There was commotion at the National Assembly on Thursday as a plot to stop the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, from entering the assembly complex failed.
Riot policemen tear-gassed angry lawmakers, who were protesting against the development.
Although the general belief was that the security operatives were deployed in the assembly to prevent Tambuwal from presiding over Thursday’s “special plenary,” Newsmen gathered that it was to stop some lawmakers, especially those in the All Progressives Congress Caucus, from tabling a motion for President Goodluck Jonathan’s impeachment.
The drama started as early as 6am when heavily armed policemen and hooded Department of State Service operatives blocked all the gates to the National Assembly.
They conducted searches on the vehicles of Senators, House members, workers and visitors to the complex, all in a bid to stop the speaker from entering the premises.
Tambuwal arrived around 10.47am to meet the blockade. He managed to pass through the first gate after the security personnel asked for his identification.
But, on reaching the main entrance gate, he was stopped by the policemen who were led by a top officer from the Federal Capital Territory Police Command.
Angered by the police action, many APC lawmakers in the speaker’s company became agitated and demanded explanations from the police.
At this point, Tambuwal stepped out of his car and introduced himself to the officer as “Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the speaker of the House of Representatives.”
But the officer, who kept pressing his mobile telephone buttons, replied, “wait, wait, wait for me.”
He eventually made a call and later allowed the speaker to be sneaked in through a side gate.
However, the gate remained shut against all other members, most of whom were APC members.
This further infuriated the lawmakers, who began to shake the gate violently in a move to pull it down.
Realising it would be a Herculean task, they resorted to scaling the gate to the main complex.
Among those who scaled the gate were the Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila; the Deputy Minority Leader, Abdulrahman Kawu; the Chairman, House Committee on Public. Accounts, Solomon Olamilekan ; the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Victor Ogene; Bimbo Daramola and Babatunde Adejare.
When the policemen realised that locking the gate yielded no results, they started throwing tear gas canisters at the lawmakers, including Tambuwal.
Twice, canisters landed right in front of the Speaker as he walked, shielded by his colleagues to the entrance of the lobby.
At the lobby, the enraged lawmakers, practically pulled down its doors down as they forcibly guarded Tambuwal into the House for proceedings to begin.
They chanted, “Make way for the Speaker, ” make way for the Speaker,” as the police threw more tear gas canisters right inside the lobby.
Many people ran for their lives, struggling to breathe.
Reps harass, accuse Mark, Ihedioha of conspiracy
Earlier, the Senate President David Mark and many senators had been stopped for about 30 minutes at the Presidential Gate to the National Assembly before being allowed to enter the complex.
When Mark heard that the speaker had entered, he went to the House to discuss with him in what appeared like a show of solidarity.
But, his entry into the House chambers infuriated many APC lawmakers, who asked him to leave.
The lawmakers harassed Mark, accusing him of being part of the conspiracy to stop the speaker from presiding over the House.
One member, Abdulmalik Cheche, held him by the shoulders and shook him violently, almost removing his cap.
“You know we served in the army together, you know we served in the army together,” he shouted, still shaking Mark’s shoulders.
Ironically, Chehe, like the Senate President, is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Another member, Shehu ABG, shouted at Mark, saying “Go back to your chambers. Where were you when they threw tear gas at us?”
One other lawmaker , Aliyu Gelbi, made to hit Mark, but for members who held him tightly.
Tambuwal intervened to stop the protesting lawmakers and later spoke briefly with Mark before the Senate President exited the chambers.
A visibly angry Kawu also tried to attack the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, accusing him of being part of the “conspiracy to stop the speaker.”
“This is a shameful act; we won’t take it; we won’t allow it”, he shouted and pointed angrily at Ihedioha before he was held by some members.
The House later sat successfully with Tambuwal presiding.
Members went into an executive session and discussed President Goodluck Jonathan’s request to extend the emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
At the session, the members reportedly rejected Jonathan’s request outright.
Briefing reporters on the outcome of the session, the House spokesman, Zakari Mohammed, said members resolved that extending the emergency rule for another six months was unnecessary because it was not working.
He said, “We didn’t approve the President’s request because the emergency rule is not working.
“If we had approved this one today (Thursday), it would have been the fourth, yet it is not yielding results.
“If you are using a particular strategy that is not working, you have to change it.”
He added that the House advised the President to rely on Section 8 of the Armed Forces Act and the 1999 Constitution to deploy troops for operational purposes.
“Our resolution is no more extension; he should deploy the armed forces for operational purposes as he is empowered by relevant laws to do so,” Mohammed stated.
He said the motion to consider the President’s request was moved by the Deputy Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor.
Mohammed added that the House “condemned” the move by the police and other security agents to stop the speaker from entering the House.
He said, “This action by the police is condemnable. Members expressed dismay over this drama but we thank God that we forced our way in and held our sitting.
“Mr. President wrote us to extend emergency rule, yet we were barred from entering the House.
“Did they expect us to sit on the streets of Abuja to approve the emergency extension?”
Ogor later apologised profusely on behalf of the House for the actions of some members, particularly the attack on Mark.
