By G9ija

Attempts, yesterday, to stop protests against Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) failed as activists refused to be cowed and took their actions to wider dimensions. It came as northern governors and youths in some states of the north insisted that the controversial police unit should be retained and sent to the region to fight insecurity.

The ENDSARS protests continued in Lagos, Abuja and other major cities of the country as the European union backed the agitations. The protesters continued their agitations in defiance of official actions and warnings meant to deter them.

In a veiled warning the Nigerian Army, late on Wednesday, announced its readiness to defend the country and its democracy at all cost.

The Army declared it was ready to fully support civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order.

The declaration was contained in a statement signed by Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sagir Musa. It was titled ‘Nigerian Army Remains Resolute to the Peace and Stability of the Nation.’

He warned “subversive elements and troublemakers to desist from any action that would affect the country.”

It stated: “As a responsible and law-abiding organisation, the NA reaffirms its unalloyed loyalty and commitment to the President, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the Constitution of the country.”

A similar statement from the military high command, yesterday warned against any violent attack on peaceful protesters by thugs and miscreants.

Coordinator, Defence Media Operations Defence Headquarters, Major General, John Emeche, said the unfolding event against ‘peace loving’ Nigerians would not be condoned.

He said “The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies have observed with dismay some violence-related protests across the country; particularly the increasing number of attacks on peaceful protesters by thugs and miscreants.

According to him, “ thugs and miscreants are hereby warned to desist from engaging in violent activities against peaceful Nigerians henceforth, or face appropriate measures.”

Enenche noted, Military High Command duly encourages peaceful citizens to go about their normal activities without fear of intimidation or harassment as the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies are on ground for their safety. “In clear terms, any attempt to undermine the democracy of our beloved nation under any cover will not be allowed.

“For emphasis, the Armed Forces of Nigeria remains subordinated to the civil authorities of the country with unflinching loyalty to the President/Commander in Chief.”

The warnings came as governors of northern states rejected disbandment of SARS, arguing that the unit had been useful in the fight against insecurity in the region.

BUT protesters, yesterday, resorted to self-help to guarantee their safety. Many of them hired private guards and procured pepper sprayers to ward off thugs. This was disclosed in Abuja by Deji Adeyanju, while responding to attack on #EndSars agitators at the popular Berger junction.

It came as the European Union in Nigeria (EU) said it was concerned by the incidents taking place in Nigeria around the protests that were already assuming national outlook.

It said: “EU is concerned by the incidents that took place during protests against Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Nigeria. Peaceful protests are part of a thriving democracy. The announcement that serious police reform will take place is an important step to secure rights of citizens.”

Adeyanju added that the solution to the attacks would be to buy hundreds of protective gears like pepper sprays. “We must also get bouncers around the protest venues.”

Meanwhile, there were doubts regarding the authenticity of the recall of SARS members back to Police headquarters, as some officers were on their duty post yesterday in Apo abbatoir. The SARS officers were seen at 7.40am gleefully clutching onto their guns but stayed away from the road.

Governors of the Northern states of the country, yesterday, opposed wholesale disbandment of SARS. They argued that the unit, under the auspices of the Nigeria Police, had been doing a job in the fight against insecurity in the region.

Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum and Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, spoke in Abuja while fielding questions from State House correspondents after he met with President Muhammadu Buhari.

Lalong argued that though the President had already approved the scrapping of SARS, the northern states did not believe the squad should be disbanded because of its shortcomings.

The governor said what was needed was reformation of the unit to enable it carry out its functions optimally. He, however, conceded that there were divisions in the country regarding the continued existence of the unit.

But the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), an umbrella body for all state executives in the country yesterday defied the National Economic Council (NEC) and asked IGP Adamu to disband the newly created Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT), which the police had announced in place of SARS. The governors stated this at the end of their 19th teleconference meeting headed by the NGF chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State. NEC had asked the 36 governors to take charge of SWAT, just as Federal Government said it had set up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate police brutality in all states and FCT. NEC also directed special victim fund in all states to compensate victims of brutality.

Fayemi, in a communiqué he signed, endorsed the ongoing plan to reform, describing the SWAT concept as “ill-timed.” The NGF urged IGP Adamu to immediately convene a meeting of all stakeholders to create a format of engagement with all state officials to address the concerns raised by protesting Nigerians.

ALSO yesterday, the Minister of Federal Capital Territory [FCT], Muhammad Bello, moved to stop the protest by announcing ban on street protests in Abuja, citing COVID-19 concerns.

Chief Press Secretary to the Minister, Anthony Ogunleye, in a statement, yesterday, in Abuja, noted that, while government recognised the rights of citizens as regards freedom of association and movement as enshrined in the constitution, it had observed that the unruly conduct of the crowd and manner of demonstrations were in complete violation of the COVID-19 safety protocols.

‘’These violations endanger the lives of not just the demonstrators but also other citizens going about their legitimate concerns. For the avoidance of doubts, the Covid-19 guidelines regulating public gatherings recommended physical distancing, temperature checks, the use of facial coverings, amongst others.

Clearly, these guidelines were flouted by the protesters,’’ he stated. He said the committee, based on the observations, had directed that all streets demonstrations, protests and processions would not be allowed anywhere within the FCT.

IN Lagos, the move to stop the protest turned physical as heavily armed thugs attacked activists on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. It was gathered that the attackers were allegedly conveyed in chartered BRT bus.

The thugs were seen with knives and other weapons and inflicted injuries on protesters. Eyewitnesses said the thugs gathered at the venue as early as 7a.m waiting for protesters to arrive and when the protesters got to the scene, they took advantage of the small number to attack them.

