is happening does not bode well both for Nigeria’s political stability and economic prosperity.

“A country very much in need of foreign direct investment should be more tactful in her actions, especially in portraying herself to the outside world as an embodiment of the rule of law, not as an arena for rascals to exhibit lawlessness and impunity. No investor would take Nigeria seriously enough to consider her a destination for investment when the environment does not suggest that it would be safe and protected.”

Besides, it noted that: “It is only a government that has become very unpopular that behaves this way; it shows a level of desperation to hold on to power – at all costs.

“Nigeria should not be seen as one of the countries where the president, at the least provocation, has to deploy state security apparatus against the opposition.  Nigerians have a duty to speak up now, defend democracy and make it clear that they will not tolerate any form of abuse of power.”

Goddy Uwazurike, a former president of Aka Ikenga and a lawyer and a delegate to the Centenary Conference of Nigeria, said that Osinbajo’s action had shown that he did not authorise the siege on the National Assembly complex, and being a pastor and SAN, he had to wash his hands clean on the matter.  “But the real issue will come when PMB must choose between the Acting President and the DG of DSS. The cabal is very well entrenched in the kitchen cabinet of PMB. The VP is probably not a member of the kitchen cabinet. The VP may be regarded as a spare tire but as acting president, he has taken a position that is contrary to the ambition and the trappings of the power of the cabal. Time will tell,” Uwazurike said.

Daura
Daura

It appears that President Buhari has already made his choice. A security source told Realnews that: “Osinbajo was badly insulted this morning {Tuesday, August 7}. He called President Muhammadu Buhari and said ‘either Daura goes or I go’. Daura had to go or else the APC alliance would have ended today.”

Nevertheless, the European Union, EU, commended the swift response of the federal government against the blockade of the National Assembly Complex on Tuesday by operatives of the DSS.

In a statement issued on Thursday, August 9, by the delegation of the EU to Nigeria and Economic Community of West Africa on their website, the EU restated its commitment to support democracy in Nigeria.

The statement said in part: “The EU reiterates the importance of all law enforcement services staying neutral and ensuring that independent institutions can operate in line with their constitutional mandates, free from interference and intimidation.

“The upcoming general elections in 2019 are vital in ensuring national stability, peace and prosperity for all Nigerians. It is for the Nigerian people to decide the outcome of the elections, and the EU calls upon all stakeholders in Nigeria to play their part so that voters can make their decision through a free, fair, credible and peaceful election process.”

Aptly said, it is hoped that the Buhari administration will be mindful of its place in the Nigerian history by doing the needful. The world is watching!

– Aug. 10, 2018 @ 14:10 GMT |

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