•Protests hijacked to destabilise FG, says Mohammed
•Lawan, Gbajabiamila meet Buhari, ask demonstrators for more time
•Defence minister cautions against undermining national security
•NGF: Govs concerned about rising anger
Kingsley Nwezeh, Olawale Ajimotokan, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja and James Sowole in Akure
A showdown between security forces and #EndSARS activists may be in the offing as the protesters yesterday unfolded plans to scale up the campaign to force the federal government to meet their demands to stop alleged police brutality, among others, by blocking critical road arteries in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Lagos, the country’s economic nerve centre.
The protesters, in a tweet, said today, they would block three of the FCT’s most strategic highways: the Kubwa- Zuba Expressway, the Abuja International Airport Road and the Abuja-Keffi Road.
The threat came on the heels of an allegation by the federal government that hoodlums and people with ulterior motives have hijacked the ongoing #EndSARS campaign to destabilise the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, while featuring in a radio programme at the weekend, wondered why the protest is still going on despite the fact that the federal government had met some of the campaigners’ demands.
He warned that the federal government could not allow the disruption to social and economic activities to persist.
He spoke just as government officials stepped up efforts to de-escalate the tension generated by the protest that has disrupted socio-economic activities.
In continuation of the troubleshooting process, the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, met with the president at the State House, Abuja.
The duo also called on the protesters to discontinue their nationwide protest and give the federal government time to implement its response to their five-point demands.
The Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd), in his intervention yesterday cautioned the protesters against breaching national security.
Besides, the Chairman of the South-west Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ondo State, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), has also alleged that the genuine movement is already being hijacked by politicians to visit their frustrations on perceived opponents.
Governors, under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), however, expressed concern about discontent, hunger and anger in the country, believed to be fuelling public angst, and pledged to work with other stakeholders to find a lasting solution.
The protesters, in a series of tweets, said the FCT roads would be barricaded from 6 am today.
To make real their threat, some of them planned to pass the night at the Central Business District near the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to ease their movements for the demonstration.
They have also vowed to shut down the apex bank tomorrow by preventing workers from gaining access to the building.
The demonstrations in Abuja have been intensified in spite of the ban by the FCT Administration Security Committee on protests in the city.
Any disruption of vehicular flow on any of the routes will affect economic and social activities in the FCT and other neighbouring states and communities.
The Abuja-Keffi Road that passes through AYA Junction in Asokoro links the nation’s capital with the North-central, North-east and South-east while travellers going to Niger State and the North-west access the FCT through the 10-lane Kubwa-Zuba Expressway.
The Airport Road, otherwise known as the Umar Musa Yar’Adua Road, connects the western corridor with North-central and the entire southern states, including the nation’s commercial capital, Lagos.
Its blockade on Friday inflicted untold hardship on workers and other commuters, many of whom walked for hours to get to their destinations.
THISDAY gathered yesterday that the threat by the protesters to blockade the FCT, if carried out, could force the federal government, which is under the pressure to restore normalcy, to take all lawful measures to dislodge the marchers.
In Lagos, the protesters kept vigil on strategic roads last night with a promise to escalate the protest today.
Reacting to the continuation of the protest despite the federal government’s concessions, Mohammed, in a Radio Nigeria programme monitored by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, said the federal government has met the demands of the group and is already implementing them and expected them to also, call off the protests.
He stated that it was absurd for the protesters to remain on the streets causing mayhem, obstructing movements and inflicting pains on Nigerians.
He said: “When you look at the demands of the #EndSARS and the decisions of the federal government, it is clear that there is no single demand of the group that has not been met.
“Therefore, one will begin to ask if there is an ulterior motive because what we have witnessed in the last few days is that they have moved their demands from five to seven.
“As soon as the government approved one demand, another one will follow.
“From the five demands, which were initially tabled and have been addressed, they are now including petrol price, National Assembly salaries and allowances, electricity tariff among others.
“Then you begin to ask yourself what exactly is the motive of the protests and who are those behind them?”
According to the minister, it is more nauseating that the protest has gone violent, claiming lives and causing injuries as well as destruction to property.
He said Saturday’s assassination attempt on Osun State Governor, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola, who came out to identify with the protesters and address them showed that the protest had been hijacked.
Mohammed said the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Mohammed Bello, was equally turned back on the road by the protesters in Abuja.
According to him, “Peaceful protest is synonymous with democratic tenets and to that extent, we see the EndSARS protest as the manifestation of how far our democracy has developed.
