President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, has identified ministers and governors in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, as masterminds of Tuesday’s protest against National Assembly members. This was even as his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu mocked sponsors of the action, stressing that one of the means to earn a living in Abuja, the federal capital, is to organise protests.
The two presiding officers stated this on the floor of the senate on Tuesday after Barnabas Gamade, senator representing Benue north-east, drew the attention of the lawmakers to a protest that rocked the entrance of the National Assembly premises.
The protesters, who demanded the resignation of Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, decried insertions made in the 2018 budget. The demonstration was carried out by members of Citizens’ Action to Take Back Nigeria, CATBAN, whose convener, Ibraheem Wala, claimed that the National Assembly no longer represents the people of Nigeria.
While pointing out that constituency projects have since 2004 been appropriated for but nothing has changed, he stressed that, “the worst of it is what we are seeing in the 2018 budget, these people inserted thousands of interns.
“We are here representing the entire citizens of this country; the crowd you see here represents the voices of Nigerians.”
Members of the group wielded placards that among other inscriptions read: “Constituency projects is now corruption, it must stop”; “Nigerians are not represented in the sharing of the loot via constituency projects”; and “National Assembly not for armed runners”.
Newsworth recalls that President Muhammadu Buhari had on June 20, complained about the insertions of over 4,000 projects to the 2018 appropriation bill by the National Assembly when he signed the document into law.
Speaking after Gamade drew the attention of his colleagues to the protests, Saraki said, “People are taking advantage of the poverty in the country and what is saddening about it is that those who are doing this are those who are part of government. This does not help the unity of the arms of government.
“Mr President needs to investigate this and call to order – there is no secret in this. If you go out there, those boys will tell you where they are collecting the money from; the minister giving them the money, the governor that is giving them the money and these are governors, ministers in the same ruling party.
“So, I really don’t understand how they will promote unity with these kind of things. There is need for these kind of activities to stop. If we keep weakening this institution, it will hurt us down the line when we need them. Those showing, rascality irresponsibility should be called to order because they are taking advantage of these young ones.
“If there is something wrong with the implementation, it is the executive. We don’t award the contract, we don’t release the money. Those behind the protest should desist; we know who you are, it is not in the interest of the unity of this country.”
Speaking in the same vein, the Deputy Senate President, Ekweremadu stressed that the protest was sponsored by government officials who are opposed to the national assembly.
He said, “Let me recognize that we have problems and challenges in Nigeria. But I would limit myself to the issue of unemployment and poverty. Rising from this, some people have found a way of surviving. One way of surviving in Abuja is to organise protest. There are people are consider as protest contractors.
“What is happening is that some people go to government officials or governors who they believe are opposed to the National Assembly. They gather protesters and give them N1500 each. Some they pay them only N500 as in the case of today to come protest in the front of National Assembly.
“So each time I see them, I feel sorry for this country that some people are doing things they do not believe in. The issue of protesting today against constituency projects is to say the least very embarrassing. I come from a constituency in this country where we indeed constituency projects is working and I challenge anybody who says it’s not working to come with any contradiction of what I am saying that constituency projects in my senatorial district has been implemented as allocations were released. There is no abuse whatsoever. I challenge anyone who feels it has been abused to come up with evidence of such.”
Ekweremadu maintained that anyone person opposed to these projects is an enemy of the people.
According to him, “We should focus and ensure that in any budget that this is provided for because this is the only way we touch the lives of people we represent in this country.
“No amount of blackmail or intimidation should stop the implementation of constituency projects, I admit like every other thing in life, it is being abused in some places and by some people but that is not to suggest that the benefits outnumbers some of the issues we have raised. If anybody has any particular evidence of the abuse of constituency projects, the senate and indeed the national assembly is prepared to deal with it.
“But to say that constituency projects should be discontinued, I believe that is the height of insensitivity to the part of our people. So whoever is collecting money to come to the National Assembly to come and oppose the issue of constituency projects that is not going to happen so I want to advise my constituents,” he said.