Deji Elumoye in Abuja
Hundreds of protesters under the auspices of Citizens Action to Take Back Nigeria (CATBAN) yesterday stormed the National Assembly as it resumed sitting.
The protesters carrying placards blocked the entrance of the National Assembly with a lorry as early as 9.30a.m. thereby denying both the lawmakers and workers access to the National Assembly premises.
The protesters made up mainly of youths of both sexes sang solidarity songs and carried placards questioning the rationale of the National Assembly leadership and members to pad the 2018 budget with constituency projects.
The placards read: ‘Constituency project is now corrupted, it must be formatted’; ‘Are you for the people and constituency or are you for the projects and contracts’; ‘Insertion of thousands of projects in the budget is tantamount to hijacking of the budget’.
The National Convener of CATBAN, Ibrahim Wala, told journalists that his group was worried about the padding of this year’s federal budget through the insertion of constituency projects by the legislators.
He wondered why the National Assembly continues to use the budget as their conduit pipe to siphon people’s resources.
Wala therefore called for the resignation of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, “as they have shown that they lack the requisite credibility and moral capacity to hold those positions of authority.”
The protesters who were given enough security backing by armed policemen, were later dispatched with teargas by the same policemen when some of the protesters attempted scaling the gate that was kept under lock and key by the National Assembly security unit.
The protest ignited immediate debate from the senators and was the first issue to be discussed at plenary yesterday after a close- door session that lasted from 11a.m. to 11.55a.m.
Senator Barnabas Gemade (Benue North East) opened the floodgate of discussions when he said those who organised the protest were ignorant of the basis for inserting constituency projects in the budget.
According to him, introduction of constituency projects made it easier for federal projects to reach every nook and cranny of the country.
This step, he said, ensured that projects are located in all constituencies across the country.
“This noble idea made it easier for legislators to reach out to their constituents with prove that projects are sited in their areas
Gemade added that constituency projects don’t enrich the pockets of lawmakers, saying: “We don’t even know the contractors so why this unnecessary protest.”
He thereafter moved a motion to condemn the siege laid on the National Assembly gate by protesters and that Senate should advise the executive not to discontinue with the constituency projects.
Seconding the motion, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, traced the history of constituency projects to 2007 “when the regime of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua initiated it with a view to taking development to the grassroots.
Describing the protest as embarrassing, he said no amount of blackmail can stop the implementation of the projects.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, on his part, while describing the sponsored protest as an height of rascality and irresponsibility said the constituency projects have come to stay.
According to him, the protesters know the governors and ministers sponsoring them “ and should direct them to go and protest at the ministries that award the contracts because we don’t award contracts here.”
He called on President Buhari to call the public officials behind the protest to order, adding that such protest was not befitting of a democratic nation like Nigeria.