BEVERLY HILLS, February 13, (THEWILL) – Police today arrested dozens of #OccupyLekkiTollGate protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, sparking off a rash of harsh criticisms for authorities.
Comedy skit producer and popular comedian, Debo Adebayo, also known as Mr. Macaroni, was among those whom heavily armed police took into custody.
However, widespread condemnation greeted the police clampdown on what like the October 2020 demonstrations had meant to be a peaceful protest.
Reacting to the arrest, Amnesty International cautioned security agencies to desist from intimidating peaceful protesters demanding an end to bad governance, police brutality and man’s inhumanity to man against the citizens.
The international rights group called on President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, Lagos State’s Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Nigerian Police Force and other relevant authorities to demonstrate commitment to protecting the right to peaceful protest.
Amnesty International charged the Federal Government to stop intimidating peaceful protesters.
Femi Falana, a Senior advocate of Nigeria, said he had been informed by the Lagos State Attorney-General that the arrested protesters would appear before a mobile court in Yaba, Lagos.
According to Falana, they were being held at the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, where his chambers had dispatched lawyers to represent the protesters.
Falana, interim Chairman of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) also demanded the immediate release of the protesters.
In a statement on Saturday, Falana said ASCAB had confirmed the arrest of no fewer than 20 youths over the planned peaceful protest at the tollgate.
He said the fundamental rights of the protesters were crudely breached, and called for them to be immediately set free.
“By arresting the protesters instead of providing them with adequate security the Police engaged in a provocative contravention of section 83 (4) of the Nigeria Police Act which states as follows: Where a person or organization 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 to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession,” the statement by Falana read.
“ASCAB calls on the Lagos state commissioner of police to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of the protesters because they did not commit any criminal offence by exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria.”
ASCAB also urged the Lagos State Judiciary not to allow courts to be used to cover up the illegality that was perpetrated.
Rinu Oduala, #EndSars campaigner and former youth representative on the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing the October 20 shooting of protesters by soldiers at the Lekki toll gate, advised Buhari, Sanwo-Olu, the police, senators and House of Representatives members to urgently release #OccupyLekkiTollGate protesters.
She equally warned that no harm should befall Mr. Macaroni, who was arrested alongside others.
Reacting via her twitter handle, the rights activist emphatically noted that Nigerians got treated like slaves and criminals just for demanding for rights.
Her words: “They are not letting lawyers see the arrested protesters. The Police said they have direct orders from the Lagos State Governor to arrest protesters & known frontliners of the #EndSARS protests & will soon move them to Ikeja. Jide SanwoOlu, are these forces beyond your control?
“They have started transferring protesters from Adeniji Police Station to Ikeja State Command without letting their lawyers see them. CP Odumosu, you dance to the tune of your masters, forgetting that you were appointed to serve the people.
“You forget one day, you will leave office and return back to being an ordinary citizen. Your House of Representatives, chairmen, councillors, senators are all refusing to pick calls to get protesters released.
“They are all turning a blind eye to the infringement on fundamental human rights. I just hope Lagosians will remember. We forget too soon. Is this happening right now?! My God! This is brutality and torture right in front of our eyes!
“Nothing must happen to Mr. Macaroni. The Police will arrest until they get tired! Under Buhari’s democracy, we beg for our rights to be recognized. We get treated as slaves and criminals just for demanding our rights.
“The Nigerian Ministry of Justice has nothing to say about the ongoing injustice?! Mudashiru Obasa, we elected you to speak for the people. You have nothing to say? Femi Gbajabiamila, you have nothing to say? CP Odumosu says he doesn’t know where arrested protesters are being held.
“That was how Pelumi Onifade was killed and dumped in a mortuary. The CP didn’t also know where he was held. Odumosu, release the protesters!!”
SImilarly, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) demanded the release of all arrested protesters.
SERAP also said it would pursue legal actions if the arrested protesters failed to regain their freedom immediately and unconditionally.
“We urge Nigerian authorities and the Nigeria Police Force to immediately and unconditionally release #EndSARS protesters detained simply for peacefully exercising their human rights. Authorities should also cease harassing people peacefully exercising their human rights.
“The United Nations and concerned governments should press the Nigerian authorities to end the crackdown on peaceful protesters, and unconditionally release those arbitrarily detained.
“We’ll pursue appropriate legal actions if the #EndSARS protesters arbitrarily arrested simply for peacefully exercising their human rights are not immediately and unconditionally released. Peaceful assembly is a fundamental right”, it said in a string of tweets.
Human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, also called for the unconditional release of all protesters arrested at the tollgate.
The Senior Advocate said in a statement on Saturday that he was “saddened and devastated” by the dehumanisation of the protesters by security operatives.
Adegboruwa, who is also a member of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing alleged killing of #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at the Lekki toll gate, said he could not continue to sit at the panel when fresh assaults were being perpetrated with impunity.
He said, “I have been monitoring events at the Lekki Toll Gate since morning, and I am totally overwhelmed with the images, videos and sundry evidence of police brutality of armless civilians, who ventured to protest at the Toll Gate. In one particular video, I saw citizens of Nigeria being dehumanized, striped half naked and cramped together in a rickety bus. This is totally unacceptable.
“While we are yet to come to terms with the events of October 20, 2020, it becomes worrisome that the security agencies have not learnt any positive lesson from those occurrences. I commend the protesters for their peaceful conduct.
“I cannot in good conscience continue to sit at any Panel of Inquiry to heal wounds and end police brutality, when fresh assaults are being perpetrated with impunity. Consequently, I am presently consulting with my constituency within the civil society, as to my continued participation in the EndSARS Judicial Panel.
“I hereby demand the immediate release of all those arrested in connection with the peaceful protest at the Lekki Toll Gate today. On no account should anything happen to any of them while in the custody of the police.
“I appeal for calm on all sides, in order not to escalate the worsening security situation across the land. I cannot fail to point out the fact that the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is a product of protest and civil disobedience. Let history vindicate the just. Aluta Continua, Victoria Ascerta!”
Meanwhile, organisers suspended the #DefendLagos protest scheduled to hold at the same time and place to counter the #OccupyLekkiTollGate event.
Announcing the suspension in a virtual press conference earlier today, the convener, Alabi Oladimeji, said the decision was out of respect to the authorities.