• Demonstrators arraigned, to undergo COVID-19 test
• NBA, SANs, CDHR, AI, others condemn arrest, tackle FG
FRIDAY OLOKOR, OLADIMEJI RAMON, AFEEZ HANAFI, JESUSEGUN ALAGBE and ALEXANDER OKERE
There was widespread anger on Saturday following the arrest of 40 persons who protested peacefully against the reopening of the Lekki Tollgate Plaza in Lagos State.
The peaceful protesters were arrested on Saturday and locked up in standby Black Marias.
Police consequently brought them before a mobile court in Yaba for conspiracy, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace and violation of COVID-19 protocols.
The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing police brutality and alleged killings of #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at the Lekki Tollgate, had ruled that the tollgate be handed back to its operator, Lekki Concession Company, after forensic experts submitted their report on the October 20, 2020 incident.
Four out of the nine members of the panel had faulted the report of the forensic experts hired to comb the scene for evidence and rejected the application by the LCC to take possession of the facility, which had been shut down since the probe of the shootings started.
The four members who rejected the forensic report are the two representatives of the civil society – Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) and Ms Patience Udoh; as well as the two youth representatives on the panel – Rinu Oduala and Temitope Majekodunmi.
They contended that the LCC denied the forensic experts access to its servers and failed to provide them with information on who ordered the extraction of CCTV footage; the date and time of extraction of the footage; the method used for the extraction, among others.
But the chairman of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi (retd.), and four other members of the panel acceded to LCC’s request to repossess the tollgate.
The chairman was backed by Segun Awosanya (popularly known as Segalink), Oluwatoyin Odusanya (Director, Citizens Rights), a representative of the police, DIG Taiwo Lakanu (retd.) and Lucas Koyejo from the National Human Rights Commission.
Subsequently, hashtags #OccupyLekkiTollgate and #DefendLagos trended on the social media for and against the reopening respectively.
Lagos State and the Federal Government as well as the police had warned the protesters to shelve the demonstration but some of them defied the warning and came out on Saturday to protest against the reopening.
The demonstrators at different times in the day came to the tollgate in units and small groups, expressing their displeasure at what they described as injustice on the part of the government.
The majority of them, including the popular comedian, Debo Adedayo, well known as Mr Macaroni, were hounded by armed policemen, thrown into waiting Black Marias, vans and whisked away.
Some people walking along the tollgate were also accosted by the police and taken away. Their attempts to explain where they were heading for were rebuffed.
Later in the day, 40 protesters were arraigned for allegedly conducting themselves in a manner capable of causing a breach of the peace.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, confirmed the arraignment in a statement, adding that they were granted bail.
He said, “The command has arrested 40 suspects at Lekki Tollgate Plaza, Lagos State, on Saturday, February 13, 2021, for conspiracy, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace and violation of COVID-19 protocols.
“The suspects had gathered at the Lekki Tollgate Plaza creating tension and behaving in such a manner that could cause a breach of the public peace without due regard for COVID-19 protocols major of which are the use of nose masks and social distancing.
“The command had, however, arraigned the suspects at the mobile court at Panti, Yaba, accordingly but they were granted bail by the court. They will appear in court on the next date of adjournment, March 2, 2021, with the certificate of COVID-19 test.”
But one of our correspondents who covered the protest observed that the arrested protesters conducted themselves peacefully.
We were unjustly harassed, dehumanised – Protesters
The protesters were at different points picked up by the police together with LCC security men the moment they arrived at the spot, while some people who claimed to be passersby were also apprehended.
Some of the demonstrators spoke to Sunday PUNCH from inside Black Marias, lamenting that they were unjustly harassed and dehumanised.
One of them, Joseph Anjorin aka J.D Boy, said, “I am an artiste; I sing. I came for the protest. Protesting is not a crime. I didn’t commit any crime. I came here to make a peaceful protest. We are not fighting anybody. Things are not going well in this country.
