Dozens of protesters, under the tag #OccupyLekkiTollgate, were arrested on Saturday in Lagos as several youths defied the threat by the Lagos Police Command to stop the protest.
Daily Trust reports that there was a massive detachment of police at the Toll Plaza, along the Lekki-Epe Expressway, in a show of force to stop the protest.
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The protest was against the decision of the State Judicial Panel of Enquiry to allow the reopening of the Lekki Tollgate, saying justice is yet to be served for those allegedly killed during the October 20, 2020 shooting there.
Earlier in the week, the federal and Lagos State governments warned that they would not tolerate the protest, vowing to crack down on the protesters.
Despite the threat, some of the protesters trooped out to the Lekki Tollgate early on Saturday, defying the heavy presence of security operatives led by the Commander, Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Olayinka Egbeyemi.
It was a tense atmosphere at the tollgate as the police pounced on the protesters several of whom were arrested.
Among those arrested was a famous comedian, Debo Adebayo, popularly known as Mr Macaroni.
Sources said no fewer than 30 protesters were arrested and taken to unknown locations in different police vans and Black Maria trucks.
A video shared on social media platforms showed many of the protesters, including Mr Macaroni, jampacked inside a bus with no clothes on.
Several protesters were also beaten up while some were chased away from the tollgate.
A few hours later, another group of protesters arrived the tollgate, daring the police to arrest them.
“We are all Nigerians and nobody is bigger than this country, we need justice,” one of the protesters, Dayo William, said.
Daily Trust observed that the Commissioner of Police, Mr Hakeem Odumosu, later arrived the scene to assess the situation.
However, he rebuffed media requests to give clarification on the number of people arrested.
Speaking with one of our correspondents, the President of All Nigerian Youths Reoriented Initiatives (ANYRI) and initiator of ‘New Nigeria’, Comrade Olufemi Ajadi Oguntoyinbo, described the arrest of the protesters by security operatives at the Lekki Tollgate as “uncivilized, undemocratic and unconstitutional”.
Ajadi said the deployed security operatives should have been on the ground to protect the protesters and stop any form of suspicious trick by hoodlums to hijack the peaceful protest.
It was learnt that those arrested were first detained at Area J Elemoro before they were transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, Yaba.
Black Maria breaks down
However, a mild drama unfolded while the suspects were being driven in a Black Maria to SCID Yaba.
It was gathered that the vehicle, which had not been serviced for a long time, broke down in the middle of the road.
A police source said those attached to the Black Maria were sighted pushing the vehicle before it eventually started again.
Our correspondent gathered that while at SCID, all the suspects, about 30 of them, were forced into another broken down truck parked at Panti.
Hours after their arrival, they were arraigned before a Yaba Magistrate Court on a three-count charge of conduct likely to cause breach of peace. The court granted bail to the protesters.
A civil society organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), had earlier threatened to pursue legal action if the arrested protesters were not immediately and unconditionally released.
Threats to quit Judicial Panel
In a related development, a member of the Lagos Judicial Panel, Mr Ebun Adegboruwa, has threatened to quit the panel over fresh cases of police brutality.
This is coming a day after a youth representative, Rinu Oduala, stepped down from the panel.
“My heart is very heavy. I’m saddened and devastated. My soul is sorely troubled at this time,” he said in response to Saturday’s clampdown on protesters.
“I have been monitoring events at the Lekki Tollgate since morning, and I am totally overwhelmed with the images, videos and sundry evidence of police brutality on armless civilians, who ventured to protest at the tollgate.
“In one particular video, I saw citizens of Nigeria being dehumanized, stripped 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.”
Adegboruwa called for the immediate release of all those arrested at the Lekki Tollgate on Saturday.
Some of the promoters of the protest have, however, vowed to continue with it on Sunday as they mobilised their supporters on social media.
‘We’ll not allow protest go out of hand’
Meanwhile, the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Salihi Magashi (Rtd), speaking on Saturday in Kano after revalidating his APC membership at his Galadanchi ward of Gwale LGA of Kano State on the resurgence of #EndSARs in Lagos, said “Whoever is involved in this EndSARS issue, the military and the government will not allow it to happen.
“But we will be as good as any other citizen to protect this country.
“We are not going to be harsh on anybody. We will maintain the law and peace to the best of our ability.
“We can use force when it is required. When you use force, we don’t say you will go and start killing people. We can use minimum force commensurate with what is seen on the ground.
“And that is where some people are getting it wrong”, the minister said.
Falana demands protesters’ release
The Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) chaired by human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, demanded the immediate release of the protesters, on Saturday.
Similarly, leaders of conscience under the National Consultative Front (NCFront), also demanded the release of #OccupyLekkiTollGate protesters who were arrested by the police.
The NCFront in a statement signed by its Head of Secretariat, Mr.Wale Okunniyi, asked security agencies to exercise civility, restraint and decorum in dealing with youth activists.
They stressed that the protesters have not violated any known extant laws of Nigeria by gathering peacefully to express their concerns about government policies inimical to their well being
On its part, ASCAB, in a statement signed by its Interim Chairman, Falana, noted that the fundamental right of the protesters to dignity guaranteed by section 34 of the Constitution “was crudely breached by the police personnel who arrested the protesters and caged them inside a Black Maria.”
ASCAB called on the Lagos State Commissioner of Police to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of the protesters, reiterating that “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.”
Ozekhome to defend Macaroni
Meanwhile, foremost constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, has confirmed that he has been briefed to handle the case involving Mr Macaroni and other arrested protesters with a view to secure their release.
In a chat with Daily Trust, Ozekhome said despite the order that they should be released by the CP, they could sue the police for damages for the inhumane treatment they were subjected to.
He issued a short statement calling for the release of all those arrested.
He said, “The arrest, taking away in a Black Maria, and detention of Debo Macaroni and other peaceful protesters at the Lekki Tollgate today is patently illegal and totally unconstitutional.
“At least, the Nigerian Constitution has not been abrogated by this dictatorial government of impunity.
“Sections 40 and 41 of the said Constitution gives Debo and other Nigerians the right to peaceful assembly and association, and the right to freedom of movement.”
HURIWA condemns arrests
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has also condemned the clampdown and arrests of peaceful protesters in Lagos State.
The National Coordinator of the rights group, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, said on Saturday in Abuja that the squelching of protesters by the police is a gross violation of the rights of the protesting citizens who are law abiding and as such, threatens constitutional democracy.
He warned that the action of the Lagos State Police command could motivate activists from across the country to pour into the streets on solidarity marches.
Why we arrested protesters – Police
The Lagos State Police command, in a statement issued by its spokesman, CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said 40 suspects were arrested at the Lekki Tollgate for conspiracy, conduct likely to cause breach of peace and violation of COVID-19 protocols.
“The suspects had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate plaza creating tension and behaving in such a manner that could cause breach of public peace without due regard for COVID-19 protocols major of which are use of nose masks and social distancing,” he said.
He added that the protesters were, however, granted bail and will appear in court on 2nd March, 2021, with the certificate of COVID-19 test.
From Abiodun Alade, Abdullateef Aliyu, Eugene Agha, Ibrahim Kegbegbe (Lagos) & Abbas Jimoh (Abuja)