First it was chaos in South Africa, now police fire inside Nigeria parliament before key vote

Police action in the Parliaments of Africa's most populous and largest economy, Nigeria, and in its richest, South Africa, will not be reassuring.

FIRST, Police entered South Africa’s last week. Now Nigerian security forces fired teargas Thursday inside the parliament complex as opposition lawmakers, including the speaker of the lower house, arrived for a key vote on emergency rule in the northeast.

The leader of the Senate, David Mark, later ordered the immediate closure of both chambers until next week over the incident.

Multiple reports, including from eye witnesses, indicated that security agents tried to block House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, who defected to the opposition last month, from entering the building.

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has tried to remove Tambuwal from the speaker’s chair since his defection and stripped him of his security detail.

Lawmakers had been scheduled to vote Thursday on President Goodluck Jonathan’s request to extend the state of emergency in the northeast region hit hardest by Boko Haram.

Members of Tambuwal’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party have described the state of emergency first imposed in May last year as a failure because of escalating violence and have argued it should not be renewed.

A witness who works at parliament but requested anonymity said police first fired teargas as Tambuwal and other APC lawmakers tried to enter the gate outside the parliament buildings.

The lawmakers managed to enter the gate and headed toward the main lobby of the parliament building, he said, adding: “Police fired teargas again.”

An AFP reporter said the lobby was still filled with teargas several minutes after Tambuwal’s arrival.

Police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu denied that police officers were involved. 

Senate president Mark said: “Because of the very unfortunate incident that has happened in the National Assembly this morning, I have decided that I will shut down the National Assembly until Tuesday next week.” Mark, who is a PDP stalwart, said there would no vote Thursday on Jonathan’s request to extend emergency rule.

Though tear gas was not fired, last Thursday South Africa’s political factions unleashed angry speeches and scuffled in Parliament in scenes that were widely covered around the world. The chaos ended with police making an unprecedented entry in the chamber and removing an opposition member.

The nationally televised debate in parliament became unruly when opposition parties attempted to delay a vote absolving President Jacob Zuma of wrongdoing in a scandal over more than $20 million in state spending on Nkandla, his private compound. 

The parliamentary session ended when police removed a member of an opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, after she refused to withdraw a statement in which she called the president a “thief”.

“Zuma is the greatest thief in the world,” opposition member Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela said repeatedly. 

Though politics in South Africa can be outspoken, it had always prided itself as a democracy immune to the rowdy scenes in its parliament of recent months, and even the most cynical in the country didn’t imagine the Police would ever have to be called into Parliament.

For Nigeria it heads into elections in February, and with an insurgency by Boko Haram rebels in the northeast that has killed thousands and displaced many, many fear it could unravel.

Police action in the Parliaments of Africa’s most populous and largest economy, Nigeria, and in its richest country, South Africa, will not be reassuring to those looking to the Africa’s “super powers” to offer leadership to a continent beset with so many challenges.

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