A BID by the National Action Coalition led by some eminent Nigerians to carry on the protests engendered by the recent increase in the pump price of petrol was thwarted yesterday by the Police who prevented the protesters from getting to the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, Ojota, Lagos for a rally with a hail of tear gas.
Secretary, The June 12 Coalition, Nelson Ekujimi, collapsed in the pandemonium that trailed the police action but was later revived at the State General Hospital.
In a related development, the Lagos Police Command has turned down an official request by the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) to hold a rally tomorrow in Lagos.
In a letter addressed to the Command, the group had asked the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Yakubu Alkali, to grant it permission to protest at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park under a security arrangement that should be set up by the police.
But Alkali turned down the request, citing security reasons.
Leading yesterday’s protest were Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, Sheik Abduramah Amad, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, Nike Ransome-Kuti, Funmi Iyanda, Mr. Wale Okunniyi, Yemi Adamolekun, Kola Oyeneyin, Prof. Tony Kila, Mr. Wale Ogunade and Dr. Wale Balogun.
Again, the Defence Headquarters yesterday rose in defence of the deployment of troops in Lagos, saying that all military personnel that are part of last Sunday night’s deployment were members of the Lagos State sponsored Operation MESA and not an Army of occupation as alleged by critics.
Director of Defence Information, Col. Mohammed Yerima, told journalists in Abuja that the deployment was part of the military’s commitment to “the defence and protection of our country’s hard earned democratic credential.”
According to Yerima, “the attention of the Defence Headquarters has been drawn to the unsubstantiated claims by a section of the public alleging that the Federal Government ordered the deployment of troops in Lagos to halt the protest against the petrol subsidy removal. While the Defence Headquarters do not wish to join issues with any individual or groups regarding the matter, we wish to state categorically, in the interest of the larger society, that there is no element of truth in those claims.
Meanwhile, the SNG has dissociated itself from plans by some groups of people to occupy the tollgate on the Admiralty Circle of Lekki-Epe Expressway tomorrow.
At a media briefing in Lagos yesterday, the group’s spokesperson, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “We have information to the effect that some people are using the name of SNG to occupy the toll gate on the Admiralty Circle of Lekki-Epe Expressway on Saturday, while the only action the SNG has on Saturday is the ‘victory rally’ at Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park.”
Reacting to the disruption of the National Action Coalition rally, Odumakin said: “Intimidation cannot stop us. The more they do this, the more they show the international community that we do not have democracy in Nigeria.”
The protesters started off with a rally at the Lagos State House of Assembly where they were met by the Deputy Speaker of the House, Kolade Taiwo, who also condemned the deployment of troops across strategic locations in Lagos.
Taiwo added: “There is nothing wrong in protesting against bad governmental policies so far it is peacefully done. We are pledging our support for this struggle.”
But when the protesters made for the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, they were confronted by the Police at the 7Up area, with the security agents using tear gas to break up the procession.
The coalition has since condemned “the unprovoked disruption” as “undemocratic and uncivilised.”
But the Lagos Police Spokesman, Samuel Jinadu, said the Command had to break up yesterday’s protest as such gathering has been banned in the country after the strike was called off.
According to him, “they were not supposed to carry out any protest. They did not apply to us to carry out any protest, so they are not allowed to do so. We have to stop them because they were breaking the law.”
At the rally, Braithwaite, said: “The removal of the fuel subsidy issue is not yet settled because there are different constitutional deformities bedeviling the nation. We need to face this crucial issue once and for all because foreign economic exploiters are already using this as an avenue to rob the country.”
Condemning the Army’s deployment in Lagos, Braithwaite argued that the military belonged to the people, hence they should not be used as a tool of oppression against the people.
He stressed that “there is no religious or cultural divide in the country, but on the contrary, the opportunistic politicians use this to exploit the masses and because of this, the soldiers must leave our streets today.”
Braithwaite said the coalition would not be intimidated by soldiers’ presence on the streets, stressing that “we will not stop at pressing for our rights.”
Similarly, Nwabueze said: “The rally is a historic one because this is the beginning of a revolution to come. What we are doing is not to break up this country but to build a new Nigeria. There is corruption in every aspect of administration in this country and we cannot continue like this.”
Nwabueze disclosed that plans were already at advanced stage to put out a series of five papers to call for a SNC.
The papers, according to him, would soon be delivered to the National Assembly and the President, who will be given a time line to organise it.
Nwabueze alleged that the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) had compromised the people’s hope by calling off the strike it called over petrol subsidy removal.
Kalu, a former Minister of Finance, said: “The major aim of this gathering is to press for a new constitution. Governance is about people and what we are trying to do is to ensure the freedom of everybody. Nobody is here to riot or disrupt the public peace. We will march to Abuja asking them to convene a national conference and if they fail to comply, we will do it by ourselves.”
Rights activist, Abayomi said: “It is obvious that the government does not understand the seriousness of the people’s agitation and struggle.”
The commonwealth belongs to the people and nobody has the right to stop them from protesting against bad governmental policies. We are being ruled by corrupt and pitiless leaders.”