The theft of the Senate mace by suspected thugs was, at best, carried out with the connivance of security agencies, and likely sponsored and carried out by security agents, PREMIUM TIMES can reveal.
The robbery, executed in the full glare of lawmakers, journalists and other observers in the Senate Chamber of the National Assembly bore the imprints of a security operation with at least two of the 10 attackers identifying themselves as police officers.
The attackers, suspected to be thugs working for a suspended senator, Ovie Omo-Agege, invaded the chamber few minutes after 11 a.m. on Wednesday
They walked behind the senator, as his guests, to gain entrance into the Senate chamber, and stole the mace, the symbol of authority of the parliament without which decisions made by the lawmakers are invalid.
The daring act has kept Nigerians shocked with a former senate president, Ken Nnamani, not only condemning the act but easily identifying the complicity of security operatives.
“There should be a high-level investigation. Is there any complicity? What happened to the police guarding the place? What about the SSS?” he said.
“One person could have planned this thing. They came in, took the mace and left. Did they disappear with helicopter? What were the police doing? What were the security agencies doing? We should set up a high-level investigation before apportioning any blame.”
THE RED FLAGS
The man through whom the attackers gained access to the Senate was suspended by his colleagues last week.
Mr Omo-Agege (Delta, APC) was suspended for 90 days after he accused his colleagues of working against the interest of President Muhammadu Buhari on the plan to reorder the sequence of the 2019 election.
By National Assembly rules, a suspended senator should not have access to the Senate chamber or attend committee meetings.
“He (suspended senator) can only stay in the office. He can go to his office but not the chamber,” said Joseph Waku, a former senator who was also suspended for one week when he was in the Senate.
However, not only was Mr. Omo-Agege allowed entry into the Senate chamber by the security personnel at the gate, he was also allowed to bring his guests, who would later carry out the attack.
When Mr Omo-Agege arrived the entrance of the National Assembly chamber, the police officers and sergeants-at-arms on duty saluted him with the usual ‘welcome sir,’ ‘distinguished sir’, a PREMIUM TIMES reporter walking behind the senator observed.
He attempted to enter with the others; but his entourage was stopped by the security operatives. However, they were later allowed to enter after the intervention of the senator.
Perhaps, a more telling revelation into the security complicity in the incident was revealed by a female security operative at the Senate chamber.
While explaining why the entourage, including the suspected thugs, were allowed entry into the chamber, the official, who asked not to be named as she was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the senator told them the others (hoodlums) were with him.
“How do you expect me to stop a senator?” She questioned. “The first two (members of the entourage) that we stopped showed us their police ID cards, so we allowed them. When we tried to stop others, the senator came back and said they were with him.”
Another officer, a male, while recounting the incident to a senator, Forster Ogala, said the thugs were allowed entrance after they told him and others that they were with the senator.
THE THEFT, ESCAPE
After one of the invaders took the mace from its position in front of the presiding officer, he was not challenged, even mildly, by any of the security officials on duty.
Instead, the ‘thugs’ went away with the mace in four vehicles they arrived in. One of the four vehicles was a security escort vehicle and another a black SUV, common with security operatives.
There are two main exits from the National Assembly: the main gate and the SGF gate. However, leaving through any of them, a vehicle would encounter at least two security blocks. Wednesday’s thieves were not challenged by anyone.
Minutes after their escape, the security operatives blocked entrances to the National Assembly and mobilised more police officers to provide security.
Meanwhile, Mr Omo-Agege stood back at the chamber, observed proceedings just like every other senator till the end of the plenary without confrontation from security operatives who had mobilised in large numbers to the National Assembly.
The Senate has since blamed Mr Omo-Agege for the theft and given the police and the State Security Service 24 hours to produce the stolen mace. Many senators believe Mr Omo-Agege clearly had the backing of security agencies.
“We heard the pro-government senators held a meeting with senior security chiefs yesterday night at Sheraton (hotel), so some of us expected something to happen today, but we never knew they could be this daring,” a senator who asked not to be named told PREMIUM TIMES.
When contacted, the FCT Police Commissioner, Sadiq Bello, simply said Mr Omo-Agege had been arrested and investigation was already underway on the matter. The SSS, on its part, could not be contacted on their role in the scandal, as it has refused to appoint a spokesperson.
EXECUTIVE/ LEGISLATURE FACE-OFF
The National Assembly, particularly the Senate, has had a cat and mouse relationship with the Executive. The controversy dates back to the 2015 election of Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu as senate president and deputy respectively.
It was made worse with the Executive’s insistence to retain Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the anti-graft agency, EFCC, despite Senate twice rejecting his nomination.
The amendment of the electoral act to change the sequence of the 2019 elections further brought the division to the fore with Mr Omo-Agege and few other APC senators accusing Mr Saraki and majority of their colleagues of working against the president.
It is not clear how that division between the two arms of government helped fuel the security complicity in Wednesday’s attack, but for Mr Ekweremadu, the Senate must get to the root of the mace theft.
“We are going to get to the root of this matter,” he told his colleagues on Wednesday after the incident. “And I believe that I speak the mind of all of you here if I say that security agencies must recover our mace within 24 hours.”
Mr Ekweremadu after the Senate sitting met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to brief him on the incident.
The Information minister, Lai Mohammed, also released a statement on Wednesday condemning the theft.
By Wednesday night, Mr Omo-Agege in a statement denied any role in leading the attackers, saying he went to the Senate chambers on the advice of his lawyers despite his suspension.
In the early hours of Thursday, the police announced they had recovered the stolen mace from the streets of Abuja.