Nigerians on Saturday staged protests and rallies around the country to mark the second anniversary of declaration June 12 as Democracy Day and protest the state of affairs in the country.
And in what has been widely condemned as double standard, the Nigeria Police protected and permitted pro-President Muhammadu Buhari campaigners to hold a solidarity rally in Abuja without any form of harassment, while at the same time disrupting the rallies organised by anti-Buhari groups in many parts of the country, using teargas.
A mega rally organised for the president by his supporters, who trooped to Unity Fountain in Maitama, Abuja, to celebrate Democracy Day, was populated by dozens of youths drawn from the Youth Coalition for Development (YCD). They closed a section of the Shehu Shagari Road to traffic.
Interestingly, there was heavy security in place, including a helicopter, which hovered above to protect those at the rally convened by Aminu Aminu.
That was in stark contrast to the riotous atmosphere at the Gudu area of Abuja, where activists, led by Omoyele Sowore, who were opposed to the Buhari administration, clashed with policemen who were sent to disperse them with teargas. The police also dispersed anti-Buhari marchers in other parts of the country, like Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Abeokuta,
But the Federal Capital Territory Police Command justified its decision to disperse the anti-government protesters.
Many of those who showed up for the solidarity procession for the president were clad in branded white T-shirts with the inscription, “I Stand With Buhari, How about You?” boldly on the shirts. They also held placards bearing messages, like “#IStandwithBuhari”, “We are Indivisible”, “We stay as one, We are Nigeria!”
One of the president’s supporters also carried a declarative message that read: “Protest is only about getting your voice heard not a means of changing the government”.
Speaking with reporters at the rally, the organiser said the solidarity march was put together in recognition of the efforts of many people, who campaigned and laboured to institute a culture of democracy in the country since 1993. He lauded Buhari for recognising the importance of the day.
Aminu said, “June 12 is a watershed in the annals of Nigeria’s democratic history. It is a day to celebrate the beginning of a consistent and ideological struggle that eventually gave birth to a foundation for the democratic renaissance Nigeria is now building.”
But, earlier, the police teargased a group protesting at the Gudu area of the Federal Capital Territory. Sowore, the Publisher of Sahara Reporters, led the protesters comprising many youths and middle-aged persons. They said they were gathered to protest against the prevailing insecurity in the country.
The anti-Buhari rally began about 8.30am and was peaceful until the police stormed the area and started firing teargas to disperse the rally. The Gudu road was also cordoned off while traffic flow was disrupted as a result.
The development forced the protesters, who carried placards bearing inscriptions, such as “Buhari must go”, “Say no to injustice”, “33.3% Unemployment Rate is Criminal”, ” Digital Right is Human Right”, to scamper to safety.
The FCT Police Public Relations Officer, Yusuf Mariam, in a statement said policemen had to disperse the protesters to prevent members of the proscribed Islamic Movement of Nigeria and others from “inciting public disturbance.” Mariam added that calm had been restored around the axis and said nobody was arrested.
In the statement titled, “FCT Police foils attempt to incite public disturbance, disperse members of the proscribed Islamic Movement of Nigeria and others”, Mariam stated, “The FCT Police Command on Saturday, June 12, 2021, successfully restored calm at Apo-Gudu axis after professionally dispersing a protest by some members of the proscribed Islamic Movement of Nigeria – Shiites and others targeted at inciting public disturbance and breaching public peace.
“Consequently, the action of the command was necessitated by the concerns of some agitated residents. However, no arrest was made.
“In view of the above, the command wishes to state that it is committed to ensuring that FCT residents enjoy a hitch-free Democracy Day celebration and will not hesitate to bring to book every person or entity that attempts to breach the peace or cause a breakdown of law and order in the Federal Capital Territory.
“The command implores residents to remain calm and law-abiding while reaffirming its unwavering commitment to the protection of lives and property within the FCT.”
In Yola, the Adamawa State capital, residents staged a protest and demanded a revolution to change the present leadership of Buhari, citing incompetence in handing the country’s affairs. The protesters, who came under the banner of #Buharimustgo, defied a heavy rainfall and continued their protest for about three hours, demanding good governance and a leader who would pull Nigeria out of its numerous challenges.
They also called on Buhairi to relinquish power, brandishing banners of #revolutionnow, which asked Buhari to quit immediately.
Sporting black T-shirts marked with inscriptions, such as “Buhari Must Go”, the protesters chanted, “Freedom comes by struggle” and maintained, “we must come together to salvage our nation”.