“Regrettably, the protest has been hijacked by hoodlums and by people with ulterior motives bent at destabilising the country.
“As of today, many people in many parts of the country simply cannot go out because people are being intimidated and roads have been blocked.
“There was a report of a pregnant woman that died inside the ambulance simply because she could not get to the hospital because of the protesters.
“This cannot be allowed to continue because where your right stops another person’s rights begin.
“While the government will continue to engage, no responsible government will fold its arms and allow the state to be thrown into anarchy.”
Lawan, Gbajabiamila Meet Buhari, Plead for More Time to Respond to Demands
Lawan and Gbajabiamila after a meeting with Buhari yesterday called on the protesters to discontinue the nationwide protest since the federal government had accepted their five-point demands.
Both spoke with State House correspondents after their meeting with the president.
Lawan stated: “I want to thank Mr President for exhibiting his very deep democratic credentials. The protests have gone on for over 10 days, probably today is the 11th day across many states of the country.
“I think the protesters have expressed their legitimate rights, the government has listened and the essence of coming to meet Mr. President is to review the situation and see the roles the two arms of government should play in ensuring that the five-point demands of the protesters are properly addressed.
“It is also very critical at this point to mention this. Since the protests have taken place and the issues have been accepted, the time has come for the protests to stop because the government needs to have sufficient time and conducive environment to implement the demands of the protesters.”
Lawan assured Nigerians that where legislative intervention would be required, the National Assembly would deal with such expeditiously to ensure that concerns of the youths would be addressed.
He stated that where the executive role is expected, “we are sure that the executive will also, expedite action and we will be watching to ensure that such demands are properly met.”
Gbajabiamila said the youths had done so well in terms of expressing their grievances, adding that it is important they don’t get side-tracked.
“Like I said, you have never heard it from Mr President, but now, he has said so. So, let us tarry a little while. Let us sit back.
“We have got what we want, let us sit back and see what happens.
“If you like, you begin your protests again if nothing happens in two weeks. But let us not continue this thing and lose the plot. That is what I don’t want,” he stated.
Defence Minister Cautions against Undermining National Security
The Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd), has cautioned protesters against breaching national security.
He said, protesters should not engage in acts that could lead to a breakdown of law and order.
A statement issued by the minister’s office urged youths to be “guided by the rule of law” and avoid “acts capable of undermining national security and the rule of law.”
Magashi spoke when the National Coordinator, Buhari Campaign Organisation (BCO), Mr. Danladi Pasali, led the executive committee of the organisation drawn from its headquarters, zonal and state levels on a courtesy visit to him in Abuja.
The minister called on the protesters to approach the #EndSARS protests with calmness.
He said the group should leverage on their structure in the 774 local government areas and 36 states of the federation as well as the Federal Capital Territory to gather intelligence and channel it to the appropriate authorities for action.
He assured them of the support of the ministry in raising the bar of national security.
Politicians Hijacking Protests, Say South-west Govs
The Chairman of the South-west Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ondo State, Akeredolu, has alleged that the protest has been hijacked by disgruntled politicians.
In a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr Ojo Oyewamide, the governor described the attack on Oyetola as unwarranted, misdirected and repulsive.
Akeredolu said the genuine movement was already being hijacked by politicians to attack perceived opponents.
He said: “Undoubtedly, the EndSARS movement had had a popular and receptive attitude to it by the majority of Nigerians, including policymakers, who have seen in it, an opportunity to deepen concern and redirect efforts towards veritable reforms aimed at achieving positive results.
“All the same, the desirability or otherwise of this movement appears to have come under a curious integrity test following the misdirected anger visited on Governor Oyetola.
“This act is a clear act of terrorism under the guise of a civil and supposedly peaceful protest that has been hijacked by criminals and hoodlums hired by politicians.
“This is more so, that dangerous weapons were said to have been deployed in the ignoble act.”
Akeredolu called on the organisers to rein in stakeholders involved in the protests in order to stratify between those with genuine, altruistic desires for reforms and elements who have offered themselves as mercenaries to unleash mayhem on innocent people.
Governors Concerned About Anger in Nigeria, Says NGF
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), chaired by Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has expressed concern about discontent, hunger and anger in the country, driving public angst that birthed the #EndSARS campaign.
It pledged governors’ readiness to work with other stakeholders to find a lasting solution.
The NGF said the raging nationwide #EndSARS protest resulted from years of pent-up emotions, adding that the governors are committed to larger reform of the polity not only in the police.