“Three of my friends were killed last year here while they were protesting and nothing has been done about it. I was there that day. The way things are going on in this country is not right. They (the police) have just collected my phone. This is tyranny. We have the right to protest in our fatherland yet we are being harassed.”
Another protester, Ayo Oluwasegun, a resident of Victoria Island, queried his arrest for protesting, maintaining that his right had been trampled upon.
He stated, “Didn’t I have a right to protest? Why should they arrest me? They didn’t find any ammunition on me. It is unfair the way police arrest citizens. It is dehumanising.
“We have the right to say our mind. We are not fighting. We just want to protest to let the government know our feelings. I never expected they would arrest me.”
One Christopher Ogboji, who identified himself as a civil engineer, said he was going to work when policemen apprehended him.
He said, “I committed no crime. I work with a construction company. The future is at stake. I cannot be a slave in my own country. Is this an arrest or abduction? I need an answer. Is it a crime to walk in my own country? They have collected my phone. Why are they harassing us? They should stop harassing us.”
A demonstrator, Helen Light, who narrowly escaped arrest, faulted the panel’s decision on the reopening of the tollgate and demanded justice for the victims of the October 20 Lekki tollgate shootings.
She said, “I am not afraid. Enough is enough. They are not supposed to open the tollgate today. The tollgate must not be opened without the lives of those killed accounted for. That is what we are demanding. They should lock me up. I am not afraid.”
A photographer, Abdulfatai Olusina, said he was looking for where to buy food around the tollgate when policemen waylaid him.
He lamented, “I work in Lekki Phase I and my ID card is in the office. I came out to buy food around the tollgate. A policeman came behind me and held me by the waist. I asked him what I did, but he couldn’t mention any offence.
“He was just dragging me. He injured me in the leg without committing any crime. My leg is bleeding. His colleague joined him and they pushed me into the Black Maria.”
A graduate, Ogene Mario, said he lost a friend, one Femi, during the last protest at the tollgate and urged the government to bring those responsible for the attack to justice.
He added, “I want change. I came all the way from Abraham Adesanya. I trekked down here. I am here to protest. Enough is enough.”
Meanwhile, Nigerian Bar Association, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, activists and human rights groups have condemned the arrest of the protesters.
The Nigerian Bar Association, in a statement by its President, Olumide Akpata, described the arrest of the protesters as illegal and unacceptable and demanded their immediate unconditional release.
The NBA President gave the association’s position on his Twitter handle on Saturday.
Akpata said, “The images and footages of the unlawful actions of the Nigeria Police at the Lekki tollgate, Lagos are truly shocking. The @NigBarAssoc condemns the brazen disrespect for the fundamental rights of unarmed citizens who were 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.
“This is totally unacceptable and we call on the police to immediately release them or allow them unhindered access to their lawyers.”
Adegboruwa threatens to quit Lagos panel as Falana slams police
Also, human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa (SAN), who is a member of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution set up by the Lagos State Government to investigate cases of brutality by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, threatened to quit the panel following the clampdown on protesters at the Lekki tollgate on Saturday.
This was as another rights activist, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), berated the Nigeria Police Force for intimidating and arresting peaceful protesters instead of protecting them.
Adegboruwa made his position known in a statement on Saturday while reacting to the disruption of the #OccupyLekki protest which was done to stop the planned re-opening of the toll plaza.
His threat came barely days after another member of the panel representing the youth, Olorunrinu Oduala, quit the panel after accusing the state government of hypocrisy. Incidentally, both Adegboruwa and Oduala had voted against the re-opening of the tollgate last week.
In a statement titled, ‘The Arrest, Detention and Dehumanisation of Protesters at Lekki Toll Gate Are Unacceptable’, Adegboruwa said he was saddened and devastated by the turn of events.
He wrote, “I have been monitoring events at the Lekki tollgate since morning, and I am totally overwhelmed with the images, videos and sundry evidence of police brutality of armless civilians, who ventured to protest at the tollgate. In one particular video, I saw citizens of Nigeria being dehumanised, stripped half-naked and cramped together in a rickety bus. This is totally unacceptable.
