Members of the House of Representatives were divided at the plenary session on Tuesday over the call for the release of Sheikh Ibraheem el-Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, also known as the Shi’ites.
The disagreement started with the request to approve additional prayers to a motion moved by Mr Mohammed Bello on the violent protests by Shi’ites in Abuja on Monday.
The protesters had engaged security agents in a scuffle, leaving the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) FCT Command, Mr Umar Bello; and a National Youth Service Corps member attached to Channels Television, Precious Owolabi, among others, dead.
While the House unanimously granted the prayer that the heads of security agencies be invited to address the lawmakers on the measures being taken to check the Islamic sect, they voted out the prayers calling on the Federal Government and the Kaduna State Government to obey court orders and release el-Zakzaky.
While moving the motion earlier, Bello had accused the sect of an “act of terrorism,” saying the act “seriously destabilised political, constitutional, economic and social structures of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The lawmaker said, “This act seriously intimidates the population of Abuja as well as its environs and damages or intends to damage corporate existence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Such violent and unlawful assembly becomes sporadic and leads to the loss of lives and properties.
“The members of the IMN cannot under any guise of protest engage in bloodshed or violence as well as destruction of economic activities which seriously intimidate the population. This activity has been reported widely by both print and electronic media and it is a cause of concern for both national and international community.”
In his comment, the Majority Leader, Mr Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, recalled that the Speaker had mandated him and some other members to lead the intervention by the National Assembly in the face-off between the IMN and the Federal Government.
Ado-Doguwa, however, said he was disappointed that the Shi’ites (on July 9, 2019) a few days after he addressed them to convey the decision by the lawmakers to bring them to roundtable, attacked the National Assembly, injuring some persons and damaging property.
According to him, members of the sect had abused the opportunity given to them by the lawmakers, describing the attack as an affront to the institution of the National Assembly and a breach of the peace deal offered to them.
The Speaker noted that the passion expressed by Ado-Doguwa in his speech reflected the passion of the House on the matter.
Gbajabiamila said, “I was surprised that, like he said, the very next day, there was a derailment on the National Assembly. It is not about the National Assembly; it is about the country as a whole. This thing can spiral into another level that we may not be able to contain. I think it is important we act and act fast.
“I will agree that we extend our invitation still to them, that agreement reached. And I think the carrot-and-stick approach is sometimes what is needed in situations like this. Dialogue must continue. This is something that we need to address and we need to address it now.”
Consideration of the motion, however, took a dramatic turn when another member, Mr Herman Hembe, made an additional prayer “that the House should urge the Federal Government to obey the court orders on the release of el-Zakzaky.”
The prayer was seconded but when the Speaker put it to voice vote and the nays were louder than the ayes.
Gbajabiamila put the prayer to another voice vote the nays still had it.
Amending Hembe’s additional prayer, Mrs Linda Ikpeazu, prayed that the Kaduna State Government and not the Federal Government should obey the court order to release the Shi’ites leader.
The Speaker put the prayer to a voice vote, the nays also had it.
Before Gbajabiamila could rule on the vote; Ikpeazu and other supporters of the prayers began to protest, forcing the presiding officer to call for a division of the House.
The division, which is usually called when those for and against a matter cannot be clearly determined through voice vote, means that lawmakers would be asked to relocate to either sides of the isle based on their votes.
Shortly after calling for a division and the lawmakers had started taking positions in the chamber, the Speaker asked that the process be done behind closed doors, asking the sergeants-at-arms to usher non-members out of the chamber and gallery.
Emerging from the closed-door session, the Speaker asked Mr Wole Oke to present an additional prayer, which he noted would be unanimously seconded by members of the chamber.
Oke prayed that “the House should form an ad hoc committee to interface with the executive and heads of security agencies on how to resolve the Shi’ites lingering problem using peace and conflict resolution mechanism.”
Gbajabiamila put the prayer to a voice vote and it was unanimously approved.