Leader of the group, Tony Sudan Gompwel, told journalists that Buhari and other political leaders had failed the country.
Gompwel stated, “The kind of political leaders we have in our nation cannot give us the desired change.” He said bad leadership was the reason the country was bedevilled by insecurity and economic backwardness.
“They are hardened, they are tyrants, they are bankrupt of ideas. That’s why great Nigerian youths are converging all over the nation to demand that they should leave the stage,” he maintained.
However, while the protest against the Buhari administration subsisted, his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in Adamawa State read out Buhari’s scorecard to residents to mark the second year of designating June 12 as Democracy Day.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who was represented by Honourable Abdulrazask Namdas, commended the Buhari administration. Namdas, a member representing Jada, Ganye, Toungo and Mayobelwa Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, said the celebration was also to intimate the citizens of the performance of the APC in the state.
At the event held at Muna Hotel, Yola, to mark the June 12 celebration, the scorecards of all serving senators and House of Representatives members from the state, and that of Buhari, were read out.
Adamawa State Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri praised the courage and desire of the citizenry to allow democracy thrive after two decades of uninterrupted process.
Fintiri, in a press release by his Press Secretary, Mr. Humwashi Wonosikou, commended the electorate for trusting him with their mandate.
The governor said in the release, “We will continue to ensure we keep to our promise – a government that is a progressive instrument of the common good, rooted in our values of opportunity, responsibility, determined to give our people the tools they need to make the most of their lives in a difficult period made worse by the dwindling economic hardship.
“Our desire to strengthen democracy and give it its true meaning informed the investment we are making in the social reengineering of the state through the provision of infrastructure and human capital development needed to unlock the growth and development of the Adamawa of our dream. The projects spread across the state represent the value and meaning of Democracy Day.”
In Lagos, it was quiet in most parts of the state even though there were reports of skirmishes between protesters and men of the Nigerian Police at the Gani Fawehinmi Park at Ojota.
At the Mile Two area of the state also, there were reports of violent confrontations, which were promptly quelled by security operatives.
However, all was peaceful in known flashpoints in the state, like Oshodi, Ojodu-Berger, Ojuelegba, Fagba, and Ketu, as many residents celebrated the June 12 Democracy Day in their homes.
THISDAY gathered that although the protesters at Gani Fawehinmi Park were peaceful initially, it was the attempt by the police to forcibly disperse them from the venue that resulted in a face-off, leading to the use of teargas by the police. There were no reports of casualties or injuries.
There were no reports of breakdown of law and order in any other part of the state, even though many businesses were closed.
In Iju, Agege, Ojodu, Ikeja, Abule Egba, and Ogba areas, many people were indoors as commercial buses also stayed off roads.
THISDAY checks revealed that security was normal in most of these places, as no policemen and other security agents were noticed on the streets, and traffic was light.
Speaking on the conduct of the police, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, said even though he had to go and effect the release of some youths arrested by the police, he was glad that there were no reports of killings. He said the situation was remarkably better than the previous months.
Falana alleged that last year, the Nigeria Police had no canister of teargas to quell protests, hence their resort to the use of live bullets, as happened during the #EndSARS protest.
Falana, who spoke at the 25th Anti-Corruption Situation Room organised by the Heda Resources Centre, disclosed that it was the lack of the teargas canisters that led to the killing of 99 persons during the October 2020 protest.
In Edo State, protesters called on the federal government to deliver good governance and adequate security, stating that the ineptitude of Buhari has brought Nigeria to its knees. The protesters, who began their match at King Square (Ring Road), Benin City, were provided security by the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and the state vigilante group. They accompanied the protesters to the Government House, where the Deputy Governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu, received them.
Speaking on behalf of about seven groups of protesters and civil society organisations, Marxist Kola Edokpayi of the Talakawa Assembly, lamented that the nonchalant attitude of the president towards security of life and property had brought the country to its present unacceptable situation.
Edokpayi said, “The ineptitude of President Buhari has brought us to this sorry state. His nonchalant attitude has caused a lot of security problems. It has been difficult to combat Boko Haram, banditry and kidnapping. Nigerians now live in fear and nobody knows what will happen next.
“What we now hear is ‘unknown gunmen’ who are killing people in the South-east, while other parts of the country are becoming unsafe to live in because of insecurity. The prices of goods and services are moving up daily beyond the reach of the common man.”
Responding, the deputy governor commended the protesters for conducting themselves peacefully and promised that all their grievances would be channelled to the right quarters.
