Kingsley Nwezeh, Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja, Rebecca Ejifoma, Sunday Ehigiator in Lagos and Yinka Kolawole in Osogbo
Security agents yesterday swooped on members of the Omoyele Sowore-led #RevolutionNow Movement, who trooped out to protest the current hardships in the country.
The protesters, who marched on the streets of Abuja and Lagos around 9 am, carried placards with the inscription: “Nigerians are sick and tired of poverty, corruption, injustice and untimely death’; ‘Say no to injustice’, ‘Yes to a living wage for unemployed youths”.
Security personnel were earlier deployed in the various parts of Abuja in an apparent bid to halt the protest.
A combined team of police, Department of State Services (DSS), army and civil defence personnel was deployed in different parts of the Central Area and Maitama District, especially the Abuja Unity Fountain where the protest held.
Many of them were arrested and manhandled by the security agents who stormed the Unity Fountain and dispersed the persons protesting against socio-economic hardships in the country.
Abuja was in an unusual mode yesterday, as virtually all the strategic points were manned by stern-looking security operatives just after dawn, to prevent the protest organised to mark the first year of the arrest of #RevolutionNow founder, Omoyele Sowore, for his anti-government stance from holding.
Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Wuse 2, Jubilee Park and the Federal Secretariat/ Three- Arm Zone among other places were locked down by security men, whose presence intimidated many pedestrians.
There was commotion at the Berger intersection, in Wuse when DSS operatives arrested dozens of protesters and bundled them into big buses and the back of security vans and whisked them away to an unknown destination.
The development caused early morning traffic gridlock in the area, forcing many commuters to beat a retreat from the scene.
Some of the RevolutionNow protesters, who arrived at the Unity Fountain early in the morning, bore placards expressing their discontent with the country’s leadership, when security men raided the venue and descended on them.
In one of the placards, they were demanding for the immediate release of Lance Corporal Martins, who was detained by the Nigerian Army for uploading a video, criticising the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai.
The protesters also demanded the sacking of the service chiefs over the worsening security in many parts of the North, while also lamenting the high rate of unemployment in the country.
Those arrested were forced to lie face down and were later taken to the FCT Mobile Court where they were charged for violating COVID-19 guidelines.
However, they were later released because the presiding magistrate did not sit.
Deji Adeyanju, who was among the leaders of the protesters, condemned the heavy military presence in Abuja strictly to foil the civil action, while also lamenting the dehumanisation of protesters by overzealous security agents.
“None of our members were shot by the security forces. However, people were beaten, harassed, dehumanised and also arrested. The militarisation of Abuja is very unfortunate and that is one of the things we will remember the Buhari government for, including corruption. We are strategising our next move,” he said.
One of those arrested and arraigned before the FCT Mobile Court was the General Secretary, United Action for Democracy and a leading member of Take It Back Movement, Kunle Ajayi.
He said they came out to demand free functional and standard education and health.
“We are here to lead the revolution and protest for free functional and standard education at all levels, free functional and advanced healthcare, a very good example is under this COVID-19 pandemic that we are in.
Hospitals are not working, doctors are on strike, a lot of things are wrong with the country. We decided to mobilise community by community, street by street for people to come out and tell the government that enough is enough. That Nigerians want better education, better healthcare, and social welfare and topmost of it all is the issue of security. You cannot continue to do as if the country is a graveyard.
“As it is today in most part of this country, everybody is living without security. And that is why we wondered why we legally and constitutionally came to protest at the specific place that is assigned for protest in FCT, which is the Unity Fountain. We are in the place, with face masks and we observed social distancing and we came out to protest peacefully but we were chased out of the place not only were we chased out, but we were also beaten as well”, he said.
FCT Police Public Relations Officer and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Mr. Anjuguri Manza, said the deployment of security agents was a routine exercise.
“It is a routine deployment designed to protect lives and property. It is not because of any protest,” he said.
He said those arrested were being tried by mobile courts.
But Sowore disagreed, tweeting that “Police, army and airforce put Abuja in lockdown to frustrate #RevolutionNow.
“Police attack #RevolutionNow members at Unity Fountain in Abuja, protesters arrested and are being brutalised.”
“Several #RevolutionNow protesters were arrested by the police and the Nigerian Army in the Abuja metropolis on Wednesday”.
In Lagos, a journalist and activist, Agba Jalingo, and 18 other protesters were arrested by men of the Lagos State Police Command during the protest in Ikeja.
The protesters displayed placards and chanted solidarity songs as they moved around the roundabout located under the bridge opposite the Computer Village in Ikeja.
Members of the movement also had a tough time with the police in Lagos.
The group of protesters, clad in their signature orange berets and carrying various placards said they were protesting repression by the government, corruption, insecurity, and bad governance, among others.
However, some policemen who had been on standby at the location, after calling on the peaceful protesters to disperse, without any success, and seeing the growing crowd, fired teargas into the crowd, forcing the protesters, journalists and onlookers to scamper for safety.
In Osun State, DSS arrested Olawale Bakare and six other #RevolutionNow protesters wearing orange-colored caps around Olaiya area of Osogbo, the Osun State capital.
The protesters led by Bakare aka ‘Mandate,’ were armed with placards and had converged on Correspondents’ Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists located in the area and informed journalists that they wanted to address them.
While waiting outside for the leadership of the chapel to invite them in, some policemen approached them and held discussions with them.
While that was on, armed men of DSS swooped on the protesters and arrested seven of them.
The actions of the security operatives have been condemned by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).