The Senate on Tuesday lashed out at civil society organisations (CSOs) protesting the prolonged medical vacation of President Muhammadu Buhari abroad, asking the protesters to leave the president alone as he had not violated any law.
It noted that Buhari, before his medical trip to the United Kingdom, fulfilled the constitutional requirement of informing the National Assembly of his vacation and transmitted power to the vice-president.
Some CSOs had in the past two days besieged Abuja, demanding that the president either resumes duty immediately or resigns his position.
The protest march, which was led by entertainment icon and activist, Mr. Charles Oputa (Charley Boy), however, took a new turn Tuesday as the police dispersed it, firing tear gas at the protesters that had gathered at their Unity Fountain, Abuja, rendezvous.
The police explained later in the day that it disrupted the protest to forestall the breakdown of law and order.
The Senate in a reaction to the protest by its Chairman of Media and Publicity Committee, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, cautioned the protesters against overheating the polity with what it called their unreasonable demands, saying their actions were creating unnecessary tension in the country.
It said the protests could divert the attention of the federal government from its efforts at tackling the economic and security challenges facing the nation.
“The president has broken no law and therefore we do not see any justification for this diversion and noise making,” the Senate said, adding: “The sponsors are merely seeking cheap publicity at the expense of the peace of Nigeria.”
It denied the claim of the protesters that the president’s absence had created a vacuum and disrupted the workings of government. “We, in the National Assembly, are satisfied that there is no vacuum. The federal government is working. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo is providing the required leadership. So, there is no reason for the protests.” it said firmly.
According to the upper legislative chamber, “All Nigerians now should focus on praying for the safe return of the president. We in the Senate are happy about the report by the governors and party leaders who recently visited President Buhari in London and we know he will soon return to continue to provide leadership to our people and the rest of Africa.
“We, therefore, call on the protesters to stop all these demonstrations and let their sense of patriotism overshadow the zeal for activism by joining other Nigerians to pray for the president, the acting president and Nigeria as a country at this critical period.”
But the protesters were swift in replying the Senate Tuesday, saying the position of the upper legislative chamber was an embarrassment to Nigerians, who were asking necessary questions on the whereabouts of their president.
The protesters under the aegis of #OurMumuDonDo said they would not back down from their request calling on the president to either resume or resign, despite the harassment by the police.
The leader of the group, Oputa, in a statement Tuesday said the Senate had failed in its constitutional responsibilities by not asking necessary questions on the health status of the president.
“I am disappointed in this country. But let it be known that no amount of intimidation on us by security agencies will deter us from demanding explanations from the government,” he said, adding: “They must be accountable to Nigerians because they were elected into power by us, and it is on this basis that they will account for their actions. We are tired of the back and forth stories from the Presidency on Buhari’s whereabouts.”
Oputa stated: “Also, to compound the mess Nigerians are in, it is disheartening for the Senate that ought to ask questions to be the very ones supporting such show of shame. Indeed, the feeling out here based on their position is that they are nothing but Buhari’s errand boys. I guess the Senate is desperate to please the president. They have failed Nigerians when most needed.”
He said the position of the Bukola Saraki-led Senate that the protesters should leave Buhari alone as he had violated no law was outright ridiculous.
“Saraki’s position,” he contended, “is a desperate attempt to patronise the president.”
Police Disperse Protesters
The second day of the protest by campaigners urging Buhari to resume work or resign had ended in pandemonium Tuesday after riot policemen fired tear gas canisters and water canon to disperse the crowd.
The first protest held on Monday by the group that called itself ‘Concerned Nigerians,’ was largely successful.
But they got more than they bargained for in their resolve to resume the sit-in and even extend the protest to the Presidential Villa when policemen disrupted the procession at the Millennium Park and Unity Fountain in the Central Area of the federal capital.
In the process, many of the protesters, including Oputa were injured.
Two journalists from the stable of Silver Bird Television, Uyi Amadim and Femi, were also brutalised along with Oputa.
He later fainted after inhaling teargas but was revived by sympathisers, who poured water on him.
