…northern group dissociated self from protest
After a series of meetings in Abuja and Lagos, the organisers of the #RevolutionNow protests said they would go ahead with the protests today despite the arrest of the convener of the #RevolutionNow, Omoyele Sowore.
The ‘RevolutionNow’ organisers said this just as a pro-Buhari group, #IStandWithBuhari, said it would also embark on a nationwide counter-rally in support of President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday (today). This, observers noted, could lead to a clash between the two groups.
This is even as security agents have surrounded the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, in anticipation of the #RevolutionNow protest march scheduled to hold today.
The security agents have the OP MESA vans parked around the stadium.
The Operation MESA or OP MESA, as it is commonly referred to, is a joint Internal Security Operational platform made up of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
Sowore had declared Monday (today) as the day of the commencement of a revolutionary protest tagged, “Days of Rage,” across the country to demand a better Nigeria.
But at 1am on Saturday, operatives of the Department of State Services invaded Sowore’s house in Lagos and arrested him.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, said Sowore was arrested for planning a revolution to destabilise the government of Buhari and was liable to be charged with treasonable felony.
One of the organisers of the protests and popular musician, Eedris Abdulkareem, said the ‘RevolutionNow’ demonstration would hold on Monday despite arrest of Sowore, who is also the publisher of an online news outlet, Sahara Reporters.
Abdulkareem told The PUNCH that the location of the protests would be communicated to the media on Monday morning.
The ‘Jagajaga’ crooner, while responding to an inquiry by The PUNCH, said, “Yes, we are still on course. By 6am on Monday, the information will be communicated to you.”
When asked if the protests would take place nationwide, Eedris said, “Yes, it will hold nationwide on Monday.”
Efiiong noted that the protesters would converge on the National Stadium, Surulere at 7am.
He said, “Yes, we will go on with the protests. In fact, we just finished a meeting on it. We will only meet at the National Stadium for the protests and it will be peaceful.”
#IStandWithBuhari group to stage pro-FG protests nationwide today
But a pro-Buhari group, #IStandWithBuhari, said it would embark on nationwide protests on Monday.
The convener of the group, Ogochukwu Ezeaku, told The PUNCH on Sunday that the protests were being held to counter the narrative that Buhari was not a popular leader.
He said they were meeting with the police high command as regards modality and rules of engagement since the police had said all protests in the FCT must be confined to the Unity Fountain.
Ezeaku said, “We are holding demonstrations across the country on Monday. The police have just called our attention to a release regarding protests. So, we are supposed to have a meeting with them but it is confirmed that the protests will hold.”
Sowore’s arrest, a travesty, says Soyinka
However, prominent Nigerians and groups, including the Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; a human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana; and civil rights organisations, on Sunday supported the #RevolutionNow protests.
Soyinka, Falana and the groups, in their separate reactions, condemned Sowore’s arrest, describing it as a travesty.
Soyinka, in a statement on Sunday, titled, “Not Again!” disagreed with the police, saying there was nothing in Sowore’s actions or words that meant revolution in the sense of overthrowing the government.
The Nobel laureate, who flayed the police for the misuse of the word, ‘revolution,’ said Sowore’s arrest was a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens to congregate and make their concerns public.
Soyinka said Sowore’s arrest gave him a sense of déjà vu about how the military junta of the late General Sani Abacha clamped down on civil protesters, adding that security agents seemed to have learnt nothing from history.
He said, “Nothing that he (Sowore) said to me in private engagement ever remotely approached intent to destabilise governance or bypass the normal democratic means of changing a government. I, therefore, find the reasons given by the Inspector-General of Police for the arrest and detention of this young ex-presidential candidate totally contrived and untenable, unsupported by any shred of evidence. His arrest is a travesty and violation of the fundamental rights of citizens to congregate and make public their concerns.
“This is all so sadly déjà vu. How often must we go through this wearisome cycle? We underwent identical cynical contrivances under the late, unlamented Sani Abacha, when he sent storm-troopers to disrupt a planning session for a similar across-nation march at Tai Solarin School, Ikenne.
“This was followed up by a personalised letter that was hand-delivered by the State Security Services to me under their summons, at their Abeokuta so-called ‘Annexe’ with near identical wording to the threats contained in today’s release from the desk of the Chief of Police. At least, I was summoned, not subjected to a terrorist midnight arrest. Some irony!
“The same pattern Pavlovian conduct manifested itself under yet another supposed democratic ruler who personally declared that the gathering of civilians to deliberate on, and propose a constitution for the nation was ‘high treason’ and would be resisted by the full rigour of state power if we persisted.
“The Inspector-General of Police mobilised his forces and issued inflammatory proclamations, but PRONACO went ahead despite all the thundering from Aso citadel. Can the police ever learn anything from their tear-gassing and brutalising of grieving mothers who marched peacefully to protest the deaths of their children in a plane crash inferno?
“Their mission, under that same regime, which was simply to deliver a letter to the government house in Lagos, demanding greater safety in airline operations, yet such a rational intent, born of traumatic circumstances, was quashed on the sidewalks of a supposed twentieth century nation.
“And yet again, even a faceless cabal under yet another civilian regime refused to be left out of the insensate play of power. A march on Aso Rock calling for an end to governance by a ghostly entity was slated to be crushed, but fortunately, a conflicting balance of interests decided in favour of a reduced trajectory of protest. And so on and on and on, in a nation which continues to speak at once through both sides of the mouth, spewing out the same treason monotone, as if this was a magic incantation that could substitute for the venting of mass feelings, even as collective therapy.”
Soyinka said in the light of the tension in the country, arrest and detention of protesters would be counter-productive.
