Nigerians have accused the Federal Government of unleashing the police on ‘resume or resign’ protesters; describing the action as barbaric.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, and civil society organisations said the people had the rights to protest, adding that the police should be trained in protest-control strategy.
A cameraman with Silverbird Television, Femi Togun, and a protester, Theophilus Abumagada, were among those that were injured on Tuesday in Abuja after policemen fired tear gas canisters to disperse the protesters, who were demanding the return of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Togun was also allegedly assaulted by eight policemen who slapped and dragged him on the ground.
The policemen were also said to have initially confiscated his camera which they later released.
Abumagada, who was taken to the Federal Staff Clinic at the Federal Secretariat Complex, choked on the tear gas used on the protesters by the police.
An STV reporter, Amadin Uyi, said he was also beaten up by the policemen for covering the protest.
He said, “The policemen beat me up and also slapped me. When they saw my cameraman recording the assault, about eight of them attacked him. When he fell, then they dragged him on the ground.”
“They seized our camera, but later released it. Femi’s (Togun) hand was bruised and he sustained an injury in his leg.”
Togun corroborated Uyi, saying the operatives attacked him because he recorded the assault on his colleague.
“They attacked me when they saw me filming them as they were assaulting Uyi; they took my camera and dragged me on the ground,” he stated.
The protesters from four civil society groups have been demanding that the President, who has been on medical leave in London, United Kingdom, since May, 2017, should resume in office or resign. They started the protest on Monday.
The coalition members had embarked on a sit-out at the Unity Fountain, Maitama, in continuation of their demand on Tuesday when the armed policemen, who initially feigned indifference, abruptly asked them to leave.
The protesters ignored the order, prompting the police to use water cannons and fire tear gas canisters at them.
The coalition members, including popular artiste, Mr. Charles Oputa, aka Charlie Boy; and the protest convener, Deji Adeyanju, initially resisted the water cannons, but later bowed to the tear gas, which eventually terminated the sit-out.
Motorists and commuters on the Shehu Shagari Way also got a dose of the assault as the operatives fired several tear gas canisters towards the road, forcing many motorists to wind up their glasses while those walking ran for safety.
Adeyanju chided the government for unleashing the police on harmless citizens demanding to know the health status of their President.
He argued that Buhari was not a private citizen, noting that it was within the people’s right to demand and know the status of their President.
He said, “This government only has a hammer, so everything appears to be a nail. They do not understand that the people have the right to ask about the health status of the President.
“The President is not a private citizen; he is a public official elected by the people and he is accountable to the people of Nigeria.”
He described the attack by the police as barbaric, adding that protesters would not be deterred by the assault.
Adeyanju said, “Tomorrow (Wednesday), the sit-out continues at Unity Fountain and we urge other Nigerians to join us as we continue to ask the right questions.”
Reacting to the Presidency’s statement that it was disrespectful of the protesters to demand Buhari’s health status, the activist said it was also “disrespectful of the President to leave this country for 93 straight days without informing us. I believe Nigerians are taking note of all these, and in due course, we will pay them back in their own coin.”
Also, Charly Boy said the groups would not back down on the demand for the President’s resumption or resignation.
Oputa described the Senate as a monumental failure for allegedly failing to demand details of Buhari’s ailment.
Oputa, in a statement by media consultant to the group, Ezrel Tabiowo, described Senate’s criticism of the protesters as “outright ridiculous,” saying the upper chamber of the National Assembly had demonstrated that it was nothing but a rubber stamp of the executive arm of government.
He said, “I am disappointed in this country. But let it be known that no amount of intimidation by security agencies will deter us from demanding explanations from government. They must be accountable to Nigerians because they were elected into power by us.”
We dispersed hoodlums that infiltrated protest –Police
The Federal Capital Territory Police Command has defended the assault, saying policemen intervened to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
The command spokesman, Anjuguri Manzah, in a statement said police operatives only dispersed miscreants that infiltrated the protest.
He said, “The FCT Police command in the early hours of today, August 8, 2017, intervened and prevented a breakdown of law and order, and disturbance of public peace in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja by dispersing some hoodlums and other criminal elements that infiltrated the protest being carried out by a group of concerned Nigerians, under the auspices of Our-Mumu-Don-do Movement, at Unity Fountain, Maitama, Abuja.”
He noted that the coalition had protested on Monday with the police providing security, adding that the protesters had rights to peaceful assembly, association and movement.
“However, the same group assembled at the same venue, but allowed miscreants and other unruly individuals to infiltrate the protests.
“The hoodlums blocked major roads adjoining the Unity Fountain, obstructing traffic and preventing movements of other innocent citizens, exhibiting unruly behaviours and other violent acts likely to cause the breakdown of law and order and disturbance of public peace,” Manzah said.
He added that the police had to intervene to prevent mayhem.
The command said it would not allow any protest under any guise to turn violent and jeopardise the prevailing peace being enjoyed in the FCT.
‘Police action primitive’
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, the pan-Yoruba group, Afenirere; the Nigeria Labour Congress and civil society organisations have condemned police attack on the protesters, saying it was “primitive, outdated and a breach of the fundamental human rights.”
The SAN and the groups stated this in separate interviews with our correspondents on Tuesday in their reactions to the attack on ‘Buhari must resume or resign’ protesters.
Ali said, “The way our police manage protests and strikes is outdated and primitive. There is no other place in the world that when the people go on protests, the police will carry guns. The protest-control strategy of the Nigeria police is very primitive. There must be a proper training for them on how to manage protests.
“The people are right to make demands. The constitution really does not specify how long the president can be out of the country. We know that he has legitimately transmitted power.
“The way to go is that there should be an amendment of the constitution that if a president or a governor is out of the country for a number of days on account of ill health, then his office becomes vacant.”
Also, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights President, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “The right of every Nigerian to freely associate, assemble and express themselves is guaranteed under Sections 39 and 40 of the constitution.
“The police cannot infringe on the rights of citizens to freely enjoy these rights. The police also got it wrong because these people no longer need their permission to assemble. The Court of Appeal in the case of the Inspector-General of Police versus ANPP had struck out the Public Protection Order in favour of the rights of Nigerians.
“On the people’s demands, they are right because President Buhari should have long declared a state of emergency in the country’s health sector. As it is now, our health sector cannot sustain life.”
On his part, the National Coordinator, Advocate for Good Governance, MacDonald Akhirome, said the government was wrong to unleash security personnel on the peaceful protesters.
Akhirome said the disruption of the protest “is not a demonstration of responsiveness of a government that offered change.”
The Nigeria Labour Congress, through its General Secretary, Dr Peter Ozo-Eson, said it was condemnable for the police to visit violence on citizens involved in peaceful protest.
He said, “The citizens have the right under the constitution to engage in peaceful assembly.
“Any violation of that right is condemnable irrespective of the circumstance.”
Also, a factional President of the Ijaw Youth Council, Mr. Pereotubo Oweilaemi, said it was high time the Presidency and security agencies knew that the country was under democracy and not military dictatorship where the rights of citizens could be violated with impunity.
He said, “It is unfortunate and barbaric for the security agencies to use tear gas on peaceful protesters. The protesters merely asked to know the present state of our dear President who has been on medical vacation for over 90 days.”
The Campaign for Democracy berated the police for interrupting the protest, noting that it was an act of “brutality” of peaceful citizens.
The CD President, Usman Abdul, said, “That police incursion was uncalled for. I was also at the protest and it was a peaceful walk. We have been part of this struggle since 2010 under the Save Nigeria Group.
“We only assembled to protest the long stay of our president abroad, having been made a monument of tourist attractions. These are our agitations and it was unfortunate that the police came in and started their brutality.”
Afenifere described the disruption of the protest as barbaric and condemned the government for ordering the police to unleash violence on the protesters.
Afenifere’s spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, said the people had the right to protest, noting that such was stated by presidential spokesmen, Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina.
He said, “If the protesters destroyed public property during their protest, that is a different thing, but for the police to attack peaceful protesters is barbaric and the government should be condemned.
“There were protests under the last administration and the President (Buhari) at a point participated and no one was attacked by security forces.”
FG panning to truncate democracy –PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party, however, accused the Federal Government of planning to truncate Nigeria’s democracy, saying that it was wrong for the security agencies to brutalise the protesters.
It said it was unfortunate that the Federal Government could embolden the security agencies to brutalise the citizens who called on Buhari to either resume work or resign from office.
Spokesperson for the party, Dayo Adeyeye, who spoke with one of our correspondents, called on Nigerians to be at alert, saying the ruling party must be cautioned.
He said, “We have said it before and we will continue to say it: The Federal Government is planning to truncate the country’s democracy with its actions.
“There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of expression and no freedom of association. The PDP was in government and allowed protests; we never brutalised any protester.”