The unexpected happened penultimate Wednesday in the Senate, the upper chamber of the Nigerian National Assembly. Some young men gatecrashed into its chamber while the senate was in session, headed for the Mace, snatched it, turned around and exited the chamber. Not even the Sergeant-at-arms and his officers could stop the well-built men. They shoved aside anybody who dared stand in their way.
Out of the building, they ran into a waiting car and drove off. An unsuspecting senator ran into the “hoodlums” and was bundled into the car. Apparently they wanted him as a hostage or a human shield to facilitate their escape. Somehow, he fought off the men and came out of the car. They did not go after him. Instead, they sped off, taking the same route they used to enter the National Assembly complex.
Meanwhile, back in the senate chamber, senator Ike Ekweremadu, who was presiding over plenary that day, in the absence of Senate President Bukola Saraki, and other officers took refuge in the tea room. The senate was in uproar. Everybody was trying to make sense of what was happening. It seemed surreal but, indeed, the fact was the Senate had just been attacked and the symbol of its authority forcibly taken away.
A lot of questions to ask. Who masterminded the ‘invasion’? It is now confirmed that senator Ovie Omo-Agege was behind it all. He was not supposed to be in the presincts of the National Aseembly, not to talk of taking his seat in the senate because he was serving a 90-day suspension for breaking the standing rules of the senate.
How did he and his ‘boys’ find their way into the Senate chamber unnoticed? Why were they not stopped at the main gate, manned by armed police and other security personnel? A report quoted a police officer as saying that the young men introduced themselves as guests of the suspended senator. But were the security officers not instructed to stop senator Omo-Agege from showing his face in the NASS complex? This is a key question that the leadership of the senate has been unable to answer. It does suggest a serious communication gap and, worse, lack of intelligence.
In the ensuing confusion, a conspiracy theory has sprung up. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its senators suspect the APC-led Presidency engineered the ‘invasion’ to embarrass the senate leadership headed by Saraki whom the Presidency allegedly wants to get rid of. This narrative is reinforced by the fact that senator Omo-Agege’s suspension has to do with his opposition to the senate’s recent decision to change the order of next year’s elections. This is believed to be aimed at disadvantaging President Mùhammadu Buhari who recently announced he would seek re-election.
However, it is doubtful that Buhari or APC planned or knew of the attack beforehand. One, he was away in London attending the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM) when the incident occurred. Two, the APC’s national leadership promptly condemned the attack, promising it would be thoroughly investigated.
While the blame game lasts, there can be no doubt that last Wednesday’s incident was a monumental national disgrace. Senate spokesman Sabi Abdullahi called it “an act of treason”. He said, “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.” His opinion may be well over the top. But this is not to downplay the significance of the event of last Wednesday. It happened right before visiting Ghanain parliamentarians, watching from the gallery. They saw it all and must have been bemused. They came to learn something good from ‘big brother’ but went back asking why they came at all.
Two things must be done right away to prevent a repeat of last Wednesday’s ugly incident. Investigate senator Omo-Agege and boys thoroughly. It is good that the police have him in custody; he must be made to reveal everything he knew about the attack, whether he acted alone or he took orders from superior power. Two, the National Assembly must improve on intelligence gathering and ensure effective communication between its leadership and the security machinery. Last Wednesday exposed a wide chasm that must bridged.