By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Lagos State, particularly, the state capital, Ikeja, was a beehive of activities in the past five days, as a terror attack alert issued by the United States of America in the state, warning her citizens of possible attack by the dreaded Boko Haram sect on Sheraton Hotel, caused panic and fear among residents and motorists.
Similarly the state also witnessed protests by thousands of “bring back our girls,”protesters led by human rights activists, religious leaders, celebrities and community organizations at Lagos House Ikeja demanding for the release of 200 abducted Secondary School girls at Chibok, Borno State, who were still being held in Boko Haram’s captivity.
The US Consul-General in Lagos had on May 2nd, 2014, sent a warning to her citizens in the country or those coming in, to stay off some states and also alerted that some groups associated with terrorism allegedly plan to carry out unspecified attacks against Sheraton Hotel, Lagos. It would be recalled that a similar alarm was raised penultimate weekend, along Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, that resulted into total logjam.
The US alert, instantly, sent panic among visitors and workers at Sheraton as well as motorists around the area.
Unfortunately,members of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, who were having a conference at Sheraton Hotel, as soon as the information filtered in, immediately, took to their heels in different directions believing that the planted improvised bombs by Boko Haram sect could go off any minute.
In the ensuing melee, the entire environment was thrown into confusion as both young and old people scampered for safety. Those with vehicles hurriedly, drove off the premises and in the process caused terrible traffic gridlock on Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, as drivers drove in opposite directions, apparently in utter fear to get out of the danger zone.
As the mention of Boko Haram rent the air, both pedestrians and motorists struggled for space on the road, thereby creating a total standstill.
It took the combined efforts of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, and the police to restore sanity much later in the area.
Though, there was no casualty recorded, scores were said to have sustained various types of injuries during the confusion.
An eyewitness, Mr. Lateef Akinbode, who was caught in the web, narrated thus: “I got caught up in the traffic from Maryland but on getting to Sheraton area after about three hours in traffic, I saw LASTMA and police trying to control the chaotic traffic situation and upon enquiry, I learnt the situation was as a result of Boko Haram scare. It’s unimaginable, what I went through in that traffic because it ended up being a false alarm. I later asked myself, how could Boko Haram have strayed into Lagos with the entire security networks in the state. It is impossible.
“The confusion caused could not be quantified in terms of time and monetary loss. It’s unfortunate.” However, not impressed with the mode of disseminating such information of alert by US, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, described it as “inappropriate”.
The governor said that the information violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; Freedom from fear.”
According to him: “I think that there are channels of communication that information of that type can be shared without creating panic and I think that citizens of all nationals can be protected without throwing a cat among pigeons.
“I will hope that we are more circumspect in the way we share information and that our intentions are noble. This is very important at this time, what the country needs is more information in the right hands, to the right places.
“This will assist our agencies and government to overcome this difficult period and not disseminating information through the social media especially, in a way that there is no control and management. Anyone who does that does not mean well for the country.”
The governor submitted that the release of such information has raised new dimension in the obligation of nations and governments around the world to ensure peace and to cooperate with one another.
Lamenting the gravity of the information Fashola said: “The fundamental freedom that seems to have gone out of our daily discuss, which is the freedom from fear and this was a freedom that was recognized in 1948 when the declaration of rights were being adopted as a global publication.
“At a local level, I have received information before that a particular commercial bank was about to be robbed. I did not go out and announce to the public that such act will be committed in the state. All I did was I called the security officials and what we did was to sleep inside the bank. The robbers came at night, and we apprehended them without the public idea except the bank manager who was aware on why we visited the bank and our mission,” he added.
While commenting on security challenge, the governor described terrorism as a threat to the survival of humanity, and called for a concerted effort of all countries in tackling the menace.
Another incident that shook Ikeja was the Chibok protest, which came barely 24 hours after President Goodluck Jonathan, during a media chat at the weekend said that the central government was doing everything possible to get the girls released, even as he called for help from Nigerians to assist the government to facilitate the release of the girls.
The aggrieved protesters who stormed the road at about 8 am, marched from Allen Roundabout, Awolowo Way, Ikeja to the State House, Alausa Secretariat, Ikeja to express their displeasure over the continued abduction of the girls by the Boko Haram group.
There was heavy traffic gridlock in Ikeja and its environs as a result of the activities of the protesters who took over the entire road, forcing motorists to slow down or detour to alternative routes.
The protesters, who displayed placards with various inscriptions, and clad in red attire to express their concern over the continued killings in the region, chanted different anti- government slogans to demand from the Federal and state Governments and the military agencies that the girls are released forthwith and insurgency in the northern parts of the country put to a stop.
Some of the inscriptions on the placards, read: “Our future leaders are missing, bring them back. Chad, Cameroon and Niger, stop enabling criminals. We want our girls back alive. Save innocent girls. Enough is Enough, 234 girls, Haba!. FGN, Free the Chibok Girls.We will never relent until our girls are released. No election, if insurgency is not solved. among others.
Aside the inscriptions on their placard, the protesters also had on their dress ‘Free our children, they are our future and bring back our girls alive.
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, former Attorney General of Lagos State, Retired Justice Wonu Folami, said the protesters were at the state house to express their grievances over the abduction of the girls in Borno State.
Responding on behalf of the state government, the Deputy Governor of Lagos state , Mrs Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, assured the protesters that the state government would do all her best to complement the efforts of the Federal Government in ensuring that the girls were returned to their parents unhurt.
Adefulire however, called for a three-day fasting and prayers by mothers and fathers in the country, saying that prayers are the only way out of the insecurity challenges in the country.
The Lagos State House of Assembly during its Plenary Session, also called on the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Jonathan, religious leaders, all Nigerians to rise up to the security issues in the country and seek the release of the abducted girls.
Members spoke passionately on the issue condemning the act in totality and in strong terms. The mover of the motion, Sanai Agunbiade who raised this under urgent public importance said “the continued abduction of the Nigerian girls who were taken from their school to an unknown place whose plight are unknown should be given special attention”. He added that “we have not been able to join them in peaceful protest on the streets so we have to lend our voices here”.