Armed Nigerian security agents temporarily blocked the entrance to the National Assembly in the capital, Abuja, amid heightening political tensions ahead of general elections in February.
Legislators, reporters and staff were turned away by secret police officers wearing masks and their standard black uniforms as they tried to enter the complex on Tuesday. After a couple of hours, lawmakers were allowed in one by one, while reporters and staff were still kept outside. When asked about the unusual deployment, a member of the National Assembly’s regular security team said it was the result of orders from superiors.
“After some pushing and shoving we were allowed in,” senator Ben Murray-Bruce, from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, told reporters at the gates. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, said by phone that normalcy had been restored.
Africa’s top oil producer has seen political turmoil in the past weeks as dozens of legislators, including Senate President Bukola Saraki and several governors, walked out of the All Progressives Congress party of President Muhammadu Buhari, who’s seeking re-election, to join the ranks of a swelling opposition.
While the Senate and the House of Representatives are on recess and meant to resume in September, the leadership of both chambers was due to meet on Tuesday “to consider some national issues,” according to an aide to Saraki, Bamikole Banks Omisore. That meeting will be followed by one with officials from the national electoral commission, he said in a message on Twitter.
The scenes at the National Assembly occurred amid increasing speculation that the ruling party wants to impeach Saraki as the Senate leader. “Whether they succeed in removing Saraki or not, it is going to be a major issue because the National Assembly legally adjourned sitting, you cannot reconvene without the authority that adjourned it,” Freedom Onuoha, a political science lecturer at the University of Nigeria in the southeastern town of Nsukka, said by phone. “‘The law still recognises Saraki as the Senate president.”
A standoff between Buhari and Saraki and other lawmakers has been largely responsible for the stalemate between the executive and legislature that’s hobbled the government for the past few years.
A presidential adviser, Ita Enang, said the government was at risk of shutting down unless lawmakers returned earlier from their current break to pass a supplementary budget.