“It is unfortunate that this is happening; because when the parliament is under siege, democracy is under siege,”
–Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Yusuf Lasun.
Democracy in Nigeria was brought under threat yet again when Nigerians woke up to the news of the siege laid to the National Assembly complex by operatives from the Department of State Services better known as the DSS and men of Nigeria Police on Tuesday, August 7, 2018. Initially, all the lawmakers and staff of the National Assembly including journalists were prevented from entering the complex. However, some lawmakers were later allowed in. This is most shocking, heartrending and preposterous as the country was brought to ridicule yet again in the comity of nations. The Presidency was so thoroughly embarrassed to the extent that the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, wasted no time in wielding the big stick by ordering the sacking of the Director General of the DSS, Mallam Lawal Daura. It was not until his sacking was announced at about 2:30pm that his masked men at the National Assembly vacated the assembly premises.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, read thus, “Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, has described the unauthorised takeover of the National Assembly complex earlier today as a gross violation of constitutional order, rule of law and all acceptable notions of law and order. According to him, the unlawful act, which was done without the knowledge of the Presidency, is condemnable and completely unacceptable.” By this statement, Osinbajo is consequently assuring Nigerians that all persons within the law enforcement apparatus who participated in this travesty will be identified and subjected to appropriate disciplinary action. We wait to see.
I was privileged to discuss the issue on four different media platforms in the Federal Capital Territory, viz, Kiss 99.9 FM, WE 106.3 FM, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria and Nigerian Television Authority. On these news platforms, I offered my perspectives on the unfortunate saga. I do hope the sacking of Daura will serve as a lesson to the security operatives who overreach themselves in order to impress their political bosses. I also saw what happened on Tuesday as a triumph of public opinion. Many Nigerians condemned the excesses of the security agencies and called for the sacking of the leaders of the agencies.
Before getting to discuss the implications of the invasion of the National Assembly by the security operatives, let me quickly remind readers that this act of lawlessness by the security agencies did not start today. It has been with us from the colonial times. The military and paramilitary agencies have been largely used for regime protection rather than citizen protection over the years in Nigeria. Literature is replete with information about how the security agencies were used to aid and abet electoral fraud. Ahmadu Kurfi, in his book entitled, Nigerian General Elections: 1951 – 2003,” has this to say of the 1964 General Elections: “In all regions, the campaigns for the election were characterised by …arrests and imprisonment of political opponents by agencies of regional governments and denial of permits to hold public meetings or processions.”
As it was then, so it is now. In 2014, the security agencies were deployed to aid and support the Peoples Democratic Party candidate in the Ekiti State governorship election, who is the outgoing governor, Ayodele Fayose, to victory. Recall that Captain Sagir Koli blew the whistle on how the military was used to rig election. His claim was investigated and validated by the Maj. Gen. Adeniyi Oyebade panel who found Brig. Gen. Aliyu Momoh culpable for allegedly supervising the rigging of the election. The Nigerian Army authorities subsequently fired Momoh for the unethical conduct of officers and soldiers under him during the election because the report indicted them.
Not only that, recall the ignominious role the police played in the abduction of former Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State; the siege to the Rivers State Government House in Port Harcourt during the tenure of a former Commissioner of Police who retired as Assistant Inspector General of Police during the second term of former Governor Chibuike Amaechi; the use of the military to postpone election for six weeks in 2015; the use of the police to postpone election during the last governorship election in Edo State; the alleged misuse of men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Rivers State in the recent past; the invasion of the residences of the Senate President and his Deputy on July 24, 2018; the complicity of men of the Nigeria Police in providing security cover for eight Benue State House of Assembly members to sit and serve an impeachment notice on Governor Samuel Ortom on Monday, July 30, 2018 among others.
These are all actions tantamount to abuse of state and administrative resources which are condemnable. All these are what have heightened fears of citizens about the call for State Police. If federal security agencies can be so grossly abused, Nigerians fear that State Police under the control of governors will be a recipe for disaster. It need not be so but experiences of the misuse of the Native Authority Police in the First Republic make people to cringe when issues bordering on State Police are broached.
Back to the Tuesday siege to the National Assembly complex, it beggars belief that that could happen considering the fact that the Senate President had issued a press release to the effect that the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly would meet to consider when to reconvene to discuss and possibly approve some presidential requests top of which is the budget for the 2019 general election. The Presidency through the Senior Special Assistant of the President to the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang, had over the weekend made a passionate appeal to his former colleagues to cut short their recess to approve the President’s borrowing plans, vire some money for preparation for the 2019 elections, screen and confirm some presidential nominees, among others. Unfortunately, just when Nigerians thought a truce had been reached, the DSS and police decided to play the spoilers’ role. Grapevine sources have it that some members of the Senate had hatched plans to forcefully reconvene the National Assembly and remove the Senate President and his deputy, and, possibly, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The position of these hardliners is at variance with Section 50 (2) (c) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution which says that the two aforementioned presiding officers can only be removed by two-thirds majority of the Senate unless they choose to resign. Unfortunately, when the bubble burst and the DSS DG, Lawal Daura, was sacked, the All Progressives Congress which many believed were in the know about the evil plot distanced itself from both the plan and the invasion by the operatives of the DSS.
The siege to the National Assembly has led to the postponement of the planned meeting of the leadership of the lawmakers. Where do we go from here? Once again, it’s hope deferred. I do hope that Acting President Osinbajo will rein in all security operatives not to allow themselves to be used to truncate the country’s nascent democracy. He should schedule a meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly and ensure their safety within and outside of the complex. He should also meet with those purported to be baying for Saraki and Ekweremadu’s blood to sheathe their swords and follow due process in their inordinate ambition to unseat the duo for belonging to an opposition party.