THE rally being planned by some Nigerian youths to commemorate the first anniversary of last year’s bloody #EndSARS nationwide protests is heightening tension and generating fear among residents of Lagos State.
Those behind the planned rally have chosen Wednesday, October 20, for the commemoration which the police and the Lagos State government are insisting would not be allowed. Lagos became the epicentre of the protests when, on October 20, 2020, soldiers from Bonny Camp, 81 Division, fired live bullets at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate and the alleged killings that reportedly attended the shooting led to a global outrage that rattled both the state and federal governments.
The actual number of fatalities at the shooting scene is yet to be established despite multiple testimonies at the judicial panel set up by the state government to unravel the remote and immediate causes of the mayhem and compensate identifiable victims of police brutality.
The decision of the rally organisers to spotlight the shooting incident for commemoration is rattling security forces in the state, with the state police command confirming to Saturday Tribune that tactical teams had been deployed to ensure that no mayhem, the kind of which was witnessed last year, is visited on the state again.
In an earlier statement, the police spokesperson in the state, Adekunle Ajisebutu, had warned: “Credible intelligence at the disposal of the command has revealed clandestine plans by some youths, individuals or groups to embark on protest today in commemoration of the one year anniversary of ENDSARS. Lagosians and indeed Nigerians cannot afford to relive the distasteful experience of last year protest which caused pain, anguish, needless loss of lives and wanton destruction of public and private property.
“In view of the volatility of the present situations in the country and the breakdown of law and order which the planned protest might cause, the Lagos State police command sternly warns against any form of protest today. The command wishes to use this medium to warn the youths, groups or associations planning such protest to jettison the idea forthwith.
“The police in the state will not fold their arms and allow some misguided elements disrupt the peace and serenity currently being enjoyed in the state. To forestall breakdown of law and order, the police will use all legitimate means within their constitutional powers to suppress the planned protest.
“Therefore, parents and guardians are advised to warn their children against participating in the planned protest. Individuals or groups sponsoring such protest are also warned to, in their own interest, desist from such unpatriotic plan or face the full weight or wrath of the law.”
When the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, was contacted for the position of the state government, he referred Saturday Tribune to the above position of the police, invariably adopting it as the stance of the state’s leadership. He however gave the assurance that if the need arose for the state government to speak further on the matter, he would reach out to this newspaper.
As of press time, he had yet to add anything new to police position.
He had said earlier that the matter was police’s to handle as the security body in charge of civil issues.
No going back
Meanwhile, those behind the rally are insisting that nothing would stop it, with a major patron of the civil society coalition, Mr Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, assuring that they had the constitution behind them.
Rinu Oduala, a major revelation from the protests last year, who further raised eyebrows when she quit the Lagos State judicial panel probing alleged police brutality over the reopening of Lekki Toll Gate after the shooting, has weighed in, telling the police that any attack from them would be resisted. Sahara Reporters quoted her as saying that the state police boss, Hakeem Odumosu and his officers had no right to clamp down on peaceful protesters.
She ruled out any decision to back down on the part of the rally planners. The planners of the event have even gone ahead to make their plans public, with memorial services listed for a church, a mosque and Lekki Toll Gate, the venue of last year’s shooting and alleged extrajudicial killings.
With black shirt chosen as the dress code, one of the fliers announcing the programme reads: “As part of the programme lined up for 1st year memorial of the historic #EndSARS protests during which hundreds were killed and even many more were maimed and unjustly imprisoned, there will be these religious services to pray for the repose of the souls of the departed, peace and justice, in deference to the three faith traditions in Nigeria. “Friday, October 15th 2021, Jumaat Service at Jumaat Suadr Central Mosque, beside MRS Filling Station, by the pedestrian bridge, Ojota.
“On Saturday, 16th October, the protesters plan to converge for traditional rites on the Fela Shrine, Ikeja. Sunday, 17th October: church service at Lagos Christian Centre.”
Calls made to the mobile line of popular comic, Debo, a.k.a Mr Macaroni, who was one of the prominent leaders of the protests last year, were not answered. He also did not reply to messages to him asking for his response to the threat of disruption by the police. The police in the state are not leaving any stone unturned to prevent the memorial programme, with massive deployment of policemen and equipment to places like Lekki, Ikeja and Surulere.
A police source told Saturday Tribune that “the command is putting everything in place to prevent any breakdown of law and order. In the next few days, you will observe massive presence of policemen in different parts of the state. All Divisional Police Officers and Area Commanders have also been directed on what to do by the state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu.”
It was gathered that policemen would be stationed in places like Lekki Toll Gate, Ojota, Ikeja, Ajah, Maryland and Surulere before the anniversary date.
The state police spokesman, Ajisebutu, said: “Aside from the press release issued recently warning against the protest, the Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, has taken proactive steps by deploying adequate police officers, including tactical teams, PMF, RRS , plain-cloth police officers and others to prevent breakdown of law and order in all parts of the state.
“The command is ready to deploy any means legitimate to protect lives and property of all law-abiding citizens in the state.” Ajisebutu, a Superintendent of Police, added: “All these, we assure, will be done professionally.”
In full endorsement of the rally, Falana, said: “Section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020 provides as follows: “Where a person or organisation notifies the police of his or its intention to hold a public meeting, rally or procession on a public highway or such meetings in a place where the public has access to, the police officer responsible for the area where the meeting rally or procession will take place shall mobilize personnel to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession.”
He added: “In view of the fact that the police authorities have been notified of the public rallies scheduled to hold on October 20, 2020 to mark the first year anniversary of the #EndSARS protests, the Nigeria Police Force is required to make arrangements for the provision of adequate security for the participants at the venues of the rallies.
“I am compelled to call on the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Usman Baba Alkali, to direct the Commissioners of Police in all the states of the federation to ensure that adequate security is provided for all citizens who may wish to protest against the policies of the government which are considered inimical to their interests.
“Since police permit has been outlawed and banned in Nigeria by the Federal High Court and affirmed by the Court of Appeal, the Nigeria Police Force cannot be permitted to ban rallies without a repeal of the law on public meetings, rallies and processions in the country.
“In other words, the ban on public protests announced by the police authorities cannot obliterate the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Nigerians to assemble peacefully and express themselves.