“While we have 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. Consequently, I am presently consulting with my constituency within the civil society, as to my continued participation in the EndSARS Judicial Panel.”
While demanding the immediate release of the protesters, Adegboruwa said on no account should anything happen to any of them while in the custody of the police.
Falana, who is also the interim Chairman, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, in a statement titled, ‘Demand for Release of Arrested Protesters in Lagos,’ said the fundamental right of protesters to dignity guaranteed by Section 34 of the constitution was crudely breached by the police personnel who arrested the protesters and caged them inside a Black Maria.
The activist said by arresting the protesters instead of providing them with adequate security, the police engaged in a provocative contravention of Section 83 (4) of the Nigeria Police Act.
The statement further read, “ASCAB calls on the Lagos State Commissioner of Police to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of the protesters because they did not commit any criminal offence by exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.”
Protest is legal, say SANs
Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mallam Yusuf Ali, said Nigerians have a legal right to protest peacefully.
“My position consistently is that the right to protest is legal. The right to protest peacefully is legal. Anything that is done contrary to that will not be right. That is my position,” Ali told one of our correspondents in a telephone interview.
Similarly, Mr Babatunde Fashanu, also a SAN, said it was ironical that protesters were being arrested under the present government, recalling that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had also in the past embarked on protests and even went to court to challenge the power of the police to stop protests.
Fashanu said, “It is not for the government to say that people cannot protest. People have a legal right to protest peacefully, insofar as the protest is not to block the road and so on. I remember that this same President Buhari, before he assumed office, he too was protesting. He went to court to challenge the argument by the police that he needed the permission of the police before he could protest and the court agreed with him. So, it is an irony that his government is arresting people who are protesting peacefully.”
Also, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), condemned the arrests of the protesters in a statement titled, ‘Legality of the arrest of peaceful protesters at Lekki Tollgate’.
Ozekhome particularly flayed the government for the arrest of a comedian, Debo Adebayo, popularly known as Mr Macaroni, who is one of the protest leaders.
Ozekhome said, “It is patently illegal and totally unconstitutional to detain Debo, Mr Macaroni. At least, the Nigerian constitution has not been abrogated by this dictatorial government of impunity.
“Sections 40 and 41 of the said constitution give Debo the right to peaceful assembly and association and the right to freedom of movement.
Another SAN, Mr Olaekan Ojo, said it was wrong for the police to prevent protesters from exercising their rights to peaceful protests, adding that there were no facts before the law enforcement agents to suggest that the foiled protest could become violent.
Ojo said, “But today, there was no evidence of violence before the police clamped down on the protesters. The arrest of the peaceful protesters is illegal and cannot be justified.”
Also in a series of tweets, the global rights group, Amnesty International, urged the Federal Government to protect the right of citizens to peaceful protest, noting that security operatives must refrain from use of force on protesters.
It wrote, “Reports say, armed policemen surround #LekkiTollGate ahead of Saturday’s protests. Amnesty International is calling on all Nigerian authorities to demonstrate commitment to protect the right to peaceful protest. Previous attempts by security agents to repress peaceful protests have led to human rights violations and abuses. #LekkiTollGate.
“The Nigerian govt. must ensure that when protesters exercise their right to freedom of assembly, it must be without fear of harassment or attacks by hoodlums or others opposed to the protests. Security operatives must refrain from excessive use of force on protesters. #EndSARS.”
Clampdown on protesters condemnable – Ex-President, CDHR
Also, a former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, described the protesters’ arrest as condemnable.
Ugwummadu said, “The government has become intolerant. It has increasingly remained impervious to advice. We have a constitutional right to freely express ourselves albeit in a non-violent manner. You cannot on the basis of not wanting what happened in the past to repeat itself to begin to abridge the rights of Nigerians in a very draconian manner.
“People said blood had been unjustly spilled at that spot (Lekki tollgate). People have alleged that the reason why you are desperate to hand over this thing (Lekki tollgate) is for purely economic purposes. And people are saying that pure economic purpose cannot override the blood of Nigerians and that you have to get to the end of this matter before you begin to talk about business.”
