It was a sombre drama, yesterday, as security operatives led by officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force descended on unarmed peaceful protesters. The Police deployed force stripping, clubbing and dehumanising the protesters. Not done with the violation of their rights and persons, the Police arrested dozens of the peaceful #OccupyLekki Tollgate protesters.x
The aggrieved youths carried out their threat of occupying the facility as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction with the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry, which gave the nod for the reopening of the Lekki tollgate operated by the Lekki Concession Company (LCC), last week Saturday.
Some of the protesters at Lekki Tollgate before they were whisked away ... yesterday PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN<br />
While the #OccupyLekki Tollgate protesters were battered, the police displayed clear partisanship by allowing the #Defend Lagos protesters to waltz around the tollgate distributing flyers to passersby.x
Earlier in the day, campaigners for #DefendLagos protest announced that they were backing out of the Lekki tollgate counter-protest, and urged security operatives to arrest #, OccupyLekkiTollgate protesters. The group was created as a counter team against the #OccupyLekkiTollGate protest. Its head, Alabi Oladimeji, in announcing the suspension of the Saturday protests said, #DefendLagos would organise a “huge” protest if the security operatives allowed the #OccupyLekkiTollgate demonstrators to hold their planned protest.
“No protest from #DefendLagos on Saturday (today). We are simultaneously respecting the state and federal governments,” he said, adding, “I am proud to announce that for the meantime, we will be pending this protest due to the law of the Federal and state governments. We are law-abiding and good citizens we should not be the ones seen disobeying any law.”
Among the first set of protesters to be arrested at the Lekki toll gate, were popular comedian, Debo Adebayo, also known as Mr. Macaroni. Others include Babatunde Saka, Manger Ajake, Oya Godwin, Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, and Omoyele Abdul Ajebieber.x
Expectedly, videos of protesters being manhandled by the policemen struck the wrong cord in most groups and individuals, who took turns to lambast the Federal Government.
Some organisations that took a swipe at the government for condoning the primitive actions of the police were the Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project (SERAP), Amnesty International, and EIE Nigeria.
A former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who equally condemned the police action, stressed that the right to peaceful protest was guaranteed by the country’s constitution.
“The 1999 Nigerian constitution, as amended (Section 40) guarantees the right of citizens to peaceful protest. The courts have also affirmed that right. Anything contrary to that is not acceptable and stands condemned,” he tweeted, adding, “It is the security agents’ responsibility to provide a secured conducive environment for citizens to protest peaceably in line with constitutional provisions and the African Charter on Human rights.”x
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), while condemning what it described as the police’s “shocking” and “unlawful actions,” informed that it had kick-started moves to secure the release of all arrested protesters.
President of the association, Olumide Akpata, demanded the immediate release of all protesters while offering free legal representation to protesters without lawyers.
“The images and footages of the unlawful actions of the Nigerian Police at the Lekki Tollgate Lagos are truly shocking,” the NBA chief said via his verified Twitter handle, adding: “The @NigBarAssoc condemns the brazen disrespect for the fundamental rights of unarmed citizens who are merely exercising their rights to peaceful protests.
“We are currently working together with members of our Association to ensure the release of those detained. At the moment, we understand that the detainees are spread across Panti, Adeniji and Ikeja Police Stations and that they are currently being denied access to their Lawyers.x
“This is totally unacceptable and we call on the police to immediately release them, or allow them unhindered access to their lawyers.
“For protesters who do not have legal representation the @NigBarAssoc is setting up a team of volunteer lawyers, who will immediately represent them.”
Human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, also joined the fray by particularly condemning the torture, inhuman and degrading treatment meted to the aggrieved youths by the police.
Equally peeved by the police action is a member of the Lagos State Judicial Panel probing police brutality and October 20, 2020, Lekki Tollgate Incident, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN. He demanded the immediate release of the arrested protesters have been “sorely troubled” by videos of police brutalising the demonstrating youths.x
Adegboruwa threatened to discontinue participation as a member of the panel if the police continue to perpetrate “fresh assaults.” with impunity.
The former Senate Leader and one of those affected by last October’s #EndSARS protest, Victor Ndoma-Egba, while lamenting that there were lots of failed expectations from the government, noted that there was a need to revisit the argument by the youths, just as he enjoined them to take deliberate steps to participate in the means of acquiring power.
EFFIONG, reacting to one of the video clips, where some protesters, including MC Macaroni were crammed into a vehicle said: “This video proves that MC Macaroni and other arrested comrades have been subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment by the @PoliceNG. No sane country treats citizens in this manner. I condemn this gruesome violation of human rights. @jidesanwoolu should be ashamed.”
