…stay at home, police tell demonstrators during show of force
…no going back, it’s our right to protest –Organisers
There are indications of an imminent clash between civil society organisations and the police as a mass protest is set to be held in various states across the country and in the diaspora on Saturday (today), in commemoration of Democracy Day.
Several digital flyers, widely circulated on social media on Friday, publicised meeting points in Lagos, Gombe, Calabar (Cross River), Yola (Adamawa), Bauchi, Abeokuta (Ogun), Yenagoa (Bayelsa), Port Harcourt (Rivers), Ibadan (Oyo), Ilorin (Kwara), Enugu, Akure (Ondo), Yobe, and Zaria (Kaduna).
One poster by #RevolutionNow read, “Join the June 12 protest. No more poverty, hunger and insecurity in Nigeria… Enough Is Enough! Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.”
Another poster for a protest in Kaiserslautern, Germany read, “Buhari must go! Let’s come together to say no to government funding terrorism: Boko Haram terrorism and banditry, one litre of petrol equals N165, bad roads, poor hospitals, kidnapping, economic recession, police brutality, disregard for the rule of law, poor health sector, poor education.”
Similar flyers targeted at protesters in New York (US), Kaduna State and the Federal Capital Territory listed the same points but added, “N30,000 minimum wage, N13.5m senators’ salary, Nigeria is over N30tn in debt.”
One poster for a protest tagged ‘Buhari Must Go Party’ was aimed at supporters in London, United Kingdom. Similar ‘Buhari must go’ posters also targeted protesters in Toronto (Canada), Austin (Texas, USA), Calabar, Kebbi, and Lagos.
However, police commands in several states across the country, including Lagos, Bayelsa, Kogi, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti and Akwa Ibom, argued that they were unaware of any planned protest in their respective states. Some states, including Oyo and Kwara, embarked on a show of force on Friday.
They also promised to uphold law and order in the state amid plans of demonstrations circulating on social media.
But the Convener of #RevolutionNow, Omoyele Sowore, told Saturday PUNCH in a series of text messages that there was no legal backing for the security forces to deter protesters.
He said, “The Nigeria Police has no right to tell Nigerians not to participate in protests. It is an inalienable right. Our group will go ahead regardless of the obstacles. If the police decide to use unreasonable force, let it be known that the officers involved will be held responsible even after they retire.
“June 12 is about real democracy and free and fair elections; the Buhari regime reminds us all of the criminal annulment of democratic rule in 1993.”
Asked why demonstrations were being organised simultaneously in foreign locations, he said, “It is a global protest to restore genuine democracy.”
Sowore criticised the police statement warning groups who did not obtain permits ahead of the protests, saying, “No, we do not need a police permit to protest. Even under military rule, we did not need police permits to engage in protests; it is settled in law.”
Similarly, the Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, condemned the threats by the police, saying there was no basis to deny people their right to protest.
He said, “They have no such powers. What is guiding us as a country is the constitution and there are several judicial pronouncements to the effect that protest is a fundamental human right and must be respected by the government.
“How do you say people should not protest in a democracy? How does that even sound? Someone that wants to protect the sanctity of the constitution does not even know the law? It’s just so unbelievable!
“These guys don’t even realise that we are in a democracy. And it is our duty as citizens to remind them by coming out tomorrow that this is still a democracy.”
Asked if his group was prepared for the possibility of the police responding to the protests with the use of force, he said, “Absolutely! It is a normal strategy by the police, Department of State Services and Army. They have been using this since the ‘90s to demoralise people and ensure that they don’t turn up.
“We are all witnesses to this. But it is within the right of every Nigerian to protest and people should be defiant and summon courage. If Kudirat Abiola, MKO Abiola, Afred Rewane, Pa Anthony Enahoro, Prof Wole Soyinka, Gani Fawehunmi, Femi Falana and others that sacrificed for democracy did not defy the military to lead protests, we would not have this democracy.
“So, it behoves us to do the same or even do more. If not for the sacrifices of the June 12 heroes, would President Muhammadu Buhari even be able to sit in the Villa to be using new decrees and displaying tyranny? Would there be an IG threatening protesters if they could not go and threaten kidnappers?”
Adeyanju noted that one of the reasons for the protest was the recent abductions of Nigerians, decrying that the Federal Government, which he said stood by as Sheik Ahmad Gumi negotiated with bandits, was “issuing threats and directives” to protesters.
“We must do our part. It’s two-way traffic. Leaders have a responsibility to do the right thing, but citizens have a greater responsibility to make sure they do their part so that leaders do not get away with impunity and tyranny,” the activist added.
In the same vein, Apapo Egbe Omo Yoruba announced that it would join the protest in the South-West.
The group, in a statement on Friday, listed its convergence points to include Itele Junction, Benin-Ore Expressway (Ogun); Tollgate, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway (Lagos); Iwo Road (Oyo); Okefia, Oshogbo (Osun); Akure, Ado-Expressway (Ekiti); and Roadblock Oloko (Ondo).
