…Falana, Ozekhome, others seek release of detainees
…Adegboruwa mulls opting out of #EndSARS panel
…‘Detained persons to be charged to court’
By Henry Ojelu, Kingsley Omonobi, Bose Adelaja& Kennedy Mbele
Despite warnings by the Federal Government, youths, yesterday, went ahead with the #OcuppyLekkiTollGate protest against the reopening of the Lekki Toll Gate.
Though the protest didn’t witness a massive turnout of participants, a handful of people protested after the initial arrest of an unspecified number of persons who had converged for the exercise.
As of 7:45 am yesterday, the men of the Nigeria Police, who were deployed to the scene a day earlier, were seen arresting some youths who had just arrived at the toll plaza.
The arrested persons, who had some materials for the protest, were seen being forced into a waiting Black Maria by the policemen.
Sunday Vanguard could not ascertain the total number of arrested persons that many sources put around 30..
The Police team made up of Task Force, Rapid Response Squad,RRS, and other units had positioned over 200 policemen at Lekki Toll Gate, Admiralty Plaza, Obalende, Ikoyi, Jakande Roundabout, and other areas in Eti Osa to prevent the protest from taking place.
The protest was a fallout of the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of Police Brutality to reopen the toll plaza.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Salihi, Magashi (rtd), said use of force on protesters could not be ruled out.
On February 6, 2021, Chairperson of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi, had ordered the reopening of Lekki Toll Gate, a decision that didn’t go down well with lawyers of #EndSars protesters.
The Lekki Concession Company, LCC, had applied to repossess the facility.
The application generated arguments from counsels at the panel, with Adeshina Ogunlana, counsel to some of the #EndSARS protesters, vehemently opposing the application to reopen the Lekki Toll Gate.
Ogunlana said the panel should be in control of the facility until all matters relating to the Lekki shooting incident of October 20, 2020, are completed.
In her ruling, Okuwobi said the forensic report on the events that took place at the Toll Gate was ready, saying the panel was satisfied.
The panel, she said: “would not wait till the termination of the petitions before it hands over control of Lekki to LCC.”
The move infuriated #EndSars protesters, leading to the #OccupyLekkiTollGate protest also known #‘EndSARS Season 2.
Also, angered by the decision to reopen the toll plaza, youth representative on the Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of Police Brutality, Rinu Oduala, resigned her membership.
Beyond the ruling of the panel, the organisers of yesterday’s event said the ban on cryptocurrency usage also informed their decision.
A counter group that later shelved its plan, had also emerged on the platform of #DefendLagos.
Among those arrested was a popular comedian, Debo Adebayo, popularly known as Mr. Macaroni.
Sunday Vanguard learned that the arrested protesters were being held at the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti.
The arrested persons had their phones, cameras and other personal effects seized by the policemen.
Despite the Police presence at the scene, a protester, Belema Prince, bearing a placard with the inscription, “One Nigeria”, arrived at the venue in a Toyota car with number plate: LAGOS AAA 30 EU but was quickly picked up by the Police and whisked into the waiting Black Maria.
Similarly, Eti-Osa Bar Forum Legal Aid Clinic and Situation Room for #Occuoylekkitoll gates protests said Dabira Ayuku, Omoyele Abdul Ajebieber , Manager Ajake, Oya Godwin and Babatunde Saka were arrested.
A statement by Messrs Oludotun Hassan and Ayo Ademiluyi said: “We demand their immediate release. We reiterate our preparedness to challenge these breaches of the fundamental rights of these persons within the ambits of the law.”
A female protester who simply gave her name as Light said she was at the venue to lend her voice against the reopening of the Toll Gate by the government.
She said: “My friend died here on October 20, 2021, and I am here to protest the reopening of this tollgate. Nigerians should learn to speak up against injustice.’’
Two of the protesters who managed to evade arrest told Sunday Vanguard that their mobile phones and cameras were seized by the policemen.
They said: “We arrived at the venue of the protests at about 8:30 am but the Police arrested many protesters including innocent people. We were accosted too but had to run as far as our breath could carry us. They seized our camera and spectacles but we were lucky to escape being arrested and that is why we can loiter around the venue.”
Meanwhile, outrage greeted the development as human rights activists and groups demanded their unconditional release.
Those who condemned the action of the Police include human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, a member of Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of Police Brutality, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, former Commissioner for Education in Rivers State, Dr. Austin Tam-George, Mr. Charles Oputa aka Charley Boy, and Center for Human and Socio-economic Rights ,CHSR.