In subsequent series of tweets, he wrote: “These arrests have nothing to do with enforcement of law. On the contrary, it is a violation of the law. Nigeria is a lawless country. Those paid to enforce the law are violating it with impunity. Peaceful protests should never be negotiated. We should never surrender our rights.x
“Fundamental rights aren’t given to citizens by the government. They are rights that we are entitled to by virtue of our humanity. The government has no power to take our rights. It is only the constitution that sets a limit. Peaceful protest is a fundamental right. Period!”
Effiong declared: “All the protesters arrested will be freed by the court eventually because they’ve not committed any criminal offence. Nigeria is a country where citizens are not respected by the government. It is said that a terrorists-loving regime is using violence against peaceful protesters.”
ADEBGORUWA in a statement said: “My heart is very heavy. I’m saddened and devastated. My soul is sorely troubled at this time. For decades, before the advent of this administration, Nigerians have risked their lives, liberties, their times and their energies, their resources, to win back this country on the side of democracy and good government, from military dictatorship. Some have paid the supreme price with their lives.
“I have been monitoring events at the Lekki Toll Gate since morning, and I am totally overwhelmed with the images, videos and sundry evidence of police brutality of harmless civilians, who ventured to protest at the Toll Gate. In one particular video, I saw citizens of Nigeria being dehumanized, stripped half-naked, and cramped together in a rickety bus. This is totally unacceptable.x
“While we are yet to come to terms with the events of October 20, 2020, it becomes worrisome that the security agencies have not learnt any positive lesson from those occurrences. I commend the protesters for their peaceful conduct.
“I cannot in good conscience continue to sit at any Panel of Inquiry to heal wounds, and end police brutality when fresh assaults are being perpetrated with impunity.
ON its verified handle, EIE Nigeria, a network of young Nigerians promoting good governance and citizen engagement asked: “What have Nigerian youths done to their governments to deserve the inhuman treatment they have been getting? The sweeping brutality of this crackdown shows the lengths to which the authorities will go to silence people.”
NDOMA-EGBA, while visiting his vandalised house in Calabar, Cross River State for the first time since the incident took place, warned against further protests, saying they would definitely be hijacked by hoodlums hence the need to revisit demands by the youths as “there are a lot of failed expectations from government. We have had a lot of missed points as a nation, but will this protest address this missed points? I think rather it is a deliberate policy by the youths of this country to participate in the means of acquiring power that will address the missed points.
“And the means of acquiring power today is through the election. Let them have a deliberate plan to penetrate political parties, and take over, they have the numbers. But to begin to demonstrate is not it, because you know that hoodlums will hijack the demonstration. Let me say that I have my worries that any protest again will still be hijacked by hoodlums, and at the end of the day, the whole essence of the protest would be lost.”x
He expressed sadness that people could carry out “this kind of very extensive damage to another person’s property. As you can see, they came very prepared with all sorts of craftsmen...It couldn’t have been spontaneous; it was something very deliberate; something predetermined, but as I said in the statement that I issued immediately after the incident, I have forgiven them, but that’s without prejudice to the law taking its course because I cannot influence the course of the law, but for me as a person, I have forgiven them.
“I hope what they did here benefits them, if it doesn’t benefit them in any way, then it was a total waste of effort and energy. And what we have lost here is priceless. There are collections that predate me, there were books in my library that my father used during his practice, but they are all gone; mementoes that were passed from one generation to another all gone.
“So, my advice to the youths is that they should take a second look at the history that they read…. The lessons from the last #EndSARS protest are still too fresh, people lost businesses, the economy was shut down, and nobody benefitted from that. I think that the argument should be revisited.”
A CIVIL rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), which equally condemned the arrest of peaceful protesters at Lekki, said it is a grave affront to the core principles and values of constitutionalism and democracy.x
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, and National Media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA warned that the action of the Lagos State Police Command could motivate activists from across the country to pour into the streets to carry out solidarity marches.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Lagos State Police Command, Muyiwa Adejobi, in a statement, yesterday evening, said that Mr. Macaroni, and the 39 others that were arrested had been granted bail.
“The command arrested forty (40) suspects at Lekki Toll Gate plaza, Lagos State, on Saturday, February 13, 2021, for conspiracy, conduct likely to cause a breach of peace and violation of COVID-19 protocols,” the statement reads adding: “The suspects had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate plaza creating tension and behaving in such a manner that could cause a breach of public peace without due regard for COVID-19 protocols, major of which were the use of nose masks and social distancing.
“The command has, however, arraigned the suspects today (yesterday) to the mobile court at Panti, Yaba accordingly, but they were, however, granted bail by the court. They will appear in court on the next date of adjournment, March 2, 2021, with their certificate of COVID-19 test.
“The command, therefore, assured the general public that it will always discharge its statutory duties as expected within the ambit of the law while appealing to Lagosians to be law-abiding and go about their lawful businesses.”