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Nigeria’s Senate president claims innocence

Fred Muvunyi(reuters)April 26, 2016

Protestors in Nigeria are demanding the immediate resignation of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, over graft. They have also called for an end to corruption amongst lawmakers.

Protests in Abuja (Copyright: DW/U. Musa)
Image: DW/U. Musa

Hundreds of protestors marched from Abuja's Unity Fountain toward the National Assembly. They have vowed to sit there until the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, resigns. The embattled politician is accused of corruption and endorsing the purchase of luxurious cars, for senators.

Saraki has however pleaded not guilty to charges that he falsified his declaration of assets from the time when he was governor of the central Nigerian state of Kwara from 2003 to 2011.

The 13 charges he faces at the national Code of Conduct Tribunal, a special court that tries asset declaration misdemeanors, mostly relate to the ownership of land held by his company Carlisle Properties Ltd during that period.

Other allegations include transferring $3.4 million (3 million Euros) to an account outside Nigeria while he was governor, and sending $2.1 million (1.9 million Euros) to a European account to cover a mortgage for a London property.

The protestors, with hashtag #OccupyNass, are angry about the level of corruption at the legislative arm of the Nigerian government and are determined to end it. According to the media coordinator for #OccupyNass, Fidel Diyyo, the national assembly is no longer representing the interests of ordinary Nigerians. "People are dying on a daily basis, terrorists are kidnapping and killing our people but they don't care," Diyyo told DW.

"What we see everyday is a national assembly that is totally disconnected from the people. It's a group of men and women who formed themselves into a club for personal gain," he added.

On Tuesday (26.04.2016), the group began a four-day sit-in at the premises of the National Assembly to press some key demands. One of the protesters, Hamid Bakare, travelled hundreds of kilometers from the nation's commercial capital, Lagos, to join the protest. He believes that Nigerian leaders need to change their attitudes for the country to achieve the desired transformation. "We are the most populous African nation and we have everything it takes to develop but we don't have good leaders," Bakare told DW.

Protests in Abuja (Copyright: DW/U. Musa)
Protesters claim that the parliament is no longer caring their needsImage: DW/U. Musa

Saraki claims innocence

Despite the public pressure to step down, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, alleges that his opponents are plotting to force him from his position. His office, according to a local website, has asked the police to prevent any incident that can wreak havoc on people and public institutions. "The office of Senate President has alerted members of the public on the plan by some politicians to create public disorder through a sponsored demonstration that will seek to ground human and vehicular activities on some major streets of Abuja, particularly, those leading to the National Assembly complex," his special adviser on media and communication, Yusuf Olaniyonu, said.

Nigeria Bukola Saraki
Bukola Saraki, the third most powerful politician in Nigeria, claims innocenceImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Alamba

Many Nigerians went on Twitter to express their views. They, however, have different opinions on the campaign #OccupyNass.

Although the new government promised change, bureaucratic bottlenecks coupled with disagreement over the 2016 budget, dimming the hopes of critics.

"We should be telling them what we want and they should be listening to us. We now have the opportunity to rise up," a protester, Theo Odunlami said.

Nigeria is Africa's strongest economy, but according to the World Bank about half of the population still lives below the national poverty line.

Ubale Musa in Abuja contributed to this report.