At least two different groups of protesters stormed the National Assembly on Tuesday to demand an end to the ongoing budget impasse.
The protesters saìd the standoff between federal lawmakers and the executive was putting the country’s economic progress on hold.
The protesters, who arrived at different times, at the first gate of the parliament building, disagreed on who is responsible for the ongoing face-off over the budget, which was first presented on December 22, 2015.
The first group, which identified itself as Nigerians United for Progressive Change (NUPC) said even though the delay in signing the budget had further impoverished Nigerians, the National Assembly was not to blame.
Activists belonging the second group, ‘OccupyNass’, said they were protesting against an alleged denigration of the legislative arm by “fraudulent individuals” and vowed to remain at the National Assembly for the next four days unless their demands were met within the period.
The two groups, however, called for an immediate end to the budget impasse.
As early as 10.00 a.m., the NUPC protesters stormed the National Assembly with different placards that called for an urgent end to budget disputes between President Muhammadu Buhari and the legislators, with several other signs lamenting what they described as “poor economic situation of a plurality of Nigerians.”
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, NUPC convener, Solomon Adodo, said the Constitution was “quite clear” on the issue of appropriation and its implementation, adding that the document was already doomed to fail.
“The 2016 budget that has been delaying our economic progress has become something that I think I will just say has been bedeviled by a curse,” Mr. Adodo said. “This is because the lawmakers in the National Assembly have long passed the budget and sent it to the president. But for one disagreement or the other, it has not become law.”
Mr. Adodo, who said he was aware of a counter-protest, said those attacking the National Assembly were doing so because of a secret agenda.
“Look, the people are coming to the National Assembly now and we know they’re coming to occupy the place because they have a secret agenda they are determined to push,” Mr. Adodo said. “Nigerians should target their anger towards the president or both executive and the legislature but not the National Assembly alone.”
The police attended to NUPC protesters and urged them to immediately leave the area to avoid a clash with the ‘OccupyNass’ protesters who were already in their procession to the National Assembly.
At 11:50 a.m., the ‘OccupyNass’ protesters arrived, determined to force their way into the National Assembly.
But their efforts were resisted by police.
After several minutes of negotiation, the protesters agreed to move away from the National Assembly first gate, but they were still standing on the road and blocking access to the parliament.
Bunmi Awoyemi, the convener of Citizens United for Peace and Stability (CUPS), the organisers of ‘OccupyNass’, said the National Assembly was responsible for the ongoing economic woes the nation faces, saying his group would still enter the National Assembly and remain on the premises for four days.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Awoyemi said, “We are here to let the lawmakers know that we’re tired of their laziness on issues of national importance, they need to know that the people are suffering. So we will still eventually enter the compound and camp there for four days.”
Mr. Awoyemi said the protest is “absolutely” about the National Assembly as a body and not targeted at any individual.
“We make conscious efforts to ensure that our protests are absolutely not targeted at Senator Saraki or any other senator,” Mr. Awoyemi said. “That is why you cannot find anything on our banners that reads anti-Saraki, we’re only making certain demands from our lawmakers and we will be here for four days unless those demands are met.”
Ambassador Galadima, another ‘OccupyNaija’ activist told PREMIUM TIMES his group was committed to getting the federal lawmakers to stay true to their campaign promises.
“Our demands are very simple, every Nigerian can identify with the suffering that Nigerians are going through, this National Assembly has been identified as the kidnappers of the successes of the previous elections.,” Mr. Galadima said.
“We’re not going to allow this thing to continue, we must make sure that the upper and lower houses of the National Assembly obey the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and make sure that that budget that had been sent to them is properly acknowledged and improved for the Nigerian masses to start enjoying the change they voted for.”
Mr. Galadima also denied that ‘OccupyNass’ was a movement aiming at antagonising the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, saying its protest was ‘specifically against the National Assembly’ and not any individual.
“Our protest is specifically against the National Assembly and not against an individual, all of them. These people are not doing their work and definitely we must do something about it. We’re not out to witch-hunt anybody,” Mr. Galadima said.
The protesters insisted that they must enter the complex to speak with lawmakers and install their makeshift housing because they had already informed authorities about their plan.
The police said they would continue to deny the protesters access to the National Assembly.
Miller Dantawaye, an assistant commissioner of police in charge of operations in the Federal Capital Territory, said the protesters should camp beside the National Arcade to avoid blocking access to the parliament.
Mr. Dantawaye told PREMIUM TIMES he would not allow the protesters in because they failed to properly notify the authorities of their procession.
“If they’re claiming they’ve written letters, I am not aware. I am a police officer and I receive instructions. I work with instructions,” Mr. Dantawaye said.
Mr. Dantawaye said if the organisers of the protest had informed the police, they would have been let in, adding that the National Assembly is “not my father’s house.”
“Because you never can tell when processions come with bad people or when they come with good people. So many groups have come in after seeking approval and we allowed them in,” Mr. Dantawaye said.
But in a letter obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, the CUPS actually wrote to the police to inform them about the planned protests.
In the letter, dated April 19, 2016 and signed by the president of CUPS, Idris Ahmed, the group said its protest would be peaceful and orderly.
The police acknowledged receipt of the letter on the same day.
“Sir, this is a carefully planned peaceful demonstration. It is not a riot. It is not a civic disorder. It is, in fact, a civic order,” CUPS wrote in the letter addressed to the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase.
Mr. Ahmed, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES from London, also confirmed that his organisation did not organise the protest to antagonise Mr. Saraki as a person but the entire National Assembly as an institution.
“Mischief makers are trying to say the protest is about Saraki in order to discredit our organisation, nothing could be further from the truth,” Mr. Ahmed said.