Shaibu used the opportunity to speak on some political issues in the state. He said of the 14 state lawmakers whose seats were declared vacant, “We did everything possible to have them in the House but they decided to follow a godfather, who misled them. Even with a month until their seats would be declared vacant, we urged them to join the assembly but they were asking for a second proclamation.
“They also went to court and that had stopped the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from conducting a fresh election. The INEC has said no new election can be conducted until the cases are decided. So, we have to wait for the courts before the next move can be made.”
Meanwhile, governors and prominent Nigerians across the country, yesterday, spoke on the second anniversary of June 12 as Democracy Day, focusing on the swirling frustrations in different parts of the country.
Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara State says the country has made progress despite its current challenges, which include the challenges of nation building, population bulge, and insecurity. In a statement issued in Ilorin on Saturday by his Chief Press Secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye, to commemorate June 12, the governor said, “I felicitate with Kwarans, and, indeed, all Nigerians, on this day of June 12, which has come to symbolise the struggle of our people for human rights, participatory democracy, and development.
“Whatever the challenges of nation-building confronting our fatherland, the truth is that we are pacing ahead in all indices of development while institutions of democracy are growing stronger and getting more mature.”
The Gombe State governor, Alhaji Inuwa Yahaya, yesterday, praised Nigerians for resolving to maintain democracy as the means of governance, saying 22 years of interrupted democratic rule has proven naysayers wrong. Yahaya said Nigeria’s “democratic maturity has shattered the myths about African democracy being under the grip of one single leader or political party.”
He noted that as the largest country in Africa, Nigeria would continue to hold the torch of nation building, democratic pluralism, and political stability in Africa and the world at large.
“After 22 years of uninterrupted democracy, I make bold to say Nigeria’s democracy has come of age. We have witnessed successful transitions of power from one administration to the next, and from one political party to another,” the governor stated.
Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, saluted the courage and patriotism of all democrats – dead or alive – who strived to ensure that democracy was well grounded in the country.
In a goodwill message, the governor said, “We laboured together to arrive where we are today and we shall continue to march the state forward to greatness with determination and sincerity of purpose with your support and prayers.”
The governor, who explained that his two-year journey in power had not been a bed of roses, added, “But with determination and the support enjoyed from the good people of the state, we were able to pilot the affairs of government to a sound socio-political pedestal.”
Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, urged Nigerians to be more determined in ensuring that democracy worked in the country. Fayemi said despite its imperfections, democracy remained the best option for the country, adding that through the determination of the citizens and their active participation in the democratic process, Nigerians can achieve a truly great country of their dream.
He urged Nigerians not to relent in their search for lasting peace as a necessary condition for progress and prosperity.
The governor saluted the heroic deeds of patriots, who worked assiduously to actualise democratic rule in the country, especially, the symbol of the June 12 struggle, the late Chief Moshood Abiola, saying only a truly great, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria can be a befitting compensation for their sacrifices
“We may not have reached the promised land, but we have left Egypt. We may not have attained the best, but we surely have made some progress as a nation,” Fayemi said.
Hafsat Abiola-Costello, one of the daughters of the presumed winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola, said her family would not forget the role played by the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, in ensuring that their late patriarch was immortalised for his contribution to democracy. Abiola-Costello also praised the minister for his role in the renaming of Kudirat Abiola Road, in memory of her mother, who was brutally murdered during her struggles to regain the stolen mandate of her husband.
She said long before President Muhammadu Buhari came in as president, Aregbesola, who was then governor of Osun State, had embarked on a one-man campaign to press for recognition of Abiola as winner of the 1993 election and, indeed, to be recognised as a former president.
Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun said the best way for Nigerians to immortalise and celebrate the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief MKO Abiola, and June 12, was to build bridges and demolish sectarian fences. Abiodun stated this on Saturday in his speech at the 2021 Democracy Day celebration, held at the MKO Abiola International Stadium, Kuto, Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
The governor, who said Nigerians could not afford to bring down the country or despair in its future, noted that the supreme price paid by the Abiola and his mandate should serve as a reminder that Nigerians were stronger together as a nation.
“Until Nigerians embrace the essence of the MKO persona, internalise belief in self, faith in a united country and other initiatives that help to engender a sense of shared heritage amongst Nigerian people, we will continue to be a country in search of nationhood,” he said.
Abiodun urged Nigerians to push all the negative and divisive forces and policies on the back-foot and embrace the symbolism of June 12, saying, “Let us join hands to make Nigeria work for all Nigerians. June 12 represents what will strengthen the country’s unity, indivisibility and oneness.” He added that such unity would end all quests for self-determination and other sectarian agitations, as well as calm frayed nerves.
Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, expressed his administration’s determination to change the development narrative of the state. Diri spoke on Saturday at Government House, Yenagoa, during his maiden media chat that was broadcast live on all Yenagoa-based radio stations.
The media interaction was part of activities to commemorate this year’s Democracy Day.
The governor, in a press statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Alabrah, said democracy was about the people and Nigeria had come a long way with 22 years of uninterrupted civil rule, which he said had not been smooth but worth celebrating.
He noted that the urban renewal programme and other projects and policies of his administration were part of the drive to give the state a new look and make it more attractive to investors.
Diri said the state had a lot of tourism potential and the government was open to discussion and ready to sign memorandum of understanding with partners to develop projects in the sector.
On the federal government’s infrastructure development refund to the state, the governor clarified that the actual amount it received was N27.5 billion and not N38.4 billion, as being speculated in some quarters.
He explained that though the total refund due the state was N38.4 billion, according to the federal government, its release would not be possible in the next four years. He said the state was offered a second option of a discounted amount of N27.5 billion through the Debt Management Office, which it got last December.
Responding to a question on President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent directive to revive cattle grazing routes across the country, Diri said there were no such routes in the state. He explained that although he was not countering the federal government’s decision to resuscitate grazing routes, his administration had put in place a legal framework to ban open grazing and movement of cattle on foot.
The Bayelsa governor also emphasised that the southern governors had adopted the same position on the issue as part of measures to check farmers/herders clashes across the country.
Diri maintained that his government could not afford to expose its citizenry to the looming danger.
Chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Joseph Hayab, said June 12 could not be celebrated as Democracy Day because Nigerian leaders were not democratic. Hayab said Nigerians could not be governed by intimidation and still celebrate June 12 as Democracy Day.
In an interview with THISDAY on Saturday, Hayab said in a true democracy, there was rule of law and freedom of speech.
According to him, June 12 is merely a date set aside by the government, though there is no evidence of democracy worth celebrating.
Hayab stated, “We are simply celebrating a date set aside by the government but there is no evidence of democracy worth celebrating. The spirit behind June 12 is supposed to make our current leaders truly democratic but what we see is governance by intimidation and creating fear in the minds of citizens.
“A true sign of democracy is the freedom citizens enjoy and respect for the rule of law, which is visibly absent in the way we have been governed in this country. I wish the government should have remembered that in a few days or in the second week of June. We will have this day to be reminded to celebrate before announcing the ban on Twitter and many uncomplimentary comments about other regions by the president.”
In a related development, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom said he was not against Buhari as a person but often disagreed with him on the constitutionality of issues and policy. Ortom said those who insinuated that his disagreement with the president was bone out of hatred were wrong. He stated that the attack on him would not force his administration to repeal the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law in the state.
The governor declared that anyone who thought the state government would be intimidated to repeal the law was making a great mistake. He said his administration was trying to amend the law to increase the penalties against anyone who flouted it.
Speaking yesterday at the Banquet Hall of Government House, Makurdi, while giving his midterm scorecard as part of activities marking this year’s Democracy Day, Ortom said, “I have always prayed and supported the president but when it comes to issues of fairness and illegality, I will disagree.
“The law on ranching has come to stay and no amount of intimidation can make us to repeal it. Instead, we will soon amend the law in order to increase the penalties against offenders.”
The governor, who listed his administration’s achievements in the areas of education, agriculture, infrastructure, and health, among others, lamented the humanitarian situation caused by the continued attacks by armed herdsmen, bandits and other criminals in Benue communities.
He said, “The security threat from armed herdsmen, bandits and other criminals in our communities has resulted in wanton killings and the displacement of people in large numbers across the state.
“Today, Benue State has over one million IDPs with many of them living in the camps we have set up and others staying with their relations. The situation has created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the state.”
He said despite the huge sums of money his administration had been spending to cater for the Internally displaced persons, resources were always inadequate because the number of IDPs increased daily.
The governor stated, “My desire is to ensure that the IDPs return to their ancestral homes. Most of them are farmers, and the longer they stay in the camps, the more food production is affected. We hope that the federal government will also fulfil its promise to assist Benue and other states in the North-central, which have been badly affected by the attacks to resettle the victims.”
He disclosed that many of his colleagues had been coming around to encourage him on his stand to hold the presidency accountable over insecurity in the country but were too afraid to talk.