“I apologise to the Nigerian people and especially, the Senate President, who came to ensure that there was peace in the House”, Ogor said.
The House later adjourned sitting till December 3.
Tambuwal led a delegation of members soon after House rose to Mark’s office, but the latter was said to have shunned the group.
There has been crisis in the House since Tambuwal defected from the PDP to the APC on October 28.
The PDP has since declared that he should vacate his seat for a PDP member, since he had left the party on which platform he became the speaker.
The Inspector-General, Mr. Suleiman Abba, had also withdrawn Tambuwal’s police security personnel.
The matter is pending before an Abuja Federal High Court.
113 Reps begin impeachment move against Jonathan
The PUNCH however gathered that about 113 members of the House had as of Thursday signed to remove Jonathan.
Investigations revealed that the lawmakers actually wanted to table a motion for Jonathan’s impeachment on Thursday, using the opportunity of the reconvening of the House .
A National Assembly source, who confided in one of our correspondents, explained that the counter-plot(deployment of security operatives) explained why Ihedioha and many PDP members were allowed unhindered access into the House.
The source said, “The motion for the impeachment of the President was to have been moved today (Thursday). Somehow, the plot leaked and the PDP members were allowed easy entry into the chambers so that in connivance with the police, they could stop it (impeachment motion).
“In doing so, they would have passed the extension of state of emergency and go ahead to pronounce the speaker removed.
“It was also part of their counter plan to declare the seats of the 37 PDP members who earlier defected to the APC vacant and thereby strengthen the PDP.
“When the APC members got to know that this was the reason for the action of the police, they became like wounded lions.”
The PUNCH gathered that even after the House settled down for business on Thursday, some members still insisted on moving the motion for Jonathan’s removal.
It was gathered Tambuwal prevailed upon them not to go ahead as it would further aggravate an already charged atmosphere.
Another source added, “We still wanted to move the motion but the speaker pleaded with us. However, when we resume on December 3, we will still come up with that motion.”
When contacted for comments, the House spokesman, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, said impeachment was not the “official purpose for our sitting.”
“Notice of impeachment was not an item on our agenda today (Thursday). So, I won’t talk on that one.
“There are 360 of us and our official duty for today(Thursday) was state of emergency extension.”
Mark shuts N’Assembly, Senate summons IG
Mark, whose convoy was briefly stopped at the gate that links the National Assembly from the State House, openly confronted the Chief Security Officer of the National Assembly to explain who invited the policemen. He argued that he, as the Chairman of the assembly, reserved the right to make such request.
Mark later met with the principal officers of the Senate and Ihedioha, who visited him over the development.
He left with Ihedioha to the lower chamber when they were informed that Tambuwal had also entered.
On his return, Mark met his colleagues who were already protesting their maltreatment by the security operatives.
Most of them said they were forced to trek a distance of about 200 metres from the main gate to their offices because they were not allowed to enter the premises with their vehicles.
Mark, at the resumption of plenary, ordered the shutdown of the National Assembly over the incident.
He said, “Because of the very unfortunate incident in the National Assembly , I have decided to shut down both the Senate and House of Representatives until Tuesday next week.
“We will also invite the IG to appear before us here on Tuesday. There will be no business in the National Assembly today it remains shut till Tuesday (next week).’’
He condemned the use of force on parliamentarians and civil servants who were on their way to their offices to carry out their duties.
Mark also hinted that the Senate had asked the service chiefs billed to appear before it on Thursday (yesterday) to do so on Tuesday.
Presidency, IG defend deployment of policemen
While the Senators and House members fumed, the Presidency and Abba justified the deployment of security operatives, saying it was to defend the 1999 Constitution and prevent a breakdown of law and order.
Abba, in a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, Emmanuel Ojukwu, said the police action followed an intelligence report of a likely invasion of the House by thugs.
He claimed that in the course of screening the House members and visitors, Tambuwal arrived with “a motley crowd and assaulted the Police operatives on duty.”
The IG cautioned politicians and their followers to respect constituted authorities and follow due process in the pursuit of their agenda.
He warned that the Police “shall apply the full weight of the law on any political actor who violates the peace and security of the nation.”
To the Presidency, there was no need to castigate the action of the police, which it said, was aimed at making sure that the laws of the land were obeyed.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, told journalists at a news conference in Abuja that it would be wrong to assume that the IG was acting on orders from the Presidency.
Okupe said, “Assumption (on whether the police boss was acting on instruction from the President) should stop. The IG is a very senior officer of the government and his duties are to enforce the law.
“He doesn’t need to get the Villa to enforce the law. Though he works under the government, he is expected to defend the law. The IG has the duty to enforce the law.
“He acted in the discharge of his duty. The IG didn’t invade the assembly. It is wrong to assume that.”
Nevertheless, Okupe described the commotion in the National Assembly as unfortunate and appealed to politicians to always put the interest of the nation first in their actions.
He appealed to the members of the House to urgently resolve the crisis before Tuesday to enable them to act on the President’s request for the extension of emergency rule in North-East.