Ban on protests: FCT minister, Bello, under fire.
#EndSARS protesters, human rights organisations and lawyers on Thursday took a swipe at the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Mohammed Bello, over the ban on street protests in the FCT.
Leaders of the movement campaigning for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police, in separate interviews with The PUNCH, dared the FCT administration, saying they would continue the protests despite the ban.
Also, human rights groups and lawyers condemned the ban and described it as unconstitutional, null and void.
But the Northern Governors’ Forum on Thursday said northern states were not opposed to SARS. The Plateau State Governor and Chairman of the forum, Simon Lalong, in an interview with State House correspondents in Abuja, said the squad had been useful in tackling insecurity in the North.
On its part, the Nigeria Governors Forum, in a communiqué issued after its meeting on Wednesday, supported the plan by the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to reform the police.
It, however, asked the police to fish out operatives of the disbanded SARS whose actions caused injuries or death of innocent citizens.
A few hours after the governors met, the FCT Administration, in a statement by the minister’s Chief Press Secretary, Anthony Ogunleye, announced the ban on #EndSARS protests in Abuja for alleged violation of COVID-19 protocols.
The administration said it was concerned that despite the scrapping of SARS by the IG on Sunday, the demonstrations had continued, causing inconveniences to law-abiding citizens.
According to the statement titled, ‘COVID-19: FCT Security Committee prohibits street demonstrations,’ the decision was reached at a meeting of the FCT Security Committee on Tuesday, chaired by the minister.
The administration said while it recognised the rights of citizens to freedom of association and movement as enshrined in the constitution, it had observed that “the unruly conduct of the crowd and manner of demonstrations are in complete violation of the COVID-19 safety protocols which were put in place to safeguard the lives of citizens.”
It added that the COVID-19 guidelines included physical distancing, temperature checks and the use of face masks.
“All these guidelines were flouted by the protesters. Consequently, the committee directs that due to the dangers posed by COVID-19, all street demonstrations, protests and processions will not be allowed anywhere within the FCT,” the FCTA stated.
But the protesters said they would continue with the street rallies.
Speaking to The PUNCH, a leader of the #EndSARS protesters, Raphael Adebayo, described the directive banning protests as insensitive.
He queried the rationale for the decision, noting that the FCT minister would not have issued the order if he had the interest of the nation at heart.
Stating that youths were fighting for their survival, he noted that the protesters were not worried about the COVID-19 infections just as he pointed out that political parties had organised campaign rallies amidst the pandemic without the government stopping them for violating the COVID-19 protocols.
He said, “Their statement speaks more to the culture of impunity that we are talking about that has permeated our system. It makes no sense that in the last couple of months, we have seen a number of political parties holding rallies and campaigns and inviting people in their thousands to their campaign grounds and rallies without adhering to the COVID-19 protocols.”
When asked if the protests would continue in the FCT, the activist replied, “Absolutely; Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. The Nigerian youths have decided that their time for liberation is now and in the words of Che Guevara, ‘there is no liberator anywhere, only the people can liberate themselves.’ So, the Nigerian people have decided to liberate themselves.”
FCT minister has no power to stop protests —Aisha Yesufu
Another leading member of the #EndSARS movement, Aisha Yesufu, argued that the government and police had no right to stop the protests, adding that there were several court orders to support her stance.
She advised the FCT minister to focus on the security challenge facing the nation’s capital, noting that the rising cases of abductions in the satellite towns should be his concern.
Yesufu said, “People are being kidnapped in satellite towns close to Abuja, he (the FCT minister) has never said anything. The constitution allows protest and he cannot stop it. In 2014 when the police said we could not protest in Abuja, the #BringBackOurGirls movement went to court and won the case.”
The activist also called for the removal of the IG, saying “he has lost control of his men and the best thing is for him to go.”
The Executive Director of the Centre for Public Accountability, Olufemi Lawson, said “The purported ban on peaceful protests by the FCT Administration is unconstitutional, illegal, invalid, null, void and of no effect whatsoever and should be disregarded in its entirety.
“Only the President can invoke the Quarantine Act under Section 4. While FCT is under President’s control, its minister cannot stand as a surrogate to invoke Quarantine Act.”
Also, a former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, described the FCTA’s statement as unconstitutional and ill-advised, noting that Nigerians have right, under Section 39 of the Constitution, to protest.
Reverse ban on protests or face legal action, lawyer warns FCT minister
Also faulting the FCTA, a lawyer, Mr Pelumi Olajengbesi, issued a 24-hour ultimatum to the minister to reverse the ban on protests.
Olajengbesi, in a statement titled, ‘The ban on #EndSARS protest by the Security Committee of FCTA, an effrontery on the constitutional right of the Nigerian people,’ threatened to institute a legal action against the minister should he fail to accede to the demand within the stipulated period.
According to him, the FCT minister “has no power whatsoever to infringe, restrain or constrain the will and determination of the masses especially in a time like this when the ship of the nation is sinking down a depth of no seeming return.
“Consequently, we therefore give the FCT Minister an ultimatum of 24 hours within which to reverse his stand on the issue and allow the people to demonstrate their displeasure and dissatisfaction against the official rascality and reprehensive character of the officers of Special Anti-Robbery Squad.”
In a related development, military authorities on Thursday, threatened to deal with thugs and miscreants disrupting peaceful protests by #EndSARS campaigners.
The Defence headquarters frowned on the violent attacks on the activists and warned the perpetrators to desist or face sanctions.
Recall that protesters were attacked and injured by thugs in Abuja and Lagos on Wednesday. About seven vehicles were also vadalised at the Berger roundabout, Wuse, Abuja.
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