But, few minutes later, the protesters gathered at the Lagos Secretariat and proceeded, in large numbers, to Allen Avenue, Lagos.
Lagos State Government has, however, promptly denied using thugs to chase the EndSARS protesters around the state secretariat, Alausa.

In a statement, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso said: “The attention of the Lagos State Government has been drawn to some unverified reports in the social media alleging that the government-sponsored thugs to disrupt the #EndSARS protest. This is untrue and wicked.

“Such wild allegations were obviously concocted by enemies of peace and orderliness to whip up sentiments against the government, which has been doing everything possible to resolve the crisis by identifying with our youths in their efforts towards police reforms.”He added that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had been preaching peace.

“The Governor has addressed them twice – at the Lekki Toll Gate and at the House of Assembly. He even carried a placard and marched with the youths after assuring them that he felt their pains and that it was legitimate for them to protest.

“Besides, the governor visited the President to tender their five-point demand. He ensured that all the protesters arrested by the police were released unconditionally.”

EVEN participants in Kano in the #EndInsecurityNow protest that commenced yesterday in the north were not spared. The protest is organised by Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) as suspected hoodlums unleashed terror on them.

CNG led by Abdullazeez Suleiman had on Wednesday in Kaduna announced the decision of the groups to embark on mass peaceful protest across the 19 northern states beginning yesterday.

However, the rally that started peacefully at the Kofar Kabuga area of the metropolis turned violent when suspected hoodlums attacked with dangerous weapons.

Unruffled, the leader of #EndInsecurityNow protest, who insisted youths would restrategise on the next line of action, expressed worry over insecurity and criminality in the northern part of the country.

Despite the attacks, the protests gained momentum in parts of the country.
Scores of youths yesterday blocked the entrance to the National Assembly.

The youths, with placards and inscription, protesting an end to police brutality, chanted songs urging immediate reform of the police force.

They were, however, stopped at the entrance by stern-looking security agents numbering more than 50. The protesters insisted that leadership of National Assembly must address them before they leave the scene.

IN Kaduna, youths stormed the House of Assembly, demanding that the government put an end to insecurity, banditary and terrorism in Northern Nigeria.

The youths, who were armed with placards, also carried fresh leaves chanting anti-government slogans. They protesters stormed the streets in large numbers around 9:30am and marched from Wharff Road through Ali Akilu road to the State House of Assembly where they held workers hostage for hours.

Amid the agitations, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), yesterday, sued President Buhari and the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, for harassing #EndSARS protesters.

In the suit filed at Federal High Court, Lagos, the rights group is seeking an injunction over the ongoing intimidation, harassment and attacks on peaceful protesters campaigning against police brutality and corruption across the country.

The suit followed widespread protests demanding reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Joined as respondents in the suit are the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN and Commissioner of Police Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu.

In the suit number, FHC/L/CS/1451/2020 filed Thursday morning, SERAP is also asking the court for an order compelling and directing the Federal Government and Nigeria police to disclose the total number of protesters in the #EndSARS/#SARSMustEnd protests arrested across the country, their places of detention and details of allegations against them.
SIMILARLY, civil rights activist and former Senator representing Kaduna Central Zone, Shehu Sani, expressed support for the protest.

In a statement yesterday, he said the protest signified a new dawn of resistance and struggle for justice, rule of law and good governance.

“The nationwide protests is a message to those in power and authority that a revolution is impending in an atmosphere of social, economic and political inequities and infamy.”

Insisting that a revolution over the maladministration of the government would engender sanity on the nation’s economy and polity, Sani argued, “even though the trigger of the protest was police brutality, police reforms are not enough to address the underlining and provocative factors that compelled the mass of the youths to the streets.”

He said the political class had, for long, toyed with lives and future of youths who were left with no option but to revolt.

“Systemic plunder and theft of the national resources, mass unemployment, collapse of public education, widening gap between the rich, false and pretentious change mantra and the poor and stupendous and brazen display of wealth by the children of the rich and those in high public offices to the contempt of the children of the poor grievously inflames the anger of the revolutionary youths on the streets,” he said.

Also, a group called Coalition for Northern Group, Kebbi State chapter, has called on the Federal Government to end security challenges in the country, especially the northern part of the country.

This call was made yesterday during their peaceful demonstration to the Government House, Birnin Kebbi.

Addressing the gathering in front of the Government House, the state coordinator, Ibrahim Mohammed, said the Nigeria Government needed to support the security agents by give them enough encouragement for them to discharged their civic responsibilities.

Ibrahim expressed dismay over the high rate of killing, kidnapping, banditry, rituals and other criminal acts and appealed to the Kebbi State Government to support the security agents in the state for them to discharged their duties and reduce the crime in the state.

MEANWHILE, the Senate has urged #ENDSARS protesters across the country to stop the protests to give the Federal Government the chance to implement their demands.

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, who was responding to remarks by the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, on the intervention by the leadership on the matter, said the National Assembly would ensure that the five demands made by protesters are implemented.

Insisting that Nigerians have a right to peaceful protests, Lawan, however, expressed concern on the spate of violence in the protests.

Lawan said: “Nigerians have the right to peaceful demonstration. When they feel very strongly about issues, they can do so to call the attention of the leaders of this country for appropriate action to be taken.

“Both chambers of the National Assembly have identified with the protests that they are legitimate protests and demands and I think the next vital step is for the protests to stop because the initial reasons for the protests have been accepted as facts and government is trying to do everything possible,” Lawan noted.