Hundreds of protesters, under the aegis of National Convener of Citizens’ Action to take back Nigeria, CATBAN, Tuesday, stormed the National Assembly, calling for the resignation of Dr. Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives, and their colleagues for alleged sponsoring of political killings in the country.
The protesters, mostly women and youths, were seen carrying placards with threats and caution to the National Assembly as they made vehicular movement impossible, even as they blocked the entrance to the National Assembly with a truck,
Led by Comrade Ibrahim Garba, the protesters accused the lawmakers of cutting the 2018 budget as well as allocating constituency projects to themselves and protested alleged padding of the 2018 budget by the National Assembly.
The group said it was impossible to have Saraki continue to preside over the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly at a time there was global outrage over ethnic and politically mastermind killings in Nigeria.
The protesters carried placards with inscriptions such as “where are the killers in the National Assembly?”, ”We have not forgotten Offa robbery incident and Kogi State assassination so soon” and ”Insertion of thousands of projects into the budget is tantamount to hijacking of the budget”, among others.
The convener, Ibrahim Garba Wala, said the leaders of the National Assembly, Saraki and Dogara, lacked the moral capacity to hold positions in the country.
He said, “They have shown that they lack the requisite credibility and moral capacity to hold the position of authority
“It is clear that the insertions are huge, which also signifies the size of the criminality behind the intent to hijack the budget.”
He called for the cooperation of the police and other security agents as he sought entrance into the National Assembly.
Wala stated that the National Assembly arcade was designed to to let Nigerians carry out protest and asked that his group be allowed to exercise their rights.
“We are calling on the attention of the police to understand that Nigerians are not here in their own personal capacity. They are representing the other Nigerians. We want a situation where, if we vote for a representative, the representative should help the people, not their own personal gain.
“We expect the security operatives here to respect us as citizens and let us exercise the rights bestowed on us. We are here in a peaceful way, so please don’t deny us our rights,” he said.
But in a swift reaction, the Senate vowed to resist attempts to scrap constituency projects, just as it accused the executive arm of the government of hiring “protest contractors” in Abuja, to protest against activities of the National Assembly.
It added that more than sixty- five percent of protests outside the National Assembly were sponsored by government officials.
Describing the protesters as being misled to blackmail the National Assembly, the Senate noted that lawmakers do not award contracts for constituency projects as they also do not pay for the contracts.
It, however, urged the President, Muhammadu Buhari to as a matter of urgency, investigate the protest and call his officials to order.
Senate’s decision to resist any move to scrap constituency projects was sequel to a motion by Senator Banabas Gemade (Benue North East), following the protest.
Gemade brought to the notice of the Senate, the protest outside the National Assembly complex and condemned it.
He advised the executive arm of government to focus on actions that would ensure even distribution of projects.
“Gemade said, “This morning as I drove to the the National Assembly for resumption, I saw a number of luxury buses with so many people carrying placards at the gate, condemning the National Assembly in its exercise of constituency projects. They were equally demanding that constituency projects be brought to an end.
“I feel whoever is behind this demonstration is poorly informed of what constituency project represents to a Nigerian legislator. This project was introduced to give a sense of belonging to all Nigerians.
”The N100 billion captured in the budget for constituency projects spanning over 469 constituency and this money translates into a paltry 0.4 per cent of the capital budget of the nation. I cannot see how such insignificant percent of the total budget would affect the implementation of the budget.”
In his remarks, Senate President, Bukola Sakari, who called on those who have scores to settle to find other means of doing so, said what was important was the need to continue with the issue of educating the public on the importance of constituency projects and to correct misconceptions about the project.
Saraki said, “I think it is important that we continue to educate the public on the importance of these constituency projects and also correct any misinformation that is going into the hands of lawmakers, but instead these are projects facilitated to ensure that there is a federal presence in every part of the country.
“Before now, there was no measure to ensure equitable representation of such projects in this country. The projects enable unity, equity and justice because if you have a constituency that you cannot find federal government project, then there is injustice.
”Without it, you will find that only heads of agencies put projects in their own area. How can you justify constituencies without projects?
“For Nigerians being used, people are taking advantage of the poverty in the country and what is saddening about it is that those who are doing this are those who are part of government.
”This does not help the unity of the arms of government. Mr President needs to investigate this and call those responsible to order. There is no secret in this, if you go out there, those boys will tell you where they are collecting the money from, the minister giving them the money, the governor that is giving them the money and these are governors, ministers in the same ruling party.”
Earlier in his contribution, Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President, who described the situation as shameful and embarrassing, attributed the protest to poverty and unemployment in the land.
He said: “Let me recognize that we have problems and challenges in Nigeria. But I would limit myself to the issue of unemployment and poverty. Rising from this, some people have found a way of surviving. One way of surviving in Abuja is to organise protest. There are people who are considered as protest contractors.
“What is happening is that some people go to government officials or governors who they believe are opposed to the National Assembly and collected a N1500 each for protesters and when they organize these young people, they pay them only N500 as in the case of today to come protest in the front of National Assembly.
“So each time I see them, I feel sorry for this country, that some people are doing things they do not believe in. The issue of protesting today against constituency projects is to say the least very embarrassing.
“I come from a constituency in this country where indeed constituency projects are working and I challenge anybody who says it’s not working to come with any contradiction of what I am saying.
“Any person who is opposed to the projects of our various constituencies I consider as enemy of the people. I will never for any reason be distracted by this. We should focus and ensure that in any budget that this is provided for because this is the only way we touch the lives of people we represent in this country.”