…The many travails of a parliament
The event of yesterday threw the National Assembly into chaos. It followed an invasion by armed thugs who overpowered security men and took away the Senate’s mace.
The invaders, about 12, forced their way in at about 11:30 a.m. They arrived in three SUVs, which they parked in front of the Assembly building (White House) that houses the two chambers. Some took charge of the entrance. Others watched the vehicles. Within five minutes, three of the men who entered the chamber returned with the mace, jumped into the vehicles and sped away.
Since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule, 18 years ago (1999-2018), the two chambers of the National Assembly have repeatedly witnessed one form of trouble or another.
The curtain opens at the House of Representatives. Shortly after its inauguration in June 1999, the then Speaker, Salisu Buhari, was accused of certificate forgery. Members were split into two camps. Initially, a majority supported the speaker. With time, however, Buhari’s antagonists increased. There were rowdy sessions. Occasionally, lawmakers rose and physically defended the mace from being taken by thugs. Fisticuffs were not uncommon.
On July 23, 1999, Buhari bowed to pressure and resigned. “I apologise to you. I apologise to the nation. I apologise to my family and friends for all the distress I have caused them. I was misled in error by zeal to serve the nation. I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again,” he said.
As that scene ended, the floodlights turned on the Senate. A crisis ensued that shook the then Evan Enwerem-led Chamber to its foundation. The Senate President was accused of altering his personal records. The ensuing controversy forced him out of office.
Senators became fed up with the presiding officer. They said he was hardly around to oversee the chamber’s affairs on account of his unquestioning devotion to the then President Obasanjo. One November afternoon, while Enwerem followed the presidential entourage to the airport, Senator Khairat Abdulrazaq (PDP, FCT) gathered the signatures of his colleagues for the finishing blow.
Enter the late Senator Chuba Okadigbo and President of the Senate. His tenure turned out to be the most trouble-ridden and his sessions the most rowdy. Once, the mace was seized. Not by thugs or masked men. The Senate president took the object to his house! The climax was the deployment of armed policemen on a recovery mission. Loyal senators mounted a blockade and the policemen withdrew.
Okadigbo had taken the desperate action out of the fear that his Deputy, the late Haruna Abubakar, whom he believed was in cahoots with the executive, could convene the Senate in his absence and unseat him. His tenure ended when he lost the majority of his supporters in the Senate, following sustained attacks by opponents including the Presidency.
The theatre of chaos reopened at the House of Representatives, shortly after Okadigbo’s resignation. Pressure mounted on the then Speaker Ghali Umar Na’Abba, to resign. He stood his ground and drew a battle line against the executive arm of government. But a few lawmakers took sides with the Presidency. There were often exchanges of blows as supporters of Na’Abba and Obasanjo clashed.
The climax came when a huge sack of cash was emptied at the chamber, being allegedly money to bribe members to facilitate Na’Abba’s exit. Hon. Jagaba Adams Jamba (Kachia/Kagarko: Kaduna) alleged the Obasanjo administration offered N500,000 to each member for the dirty job.
The House of Representatives also witnessed several rowdy sessions while Dimeji Bankole was Speaker, particularly following allegations of fraudulent purchase of electronic gadgets. Eleven lawmakers, led by Dino Melaye, mounted a fierce opposition against Bankole over the issue. Matters came to a head when members of the Melaye unit were suspended but refused to leave. A detachment of Bankole loyalists consequently pounced on the group, tore their clothes and dragged them out of the chamber.
Then there was the tragic fallout of protests over allegations of fraudulent contracts levelled against the leadership of the House. Pressure was mounted on the then Speaker, Patricia Etteh, to resign or be impeached. She had many loyal lawmakers and soon there was a fight between her supporters and opponents, which resulted in the death of Aminu Safana, the chairman of the House Committee on Health. He collapsed, was rushed to the National Hospital, Abuja, and later pronounced dead.
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