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Siege on NASS and threats to Nigeria’s democracy

Legislature, one of the three arms of government apart from the executive and judiciary, is regarded as the most important anywhere in world because it is the only one that represents the practice of democratic system of government. Its absence in any country are always replaced with military dictatorship, autocracy and others that mostly cause harm to the people and the nation in general.
It is against this background that many Nigerians were saddened on Tuesday, August 7 when democracy in the country was again threatened with the siege laid on the National Assembly, NASS, that is, the federal legislature by the operatives of the State Security Service, SSS self-styled as the Department of State Services, DSS, which is the primary domestic intelligence agency in the country.
The siege, which lasted several hours paralyzed official and commercial activities in the National Assembly since the security agents barricaded all entrances to the federal legislative complex over alleged plan to impeach the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu by the All Progressives Congress, APC senators. They blocked the entrance and the entire complex as early as 6am preventing the lawmakers, their visitors, bankers, and journalists as well as over 5,000 members of staff, including the Clerk to the National Assembly, CNA, Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Omolori, among others from gaining entry into their offices.
Later, some lawmakers and journalists were allowed in before the final withdrawal of the operatives after their director general, Lawal Daura was sacked by the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo. Unfortunate, this was done at about 2,30pm after the country had been ridiculed and embarrassed before the international community by the unauthorised action of the security agents.
Osinbajo, a senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN and Professor of Law, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, described the unauthorised takeover of the National Assembly complex 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”.
Trouble had started for the masked and gun wielding DSS operatives when senators elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Part, PDP like Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti South), Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara South) and Murray Ben-Bruce (Bayelsa East) were blocked from gaining access into NASS complex at about 6:50am, claiming order from above.
This was as while the three senators battling the DSS operatives to enter, a PDP member in the House of Representatives from Rivers State, Hon Boma Good-Head confronted one of the operatives with verbal assault, saying “you are a criminal for masking yourself and carrying gun, and a criminal like you cannot stop an elected lawmaker from accessing the premises of the National Assembly”.
Efforts made by the masked security operative to block the daring female lawmaker with his body, worsened the situation as she pushed him out of the way and angrily said: “Shoot me if you like, agent of law breakers. Shoot me, shoot me!” and walked her way inside.
Emboldened by Good-Head’s bravery, the three senators, who were only arguing with the security operatives on the need for them to be allowed in quickly changed their tactics of approach by angrily prevailing on them to allow them in being elected lawmakers as well.
Their pressure at that point overwhelmed the DSS operatives by allowing them in as well as other PDP lawmakers who came thereafter like Senators Dino Melaye, Philip Aduda, Clifford Ordia, Atai Aidoko, Geshom Bassey, Ahmed Ogembe, Isa Misau, Peter Nwaoboshi, Danjuma Lar, Ubali Shittu, Abubakar Lau, Emmanuel Bwacha, Gilbert Nnaji, Obinna Ogba, Sam Anyanwu, Suleiman Nazif, Suleiman Adoke , Akpan Bassey, Mathew Urhoghide etc.
Irked by the action of the security operatives, Senator Ben-Bruce in an interview with journalists said: “We have it on good authority that this blockage by security operatives is being done for illegal leadership change in the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly which will not come to fruition because those of us in PDP will never give in for any illegal change of leadership by the APC Senators who we learnt are somewhere, planning to invade this place for that purpose.
“As I speak with you, I have contacted the American and British embassies on this shameful invasion of NASS by Security operatives and they have assured me of their appropriate response in terms of condemnation.
“After this interview, I will inform other embassies like that of Canada, Germany, France , Italy etc of this barbaric act of the Nigerian security agencies against democracy in Nigeria and that actors of such act like Senator Godswill Akpabio should have their visas and that of their family members revoked”.
Despite concession granted the lawmakers to enter NASS, the DSS operatives at about 9:00 am prevented the CNA from entering for insisting that staff of the federal parliament must also be allowed entry.
