President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, praised the nation’s police force Thursday after an attempt to force the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, out of the National Assembly plunged the complex into chaos.
Speaking through a spokesperson, the president said the police were merely enforcing their “constitutional duty” to keep the peace, and that they acted independently.
The PDP lambasted Mr. Tambuwal and other lawmakers who forced their way through a police cordon, wondering what would have happened in the absence of security operatives.
“The whole scenario as we witnessed it is rather unfortunate,” Doyin Okupe, a presidential spokesperson, told reporters Thursday afternoon, hours after the siege.
“We wish that at all times national interest should supersede all other interests including personal and political interests,” he said.
Mr. Okupe defended the Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba, saying the police chief was doing his job by deploying scores of officers to the assembly.
Police raided the National Assembly early Thursday ahead of a crucial sitting at the House of Representatives.
The House had planned a session to discuss a request by Mr. Jonathan for an extension of the emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States- all three hit by a virulent insurgency by Boko Haram.
Officers mounted a blockade at the assembly, refusing to allow the speaker, Mr. Tambuwal, in, a move the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, said was aimed at unseating the speaker as punishment for defecting from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Police fired teargas after defiant lawmakers forced their way through three barricades and helped escort Mr. Tambuwal into the central building called the White House.
In an earlier statement, police denied any wrongdoing and said they acted on an “intelligence report” regarding a threat that could have undermined the security of the National Assembly.
The APC and the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, have called for sanctions against the police Inspector General, Suleiman Abba.
But the presidential spokesperson, Mr. Okupe, said the IGP did nothing wrong. He also denied that the police acted on the orders of the president.
“Once there is infraction in the law, the police has to come in and the IGP does not need to take permission from the presidency first. He acted in the discharge of his duty. The IGP did not invade the National Assembly,” Mr. Okupe said.
He said the government hopes the House of Representatives, which has adjourned, will sort out all outstanding issues and return to lawmaking.
“From government perspective,” Mr. Okupe said, “the overriding concern today is the issue of insurgency which necessitated the request by Mr. President that the National Assembly considers an extension of the State of Emergency to give the Security forces the needed legal framework and space for a successful prosecution of the war against Boko Haram terrorists.
“It is our hope that the Honourable members of the House of Representatives will use the period of adjournment to resolve all matters so that they can resume to deliberate and act on issues of national importance.”
After a brief session Thursday, the lawmakers rejected the request to extend the emergency rule in the northeast.
Separately, the PDP described as “embarrassing” the violence that broke out at the National Assembly, and blamed the lawmakers for it.
The party denied having a role in the police action. It also absolved the presidency of blame.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, said in a statement that lawmakers “are responsible adults elected by their constituencies and wondered what would have happened if the law enforcement agencies were not there to maintain law and order”.
The PDP described the incident as unfortunate and cautioned that the legislature, being the nucleus of democracy, its members should be above board as Nigerians expect the best of behaviour from them.