Govt defends troops in Lagos, Braithwaite, others kick

Bello-defence-ministerTHE opposition to the presence of soldiers on Lagos streets to prevent fresh protest against the Federal Government’s increase of the pump price of petrol is still unabated.

Yesterday, Lagos, traditional rulers, elder statesmen led by Dr. Tunji Braithwaite and Prof. Ben Nwabueze, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Senator Gbenga Ashafa, among others demanded the immediate withdrawal of the troops.

But the Defence Minister, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed and the Army authorities in Lagos said they were not in hurry to pull out their men from the streets. They said the soldiers would only leave the metropolis on the order of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Mohammed said the deployment of military, police and other security personnel in Lagos was to stop some people from using the suspended strike by organised Labour to cause anarchy in the country.

He told journalists in Abuja that the troops will be withdrawn immediately the situation normalise.

Explaining the rationale behind the deployment of troops in the state following President Goodluck Jonathan’s Monday morning national broadcast, the minister said: “We learnt through security reports that there were people who were not members of the labour unions but had plans to use the strike to cause anarchy. When it was clear that Labour was to reach an agreement with government, they were to cause issues and show that the Nigerian government is killing its citizens as in Syria and the Maghreb region.

“We decided that it is our responsibility to stop violence and to forestall anarchy and disorder. And that the best way is to forestall them and to prevent them. That is why we deployed security agencies to deter this. The military were deployed to back up the police. And as soon as the situation is brought to normal, they (troops) will be redeployed back to the barracks.”

A senior Army officer, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian yesterday that soldiers were in the state to ensure law and order.

The National Action Coalition of Democratic Forces in Nigeria asked the government to immediately withdraw the troops.

At a press conference yesterday in Lagos, the leaders of the coalition Dr. Tunji Braithwaite and Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN) said that, “the peaceful demonstration of Nigerians against the cruel fuel hike with more than 100 per cent is nowhere near the exaggerated security breach used by Jonathan to call out troops on our streets.”

According to Braithwaite, Nigerians have a right to protest against any measures or government policies, “and this had been done peacefully in the past one week.

“Calling on the troops to occupy our streets is not only grotesque but also an apocalyptic action, which may yet determine the outcome of this peaceful protest, “ he said.

Beyond the issue of subsidy, the coalition derided the 1999 Constitution, which Braithwaite said “is the ‘Decree 24’ of 1999 imposed on the people by the military junta.”  He said there is a need for a “thorough dissection of that constitution, among other things.”

The SNG, which rejected the unilateral fixing of pump price at N97 by the government, threatened to challenge the fuel price hike and the deployment of soldiers in Lagos in court.

At a press conference at its headquarters in Ikeja, the leader of the group, Pastor Tunde Bakare, said the heads of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress, neither consulted with the SNG nor its allies before calling off the strike.

He stated that even though the government had reduced the price to N97 a litre, SNG had not shifted ground from the original stand of N65 a litre, which would be the basis for negotiation with the regime.

The Lagos State Elders, Council of Obas and Chiefs have also called on the government to withdraw the troops.              .

At a press conference in Lagos yesterday, the council said “in the last eight days, we the elders and traditional rulers in Lagos State have made tremendous efforts to ensure that the nationwide strike declared by Labour to protest the removal of oil subsidy by the government does not degenerate in to violence and breach of public peace in the state.”

The council said no violence or outward actions have been recorded as its efforts had yielded results with protesters conducting themselves in a peaceful and reasonable manner that gave no room for harassment and intimidation of innocent people.

Also, religious leaders in the state have condemned the deployment of soldiers in the state and called for the immediate withdrawal of the troops from the streets.

At a press conference in Lagos yesterday, the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Monsignor Bernard Ayodele Okodua, said: “We find this development particularly unacceptable because Lagos State has always been an epitome of religious and ethnic harmony in this country.”

Also the Bishop of the Diocese of Lagos West, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Dr. Peter Awelewa Adebiyi has condemned the military invasion of Lagos.

In a statement made available to The Guardian by the Diocesan Communicator, Tunji Oguntuase, Adebiyi accused the Jonathan administration of “biting the fingers that fed it.”

Ashafa, who is representing Lagos East Senatorial District, decried the presence of armed soldiers in the state and called on Jonathan to withdrawal them.

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