“Allowing me to enter as CNA without my support staff and the entire workers in NASS, is of no use, the consequences of which would amount to a wasted day here today”, he said and angrily walked away.
However the alleged plot by APC senators to hold an illegal session for the purposes of impeaching Saraki and Ekweremadu through suspension, failed as all PDP senators who forced their way in, barricaded entrance to the chamber to prevent the planned sitting from 7am to 5pm.
Before their departure, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, made a triumphant entry at about 4pm accompanied by hundreds of supporters chanting “Freedom come, by struggle, by struggle, freedom come”, “Olooye, Olooye” etc.
As show of unflinching support for Saraki, 49 PDP senators including the former senate president, David Mark signed list of vote of confidence on him and Ekweremadu.
Saraki, while addressing a world press conference on the siege the following day in Abuja, said the DSS action without approval of the Presidency, was a confirmation of “having a government within this government, to a purpose that was not in the interest of what the people voted for” and what he said he had been warning against since two years ago”.
“I said it then, and now we are beginning to see the manifestations of that government within a government. It beats one’s imagination how the head of an agency could have authorized the brazen assault on the legislature that we saw yesterday (Tuesday). Despite the threat to our lives, we shall continue to fight impunity and injustice in this country.
“Happily, by the actions that Nigerians took yesterday, they demonstrated our strong resolve as a nation not to give ground to oppression. The legislature, more than any other institution in this country, more than any other arm of government, represents the will of the people. We are elected by the people, and an assault on the legislature is an assault on the people of Nigeria.
“The forcible shutdown of the legislature was an unconscionable assault on a national institution, and thanks to all your efforts, the aggressors have been put to shame”, he explained.
The senate president, however, commended the Acting President for the firm decision taken to punish those who invaded the National Assembly by sacking the Director General of DSS from office with immediate effect. “His decisive action went a long way towards restoring confidence. It sent a powerful message – that the DSS cannot be recklessly deployed against institutions of our democracy”, he said.
Saraki added: “The path of leadership is not by party, and we must commend it wherever it is found. Mr. Acting President did the right thing. However, the damage control so far does not address the question of how this atrocity happened in the first place”.
It’s unfortunate that security agencies in Nigeria often overstep their boundaries in carrying out their constitutional responsibilities. Ordinarily, the DSS is primarily responsible for intelligence gathering within the country and for the protection of senior government officials, particularly the President, Vice President, the state governors and their deputies, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and their deputies, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN and other very top government functionaries. The list also includes former presidents and their spouses.
Although the DSS operates as a department within the Presidency, it is under the control of the National Security Adviser, NSA. The mission of the security agency is to protect and defend the Federal Republic of Nigeria against domestic threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of Nigeria, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to both federal and state law-enforcement organs.
In Nigeria, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides for separation of power among the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, as seen in Sections 4 and 5 and 6. Indeed, while Section 4 and Section 5 dwell on the Legislature and the Executive, Section 6 talks about the Judiciary. And these arms of government have their functions. To be sure, whereas the Executive branch ensures that the laws of the nation are not only followed but also that the “responsibilities of government are fulfilled”, the legislature makes laws. The judiciary, on its part, interprets as well as applies the laws/constitution of the country. When these arms or branches of government do their jobs, government runs smoothly.
Today, there is a gratuitous face-off between the Presidency and the National Assembly. Owing to the conduct of officials of the Executive, most especially, encouraged by those who do not love democracy, the two branches of government have been operating like enemies in a democracy, at a time when synergy is needed, for the attainment of a common goal.
While many have applauded the big stick wielded against Daura over the illegal invasion of National Assembly, it is rather unfortunate that the Executive arm of government often encourage its appointees to disrespect the legislature or to a large extent, the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances facilitate the efficient working of – and harmonious interaction between – the three arms of government in a federal or presidential system like Nigeria.

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