Falana made his position known in his capacity as the Interim Chairman, Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond,ASCAB.
According to him:”the Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB) has confirmed that not less than 20 young men and women were arrested this morning while planning to participate in the peaceful rally tagged #OccupyLekkiTollgate, scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. on Saturday, February 13, 2020, against the reopening of the Tollgate.
The protesters were arrested by a detachment of the Police before the commencement of the peaceful rally.
“The fundamental right of the 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. 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 which states as follows:
“Where a person or organization notifies the police of his or its intention to hold a public meeting, rally or procession on a public highway or such meetings in a place where the public has access to, the police officer responsible for the area where the meeting rally or procession will take place shall mobilize personnel to provide security to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession.”
Sections 39 and 40
“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. However, if the protesters are dragged before a criminal court by the Police after their illegal arrest and detention we call on the Judiciary in Lagos State not to allow the courts to be used to cover up the monstrous illegality perpetrated in Lagos this morning.”
An online news platform, TheCable had quoted Falana as saying he had been informed by the Attorney-General of Lagos State that the detained persons would appear before a mobile court in Lagos.
On his part, Adegboruwa described the arrest of protesters as worrisome, saying he was considering opting out of the #EndSARS panel.
He 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 overwhelmed with the images, videos and sundry evidence of police brutality of armless 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 unacceptable.
October 20, 2020
“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. Consequently, I am presently consulting with my constituency within the civil society, as to my continued participation in the EndSARS Judicial Panel.
“I hereby demand the immediate release of all those arrested in connection with the peaceful protest at the Lekki Toll Gate today. On no account should anything happen to any of them while in the custody of the police.”
Also, the Center for Human and Socio-economic Rights (CHSR) condemned the arrests of the protesters, demanding their immediate and unconditional release.
A statement by its National President, Comrade Alex Omotehinse and General Secretary, Comrade Ewajane Osowo, said about 10 #OccupyLekki were arrested.
According to the statement, “the protesters under the aegis of #OccupyLekki were arrested today in Lagos by the policemen deployed to the protest ground to maintain law and order.The information before us is that the arrested and brutalized protesters have been taken to the Adeniji Adele police station and the state CID Panti.”
In his reaction, Tam-George said: “The arrest of peaceful protesters is wrong, illegal and dangerous for the future of the country.
Citizens must be free to assemble and peacefully protest against any public policy or government actions with which they disagree. To deny citizens this important right to protest is to reduce them to slaves. We cannot build a nation by locking up and clamping down on those citizens who have a different point of view. I call upon the Inspector-General of Police to direct the immediate and unconditional release of peaceful protesters in unlawful police custody.”
Ozekhome said: “The arrest, taking away in a Black Maria and detention of Debo Makaroni and other peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate on Saturday is patently illegal and totally unconstitutional”.
“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 and other Nigerians the right to peaceful assembly and association, and the right to freedom of movement.
”Even under military dictatorships, as one of the founding fathers of the CLO – the Civil Liberties Organisation – (the first indigenous human rights organization in Nigeria founded on 15th October, 1987), I was allowed to demonstrate and protest on the streets by successive military juntas.” Meanwhile, a lawyer, Tola Onayemi, who provides legal aid for #EndSARS protesters, said the Police were denying lawyers access to the arrested persons.
Use of force
The protest attracted the attention of the Minister of Defence, Magashi, last night, who said the use of force could not be ruled out where required in order to avoid break down of law and order.
He said some persons were bent on destabilizing the peace of the country.
The Minister spoke when he visited his Galandanci Ward, Gwale Local Government Area, Kano State, where he revalidated his APC membership.
According to him, government will not sit, fold it arms and watch the disgruntled elements destabilize the country under any disguise.
“There is a basic responsibility of government and that is to protect every Nigerian——who ever he is. We always believe that given the necessary intelligence, no agent of government will sit down and fold his hand without doing something”, the Minister said.
“I will also refer you to the promise Mr. President made to Nigerians in 2015, that is, security, economy and corruption. If in the process, the policy has had some people who think that they should be given independence to do what they want to do, in order to bring this country down, so be it.
“This EndSARS issue, if you recall, the Minister of Information has briefed this nation and alerted that something like this is coming; and we know we are always prepared. This is our job, to ensure internal security”.