Subsequently, policemen neutralised the protest by preventing the protesters from assembling at the Unity Fountain.
They also stopped the group from proceeding further to the National Assembly gate and the State House.
But the leader of Concerned Nigerians, Mr. Deji Adeyanju, accused the police of high-handedness and said no amount of police assault would deter the protesters from continuing on their call on the president to either resume or resign.
He insisted that nobody in the country had the right to stop the citizens from gathering.
Adeyanju said: “The president should resign if he is incapacitated. We are not interested in the lies the cabal is telling.
“The police told us that they have an order from above, claiming that our protest is embarrassing the government, and we queried them to know who gave the order.
“Buhari is a complete servant and Nigerians have the right to ask questions about the health of the person that is serving them.
“The cabal in Aso Rock cannot continue to take the president in and out of the country at will, and continue to tell us lies.”
The police, however, said it dispersed the protesters to prevent the breakdown of law and order.
According to the FCT Police Command spokesperson, DSP Anjuguri Manzah, “In the early hours of today, 8th August, 2017 the Police intervened and prevented breakdown of law and order, and disturbance of public peace in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja by dispersing some miscreants, hoodlums and other criminal elements that have infiltrated the protest being carried out by a group of concerned Nigerians under the auspices of Our-Mumu-Don-do Movement at Unity Fountain, Maitama, Abuja.
“It will be recalled that ‘Our-Mumu-Don-do Movement’ carried out their protest on Monday 7th August, 2017 at the same venue and were accorded necessary Police presence to safe guard public safety and public peace, and protect their rights to freedom of expression, rights to peaceful assembly and association, and right to freedom of movement as provided for in sections 39, 40, and 41 of the 1999 constitution as amended.
“However, yesterday 8th August, 2017 the same group assembled at the same venue but allowed miscreants, hoodlums and other unruly individuals to infiltrate the protests, who started blocking the major roads adjoining the Unity fountain, obstructing traffic and preventing movements of other innocent citizens from going to their means of livelihood, and thereby exhibiting unruly behaviours and other violent acts very likely to cause the breakdown of law and order and disturbance of public peace.”
Manzah explained that the police personnel intervened at the point the Concerned Nigerians group lost control of the crowd and prevented miscreants, hoodlums and other criminal elements from hijacking the protest to cause mayhem and chaos.
He added: “It is pertinent to state here that the FCT Police Command is fully aware and recognises the constitutional rights of every citizen including ‘Our-Mumu-Don-Do Group’ to assemble and move freely in any part of the Federal Capital Territory, but the command will not allow any protest under any guise to turn violent and jeopardise the prevailing peace, law and order currently being enjoyed in the FCT.
“The command wishes to assure all residents and visitors to the territory of adequate security and protection of lives and property of everyone including those who choose to express their constitutional rights of protest with decorum.
“Consequently, members of the public, parents and guardians, religious/opinion leaders and other interest groups are advised to prevail on their children and wards, followers and adherents not to allow themselves to be used by any group to cause disturbance of public peace and breakdown of law and order.”
Meanwhile, the Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, has said Buhari should be made the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he failed to resign.
Speaking at a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) forum in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital Tuesday, Fayose criticised the Presidency for shrouding Buhari’s health in secrecy.
He said he was excluded from the delegation that visited the president in London because the organisers of the trip knew that he would “definitely reveal the truth”.
Two weeks ago, Buhari hosted seven governors from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP at the Abuja House in London.
Fayose said if he had joined his counterparts on that trip, he would have observed Buhari closely and disclosed the outcome of his findings to Nigerians.
He asked: “Why did they not take me to London? Why didn’t they take me there?
He answered: “They obviously knew very well that I would listen to the man and know whether his voice is clear or not. Then, I would be able to tell Nigerians the truth.”
He added: “Leadership must come with a certain measure of strength. If you don’t have strength, how can you govern the country?
“So, we need a president that is hale and hearty. If our president doesn’t want to go, let him become the minister of foreign affairs in London. These are statements of fact.”