ABUJA - Police in Nigeria fired tear gas in an effort to prevent a top opposition lawmaker from entering parliament on Thursday. Members of parliament had convened in the capital, Abuja, to debate President Goodluck Jonathan’s request to extend the state of emergency in the country’s northeast as part of the fight against Boko Haram militants.
The standoff began when Speaker of the House Aminu Tambuwal approached a gate leading into the National Assembly building.
Imam Imam, a spokesman for Tambuwal, said police blocked the speaker from entering the complex, without giving a reason other than they were following orders. Tambuwal recently defected from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) opposition party.
“The members who were with the speaker became agitated and some of them got angry, and fought their way into the assembly complex," he said. "There and then, the police now brought in the reinforcements and locked the door again after the speaker had passed, so some of them had to climb over the fence. As soon as they had access into the premises, the police then used tear gas to disburse the members.”
Police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said the lawmakers and their entourage of about 200 APC supporters were unruly, and police acted to restore order. He says seven people were arrested.
“They broke the cordon put by the police, because we had information that there would be trouble today. So we have to cordon the area to avoid a breakdown of law and order,” he said.
Lawmakers from Nigeria’s Senate and House of Representatives were expected to vote today on whether to act on President Goodluck Jonathan’s request to extend a state of emergency in three northeastern states. Lawmakers first approved emergency rule last year in response to the spreading Boko Haram insurgency, which has left thousands of people dead.
Imam says the police' refusal to allow Tambuwal to enter came as a surprise.
“You requested for the extension, he came to honor that to do his job, and, possibly, sit down and look into the request," he said. "And yet you are asking armed men, armed police and state security personnel to stop him from having access to the House. So it’s really baffling, honestly. It’s something we cannot put together.”
Imam says the speaker eventually made it into the National Assembly. Tambuwal then met with senators and held a closed-door session with fellow members of the house, who decided that the president could use his mandate to continue the fight against Boko Haram in the north until lawmakers decide on the emergency rule extension.
The APC is expected to present the biggest challenge to the ruling PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan in elections in February.
The house then adjourned to December 3. The senate meanwhile adjourned till next Tuesday.