12 January 2010

Nigeria: Soyinka, Agbakoba, Falana, Take Over Nass - Protest State of Nation

Abuja — NOBEL Laureate, Wole Soyinka, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, and civil society groups on Tuesday made good their threat to march on the National Assembly (NASS) to demand explanation on the true status of President Umaru Yar'Adua's health.

Also among the protesters were former Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) President, Olisa Agbakoba; Solomon Asemota; Tunde Bakare, Pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly; and Sarah Omaku, Pastor of Family Worship Centre.

Lawmakers countered that the issue has been taken to the court.

House of Representatives Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, was booed when he attempted to address the crowd of about 2,000 protesters.

The march began at 10 a.m. from the Unity Fountain Ground, opposite Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, from where the protesters went to the NASS to register their grievances.

Soyinka wondered why governance should collapse as a result of the absence of Yar'Adua, saying the ideal thing is for him to transfer power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as stated in the Constitution.

He said claims by the NASS that the issue has been taken to court is a cloudy explanation.

"The nation has been taken to ransom, it has been despised and taken to contempt, we have been treated as colonials, better known as internal colonialism," he reiterated.

"We are dignified beings who deserve to know the truth at all times about our method of governance, we are also qualified to demonstrate against elected leaders of this nation, especially when we feel that they are dragging their feet deliberately over critical issues that concern us.

"The people must stop to think, and of course take to the streets. This is normal in any democracy."

Soyinka told the rally: "I have a little information which I have been asked to convey to you, I must do it as one of you but I do not guarantee the veracity of it because it is supposed to have come from the NASS and we all know what the National Assembly is.

"The information, as given to me, is that the matter has been taken to court, the matter of (Yar'Adua's) absence and failure. But if these people come up with another lie then the next demonstration will be bigger."

Bakare insisted that, "the Presidency is not a birth right, neither is it an hereditary title. It is a Constitutional office, and Yar'Adua is not the first to occupy that office.

"This solemn assembly is not for the sake of Goodluck Jonathan, it is for the sake of good governance.

"The Constitution that is imposed upon you as stipulated in Section 145 states that any one occupying the office of the President, if he is to leave for his vacation, must transmit authority of that office to the Vice President.

"We are not expecting to be praised. We expect to be respected for rising to the occasion. We are not against anyone getting sick. We are against the procedure adopted in handling the situation.

"The population you see here is not that of Nigeria, but a representation of the people. Those who are not able to be here are waiting anxiously to see that the National Assembly do the proper thing.

"Having said this, we will commend the Nigerian Police for their understanding. We did not seek their permission to make our position known but they see reason with us and allow us ventilate it.

"This is the first in the series of protests we are going to organize to drive home our point. We want to see that only the right thing is done, and nothing more," he said.

A House member, Eziuche Ubani, who delayed his exit from the venue, was almost lynched by the angry crowd, after he disputed with Agbakoba over Yar'Adua's absence.

Agbakoba recounted that Ubani had queried him for joining the protest when he should appreciate Yar'Adua's aides for keeping up with the award of contracts.

He was angered by the comments and expressed disappointment that Ubani could be on the unpopular side instead of defending the masses.

Bankole had come to address the crowd, but when Soyinka asked the people thrice whether the number four citizen should be given a chance, they shouted no each time.

They booed Bankole for failing to rise up to the challenge amid concern over Yar'Adua's health, his long absence from office, the listing of Nigeria by United States as a terrorist country, and the latest violence in Bauchi.

Falana said it is wrong for the Senate to shelve debate on the state of affairs in the country, with the argument that some persons have taken the matter to court.

"We won't accept that argument. They didn't go to court. We did. They never complained. We did. So why should they hide under the cover of the court to run away from realities. We must say no to offshore President," he protested.

Having listened to comments, Bankole returned to the House where he had emerged from a closed door session.

Some of the placards carried by the protesters read: "Review Nigeria's Constitution now," "Umaru where are you", "Let's kill corruption before it kills us", "Terrorism: de-list Nigeria now", "Vacuum in governance equals to a failed economy, blacklisting."

The protest was organised by the Save Nigeria Group (SNG).

However, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) held a separate march to support the action of Yar'Adua.

It came to the NASS long after Soyinka's group had left.

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