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No military force, Nigerians warn

By Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Seye Olumide (Lagos), Terhemba Daka (Abuja), Abdulganiyu Alabi (Kaduna)
19 October 2020   |   4:30 am
Ethnic nationalities yesterday voiced support for the ongoing Anti-SARS protests as military plans deployment of troops for routine operations tomorrow.

President Muhammadu Buhari (right); Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and Senate President Ahmad Lawan during a meeting to end SARS protests across the country at the Presidential Villa, Abuja…yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

• N’Assembly wants end to protests • FG to address demand in 14 days
• Ethnic groups back agitations • OPC, ex-senator, Ukpai want restructuring

Ethnic nationalities yesterday voiced support for the ongoing Anti-SARS protests as military plans deployment of troops for routine operations tomorrow. There are concerns that the timing of the nationwide military exercise could degenerate the already tensed situation following youths’ insistence on total lockdown of the country from today (Monday).

Yoruba, Niger Delta and Igbo groups said deployment of troops to stop #ENDSARS would be treasonable and urged President Muhammadu Buhari to desist from such moves. Apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo, warned the Nigerian army to refrain from worsening the already tensed situation in the country with the Operation Crocodile Smiles exercise, just as the PAN Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) believes that the exercise was a ploy to scare off protesters and stop peaceful agitation.

A coalition of labour and civil society groups, the Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) warned the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai and his men that they would be risking facing the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague if any of the ENDARS protesters was killed.

Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), yesterday, said that northerners might join Southern ENDSARS protesters. It said the Federal Government would be making a big mistake by involving the military in quelling the protests.

The country has been in turmoil for almost two weeks now, where Nigerians, especially youths, have continued to press demand for reform of the Nigeria Police Force in its entirety.

NATIONAL Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, who noted that it would be difficult to convince an average Nigerian that the military exercise was not in response to the ongoing protests, stressed that Nigerians had the right to demonstrate against unpopular policies, insisting that, they should not be intimidated while doing so.

In an interview with The Guardian, spokesperson of the Coalition of Northern Groups, Abdul-Aziz Suleiman, also said the military had no right to intervene in internal affairs like protest, warning that the Federal Government would be held responsible for any national disaster regarding such move.

In the same vein, Convener of the Joint Action Committee of Northern Youth Associations, Mr. Murtala Abubakar, cautioned against the plan.
ASCAB warned the Federal Government to withdraw plans to use soldiers. Its Chairman, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), asked President Buhari not to invite soldiers to resolve a purely democratic issue that calls for dialogue and constructive engagement.

Yoruba One Voice (YOV) and Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), in a joint statement, said any attempt to deploy soldiers against the ongoing protests would amount to treason against the people and a conscious attempt to bring down the pillars of democracy in Nigeria.

In a joint statement signed by Director of Communication, Yoruba group, Zacheus Somorin and IPOB’s Principal Secretary to the Directorate of State, Ms Christy Ekama, they expressed deep concern about plots by an ethnic group to destabilise the country to justify the complete imposition of martial rule.

Prominent Nigerians, including the Aare Onakankanfo of Yoruba Land, Otunba Ganu Adams, President of Uma Ukpai Evangelist Association, Rev (Dr) Uma Ukpai, former lawmaker who represented Oyo South Senatorial District, Femi Lanlehin, and President General, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Prince Osibote, warned against use of force on protesters.

MEANWHILE, the thinking within the Federal Government last night was that of urgent need to end the protests. A source at the Presidency told The Guardian that government thought it was important to end the protests. He said President Buhari had already spoken last Monday and said everything he needed to say. “The Vice President Yemi Osinbajo personally typed his message on his personal phone and apologised; no government ever apologises,” the source argued.

It was also gathered that some government officials believed that other citizens and businesses were being affected by the youths’ protests, as “pregnant women (are) denied access to hospitals. Some insiders also want government to enforce law and order, especially in Lagos and Abuja.”