SERAP demands protesters’ release, threatens lawsuit
Also reacting to the clampdown on the protesters, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, in a series of tweets, demanded the immediate release of the protesters, threatening to go to court.
SERAP said, “We’ll pursue appropriate legal actions if the #EndSARS protesters arbitrarily arrested simply for peacefully exercising their human rights are not immediately and unconditionally released. Peaceful assembly is a fundamental right.”
In the same vein, the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights condemned “the illegal arrest and suppression of democratic rights and demands the immediate and unconditional release of detained protesters.”
Charly Boy, DJ Switch, Falz, Timi Dakolo, others knock govt
Also, many Nigerian celebrities on their Twitter accounts condemn the arrest of #OccupyLekkiTollGate protesters.
A popular musician and activist, Charles Oputa, otherwise known as Charly Boy, also said peaceful protest remained the right of citizens.
He wrote, “I know these animals have turned Nigeria into a Jungle. But peaceful protest is still our human right. Animals can’t dash us human right. Say no to #lekkitollgate reopening.”
Taking to her Twitter account, popular Nigerian disc jockey, DJ Switch, condemned the action of the Police.
She wrote, “I am literally pleading with everyone today, celebrities and non-celebrities, influencers and non-influencers; the way we did #BlackOutTuesday for foreigners, let’s shout out #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutality all thru (sic)! Flood your timelines… SOROSOKE!!! SPEAK!!!! SHOUT!!!!”
Another popular disc jockey, DJ Neptune, wrote on Twitter: “Shame on the Nigerian govt, BIG SHAME. How is this democrazy (sic) that you preach to us? You (are) indirectly telling us we have no right to protest PEACEFULLY? Pls, my fellow Nigerian youth let us all get that PVC and EndBadGovernanceInNigeria #EndPoliceBrutality #EndSarsNow.”
Popular lawyer-turned-musician, Folarin Falana, popularly known as Falz, also took a swipe at the government for the clampdown on peaceful protesters.
Falz wrote, “The Nigerian government has shown by this senseless act that it is not concerned with upholding our democracy or the Rule of Law.
“They are basically showing that they are not interested in serving justice as regards the 20th of October incident. This show of force is supposed to make us fear for our lives, but the life we dey live no kuku get meaning before. Absolutely nothing to lose at this point. They better be ready for the consequences of these actions.”
\0Also, a female singer, Yemi Alade, wrote, “It seems on this matter of ‘a better Nigeria’ the citizens are on their own. #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria #EndBadGovernanceInNigeria.”
Another ace singer, Timi Dakolo, also expressed his frustration about the situation as he wrote, “Nigeria just keeps taking and taking and taking, I am so tired. #EndBadGovernanceInNigeria.”
Speaking on the arrest of Mr Macaroni, ace beat maker, K-Solo said, “The foolish police officers who recorded #mrmacaroni and other innocent citizens have just exacerbated the issue and now the real #EndSARS protest will begin. How can a police force that should protect citizens be the ones to ridicule themselves and show the world their incompetence?”
#DefendLagos withdraws from Lekki tollgate protest
Meanwhile, a group planning a counter protest in support of the reopening of the Lekki tollgate shelved its plan on Saturday.
The initiator of #DefendLagos, Alabi Oladimeji, announced the group’s decision to suspend the counter-protest at a press conference hosted on his Facebook page.
Oladimeji noted that the suspension of the counter protest was necessitated by the assurances of the federal and state governments that no protest would be allowed to hold.
He said, “I am proud to announce that in the meantime, we will be suspending this protest due to the law of the federal and state governments. We are law-abiding and good citizens, definitely, we should not be the ones seen disobeying any law.
“In respect of the President, Muhammadu Buhari, and Lagos Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, I am now announcing that anyone involved in #DefendLagos initiated by me should with immediate effect suspend action. We are not going to hold any protest again on Saturday (today).
“If Lagos and FG fail us, we will come out and protest on Monday.”