Penultimate Tuesday, armed operatives of Department of State Service (DSS) arrived at the National Assembly, used one of the vehicles they came in to block the main entrance. Inside the legislature building, they locked the Senate and House of Representatives chambers. Offices of supporting staff were also barred. All that happened at a time the federal lawmakers were expected back from recess.
Hours later, a number of opposition senators arrived the National Assembly precinct. They managed to go past the barricaded main entrance but were prevented from entering the legislative building. As the number of arrivals swelled, confusion set in. The lawmakers, from mainly the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), were soon joined by protesters from civil society organisations. The armed security men, however, kept their cool in the face of taunts from the lawmakers. They said the occupation of the National Assembly was undemocratic.
The DSS men said they acted on “an instruction from above”. The “above” was taken to be the Presidency. However, acting President Yemi Osinbajo, holding the forte in the absence of holidaying President Muhammadu Buhari, denied the Presidency ordered the “invasion”. He promptly fired the head of the DSS, Mr. Lawal Daura. He was appointed by Buhari. Daura also was arrested for an investigation to be carried out. Later Buhari’s media spokesman Femi Adesina said the President backed Daura’s sack and arrest.
We applaud the prompt response of the acting president to the scary National Assembly siege. Too many things had happened earlier to make non partisan Nigerians suspicious. A fortnight ago, armed policemen, acting on “orders from above” laid siege on the Benue State House of
Assembly. This followed governor Samuel Ortom’s decision to ditch his former party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the PDP. He left with all his cabinet and a number of local government council chairmen. Reports said the police allowed 8 APC lawmakers to sit but barred 22 PDP lawmakers. The APC legislators’ plan was to impeach the governor.
Few days after the Benue incident, the police were reported to have barricaded the Abuja homes of the Senate’s president Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu. There were suggestions however that the drama was staged to give Saraki an edge. That theory, perhaps, explains why Saraki and Ekweremadu managed to beat the “house arrest.” That fateful day, Saraki announced the exit of over a dozen senators from the ruling party. He followed suit shortly aftterward. On all those occasions, President Buhari was out of Abuja. Just a coincidence it seems.
As we said, the promptness with which the Presidency washed its hands of both the Benue House of Assembly and NASS sieges helped to erase suspicion of executive complicity. However, it has not reduced thé rising political temperature ahead of next year’s general elections. We, at Peoples Daily, condemn the NASS siege as the most unintelligent thing a supposed intelligence department would do. The unauthorized occupation, regrettably gave the picture of a govenment unable to rein in its appointees. It also rediculed Nigeria in the eyes of the democratic world.
However, while we condemn the assault on a pillar of our democracy, we are careful not to confuse this as an endorsement of the conduct of our fair weather lawmakers. From allocating hefty salaries to themselves from spendings meant for projects to benefit the poor, the lawmakers have shown that they are a self serving lot, a hoard not worth defending. Add to this their unprincipled penchant for cross-carpeting and we wonder who really are democracy’s enemies!