…FG trying to silence me by freezing my account, says #EndSARS activist
…Everyone has right to protest — UN
…It’s in your interest to keep peace, Buhari tells youths
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Luminous Jannamike
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, human rights activists, Civil Soceity Organisations, CSOs, and Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, were up in arms against the Presidency yesterday over its declaration that promoters of #EndSARS protest must be made to face the law.
This came on a day Racheal Oduala, a promoter of the #EndSARS campaign, cried out that the federal government was trying to silence her by freezing her bank account.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, had said in a Channels Television programme, Politics Today, on Sunday night that those who promoted the protest and allowed it degenerate into chaos must be made to face the full wrath of the law.
Shehu, who noted that the country had been seriously harmed by the #EndSARS protests, had said: “This country has only one president and has only one constitution. President Muhammadu Buhari is responsible for his government. The buck stops at his table.
“We are a country governed by law. There is a constitution that states clearly, under section 33, that clearly defines the rights of citizens to freely protest in a peaceful way but where a peaceful protest turns into riot, violence and looting, there is a law and order duty to be performed.
“Everyone witnessed the massive looting of public and private properties, particularly in Lagos, Calabar, Plateau, Taraba and some other states, even the FCT.
“Now, the laws of the country must be allowed to decide, to rule on wrongdoing on the part of just anybody. I am not particular about any celebrity or promoter but this country has been harmed enormously and people should be prepared to account for what they did.
“I think that it will be of interest to the 200 million Nigerians if some of these leading politicians who promoted the #EndSARS to the point it was seized by looters to come out with the same force to also denounce the destructions.
“We are watching. Some of them have said nothing so far. This country has to be saved from looters. The interest of the country is above politics; PDP should come out and denounce these things.”
But reacting to the declaration, Publicity Secretary of Nigerian Bar Association, Dr. Ralph Nduka, said:
‘’We believe that the protesters and their sponsors have a right to protest. Unless the government is telling us that they have evidence to show that those targeted have committed offences known to the law which they must answer to.
‘’We would also demand evidence of whatever proof the government has. As an association, the NBA will stand up to those we believe are being arrested and prosecuted unjustly.
‘’The nation is guided by laws and those laws must be applied justly. We will certainly provide legal service to those who are being unjustly persecuted for carrying out a peaceful protest which is allowed by law.’’
Also reacting, human rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN, said: ‘’During the #EndSARS protest, the federal government conceded the fundamental right of Nigerian youths to protest peacefully.
‘’The protests were generally peacefully. Unfortunately, the police did not provide security for the protesters as required by the law. Hence, hoodlums took over the protests.
‘’By the way, the hoodlums are products of the decadent and neo-liberal economic policy of the federal government. There is no nexus between the #EndSARS protesters and the hoodlums.
‘’It is unfortunate that the government is being misled as usual. They should go ahead and charge the #EndSARS protesters in a criminal court if there is any scintilla of evidence indicting them. We have travelled through this dangerous route before to the detriment of national development.’’
Similarly, another human rights activist, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said: ‘’If the government at the centre is taking this kind of decision, what happens to the various panels and commissions set up by state governments?
‘’What will be the consequence of the findings of those commissions of inquiries? Will government not be unduly interfering with the activities of those panels by obviously working from the answer to the question?
‘’Will those panels not be readily duty bound to agree with the position of the federal government in a country where all governors defer to the President like in a monarchy? These are some of the questions that state governments have to ask before taking further steps.
‘’If it has nothing to hide, the federal government should make haste slowly and allow the various states to do their work because we are operating a federal system of government.
‘’At the end of the various panel sittings, when the governors meet at their state council meetings, they can then present the finding and discuss the issue at the national level.
‘’But if the government begins to take proactive step such as blocking the account of the protest sponsors, arresting the protesters and arraigning them, then government has already pronounced them guilty even before the panels make their findings.’’
Other Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, also tackled the Federal Government over its plan to prosecute some alleged promoters of the #EndSARS protest that recently rocked the nation.
The senior lawyers, in separate interviews with Vanguard, urged government to shelve the plan, stressing that the right to protest was constitutional.
Besides, one of the SANs argued that going ahead to prosecute some persons for participating in the peaceful protest, after government had agreed to accede to the five-point demands of the protesters, would portray the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari as “anti-people government.”
He implored government to rather focus its attention on identifying and prosecuting the hoodlums that highjacked the hitherto peaceful protest.
Mohammed Abeny, SAN, said: “If the federal government is planning to bring the weight of the law against the hoodlums who the government itself sponsored, then that will be understandable.
“However, if it is talking about peaceful protesters, then the government will incur the wrath of the people. The protesters were peaceful and made their demands which the government itself agreed to fulfill. Now it seems the government has decided to dance to the tune of some Northern governors.
