Outrage over crackdown on unarmed protesters
The Federal Government came under criticism yesterday over its suppression of unarmed #RevolutionNow protesters.
The presidential candidate of the African Action Congress in the last general elections, Omoyele Sowore, had called for a mass protest against the alleged misgovernance of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. Sowore was however arrested on Saturday by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).
Following its earlier description of the protest as treason, the Federal Government yesterday dispatched heavily armed security operatives across parts of the country to stop the march.
In Lagos State, the police fired live bullets and teargas canisters to disperse the protesters who had planned to gather at the National Stadium.
Operatives including those of the Army and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) also took up positions at potential convergence points at Freedom Park in Ojota, Oshodi, Ojuelegba, Ikeja Under Bridge, Governor’s Office Alausa, and Obalende, among others.
“Their planned protest is unlawful. They did not obtain permission for the protest. If they say they have the permission, let them show it. Anyone who foments trouble will be dealt with according to law,” said Lagos State Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations), Mohammed Ali.
But at a press conference yesterday, the organisers of the protest vowed they would continue the demonstration today.
Lagos State police spokesman, Bala Elkana, confirmed the arrest of nine persons including one Victor Ogungbero, a video editor and cameraman with Sahara Reporters.
Heavily armed operatives also prevented the protest in Ibadan, Oyo State. As early as 6:30 a.m. the personnel had manned the main gate of the University of Ibadan in anticipation of a march.
“The police force in Oyo State will not fold its arms and allow any individual or group to create anarchy, chaos, and acts that can lead to the breakdown of law and order,” said the spokesman, Olugbenga Fadeyi.
One of the coordinators of the protest in Ore, Ondo State, Abiodun Oyekan, described the action of the police as barbaric, saying: “We condemn the dispersing of law-abiding citizens who are agitating for an egalitarian society in Ore today. They have shown force against us but nothing shall discourage us in agitating for freedom. We use this medium to also call for the release of the journalist who was arrested by the police in Ore.
“We have all gathered to raise out our voice for free, quality and compulsory education at all levels. We also want a democratic end to the issue of insecurity in the country, and ask the government to pay the minimum wage while also placing all politicians on minimum wage.”
In her reaction, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, former presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party (ACP), decried the description of the protest as an unlawful assembly, and condemned the Federal Government for “stifling freedom.”
According to her, “Nigerians will not relent in their united effort to bring about a country that is governed better for the sake of posterity. The citizens of Nigeria are bigger than the country and will outlive the current leadership.”
Another former presidential candidate, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, asked: “What do the security agencies mean by Sowore crossing the line? What line has he crossed? Do citizens not have a right to protest against bad governance?”
The Leader of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Alhaji Balarabe Musa, also condemned the arrest of Sowore and called for his immediate release.
He told The Guardian in an interview that citizens have a constitutional right to embark on a legitimate protest when the Federal Government fails to provide good governance.
He said: “Government has no right to arrest Sowore for leading any protest or speaking out against Buhari’s government. His action is not treasonable. You cannot arrest any Nigerian who is protesting against the maladministration of Buhari’s government. The situation in the country is terrible. Nigerians have endured enough. There is a need to protest against poor governance by Buhari.
“We have the fundamental right to embark on a protest. And the revolution people are calling for in this country is not treasonable. The people in government should know that Nigerians can no longer take the insecurity and plunge of the economy. The right thing must be done to salvage Nigeria.”
Buhari, however, has thanked Nigerians who deliberately ignored calls on social media to join a phantom ‘revolution’.
The president made this known in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in Abuja yesterday.
The statement read in parts: “Today, millions of Nigerians went about their businesses: work, seeking employment, attending school/college and caring for their families. By doing so, the millions defended our country’s hard-won democratic rights – by ignoring calls on social media to join a phantom ‘revolution’.
“There were a few hundred persons today who, for their own reasons, decided to act upon the demands of a group calling itself Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria, which went on social media to ask everyday Nigerians to overthrow the government they only elected some six months ago.
“The president is humbled by the support – not for himself, or the governing party – but for the democratic values of modern-day Nigeria through the wisdom of those millions of citizens who preferred democracy and decided not to undermine an elected government.”
In other reactions, a group, Yoruba Youth Socio-cultural Association (YYSA) Worldwide described the attack on the protesters as an infringement on human right.
In a statement by its national president, Olalekan Hammed, the group said: “Any government that orders a crackdown on protesters has trampled on their right. The terror unleashed by the security agents against protesters is despotic.”
A pro-democracy and non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), also condemned what it described as the primitive and brutish attack by the police on unarmed civilian protesters, even as it demanded the immediate release of all the arrested persons.
It further vowed to take the police boss, Mohammed Adamu, to the International Criminal Court (ICJ) for prosecution over crimes against humanity.
In a statement in Abuja by the national coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, the group said the action of the security operatives is an attack on the soul of democracy.
It explained that peaceful assembly is a broad term covering all types of gatherings, including peaceful demonstrations. It noted that the general rule under Article 21 of the ICCPR is that any restriction placed on such freedom shall be prohibited, unless it is provided by law, subjected to a strict test of necessity in a democratic society, and imposed only in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of health and public morals, or of the rights and freedoms of others.
HURIWA wondered why the National Assembly has allegedly gone to bed while armed security forces are gunning down peaceful protesters.
This came as some of the citizens protesting under the #RevolutionNow coalition have refuted the government’s allegation that a regime change was being hatched. According to them, the action is aimed at engaging the government in a demand for a safer and better country.
Lagos-based lawyer and civil rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, said the protest bears no semblance with a coup d’etat as the police have claimed.
He said: “It is sad that we live in a country where the military would be deployed to quell peaceful protests. We cannot tolerate that kind of situation. And frankly, the National Human Rights Commission has not been doing enough on the dictatorial tendencies of the government.
“What we have seen today is regrettable and has basically taken the country backward. They had no reason to respond the way they did. In Lagos, at the National Stadium, for example, we had only gathered and started singing. We had not even begun the march when a contingent of soldiers arrived.
“Our #RevolutionNow movement has nothing to do with toppling any government. We have a charter of demands we have stipulated publicly. It is what we are protesting for. None of those demands suggested the violent removal of the president.
“Were we at Aso Rock today? Are we going to remove the president with our berets? It is nonsense to suggest we are planning to overthrow the government.”
Similarly, in Abuja, some protesters petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) at its headquarters, expressing displeasure over the silence of the commission in the face of alleged rights abuses by the Buhari government.
The coalition, led by Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said: “We are completely dissatisfied by the eerie silence of the NHRC in the face of these undemocratic developments. Our dissatisfaction is further aggravated by the fact that the role of the NHRC in defending the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Nigerians is well revered and dearly treasured by Nigerians.
“It is, therefore, our hope that the NHRC would wake up from its slumber and rise to its responsibility of defending Nigeria’s civic spaces and the constitutionally guaranteed rights of her citizens.”