Babatunde Kokumo, the commissioner of police in Edo State, told PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday that the confrontation that broke out during the arrival of Matthew Urhoghide at Benin Airport on Saturday would have been worse.
“If the police were not on ground to maintain law and order, the story would have been different completely,” Mr Kokumo said by telephone Sunday night.
Mr Urhoghide, a Peoples Democratic Party senator for Edo South Senatorial District, was harassed shortly after he arrived at the Benin Airport by suspected supporters of the All Progressives Congress.
A footage of the encounter was published online by Independent Television (ITV) in Benin, and it showed those who attacked Mr Urhoghide chanting pro-APC and anti-PDP slogans.
The encounter came two days after Mr Urhoghide called for the impeachment of President Muhammadu Buhari for spending money to purchase new aircraft for the Nigerian military without the approval of the National Assembly.
Mr Buhari acknowledged in letters to the National Assembly he transferred the money without authorisation, but proposed that the expenditure be retroactively appropriated to meet constitutional requirement.
But many lawmakers demanded explanation and stringent disciplinary measures against the president for the possible breach of Constitution.
At the resumed plenary Thursday, Mr Urhoghide raised the motion for the lawmakers to open articles of impeachment against the president.
“I want this Senate to resolve that what the president did is procedurally wrong and a violation of our Constitution,” Mr Urhoghide urged his colleagues. “It must be condemned and of course, the consequences of section 143 of our Constitution should be invoked.”
The matter was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further investigation and guidance. The committee was asked to submit its report by May 3.
Mr Urhoghide arrived in Edo State to spend his weekend, but his trip became a subject of fierce display of partisanship for PDP and APC supporters. The supporters clashed repeatedly before and after Mr Urhoghide arrived.
He was confined to the VIP lounge of the airport until Governor Godwin Obaseki arrived and the two walked side-by-side to enter waiting vehicle just outside the VIP lounge.
But as the two emerged, some violent elements within the crowd swooped on Mr Urhoghide and prevented him from following the governor.
The cameras concentrated on the governor, making it difficult to know what was happening to the senator whom he had left behind.
The ITV reporter said Mr Urhoghide’s cap was removed by the APC supporters who further humiliated him before he was eventually rescued. A PDP youth leader in Edo State was also brutalised, the station reported.
Mr Obaseki waved to the crowd and entered his vehicle without looking for Mr Urhoghide. When the two first exchanged pleasantries at the VIP lounge, Mr Obaseki could be heard telling Mr Urhoghide: “You want to remove my president.”
Some PDP supporters found the role Mr Obaseki played in the fracas highly suspicious, with many accusing the APC governor of luring the PDP senator out of the VIP lounge for the thugs to descend on him.
Mr Urhoghide later explained his ordeal to ITV, describing those who attacked him as ignorant of basic civics. He insisted that his call for the activation of Section 143 of the Constitution against Mr Buhari was appropriate in the circumstance, saying he would never be intimidated.
The senator also denied calling for the president’s impeachment, explaining he only called for the activation of Section 143. While he was not actually quoted as using the impeachment term, the Section 143 of the Constitution he called for is strictly about the process of removing a president from office.
Crusoe Osagie, a spokesperson for Mr Obaseki, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ requests seeking comments about his principal’s involvement in the controversy Sunday night.
The Vanguard reported that the APC youth accused Mr Urhoghide of embarking on a hypocritical mission to impeach the president rather than concentrate on initiatives that could improve the economic condition of his constituency.
“Edo South people did not send you to impeach Buhari. Why did you and your cohorts not impeach President Jonathan who looted the treasury as we have observed today?” the paper quoted the protesters as saying.
Mr Kokumo denied allegations that the police took sides with the APC supporters during the clash, saying he and other officers deserve accolades for promptly waking up to their duty.
“I was on the ground because of the personality involved in the matter. Ordinarily, you don’t expect the commissioner of police to find himself in the midst of rampaging youth. But because of the personality involved, I had to abandon the comfort of my office,” the commissioner said.
“We deserve commendation, but not condemnation. We were able to contain the situation. The situation was close to being riotous,” he added.
It was not immediately clear whether suspects were taken into custody in connection with the attack on the senator.
When PREMIUM TIMES asked Mr Kokumo whether or not his officers arrested suspects, he suddenly said he was driving and could not immediately give an answer.