“If we cannot learn from the histories and experiences of other societies, let us, at least, learn from ours. Freedom is not so glibly qualified. It cannot be doled out like slops of charity from soup kitchens. Let the police stick to their task of protecting and managing protests, not attempt to place their own meaning and declaration of intent on bogey words like – revolution,” Soyinka said.
Peaceful protests not act of treason, treasonable felony – Falana
Falana also on Sunday condemned the ban of the planned Monday’s protests.
In a statement on Sunday, Falana said protest marches or call for revolution by the protesters was never an act of treasonable felony under any law in Nigeria.
He noted that with the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra in 2017 and the recent proscription of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, also known as Shi’ites, there was a dangerous trend categorising the activities of the critics of President Buhari administration as either terrorism or treasonable felony.
He explained that no provisions of section 37 and 41 of the Criminal Code Act, and the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act or any order law criminalised peaceful protests or call for revolution as an act of treason, treasonable felony, or terrorism.
He noted that the Nigeria Police Force had only capitalised on the use of the word “revolution” to criminalise the planned protests.
He wondered why the leaders of the All Progressives Congress were not charged for claiming to have terminated the Peoples Democratic Party’s rule through “democratic revolution” in 2015.
He said, “From the above definitions of treason, treasonable felony and terrorism, it is crystal clear that the organisers of the peaceful rallies cannot be said to have planned to engage in acts of terrorism or formed an intention to remove President Muhammadu Buhari from office.
“The intention of the organisers of the rallies to protest the worsening security situation in the country, demand payment of N30,000 minimum wage to workers and job creation for our army of unemployed youths e.t.c. cannot by any stretch of imagination be said to constitute terrorism or treason in any material particular.
“No doubt, the Nigeria Police Force has capitalised on the use of the word “revolution” to criminalise the protests. If revolution has become a criminal offence in Nigeria why were the leaders of the APC not charged for claiming to have carried out Nigeria’s democratic revolution which terminated the 16-year rule of the PDP in 2015? Why was Dr Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, the presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party not threatened with treason when he asked Nigerians to rise up for revolution via the 2019 general elections?
“Did all Nigerian senators led by the APC members not commit treason or terrorism when they spent one and a half hours on May 14, 2019 to debate Senator Chukwuka Utazi’s timely motion on ‘Bridging the gap between the haves and have-not to nip in the bud the seeds of a looming violent revolution’?”
Nigeria sliding to dark days of military regime – CSOs
Also, some civil society groups slammed the Federal Government for opposing the planned protests.
The Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, condemned what he called the abduction of Sowore by the DSS.
He stated, “At a time when democracy is being entrenched and strengthened all over the world, Nigeria is sliding back to the dark days of military regime where citizens are being hounded and afraid to ask salient questions as to how they should be governed.”
The Advocates of People’s Right and Justice also condemned the arrest and detention of Sowore, insisting that it was the right of every citizen to protest by expressing their opinions on issues that affected them.
The APRJ Coordinator, Victor Giwa, emphasised that Sowore’s arrest on the basis of a call for protest, “is illegal and unconstitutional as the protest is to call on citizens to express their rage if they have any against the government.”
Condemnations also came from the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Civil Liberties Organisation, Middle Belt Youth Council and the National Council of Tiv Youths.
The President of the CDHR, Malachi Ugwummadu, said the best that the police could do in the circumstance was to mobilise its operatives to keep proper surveillance on the protests.
The Director of the CLO, Steve Aluko, told one of our correspondents that citizens had a right to protest.
He said, “It is an ineligible right, the government that makes policies and programmes that promote inhumanity, marginalisation and vulnerability of its people only propels the engine room to incite the people to legitimate revolt.”
Nobody should attempt RevolutionNowprotests in Rivers, Wike warns
But the Rivers State State Governor, Nyesom Wike, warned that nobody should attempt the RevolutionNow protests in the state, insisting that the state would not be part of it.
Wike, who spoke through a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu, explained that the state did not subscribe to what such protests represented.
The governor directed security agencies in the state to arrest anybody involved in the protests and also take all necessary steps to prosecute such persons.
Middle Belt youths back anti-FG protesters
Also, the President of the MBYC, Emman Zopmal, told The PUNCH that President Buhari was overstepping his constitutional boundaries.
Also, the Third Force Movement of Nigeria under the umbrella of the Nigeria Intervention Movement also described peaceful protests as a constitutional right of all citizens.
The group said this in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Olusegun Obe. It said it was illegal to criminalise or victimise any citizen for openly opposing the Federal Government’s policies
We arrested Sowore for threatening public safety – DSS
But the DSS confirmed the arrest and detention of Sowore.
The spokesman for the DSS, Dr Peter Afunnaya, confirmed this development to journalists at the DSS Headquarters, in Abuja, on Sunday.
He said, “Whether Sowore is with the DSS or not? The answer is in the affirmative, he is with us.
“And why is he with us? He has crossed the lines, he has threatened public safety. Sowore, as a matter of fact, has threatened the peaceful coexistence, social harmony of Nigeria. There is apprehension, there is anxiety, citizens and residents are worried as to what will happen next.”.
We won’t participate in anti-FG protests –Northern group
But the Coalition of Northern Group distanced itself from the planned revolution march.
The CNG declared that those organising the protests were “couriers of foreign destabilisation plot that are not in the interest of the North.”
Addressing a press conference at the Arewa House in Kaduna on Sunday, the CNG’s spokesman, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said the North would not participate in the protest.
According to him, the group will not participate, support or encourage any actions that are potentially dangerous to the North.
He, therefore, called on all northerners to shun the protests and resist any attempt to be dragged into participating in any way in a movement that would turn out to the disadvantage of the region.
Soyinka, others are blackmailers, revolution won’t be tolerated – Presidency
But the Presidency has replied notable Nigerians opposing the action taken by the DSS in arresting Sowore.