“It should be noted that the Nigerian Bar Association had earlier expressed its readiness to provide the #EndSARS protesters with free legal services. If the government goes ahead with its threat, then it will be seen as anti-people government.
“The peaceful protesters committed no crime and did not breach any law by exercising their constitutional right. The government will be acting in absolute bad faith if it says it is going to bring down the full weight of the law against the protesters and not the hoodlums.”
Another constitutional lawyer, Dayo Akinlaja, SAN, said: “I want to believe that if the federal government is going to be prosecuting, it is not because someone participated in a protest.
“Probably, it will be because someone committed one crime or the other. Under our law, it is not a crime to participate in a protest. Therefore, if the full weight of the law is going to be brought down on anybody, it should be those that committed a known offence.
“If it is found that somebody participated in a crime like looting or wanton destruction of properties, that could be excused. I want to believe that those are the class of people the government will say it wants to bring down the full weight of the law on.”
Also, the CSOs said they acted within the ambit of Section 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution, which guaranteed freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
They, however, accused the Federal Government of sponsoring the violence that trailed the peaceful demonstrations.
You’re messing with the wrong generation — #RevolutionNow
The Legal Counsel to #RevolutionNow movement, Inibehe Effiong, said: “The statement is reckless and provocative. Mallam Garba Shehu should circumcise his tongue. He is playing with the wrong generation. The conscientious youths of this country will not be intimidated by the repressive antics of the Buhari regime.
“Section 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly, respectively. We will exercise these rights to the fullest within the ambits of the law.
“The violence that took place was introduced and induced by the government. They should carry their baggage with sobriety and stop scapegoating.
“It is now obvious to all that there was no sincerity on the part of this regime ab initio. They were just buying time to enable them relaunch their anti-democratic missiles.
“But history shows that no government can defeat a determined person. We are determined to take back our country from the forceful grip of these political parasites.”
Be prepared to face ICC — Centre for Liberty
The Centre for Liberty, one of the groups which coordinated the #EndSARS protest in the nation’s capital, advised the those in authority to rather prepare to face the International Criminal Court, ICC, for shooting unarmed protesters at the Lekki Tollgate.
Convener of the group, Adebayo Raphael, said: “As always, Garba Shehu is missing the point. It is not we who must face the law; it is the Nigerian Government who must face the law.
“We have committed no crime, but the government has committed several. The government ordered soldiers to shoot innocent protesters; threatened the lives of protesters till some left the country.
The authorities also seized passports; froze bank accounts; arrested minors and several others in their homes and sent them to jail without the option of bail.
“These are criminal acts and the government must be prepared to face the law, both in Nigeria and at the ICC.
“We shall remain focused until they are all held to account and all our demands are met.”
Nigerians need no threats – Global Peace Foundation
Country Director, Global Peace Foundation, Mr. Joseph Hayab, said: “#EndSARS protesters had legitimate complaints which many Nigeria citizens had come out to support.
“The people simply wanted to see a change in the way and manner the Nigeria Police treated citizens whose tax money is used to pay their salaries and emoluments.
“President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had previously acknowledged in public that the cries of the #EndSARS protesters were legitimate. Even the federal authorities had started doing something to make Nigerian Police act better and in a civilized manner.
“So, any government official who comes out with an aggressive tune right now is not helping the Presidency and may not really love to see the progress of this country.
“These type of persons were mute when the protesters were on Nigerian streets. Our candid advice, therefore, is for all political office holders to help convince Nigerians that Mr President and his team mean well for the country.
“None of Presidential appointees should tow the path of arrogant language and threats to the people who mean well for our country and have voiced out their concerns through the #EndSARS protest.
“The #EndSARS demands highlighted the areas Government should correct so that this country will move forward.
“Above all, Nigeria and Nigerians need love, respect and unity now not the show of force from anyone.”
Also yesterday, Racheal Oduala, a promoter of the #EndSARS campaign, said the federal government was trying to silence her by freezing her bank account.
In an article, the activist decried the development, saying it was a wrong way of treating young people demanding a better country.
Oduala said she was not afraid of the government’s plot as the demands of young persons were not beyond their constitutional rights.
She said: “I am not afraid—I am only disappointed that this country will treat me this way. Nigeria is all I have, and I have a right to demand that it works for all of us, not just those with influence, wealth, or a government position.
“In a country that people have been voiceless for a long time, people holding the government accountable is being seen as too much? How can we ensure that this sort of thing will encourage people to build a new Nigeria?
“A Nigeria that will be filled with accountable government officials, where all forms of oppressions and injustice is a thing of the past. How do you expect me as a part of the future of this country to still believe in a country who thinks they have the right to freeze my account for no just cause.”
Oduala said she agreed to be a youth representative on the Lagos judicial panel to show that the protest was not to fight the government, lamenting that the government sees her existence as a threat, despite how she struggles to make ends meet.
“We called for among other things, a probe into the killings and torture of people and the government agreed by setting up judicial panels. In order to assure young people of the independence and fairness of the panel I took up the role as a youth representative at the detriment of my education, personal life and family.
“I did this to make peace. I did to ensure our young people understood that the only way to create a better and safer Nigeria is to do things lawfully. Why am I still being targeted for lending the government my good will.
“I study, selling hoodies and other clothing for ¦ 5,000 to pay my school fees. I also do the odd bit of freelancing, taking on some brand influencing work to ensure my family doesn’t suffer. Somehow, however, my existence threatens my government, the fact that I have a voice is enough for them to try to silence me.
“In the Nigeria I am fighting for, it wouldn’t matter that I am a child of nobody coming from the average Nigerian home. The Nigeria I am fighting for is one that prioritizes every voice, protects every inalienable right, even mine.
“I decided to use the only currency I have, my voice, to speak up against extrajudicial killings, torture, extortion and unjust harassment that is still happening in a democratic nation in the 21st century! The government also agreed that reform is inevitable and promised us they were going to listen, so why punish the same people that are speaking up?”
However, one of the #EndSARS’ activists, Modupe Odele, whose passport had earlier been seized by the Immigration Service while trying to travel to the Maldives through the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, nine days ago, has had her travelling document restored to her.
She said in her twitter handle yesterday: ‘’Getting my passport back took an entire village. No way I can mention everyone one after the other but please know I’m very grateful.’’
Everyone has a right to protest peacefully — UN
Reacting to the #EndSARS protests yesterday, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mrs. Amina Mohammed, said everyone had a right to demonstrate peacefully and make some demands from their governments.
Mrs. Mohammed, who was a former Minister of Environment in the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration before her appointment, also said the recent protest against Police brutality embarked upon by youths was a lesson for the future, especially on how the young ones should be engaged in such issues.
Speaking to State House correspondents after meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Mohammed said there was a launch of the UN Plus Offer which was aimed at supporting the Economic Sustainability Plan.
Asked the position of the UN on the #EndSARS protest, she said: “The UN stance is clear, like the UN Secretary General had said in his speech, we believe everyone has a right to demonstrate peacefully for those issues they want to raise with their government.
“There is a social contract in place between the government and the people and it is important to have that freedom of speech, provided it is done peacefully.
“I think in the case where we heard that lives and property were lost, it was unfortunate and we believe that in addressing the demands that were made by young people, perhaps this is a lesson we can take into the future and how we engage in such issues.
“I have to say that there are lot of protests around the world that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 because it has left people out of work, left people hopeless because of the socio-economic impact.
“In many of those protests, we have not seen government turn around in response as quickly as this government did. So, the UN’s response to this is that, we must make sure we are able to address those issues during the protests, those gaps and begin the reform.
“In fact, I will say we need to engage youths, we need to engage government. I think what has been put in place are building blocs which the UN must ensure can happen.
“We can build back trust and have confidence building measures in order to get to where the social contract between government and the people is firm, trust worthy and working for the benefits of the Nigerian people.”
On some of the discussions with the President, she said: “ We did raise, while we were with the President, the issue around the recent challenges of EndSARS protests that happened in the country. We all are alarmed and, of course, support the country in trying to get back on track.
“Young people and their demands for social justice, good governance are all legitimate and must be done peacefully. But we were all disturbed by the damage level, loss of lives and we continue to condole with those families who suffer those loses.
“Today was one in which we encourage efforts that are being made by government to that process of engaging with the demands that have been made by the young people. It’s a start on that journey of reforms that are needed in the security sector but also root causes to the issues that are happening today, which is about investing in development.
“We look forward to continuing our partnership with the government of Nigeria. We are happy today (yesterday) to launch the UN Plus Offer, which has to do again with supporting Economic Sustainability Plan over the next two years so that we can respond a little bit better.”
It’s in your interest to keep peace, Buhari tells youths
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has told protesting Nigerian youths against police brutality that it was in their interest to keep peace.
The President, who reminded the youths that his own generation was on the last lap and exiting, said while receiving the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed: “It is in the interest of the youths to keep the peace. They want jobs, infrastructure and development. I have sent a team, led by the Chief of Staff (Professor Ibrahim Gambari) to go round the country, talk to traditional rulers, who will then talk to the youths. The views of the youths have been heard.”
The President in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, said the current administration inherited severe infrastructural deficits.
‘’We can’t just sit, fold our arms and do nothing. We are doing our best within the limits of resources,’’ the President said.
He rued the fact that COVID-19 has shrunk the global economy, noting that “this is something you can’t see, smell, or hear,” but which has wrought devastation on lives and livelihoods round the world.