Fayemi spoke on behalf of the governors yesterday at a special thanksgiving mass held at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Old Garage in Ado Ekiti as part of activities to mark the second anniversary of his administration in office.
He said he understood the frustration of the youth who had taken to the streets for the past one week, noting that he had used his younger years to participate in similar protests against bad governance, especially military dictatorship.
Fayemi said: “There is a lot of anger in the land; there is a lot of hunger in the land; pent-up emotion. There is disillusion in the land. As a young man who spent much time in the barricades protesting bad governance, I can understand what is going on now.
“I and my colleagues are concerned and we are committed to reforms not just about SARS because we will be making a mistake that the general disaffection in the land is all about SARS.
“Like Your Lordship (the bishop) had said, the government should be allowed to address the problems that have cropped up.”
Stop Soldiers from Dispersing Protesters, Falana-led Group Tells Buhari
Meanwhile, the Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), a coalition of labour and civil society groups being led by a human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has warned the Buhari administration against deploying soldiers to disperse protesters from the streets.
Falana, in a statement issued in Abuja yesterday on behalf of ASCAB, also vowed to report the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, to the International Criminal Court (ICC), in The Hague if soldiers kill any protester.
He urged the federal government to withdraw plans to use soldiers to quell the protests that have rocked major cities across Nigeria.
The statement was issued against the backdrop of the announcement by the Nigerian Army to commence Exercise Crocodile Smile VI from Tuesday till December 31, as part of its effort to enhance national security.
But Falana, who is the Chairman of ASCAB, warned that “Buhari should not invite soldiers to resolve a purely democratic issue that calls for dialogue and constructive engagement.”
ASCAB noted that protests have common features across the world as seen in Hong Kong, United States, France, South Africa, and Belarus and even in Sudan.
It added that in no instance were soldiers deployed to suppress the protesters.
It said the Operation Crocodile Smile had been declared illegal by a Nigerian court with competent jurisdiction following legal actions filed by Falana.
It added that efforts by the Chief of Army Staff to challenge the order by approaching the Court of Appeal met a brick wall.
Nigerian-born Canadian Minister Endorses Protests, Narrates Ordeal
A Nigerian-born lawyer and Minister of Justice in a Canadian Province, Mr. Kaycee Madu, has endorsed the #EndSARS movement.
Madu narrated how his cousin, Mr. Chrisantus Korie, was killed by the police in Nigeria in 2013.
In a series of tweets at the weekend, Madu said his cousin’s murder was not investigated by the police and all efforts to get justice became futile.
He acknowledged his support for the #EndSARS protest and encouraged all Nigerians to lend their voices to the fight for freedom from police brutality and injustice.
He said: “I support the people of Nigeria as they protest to end police brutality and extrajudicial killings. My own cousin, Chrisantus Nwabueze Korie, was murdered by the Nigerian police in April 2013.
“Despite my best efforts, the police would not investigate his murder and did everything to obstruct. I also helped to petition a committee of Nigeria’s National Assembly to probe the killing and report back to the house within a timely manner.
“Fundamental human rights like peace, security and freedom from police brutality are universal. The Nigerian government has an obligation to protect its citizens and deliver substantive police reform.
“Changing the name of SARS and reconstituting it without significant reform won’t be sufficient to satisfy the cry of the Nigerian people for justice.”
Let Your Voices Be Heard, Okonjo-Iweala Tells Protesters
Also, Nigeria’s candidate for the post of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and former Minister of Finance and Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has urged youths protesting against police brutality, extrajudicial killings and extortion to be peaceful.
While she commended the youths for being courageous, Okonjo-Iweala advised them to be united.
She gave the advice in a tweet yesterday.
“I applaud the resourcefulness and courage of Nigerian youth in the #EndSARS. Powerful to let your voices be heard peacefully. Let’s join hands for a positive outcome through a One Nigeria approach,” she tweeted.
EndSARS protests spread to London, Coventry, Edinburgh, Nottingham
Meanwhile, the protests against police brutality, extortion and extrajudicial killings have spread to London, Coventry, Edinburgh, and Nottingham.
The organisers of the protests made this known in an awareness image shared on social media.
The message on the image showed that the protests will be organised at several locations yesterday.
In Coventry, #EndSARS “peaceful protest” held at Coventry Transport Museum.
Another protest was organised by All BlackLivesMatter UK March against police brutality at the
Nigeria High Commission – Scotland Yard – Parliament Square.