Nollywood stars and youths at a rally in Abuja, yesterday. Photo: NAN
Gun-toting mobile policemen yesterday sealed off the main gate of the National Assembly to prevent some young Nigerians on a protest march to the premises in Abuja, from seeing the leadership of the Assembly.The protesters who included celebrities like Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Stella Damasus, Omawumi Megbele, the Rooftop MCs, as well as older well-wishers like Peace Fiberesima, Dele Momodu, Muma Gee, Nona Adimora and Charly Boy, assembled at the Eagle Square at 11 in the morning, from where they proceeded to the Assembly grounds.
They were met by a tight security cordon on the outer perimeter of the Assembly premises. The security personnel, numbering about 40, were led by Mohammed Shehu, the Divisional Police Officer of the National Assembly. Mr. Shehu was later joined by Emeka Okere, a retired colonel, the National Assembly’s Sergeant-at-arms. Mr. Shehu promised the protesters that he would inform the leadership of the Assembly of their presence, despite protestations that the management had been duly informed prior to the rally.
Mr. Okere, on his own part, said that the leadership of the Assembly was not available, but that he would be happy to deliver the protesters’ message to them, an offer which was turned down.
While this was going on, the marchers continued to sing and chant, demanding to be allowed into the Assembly. At 2.21pm, the protesters, now numbering over a thousand, surged forward without warning, succeeding in breaking the security cordon. This move, which was met with stiff resistance and threats to shoot, forced the policemen to beat a hasty retreat to the main gate of the National Assembly, where they immediately shut the gates. Not less than three lines of mobile policemen were immediately deployed outside the shut gates. The Assembly’s public address system also broadcast messages stating that no one without a staff identity card would be allowed inside the Assembly.
There were conflicting messages from the security officials; while Mr. Okere called the NTA and AIT camera crews present and informed them that the leadership of both chambers of the Assembly had left the Assembly premises, others said they were not duly informed of the protest; an allegation which was immediately debunked by Adebola Williams, who coordinated the logistics of the rally.
“On Monday the 8th (of March), we sent a letter to the office of the Clerk of the National Assembly, and it was received,” Mr.Williams said. “We also sent a letter to Dimeji Bankole (Speaker of the House of Representatives) on the ninth and that same day he sent it out to the State Security Service (SSS), the National Assembly Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and the Sergeant-at-Arms.”
Mr. Williams also said that the Senate President’s letter was sent on the same day as the Speaker’s, and that a copy had been sent to the Inspector General of Police, Ogbonnaya Onovo, a few days earlier.
He added that he was aware that the Speaker’s office forwarded the letter to the SSS and the Assembly DPO because he personally followed up by visiting both parties, where he was shown photocopies of the letter, sent from the Speaker’s office.
“I spent four days at the National Assembly tracing these letters,” he said. “I was interrogated by an SSS Assistant Director, on the purpose of the rally.”
Eventually, after more than four hours of waiting, without the appearance of any member of the National Assembly, the Chairman of the House Committee on Youth and Sports emerged to address the crowd. The protesters, however, refused to grant him audience, claiming that he was not the one they had come to see, and also refused to formally hand over their protest letter, titled “Nigerian Youth Say Enough is Enough!” to any of the Assembly officials present.
The protesters departed the premises of the National Assembly at about 4pm, with a promise to return within three months and to mobilise young people across the country to vote out leaders who do not pay attention to the youth.