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#OccupyLekkiTollGate Rally: Apprehension in Lagos over fresh protest

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Emmanuel Onwubiko


• Don’t Threaten Citizens Planning Protest Over Lekki Toll Gate Reopening, HURIWA Caution FG
• LCC Says Fresh Protests Would Be Counter-Productive

A civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has cautioned government officials to stop threatening citizens planning to stage public rally at the Lekki Toll Gate to protest its reopening.

The rights group said the Federal Government had used the same tactics during the EndSARS protest and shortly after such public warning by its, armed hoodlums emerged from nowhere and violently attacked protesters, leading to casualties, just as some of the hoodlums were caught on camera in Abuja being conveyed in black jeeps similar to those usually driven by the secret service Police.

HURIWA also accused the government against the use of same methods, warning the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, that he would be held accountable should any citizen be killed or attacked in any protest tomorrow.

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In a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, and National Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA cited Sections 39(1), 40 and 41 of the Nigerian constitution regarding the inalienable rights of citizens to conduct peaceful protest.

The Federal Government had warned against the planned protest scheduled to hold tomorrow to demand justice for victims of alleged shooting during peaceful the #EndSARS protest by mostly youths against Police brutality, which brought Lagos to a standstill in October last year and soon spread to other states, especially in the south, even after government disbanded the squad and promised reforms of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).

Activists had, on social media, called for new protests today after the judicial panel of enquiry sitting in Lagos State authorised the reopening of the tollgate, where security forces were alleged to have shot at peaceful protesters on October 20.

One Magdalene Keshi Iwute @meggiebangz, on February 8, wrote on Twitter: “I can’t keep calm for all my brothers and sisters whose blood was shed due to #EndSARS protest and died at the Lekki too gate. We move again to #OccupyLekkiTollGate February 13, 7am.”

Global rights group, Amnesty International (AI), alleged that soldiers and police personnel killed at least 12 protesters in Lekki and other places.

The military and police have consistently denied killing unarmed protesters during the protest, insisting that its personnel only used blank rounds to break up protesters who had defied a curfew.

Lekki Concession Company (LCC), the firm in charge of the tollgate, had stopped working since the protest, but the judicial panel launched by the state of Lagos said it could resume its operations at the tollgate.

Mohammed, while acknowledging that peaceful protest was a constitutional right, warned of the risk of such rallies descending into violence in the name of justice and being hijacked by hoodlums.

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“Any further resort to violence in the name of #EndSARS will not be tolerated this time. The security agents are ready for any eventuality.

“We, therefore, strongly warn those planning to reoccupy Lekki tollgate on Saturday (today) to desist.” The unrest following the protest in October led to the deaths of six soldiers, 37 policemen and 57 civilians, as well as the destruction of 269 private and public properties, he said.

Many Nigerians, especially youths, have expressed anger at the panel’s decision to reopen the toll plaza and called for fresh protests.

Using the #OccupyLekkiTollGate hashtag on Twitter, they called on people of like minds to take part in the protest billed for today from 7am.

A widely shared slogan on social media said: “No Justice, No Re-Opening. You can’t open a tollgate where victims of state-sanctioned murder are yet to get justice.”

But others, with the hashtag, #DefendLagos, worried that the protest could be used as an excuse to further destroy and loot properties, called for a counter-protest the same day at Lekki.

On Thursday, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu, said no protest would be allowed to take place today, adding: “Allowing both groups to carry out their planned protests will be counterproductive.

“No protest in any guise will be allowed to take place on Saturday (today).”There has been apprehension, especially on Lagos Island, since the call for rally and counter-rally at the tollgate and in Lekki and government’s stern warning that it would not condone a fresh protest.

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Distressed by the reactions that trailed the planned reopening of the toll gate, the management of Lekki Concession Company Limited (LCC), yesterday, appealed to the #OccupyLekkiTollGate, #DefendLagos and #DemNoBornDemPapaWell protesters planning to demonstrate at the Admiralty Circle Plaza to shelve the idea.

LCC said it was in its bid to stop further losses to operations, especially given the subsisting financial commitments to local and foreign financial institutions, that the firm approached the panel for permission to repossess the facilities.

Speaking to journalists in Lagos, LCC Managing Director, Mr. Yomi Omomuwasan, said the request was to enable the firm evaluate damages, process insurance claims and rebuild burnt facilities before the commencement of operations to continue to fulfill loan repayment and other financial obligations.

Omomuwasan said LCC has also been a victim of the violent part of the protest, resulting in substantial losses to operations and services it offers, stressing that the development brought a lot of uncertainties to staff and thousands of dependants, who are also being severely affected.

He added: “We want to place it on record that we cooperated fully with the panel and made a strong representation through our lawyers concerning the return of our assets, a request the panel graciously granted.

“We wish to appeal to well-meaning Nigerians from across the divide to reconsider the decision, which has potential of repeating the disruption we all suffered and especially bringing sad memories to various families that were affected by the protest of October last year.”

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He noted that assets worth several billions of naira were destroyed during the protest, stressing that LCC has nothing to do with the protest against Police brutality, which was the central point of youth’s agitation, and was only unlucky to have been caught in the web.

He disclosed that LCC is fully owned by the Lagos State Government and its assets and liabilities were also acquired alongside the business, explaining that acquisition of the firm by the government did not automatically translate to debt cancellation by the lenders, as it is obligated to continue to run business on behalf of the government, as provided for, in the 30 years concession agreement.

“Contrary action would have grave repercussions on how international lenders would view doing business in Nigeria. This automatically heightens the risk profile of doing business in Nigeria and would impact the efforts of the federal and state governments to obtain long-term loans for needed critical infrastructure,” he stressed.

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