“Please, note that what we are having tomorrow is a protest not a rally, and the event will not take place in Kwara and Kogi states for now, due to some strategic reasons. Please, we implore all our Yoruba brothers and sisters to participate fully in tomorrow’s protest because our huge turnout is very important for our total liberation from the Fulani Republic of Nigeria.
“Please, those of us that do not have the Yoruba Nation uniform are also expected to join the protest, so nobody should use the issue of (not having) uniforms or caps as an excuse for his or her non-participation.
“We also implore our people not to go to anywhere tomorrow except the rally venues. Failure to follow this instruction may lead to serious consequences by the Yoruba Nation warriors, who will be available everywhere to enforce this simple instruction. God bless Yoruba Nation.”
Police beef up security, warn against protests
However, the Edo Police Public Relations Officer, SP Kontongs Bello, told Saturday PUNCH that protests in the state would be treated as illegal and met with resistance by officers.
Bello said, “No unlawful assembly will be allowed. We have not received any letter from any persons or group that they want to carry out a protest or rally. So, as far as we are concerned, Saturday will be a peaceful day and people are advised to go on with their lawful business. Anyone or any group that comes out for protest without permission will be considered miscreants.
“The police authorities will not deal with such person lightly. Why are they planning to stage a protest? If they are bent on staging a protest without permission, it means they are being sponsored by people with sinister motives. Where are they trying to do that? In whose interest is the protest?”
Meanwhile, the Cross River CP, Sikiru Akande, in an interview with one of our correspondents, banned June 12 protests, saying, “There will be no protest in Cross River tomorrow. We don’t want a situation where a protest will be hijacked like the #EndSARS protest.”
Akande said the warning became necessary due to the prevailing situation in the country, adding that any attempt to breach the warning would be met with force as officers and men of the command were fully prepared.
Also, the acting Delta PPRO, DSP Bright Edafe, warned members of the public against embarking on protests in any guise, saying its operatives had already been placed on red alert.
Edafe said the command “is aware of the planned protest by some agitated members of the public on of June 12, 2021 and is also aware that this protest is being staged by criminally minded individuals, hiding under the guise of peaceful protest thereby causing havoc in the state.
“The command, under the watch of CP Ari Muhammed Ali, will not allow any miscreant to distort the already existing peace in the state.”
In the same vein, the Lagos State Police Command, in a statement by the Police Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, on Friday, advised Lagosians to ignore any sit-at-home order circulated on social media.
The statement read in part, “The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, CP Hakeem Odumosu, appeals to members of the public to disregard any sit-at-home order called by certain groups, which is being circulated on social media and go about their lawful business as the police and other security agencies have made necessary arrangements to maintain law and order across the state.”
The Kogi State Commissioner of Police, Ayuba Ede, in a telephone conversation with one of our correspondents stated that the command had held series of meetings with stakeholders and none had expressed interest in protests.
Ede said, “A lot of steps have been taken, such as increased patrol, show of force and others. We have also secured the cooperation of other security agencies to provide adequate security for every part of the state on Saturday and even beyond.”
The police spokesperson in Bayelsa, Asinim Butswat, said the command had no knowledge of a planned June 12 protests in the state, saying, “Members of the public should go about their normal and legitimate business, as the command is not aware of any planned protest.”
The Ekiti PPRO, Sunday Abutu, described any planned protest in the state as a rumour, adding that if it turned violent, the police would not leave anything to chance.
The Akwa Ibom command’s spokesperson, Odiko Macdon, said no protest was approved in the state, adding that the police was on alert to deal with any group causing confusion anywhere in the state.
Similarly, the Osun police command, declared that it would not tolerate any act of lawlessness, and urged members of the public to act within the ambit of the law and jettison all forms of rumours of insecurity being peddled in the state.
The command, in a statement by its spokesperson, Yemisi Opalola, on Friday, said its men would ensure a peaceful celebration of Democracy Day in the state.
The statement read in part, “The Osun State Commissioner of Police, Olawale Olokode, in his unrelenting efforts to ensure this year Democracy Day is celebrated peacefully without any hitch, has put in place adequate security templates across the state as all Nigerians and other well-wishers all over the country are expected to mark this memorable day.”
Also, the Imo CP, Abutu Yaro, cautioned residents against being used to perpetrate violence, saying there was intelligence that youths of the state would be embarking on June 12 protest in the state.
Reacting to rumoured plans by members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra to trigger tension by hijacking planned civil protests in parts of the state, Yaro called for caution by residents, urging them to prevent those he described as enemies of peace operating in the guise of Democracy Day protesters.
He described the planned protests as a ploy to heat up the polity and worsen the security challenges bedevilling the state.
The police commissioner said, “Thanks to police intelligence, we have uncovered plans by members of the IPOB and the Eastern Security Network to hijack civil protests on June 12. We advise Imo people to stay away because some of those conveners have ulterior motives.
