A large detachment of policemen on Tuesday stopped a motley crowd of paid protesters from climbing the gates of the National Assembly complex in Abuja.
The rented crowd, which was purportedly protesting issues allegedly connected to the 2018 Budget is believed to have been hired by officials in the presidency and ferried to the gates of the complex.
They prevented lawmakers, staff and visitors from gaining entry, while calling for immediate removal of the principal officers of the National Assembly.
Specifically, the protesters, under the aegis of Citizens Actions to Take Back Nigeria, CATBAN, were protesting “the alleged padding of 2018 budget by the National Assembly”.
The protest was said to have a tinge of the Presidency as policemen were seen freely escorting the protesters to the National Assembly Complex with heavy security.
Convener of the group, Comrade Ibrahim Garba Wala, said that federal lawmakers no longer represented the people of Nigeria, calling on principal officers “to immediately step down from their offices as they have shown that they lack the requisite credibility and moral capacity to hold those positions of authority."
Wala said concerns raised by President Muhammadu Buhari while signing the 2018 Budget, showed that the National Assembly was “stealing the common patrimony of the people through constituency projects.”
According to him, the concerns are indications that principal officers lacked credibility and moral capacity, as such should resign.
“The President told Nigerians that our Federal legislators connived among themselves and removed priority developmental projects carefully prepared by the federal government to impact on the lives of the citizenry.
“The National Assembly made cut of N347b in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6, 403 private projects of their own amounting to N578b.
“As a civil society organization, we feel pained that this year’s budget followed the regular path of stealing in the guise of bogus constituency projects.
“In spite of the wishy-washy response of the National Assembly justifying its distortion of the 2018 Budget, there is ample evidence to show that they shortchanged their constituents who elected them to make laws for the good governance of the country,” he said.
He expressed concern that, “with an additional sum of N170 billion for Constituency Projects, together with the sum of N100 billion already provided for in the Budget, the National Assembly still went ahead to cut allocations to important national projects”.
“The cut was aimed at distorting the budget in order to further increase their allocation for constituency projects. This to us is a grave offence against the sensibilities of Nigerians”, he stressed.
Wala further said, “This is one big scandal that brings to light how the nation’s annual budgets have been padded over the years to the disadvantage of 180 million Nigerians.”
He called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission to investigate the matter, saying that it was necessary for such action to be taken to save the National Assembly from public ridicule.
Our correspondent observed that the protesters, who came to the gate in 11 luxury buses and 911 lorry, were armed with various placards which read: “Constituency projects is now corruption, it must stop”; “Nigerians are not represented in the sharing of the loot via constituency projects”, “National Assembly not for armed runners”, among others.
They persistently demanded entry into the assembly complex, but officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force and National Assembly security personnel shut the main gate against them.
The development also affected many staff and visitors, who were also denied entry through the gate and they had to seek alternative routes through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and the Aso Rock Villa gates.
The protest turned rowdy when protesters became impatient following concerns that the leadership of the National Assembly did not deem it fit to address them.
Some of the protesters were seen trying to climb the main gate, while others were seen shaking the gate vigorously to force their way into the premises, but were stopped by the police officers manning the gate, who had to release teargas into the air.
President Buhari had after signing the 2018 budget into law, said “the logic behind the constitutional directive that budgets should be proposed by the Executive is that it is the Executive that knows and defines its policies and projects.
“Unfortunately, that has not been given much regard in what has been sent to me.
“The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.
“Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.
“Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualized, designed and cost ascertained and will therefore, be difficult to execute.
“Furthermore, many of these new projects introduced by the National Assembly have been added to budgets of most MDAs with no consideration for institutional capacity to execute them or the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required."
Senate President Dr Bukola Saraki, however, responded in a statement, explaining that the cuts in the budget were channelled to other parts of Nigeria left out by Buhari.
He said the budget was reshaped in a way as to reflect a national spread.
He dismissed insinuations of padding, noting that the National Assembly acted in the best interest of all Nigerians.