January 2012, a massive national mobilization confronted the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s decision to increase the price of petroleum products. It was a powerful movement that united the Nigerian people while showing the potentials of mass action in the context of democratic disdain for actions of the ruling class.
On Tuesday this week, the civil society organization called Citizens United for Peace and Stability (CUPS), made good on its announced plan to peacefully storm the National Assembly, to demand the immediate resignation of Senate President, Bukola Saraki. The “#Occupy the National Assembly” demonstration had a list of demands which reflected the seething anger in Nigeria, about the 8th National Assembly. These included stoppage of the re-padding of the 2016 budget; scrapping of constituency projects allowances; return of the SUVs that Bukola Saraki purchased for senators at N35.5million each; and ending impunity in the Senate. The group also wanted the National Assembly to subject itself to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy. They also argued that it was an aberration for the country to be held to ransom because of the interest of a single person, in reference to Bukola Saraki’s trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Expectedly, a smaller pro-Saraki group, #SaveOurNass was hired to carry out a counter-demonstration and it also attempted to disrupt the #OccupyNASS protest. It was in the spirit of the times, that even in Asaba, Delta State protesters also demonstrated against the disappearance of N16billion from the 2015 DESOPADEC budget. In response to #OccupyNass, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, described the protest as a “wrong precedence and anti-democratic”; arguing that those who “did not elect (senators) cannot force (them) out…”
In January 2012, a massive national mobilization confronted the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s decision to increase the price of petroleum products. It was a powerful movement that united the Nigerian people while showing the potentials of mass action in the context of democratic disdain for actions of the ruling class. The #Occupy the National Assembly protest can also be located within the same tradition and is a reflection of the increasing levels of consciousness; that power belongs to the Nigerian people, and the political elite must work for those interests or face the people’s wrath. In truth, the 8th National Assembly has been particularly irresponsible in its ways, reflecting very much the tainted mandate of its leadership and the controversial manner that it came into position since June 2015. The leadership, especially in the Senate, has been more committed to its own survival and has never shied from using the resources of the National Assembly to buy the loyalty of members, at a time when Nigerians expected them to make sacrifices which reflect the spirit of the times in Nigeria. The purchase of the thirty-six SUVs at twice the real price, became the tipping point for the Nigerian people; it was clearly not better than a bribe to keep the senators in line, as the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, confronts the damaging evidence that began to surface at his trial at the CCT. The fact that he was also one of the main people that were named in the “Panama Papers” expose, convinced the civil society activists that a man with the baggage which Saraki carries does not fit the leadership position of the National Assembly. The protests that commenced this week represent a symbolic manifestation of the citizen’s anger; they underline the fact that it is only the Nigerian people themselves that can force the hands of the political elite and potentially stop the impunity that has become embedded within the state system. No institution reflects opacity like the National Assembly; and no set of individuals in the political system prize their collective comfort without care for how Nigerians feel, like those in the senate. But the 8th Senate is becoming the most controversial of them all. Its actions and inactions have reflected the desperate corner that Bukola Saraki has boxed himself into. The #Occupy the National Assembly protests this week tell a very simple tale; it is the right of citizens to reclaim their country and to determine the nature and content of the democracy that can serve their interests.