“We will not tolerate any attempt by hoodlums to destabilise the state and anyone who insists on disrupting the fragile peace in the state will meet their Waterloo.”
Undercover agents deployed in FCT
Security agencies, including the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and the DSS, have deployed undercover agencies to prevent a breakdown of law and order during the June 12 protests.
Findings indicate that intelligence operatives have also infiltrated the various groups organising the nationwide rallies meant to call government attention to the deteriorating security situation in the country.
Sources who confided in Saturday PUNCH on Friday said all security agencies had been placed on red alert and directed to put down any violent protest in any part of the country.
The spokesman, NSCDC, Olushola Odumosu, confirmed that intelligence operatives would be working throughout the night to ensure that the Democracy Day celebration was hitch-free.
Odumosu said the NSCDC Commandant-General, Dr Ahmed Audi, has also directed State commandants to mobilise their respective Rapid Respond Squads.
He stated, “At the moment, our men have been deployed. As we speak now, they are on patrol and that would happen throughout the night to ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order. We are not leaving anything to chance. If anything is going to happen, it would start during the night.
“So, our men are on patrol alongside other security agencies. The CG has also directed all state commandants to deploy Rapid Respond Squad to contain any eventuality. They would serve as the reserve squad to those on patrol, they would serve as intervention force.”
Asked if the corps received intelligence of possible security breach, the NSCDC spokesman said the security agencies were simply taking proactive measures in view of the prevailing security situation and the agitations by secessionist groups.
Also, the Commander, Guards Brigades, Brig.-Gen. Mohammed Usman, who assured residents that there would be no security breach in the FCT, stated that he was not aware of the planned rally in the federal capital, saying his men would be on duty as usual.
The Guards Brigades is in charge of the security at the seat of power and the FCT in general.
When asked if he would deploy troops to forestall possible violence during the protest in Abuja, the commander said, “If I would deploy, I won’t tell you. It’s the normal action we are taking, there would be no breakdown of law and order.”
The FCT police command spokesperson, ASP Mariam Yusuf, also said personnel would be drafted to protect residents and public infrastructure, saying, “Our men will be on the ground to protect FCT residents and public infrastructure during the Democracy Day anniversary celebration.”
Attack protesters, face ICC, groups caution security agencies
However, the Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Dare Ariyo-Atoye, said security operatives owed citizens the duty to protect them, noting that they must do away with the habit of clamping down on protesters.
Ariyo-Atoye warned against attacks on protesters on Saturday, adding that any officer found culpable would be dragged before the International Criminal Court.
He said, “June 12 will not be called off. The police and other security agencies should know that they were not created to protect any regime but the citizens and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The President will go; the security agencies will remain as an institution.
“They must shed the mentality of answering the calls of the government to clamp down on protesters. They have a duty to ensure that tomorrow’s protest holds and criminal elements should not be allowed to infiltrate. The Inspector General of Police should do what his counterparts in saner climes are doing.
“Let it be on the record that if any security officer violates the right of any protester, we will ensure that such an officer is prosecuted before the ICC, even after the Buhari regime, because he may want to protect such a person.”
On the objective of the protest, he said, “What we are trying to do with the protest is to tell the President that all is not well with the nation. We want to tell the President that he should end insecurity and lift the ban on Twitter, among others. When people are pained, the only civil instrument they have is the protest.”
Also, Mbasekei Obono, the Coordinator, Civil Society Consortium on Civic Space, a coalition of 45 human rights groups, argued that the right to protest was a fundamental and constitutional right guaranteed by Section 38 of the constitution.
“No one, including the police, has the right to deny any citizen of Nigeria the right to either peaceful assembly or protest because that will be a violation of the 1999 constitution, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,” Obono said.
Similarly, the Executive Director, Centre for Public Accountability, Olufemi Lawson, said it was “anti-democratic for any government to assume that citizens do not have the right to protest, especially when such is planned to be peaceful.”
A former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof Chidi Odinkalu, also said there was no reason citizens who wished to protest peacefully should be told that some days were not for protests.
“The government should stop threatening young people merely because they want to exercise their constitutional rights,” he said.
Be vigilant, Obaseki urges Edo people
The Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, on Friday, called on the residents to be vigilant as part of efforts to keep the country united and prosperous.
Obaseki, in a statement, said the nation would surmount its numerous challenges with sacrifices from the people and the government.
Respect citizens right to protest, Amnesty tells FG
Amnesty International has called on the Federal Government to respect the right of Nigerians to engage in a peaceful protest.
This statement was issued by Amnesty International on its verified Twitter handle in response to the planned June 12 protest.
The statement read “Amnesty International is calling on the Nigerian authorities to respect the right to peaceful protest and ensure that Nigerians protesting tomorrow are allowed to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of assembly. Protest is not a crime.”
The movement further urged law enforcement agencies to protect the protesters as they exercise their fundamental right to a peaceful assembly.
“Law enforcement agencies have a duty to facilitate people’s fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and to protect protesters.”