On why the Presidency would be permitting a nationwide military operation at this critical time, the source disclosed, “the military just wants to show their loyalty. People are pushing for it.” The source argued that the police could not quell the protests and that government had expected youths to correct themselves. “What they have done has presented to people in government an opportunity for change but for their (youth’s) petulance, not knowing when to stop after concessions.” The source further explained that northern governors’ insistence on SARS was already making the matter sectional, and expressed the concern that the country could lose the rare chance of making things right.

DESPERATE to halt the #EndSARS and #EndSWAT protests across the country, the Federal Government has put machinery in motion to address the protesters’ demands within 14 days.

Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, disclosed this after their closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday.

Lawan told State House correspondents that the meeting was to decide on how to implement the demands, assuring that government was poised to address all the issues raised by the aggrieved youths within two weeks.

“If you like, begin your protests again if nothing happens in two weeks. But let us not continue this thing and lose the plot. That is what I don’t want,” the Speaker added.

Lawan admitted that it was a trying moment for the government and thanked the President for demonstrating democratic ethos. “I think the protesters have expressed their legitimate rights and the government has listened. The essence of coming to meet Mr. President is to review the situation and see the roles the two arms of government should play in ensuring that the five-point demand of the protesters are properly addressed,” he said.

But feelers from protesters last night indicated that they were not ready to back down. A conversation with a frontline youth indicated the protest would not stop.

“From the look of things, I don’t see anything stopping the protests, sir,” he told The Guardian. “In fact, the demand is now shifting to the request for the IGP to resign. Just yesterday, 37 officers were dismissed or demoted. They (youths) feel this happened due to pressure. This is right because some of the cases have been on for over two years. An example is that of ACP Abayomi Shongule who was demoted to CSP.”

The youth leader also denied government’s ‘propaganda’ alleging that a woman had died while trying to give birth in traffic. “On the medical aspects, there was a rumor of someone who died while trying to give birth in traffic; it turned out to be false and the handiwork of the government social media bots. We actually have ambulances on standby at these protest venues. In fact, plans are underway to have mobile doctors on motorbikes. We already have a helpline.”

ACCORDING to a reliable source at the Presidency, the protesters had demanded key reforms for the police and the general governance architecture. The comprehensive document titled, “Purge, Reconcile Reform” identified the major problem as ‘Criminal mal-administration of Nigeria at all levels,” and insisted that the issue directly affects youths through SARS, SWAT and the Nigeria Police.

The youths specifically recommended short to long-term solutions, beginning with Police reform (starting with SARS), institution of best practices for administration of the country at all levels and succession based on merit and respect for rule of law by those elected and selected to protect, administer and enforce it.

The youths advised government to purge the system by replacing IGP Adamu, suspending SARS, investigating claims against the officers in the unit, prosecuting the guilty ones, disbanding the unit and engaging in massive education on the role of the Police Force.

The document demanded that the Federal Government should institute “Truth and Reconciliation Hearing for the world to see” and apologise to the families who lost lives and pay restitution.

On reforms, the youths wanted government to give the police dignity in Labour by paying them well so that they too would have a shot at legitimately owning land and getting health coverage.

They called for restructuring of the police force through decentralization and state police. just as they requested a new tactical unit to quell robbery as well as to set the rules of service and to enforce them.

The protesters, who also listed some of their leaders, said the agitation would move to the next ministry, department and/or agency that needed reform once the initial requests were met. The document hinted that the goal was to ensure and enforce transparency and accountability in government.

It said the administrators must share detailed plans with timelines for each purge, reconcile and reform cycle and “show us the work being done. When we all agree they have started, we leave the streets. We, the people, then follow their activities and raise an alarm when or if they miss a timeline.”

On warnings by regional groups against use of force, PANDEF’s spokesperson, Ken Robinson, noted that several attempts had been made in that regard by inducing thugs to attack protesters. The forum, instead, advised government to look for leaders to negotiate for peaceful terms.

“We will like to warn and caution that the use of force will be detrimental. The consequences we cannot imagine. The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental right of citizens and PANDEF will call on President Muhammadu Buhari that the use of force by the military should not be encouraged. The military should not be deployed directly or indirectly to stop the young citizens of Nigerians who are protesting peacefully against some of the ills in society that some groups like PANDEF have always talked about over this period.”