• Lawyer calls for release of Sowore, other activists •Lagos CP Intervenes
Nseobong Okon-Ekong, Martin Ifijeh, Sunday Ehigiator and Ayodeji Akea
Human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana and other prominent Nigerian human right activists, yesterday vehemently protested the arrest of participants of a symposium organised by the Coalition for Revolutionary (CORE) movement in Lagos, as they also condemned the action of the police in the sealing off of the venue for the planned event.
Those participants were arrested when operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Army at the early hours of yesterday morning stormed the venue scheduled for the symposium in Ikeja, Lagos, by the members of the CORE movement and notable activists in Nigeria and sealed it.
The action of the security agents eventually led to an altercation between members of the group and the operatives, leading to the arrest of three members of the group.
However, the event which was scheduled to hold at the Lagos Centre located at Oregun in Ikeja, was billed to be attended by Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Omotoye Olorede, Falana, Mr. Femi Aborishade, Gbenga Komolafe, Affiong L. Affiong, and other notable groups such as, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Teachers Union Congress, Centre for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), among others.
It was learnt that the symposium with the theme: ‘Democracy, State Repression and the State of Insecurity in Nigeria,’ was believed to be related to the #RevolutionNow movement and the arrest of its leader, the presidential candidate of the African Alliance Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowole,.
Falana who also protested against the eventual sealing off of the venue for the event by security operatives, however, called for the release of Sowole, who was arrested by the DSS on August 5, adding that using the word revolution to champion protests does not amount to treason.
The symposium, which the organisers described as a working consultative assembly of activists and organisations against illegal detention of Nigerians by the federal government, was however held after the initial hiccups following the intervention of the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Zubairu Muazu.
He said the actions of the Nigerian Police in disrupting the symposium amount to illegality, declaring that citizens have the right to peaceful protest, and that it was the role of security agencies to provide protection for participants.
The human rights lawyer, in his speech, said: “I can assure you that we are going to hold the programme peacefully. Since the Nigeria Police Force is around, then they should provide security for us. We have the right to discuss the affairs of the country without violence, and I can assure of that.
“The law in Nigeria is that the police have a duty as security officers to protect us when we want to have a rally or a political meeting so that no other person would prevent us from achieving our aim of peaceful assembly, as the right to meet, is guaranteed in section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, and section 40 gives us the right to assemble and discuss the affairs of our country.
“The amended code of the police states that when there is a protest, the police should be neutral, and should not take a side with the government or protesters.”
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria said the initial disruption by the police reminded him of the dark days of late General Sani Abacha, where protesters were disrupted, adding that he knew many participants may have turned back. “I was informed that about three people were arrested this morning, and I will make sure they are released unconditionally.
“Those who took to the streets to protest against injustice can’t be charged for breaching any law. It may interest you to know that even under the colonial regime, Nigerians fought and defended their rights,” he said.
On the arrest of Sowore, Falana said there was no section of the Nigerian Constitution that criminalises the word ‘revolution’, adding that the DSS claim of investigating him has no place in the law.
According to him, “It can only be criminal if you actualise the use of the word. The man was arrested before the demonstration. When we get to that bridge, we will cross it. The word revolution had been used in the past, even during the colonial era.”
He enjoined the participant to imbibe the culture of persistence and endurance as the key to revolution.
“The course for revolution is not new. Political leaders in this country have been calling for revolution, so if there is a mistake now, that mistake must be corrected. As far as I am concerned, this country belongs to all of us. They said we shouldn’t go on the streets, and now, we are trying to gather in a hall, still, they won’t allow us.
“Revolution is not a dinner party; it is a rigorous contest for the soul of the country. The struggle is going to take time and there is no going back. We do not have the revolution yet but there are revolution pressures. It will come sooner than we think. This country occupies a prominent place in history, and if we don’t get it right today, the black nation is doomed,” he added.
On his own, Afro musician, Seun Kuti, who was one of the guest speakers at the symposium, charged participants to stand firm for positive revolution for the future generation.
Kuti said: “Nobody in Nigeria is law-abiding. I see little children crossing the road where there are no zebra crossings. What does it mean to be law-abiding? Everybody is willing to break the laws for our personal interest. The matter of revolution is not about being law-abiding or not, but we want to do it collectively for our unborn children.
“RevolutionNow for me was meant to bring freedom, because revolutionary action is a reflective action. Revolutionary work is not about saving somebody but ourselves. In whatever decisions that have been made, we have the right to come under any banner to protest without being arrested.”
One of the Co-conveners of CORE, Mr. Seyi Ajayi, reminded Nigerians that democracy and the relative freedom the country enjoys today is a product of a struggle. “They will take away our rights only if we allow them. The first thing to drop is our fear. It is necessary to understand that it will be a protracted struggle. The revolution is not going to happen overnight,” he said.