Nigerian parliamentarians scuffle with police

Proceedings suspended during session meant to discuss president’s request for extending emergency rule in northeast.

Additional powers given to the military to carry out its offensive have never been spelt out [File: AP]

The president of Nigeria’s Senate has suspended legislative proceedings in the National Assembly until Tuesday following a scuffle between parliamentarians and police.

David Mark announced the closure on Thursday after police fired tear gas inside the parliament building.

The target of the attack seemed to be Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, who defected to the opposition last month.

Tambuwal said police had prevented him from entering the building, but a police spokesman told Al Jazeera the speaker and his entourage had been behaving in a disorderly manner by breaking through barriers and assaulting police officers on duty.

“Following an intelligence report of a likely invasion of the House of Representatives by hoodlums and thugs, the Nigeria Police Force promptly deployed its personnel to the premises to prevent a breakdown of law and order,” a police statement said.

The statement said Tambuwal “arrived the venue with a motley crowd, who broke the cordon, assaulted the police and evaded due process and the police had the duty to restore order and normalcy, using lawful means”.

Calls for impeachment

Despite the tear gas, some politicians forced their way inside with members of parliament resorting to scaling parliament’s gate to gain access.

Some opposition members loudly demanded the impeachment of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Abuja, said the incident was likely to inflame tensions between the opposition and the ruling party led by Jonathan in the run-up to next year’s election.

“The opposition has already accused the ruling party of ‘putting the nation’s security forces in its pocket’ after police stripped Tambuwal of his security detail following his defection to the opposition side,” she said.

The parliament session had been convened to discuss Jonathan’s request to extend emergency rule in the country’s northeast, where Boko Haram operates. The armed group says it is fighting Western influence and wants to form an Islamic state there.

Jonathan asked parliamentarians on Tuesday to approve the extension of emergency rule in three states: Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. He said the move was needed to sustain the pressure against Boko Haram.

A vote was eventually not taken on Thursday and the decision came in a closed-door session on account of the decision to close the National Assembly.

Emergency rule criticised

Opposition members in both chambers of parliament have described the state of emergency as a failure, with Boko Haram making massive gains since May last year.

“Emergency rule is over as far as we are concerned,” Zakaria Mohammed, the House of Representatives spokesperson, was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

He said Jonathan needs approval from both chambers to secure an extension and that members of the lower house resolved that the extension was not merited.

“We have asked the president to rely on Section 8 of the Armed Forces Act which empowers him to deploy the military to trouble spots in the country,” Mohammed said.

“If we have adopted a particular style and it’s not yielding the desired results, we should be able to change course.”

Experts have questioned the usefulness of Jonathan’s emergency decree, and the additional powers given to the military to carry out its 18-month-long offensive have never been spelt out.

The military was operating in all three affected states before the May 2013 declaration, which many saw as an attempt by Jonathan to underscore the severity of the Boko Haram conflict.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies