Nigerian youth made good their threat to hold memorial marches on Wednesday commemorating those who died during the nationwide anti-police brutality protests last year. This was despite warnings by the Nigeria Police that marches to mark the one year anniversary of the #EndSARs protest would not be condoned.
As the memorial rallies held in some states on Wednesday, the National Economic Council (NEC) directed state governors to forward final reports of the panels of inquiry into the protests to their Attorneys-General for prompt arraignment and prosecution of the indicted persons.
In Lagos State, youths gathered at the Lekki tollgate to mark the EndSARs anniversary. But the rally was marred by police brutality and clampdown on journalists covering the peaceful event.
In Abuja, security operatives acting on the order of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, pushed a procession to the National Assembly complex back.
But Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, inaugurated a Committee for the Protection of Human Rights in the state with an appeal for more citizen participation in peace and nation building.
In Rivers State, over 200 youths staged a candlelight procession at the popular Waterline junction in Port Harcourt.
Meanwhile, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed, who revealed the decision of NEC in Abuja, during a media briefing, also accused those he labelled “champions of a massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate,” including Amnesty International and CNN, of holding on to “their unproven stand.”
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The federal government said where incidents in the inquests related to matters of discipline, in addition to prosecution, NEC had urged the Nigeria Police to take disciplinary action against the affected officers in line with the provisions of the Police Act 2020.
Mohammed spoke on measures that had been taken to improve the efficiency of the police and other security agencies’ architecture.
He explained that NEC had called on the leadership of the security agencies to ensure that persons recruited into arms-bearing security organs underwent psychiatric evaluation and drug test before enlistment.
He also said personnel of the agencies had been advised to dutifully observe rules of engagement in the discharge of their duties.
While acknowledging the various initiatives introduced by the federal government to strengthen police accountability through the Police Service Commission, the minister said the council had urged the government to prioritise the general welfare of security agencies.
“In particular, it advocated the review of pension and gratuity of retired police officers and attainment of parity of remuneration by police officers with sister security agencies,” he stated.
Mohammed also said the council advised the government to “undertake a comprehensive assessment of all police stations across the country with a view to ensuring that they are fit for purpose.
“Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies should deploy cutting-edge technology in the fight against crimes.”
The council also urged the police to ensure that all those detained as a result of the #EndSars protests were expeditiously processed with due regard to the principles of fair hearing.
However, the federal government maintained its stance that there were no evidence of massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate a year ago.
The minister stated, “Today marks the first anniversary of the phantom massacre at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, which was the culmination of an otherwise peaceful protest that was later hijacked by hoodlums.
“At earlier press conferences, I had called the reported massacre at the toll gate a farce. On Monday, the Judicial Panel of Inquiry that was set up by the Lagos State Government after the #EndSARS protest wrapped up its sitting.
“During the sitting, CNN was summoned but it never showed up, thus, missing a great opportunity to prove its allegation of massacre at the toll gate. Also, Amnesty International had a golden opportunity to convince the world, but it rather opted for issuing meaningless press releases.”
Mohammed claimed that in its latest attempt to grasp at straws and, “redeem whatever is left of its battered credibility on this issue, CNN has continued with its baseless report that soldiers shot at protesters.
“In a report currently running on the network, CNN brazenly and unashamedly held on to its flawed narrative, relying on an unidentified mother whose son was reportedly shot dead at Lekki, but without convincing evidence of who shot him dead.”
The minister said the federal government remained proud of the security agencies for acting professionally and showing utmost restraint all through the #EndSARS protest and the ensuing violence, an action he said saved lives and property.
Police Clampdown on Journalists, Brutalise Protesters in Lagos
Meanwhile, in Lagos, Nigeria Police officers, who ignored warnings to abide by the rules of engagement, unleashed violence on peaceful protesters, passers-by, and even journalists deployed to cover the commemoration.
The operatives from the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) and the state taskforce were seen assaulting people gathered at the tollgate, as well as road users.
Those who bore the brunt of yesterday’s crude actions by the Nigeria Police in Lagos included an Uber driver, Clement Adedotun; Arise Television crew; an online reporter, Bisola Alawode, and another lady simply identified as Blessing.
The police also forced many at the rally into their waiting Black Maria after using tear gas at close proximity to spray their faces.
The security operatives, comprising the RRS, Taskforce and Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LNSC), had brutalised and arrested Alawode and a lone protester before whisking them away to an unknown destination.
Attempts by protesters to resist arrest were met by more force by the security operatives.
The Uber driver, whose torture video went viral, said he had a passenger in his cab when they heard gunshots.
He said, “I abandoned my vehicle and fled. The passenger ran as well. When the situation calmed down, I returned to take my vehicle but couldn’t find it.
“I asked questions around where I had left the vehicle and I was told to go and meet the security operatives because they towed vehicles off. That was how I came here and the next thing they started forcing me into this truck.
“I cannot enter it because I am not a thief. No member of my family has ever entered it. It won’t be me that will enter. I did not do anything. I am not even a protester.”
Prior to the acts of brutality, the youths led by Music Star, Folarin Falana, alias Falz, and Comedian Adebowale Adedayo (Mr. Macaroni), were in their vehicles waving the Nigerian flag and chanting #ENDSARS as they drove through the tollgate repeatedly.
However, things turned violent when the procession was about to end. While some dropped off their flags, others refused to vacate, thereby causing traffic congestion.
The police were said to have blocked off the tollgate and diverted traffic before they used teargas to disperse the crowd, while vehicles parked on the road were towed away and the tollgate reopened.
In the ensuing melee, it was alleged that a thug stabbed a Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps official and fled, while the operatives arrested some persons with cutlass, hammers and charms at the venue.
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, got those wrongfully arrested freed, just as he tendered public apology to those who were brutalised.
Addressing journalists at the scene, Odumosu said the security operatives had to use minimal force when they discovered that miscreants had infiltrated the crowd.
“No one stopped the car procession. I told them that no one would harass them as long as they do not obstruct traffic because this is a business area and not a park or garden. They were free to have their banners, stickers on their cars and drive pass as many times as they wanted to, which they did.
“I put a call across to one of the organisers to know if they were done and he said yes, that they were through and on their way. I asked if it was true they had another event at Alausa and were going there but he said no, that they had dispersed.
“So, you can see that the protesters who have leaders have concluded their exercise and left. These ones who came to block the road now are not known. They do not have leaders and are not organised. That is not to say they cannot protest since peaceful protest is the right of every Nigerian.
“What we will not allow is disruption of movement or the infringement on the rights of others because where one person’s right stops, another’s starts. Now, you can see we have arrested some of them with weapons. Are those protesters?
The youths said they were angry with the Lagos State government for trying to stop yesterday’s protest, saying it amounts to gross violation of their human rights.
But the Lagos State government denied the allegation of trying to stop protesters.
Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho, said the governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had no control over police activities in Lagos, and could not order the police to stop any protest in the state. The Lagos State Police Commissioner reports directly to the Inspector General of Police in Abuja and not to the Lagos State government.
Omotosho spoke yesterday on “The Morning Show”, an ARISE NEWS Channel programme, alongside the founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank, Mr. Atedo Peterside, as well as a lawyer and civil rights advocate, Mr. Inibehe Effiong. The information commissioner said different agitations coming from Lagos and other parts of the country since the #EndSARs protest last year had tended to divide the people of the state.
He called for peace, unity and understanding among Lagos youth and, by extension, Nigerian youth, adding that the youth need to collaborate with government to build the country and not disrupt activities and destroy the common wealth of the country.
Omotosho said, “Lagos State Government encourages freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest. I was with the Lagos State Governor three days ago, when he made a call to the owner of Landmark Centre, when #EndSars youths visited him, to complain about how the management of Landmark Centre suddenly reneged on an earlier agreement they had reached with them to use the centre for the one year remembrance of #EndSars protest.
“During the telephone conversation between the governor and the owner of Landmark Centre, which I recorded, the owner of Landmark Centre denied getting any instruction from Lagos government to decline the commercial request of the youths to use the centre for their protest. He told the governor that the decision was taken by the management to save lives and property and that it was a pure business decision.
“So it is wrong for anybody to think that Lagos State government must have instructed the managers of Landmark Centre to stop the youths from using the venue for their protest.”
Asked why protesters were arrested and journalists were rough handled and their drones and cameras seized by the police during yesterday’s protest in Lagos, Omotosho said, “Lagos State governor did not ask the police to stop any protest and arrest protesters and seize the working tools of journalists covering the protest. “
Worried by the action of the police during the protest, Effiong accused the government of insensitivity to the challenges of the people.
He said, “The police cannot deviate in their role to protect the rights of the protesters. Civilians laid down their lives for Nigeria’s democracy when they confronted the military years back and we cannot have a Commissioner of Police in Lagos who will not give instructions to the police to protect peaceful protesters.
“If Governor Sanwo-Olu cannot compel the Lagos State Police Commissioner to respect the rights of the people, the governor must write to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Police Service Commission and request the redeployment of the Lagos State Commissioner of Police. Until he has done that, the governor must take full responsibility of the violations of Lagos youths, the harassment of journalists in Lagos and the continued disdain to the rule of law and democracy in Lagos.”
On his part, Peterside advised the youth to unite in fighting their course and choose leaders among them who would represent them to dialogue with government in pushing their demands.
“The best way to bring about change in a country is through dialogue and there must be leaders who are willing and able to dialogue with government,” Peterside said.
Police Stop #ENDSARS Protest March to National Assembly
A procession towards the National Assembly Complex in Abuja, led by the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, was stopped. The protesters were walking towards the perimeter gate of the complex when they were intercepted by a detachment of policemen, near the Federal Ministry of Justice.
The police interception subsequently forced the procession to beat a retreat to Unity Fountain, along Shehu Shagari Way, Maitama, where they continued their protest, which was largely peaceful.
The presence of anti-riot policemen, soldiers and members of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps prevented the protest from degenerating into violence.
Most of the protesters were clad in black outfits that reflected the mood of the occasion.
The slogan, “We will Not Forget 2010 20 Lekki Massacre”, was boldly inscribed on their outfits.
They held various anti-government placards, some of which read: “The Liberator Generation is Here”, “Young Not Criminal”, “Why Does It Look Like it is a Crime to be a Nigerian”, “You Can’t Kill Nobody”, “We Can’t Be the Future of the Nation, if We Are Dead”.
However, a few metres from the #EndSARS protesters in Abuja, a pro-government group gathered close to the security operatives and also unfurled a banner describing the shooting of protesters at Lekki as a hoax. They carried banners with inscriptions such as: “EndSARS was an insurrection against the state”.
The pro-Buhari protesters stormed the Unity Fountain ground around 10:30 a.m. and berated the #EndSARS memorial protesters for being too critical of the Buhari government.
The pro-Buhari group also accused the #EndSARS protesters of projecting Nigeria in a bad light before the world through their mass action in Lagos, Abuja and other major cities in the country. They alleged the #EndSARS memorial protest was a ploy to instigate an unlawful change of government.
“We have come here because we found out that some miscreants hiding behind #EndSARS have planned to come here to hold #EndSARS memorial,” their leader said.
Later in the day, the anti-government protesters held a solemn candlelight memorial in honour of the victims of Lekki shooting and all those who died during the protest across the country.
Okowa Inaugurates Human Rights Protection Committee
Okowa, yesterday, inaugurated a Committee for the Protection of Human Rights in the state with an appeal for more citizen participation in peace and nation building.
The governor was the head of the new committee, which he inaugurated in Asaba yesterday, as part of the recommendations of the Justice Celestina Ogisi Judicial Panel of Inquiry on police brutality and extrajudicial killings in the state.
Members of the Committee included the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Isaiah Bozimo; Commissioner for Youth Development, Ifeanyi Egwunyenga; Solicitor-General/Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Omamuzo Erebe; and the Commissioner of Police in the state.
Others were representative of the youth, Mr. Harrison Gwamnishu; representative of civil societies organisations, Israel Joe; representative of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Jonathan Ekpenisi; representative of National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Alpheus Ngwu; and Permanent Secretary, Directorate of Political and Security Matters, Mr. Theophilus Aguonye, who would serve as Secretary.
He thanked God for His intervention in restoring peace following the anti-SARS protest, which he admitted shook the country significantly.
Okowa said, “We saw a lot of our youths come out in anger against so many issues as it concerned the nation but particularly against police brutality.
“There was a lot of destruction of property as the movements of various civil society groups and youths got hijacked by unscrupulous citizens of this nation.
“We believe that the youths who actually set out at the beginning for the protest meant well for this nation because they were actually there to draw the attention of the leadership of this nation both at the national and at the sub-national levels to the ills in the society.
“They said they were demonstrating against oppressive tendencies of security agencies, which were impinging on their freedom.”
Okowa revealed that a lot of discussions took place and in one of the meetings at NEC, headed by the vice president, as chairman, decisions were taken that were far-reaching and they helped to douse the tension.
He said the decisions included the need to carry out some enquiry into the issues raised as to police brutality and to also find ways and means of assuaging the nerves of those who may have suffered one loss or the other.
“This state and many other states commissioned panels of inquiry to look into the issues of police brutality and extra-judicial killings.
“The panel itself had finished its sitting and the report was sent to my office and eventually a white paper was prepared from the report and decisions were taken just recently at the State Executive Council meeting.
“We are very mindful of the fact that we cannot pay for lives lost but we have agreed at the council on the need to show some respect and to also find means of assuaging the nerves of those who have lost loved ones and for those who had to go to hospitals following action from police brutality.
“These decisions have been taken and we look forward that at the end of this month the monies, which Exco has approved, should be paid to the various families that were affected.”
Youths Stage Candlelight Procession in Port Harcourt
In Rivers, over 200 youths yesterday, staged a candlelight procession at the popular waterline junction in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The youths, who were peaceful during the procession, alleged that one year after, no action had been taken to penalise police officers indicted in the report by the #EndSARS panel.
Chairman, Rivers State Civil Society Organisation (RSCSO) and Convener of the #EndSARS procession, Enefaa Georgewill, stated that police officers alleged to be involved in the brutality of young people across the state were yet to be prosecuted.
Enefaa added, “The people are saying that enough is enough. We cannot continue to live in a state of fear. We are demanding that the state should implement its panel called the EndSARS panel.
“Until now, the police officer who caused bodily harm and killed young people are yet to be prosecuted. We are saying the people they say they will compensate are yet to be compensated.
“#EndSARS is beyond just ending a police unit called SARS, it is a metaphor for evil in our society. It is a symbol for misrule.”
The youths carried placards with various inscriptions like; “no protester will die in vain under our watch”.
Your Boys are Back on the Streets, Protesters Tell IGP in Ondo
Similarly, in Akure, scores of youth from across Ondo State held a memorial procession to mark one year anniversary of the event. The protesters reminded the Inspector General of Police that his “boys” were back in the streets, alleging that the officers are not after armed robbers, bandits, kidnappers but they are after Nigerian youth.
The protesters, who gathered outside the entrance of the Akure City Hall, amid a heavy presence of police officers, walked through Oba-Adeshida Road, passing through NEPA roundabout to the Police Command Headquarters, Akure.
Addressing journalists, the leader of the protesters, Tope Temokun, said, “The memorial protest is to honour our slain heroes, to demand that our government must continue to tell us the truth, because our government has been feeding us with lies over the years.
“Our coming out today after a year of the protest to end brutality in Nigeria, both from the police and the government, is to remind the government that we need only one thing from them and that is the truth.
“We came out on October 20, 2020 to protest against brutality and they told us we were going to get justice, they told us they were going to get to the truth and redress and that victims will get compensation but after one year, we are still in the street.
“What we are witnessing today is brutality from government and the police. We have submitted petition to the government of Akeredolu to implement the recommendation of #EndSARS panel that was submitted to him to address the grievances of the protesters.”
He said the youth were not tired of standing up to challenge all forms of injustice.
Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja; Chiemelie Ezeobi, Segun James, Emma Okonji and Nosa Alekhuogie in Lagos; Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt; Fidelis David in Akure; Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba