Last Wednesday was a day like no other in the National Assembly. It was a day never seen in the history of the federal legislsture, since the country’s independence in 1960.
On that day, members of the House of Representatives, legislative aides and journalists covering the Green Chamber were preparing for the commencement of the day’s business, when suddenly someone raised the alarm that herdsmen had invaded the National Assembly.
Instantly, there was a pandamonium, as people started running helter skelter, in a bid to save themselves from the wrath of the invaders.
Ironically, as many workers scampered for safety, many journalists, yours sincerely inclusive, moved cautiously to the main lobby of the National Assembly to ascertain the true state of affairs. It soon emerged that some hoodlums, and not herdsmen, had invaded the hallowed chamber of the Senate, while the Red Chamber was in session, and made away with the mace, which is the symbol of the authority of the legislature.
Later in the Green Chamber, there was tension, shock and anger over the incident. Lawmakers were alarmed that thugs could walk straight into the Senate Chamber and remove the mace, in the full glare of the public. The rage that enveloped the chamber was so palpable. Members of the House in their various submissions described the ugly incident as a desecration of the parliament and a failed coup d ‘etat against the nation’s democracy.
Speaking under Matters of Urgent National Importance, the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, who formally brought the issue to the attention of the House, described it as a sacrilege.
“Thugs came into the Senate chamber while senators were sitting and they took off with the mace into a waiting vehicle. This is an anomaly. The assembly is porous
“How did they get in? I think what we have to discuss today is how to beef up security. I think we should in solidarity send a delegation to the Senate, identify with the Senate and pick up some facts and get a committee to look into the security of the national assembly. They took the Mace and ran away. That’s sacrilegious,” Gbajabiamila said.
An All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) representative, Gabriel Onyenwife described the situation thus: “It is not only worrisome but shocking. Our people say if gold can rust what is the fate of other metal? The National Assembly, institution of legislature is under a terrorism attack. If the legislature can be attacked, where lies the fate of the executive and judiciary.
“ Today, it is a mace. Assuming it is a member or a Senate that the terrorists have come to attack, if it is not unraveled, it is a serious security matter. The security in the National Assembly has a lot of questions to answer. What were the security personnel doing? We have sergert-at-arms here. The security details should also explain.”
Like Onyenwife, Ahmed Pategi said there is more to it than meets the eyes. The Kwara lawmaker said contrary to what most people believe, the invaders were not thugs. According to him, the incident has pattern with the ransacking of the homes of some judges, months earlier. He blamed the parliament for keeping silent when security agents ransacked the homes of serving judges in the dead of the night.
“It cannot be thugs.We are in the Three Arms Zone. The most secured part of the FCT. It was done in conjunction with the security apparatus, it is hard to believe they are thugs. They passed through several security checkpoints,” Pategi said.
Like most of the lawmakers pointed out, the mere fact that the invaders got out of the National Assembly, with the mace raises a lot of security concerns.
Ironically, there were an unusual police presence that fateful Wednesday. Yet, apart from the efforts of the Sergent-at- Arms to retrieve the mace, there is no record of any attempt by any of the many security agents in the National Assembly to save the situation.
The Senate invasion brings to the fore the level of insecurity in the country and the helplessness of our security agencies. It is unimaginable, that such attack could take place in the National Assembly of all places.
The question there is if the National Assembly could be attacked at will by gangsters, where then is safe in the country. Imagine the level of calamity that would have befallen this country if that Wednesday incident was to be terror. It is expected that with the incident, the National Assembly management and the leadership would take urgent steps to beef up security within and around the parliament. In as much there is nothing wrong, one expects the ugly incident to serve as a wake up call to the government to ensure adequate security for the citizens .
Everyday, across the length and breadth of Nigeria, citizens are killed in cold blood. There is virtually no state in the country, that is free from one security challenge or the other. States not contending with ruinous herdsmen, who have made life, a living hell for Nigerians, are groaning under kidnapping and other forms of insecurity. Yet, all of us, the members of the National Assembly inclusive, carry on as if all is well.
Beyond indignation on the invasion of the Senate chamber, the incident should compel our lawmakers to sit down with the executive to redesign the security architecture in the country. It is important steps are taken to protect the sanctity of the legislature, in the interest of our democracy. But it is also important to take much more urgent steps to protect the lives and property of the citizens. We need to be alive to enjoy the dividends of democracy; especially as democracy is said to be for the people.
Besides the security concerns, my fear is that what happened at the Senate on Wednesday may soon become a pattern in state assemblies acrosa the country. Therefore, I expect the House of Representatives, and by extension the National Assembly, to come up with legislations that would prescribe stiff penalty for such a misadventure, anywhere it may occur.
Like Pategi rightly pointed out, the federal legislature is guilty of playing the ostrich, when other key institutions that nuture our democracy come under one form of attack or the other.
Recently, a House of Representatives correspondent with the Trust Newspapers, Mr Musa Krishi was whisked away from the National Assembly in Gestapo style by security operatives over an advertorial published by his newspaper. That absurd incident was a most vicious attack on free speech, as it is unheard off that journalists are harrassed for advertorials published by their publications.
Yet, several weeks after, not a mention has been made of that assault on the media, by the House, which prides itself as the House of the Nigerian people. An injury to one, should be an injury to all.