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#EndSARS anniversary: Police occupy Lekki toll gate, others, activists set for protest


• Protesters, security agents may clash as youths insist on commemorative rally

There are strong indications that security agents and protesters will clash in many cities across the country today (Wednesday) as activists and youths insist on gathering in public spaces to commemorate the first year anniversary of the #EndSARS protests, which rocked the nation last year.

For instance, heavily armed police personnel, on Tuesday, took over the Lekki tollgate area, which was the hotbed of last year’s protests.

The PUNCH also learnt that some policemen in plain clothes would join the protesters in a bid to monitor them closely.

#EndSARS memorial protests are planned to take place in Lagos, Abuja, Aba, Port Harcourt, Yenagoa, Enugu, Yola, Ibadan, Benin City, Jos, Ilorin, Asaba and Osogbo, among others.

In October last year, spontaneous protests had erupted in different parts of the country against police brutality, especially by the personnel of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad, and the #EndSARS movement soon garnered international support.

The protests, however, turned bloody on October 20, 2020, when soldiers and policemen fired at the protesters in Lagos.

In Abuja, the nation’s capital, hoodlums attacked the protesters and injured many of them. They also looted warehouses and set ablaze over 18 cars and vandalised more than 12 vehicles.

In response to the outcry, the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), disbanded the Special Anti-Robbery Squad police unit, the fourth time the Federal Government had disbanded it.

On October 19, 2020, the President accused the protesters of trying to cause anarchy and warned that the government would not tolerate that.

The police have, however, warned the organisers and attendees of the commemorative protests to desist from going ahead with their plans as they will be arrested and prosecuted.

In Abuja, The PUNCH gathered on Tuesday that the police would deploy personnel at strategic locations as part of plans to frustrate youths from staging street protests in commemoration of the rally.

Sources said security agencies would deploy personnel in various entry and exit points of the Federal Capital Territory, including Mararaba, Nyanya, Zuba and Airport Road.

Our correspondents also learnt that security would be tightened around many public buildings and infrastructure in the FCT.

It was gathered that the Unity Fountain, which is the main protest spot in Abuja, would be cordoned off to prevent any form of gathering there.

A source said, “The security agencies are not very comfortable with plans by some emergency activists to stage a protest. So, we have put in place a plan of action to ensure that the protest or street walk doesn’t degenerate into violence.

“I won’t be able to disclose our strategic plan, but suffice it to say that security will be beefed up at strategic locations and government offices, banks and other public utilities. Many undercover operatives will also be part of protesters to fish out troublemakers among them.”

In Lagos, personnel of the state police command embarked on a show of force on Tuesday to intimidate the organisers and participants of the #EndSARS memorial protests in the state.

Fully armed personnel in police patrol vehicles were seen patrolling potential protest grounds in a show of force.

There was heavy police presence at the Lekki tollgate.

A notice from the organisers of the protest sighted by one of our correspondents read, “In memorial of the lives lost on the 20-10-2020, there will be a memorial car procession on Wednesday, October 20, 2021, taking place at the Lekki Tollgate by 8.10am. We should all endeavour to stay in our vehicles throughout the procession.”

In Oyo State, the organisers said the commemorative protest would start by 9am at under the bridge, Iwo Road, Ibadan, while a candlelight procession would follow at the Ojoo roundabout by 4pm.

“There will be a morning walk for #EndSARS heroes by 9am at Iwo Road, under bridge, opposite Tantalizers with a candle light procession at 4pm at Ojoo roundabout, Ibadan,” a notice by the organisers read.

Street protests remain banned in Lagos – Police

The Lagos State Police Command, however, said no form of street protest in commemoration of the #EndSARS anniversary would be tolerated in any part of the state.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, in a statement on Tuesday, dispelled the rumour circulating on social media that the police had agreed to allow street demonstrations to commemorate the #EndSARS protest anniversary scheduled to hold today (Wednesday).

He said the command would only allow indoor and virtual events in commemoration of the anniversary.

Ajisebutu said, “The attention of the Lagos State Police Command has been drawn to a post being circulated on social media insinuating that the police in Lagos have agreed to allow street protests in commemoration of the one-year #EndSARS anniversary on October 20, 2021.

“On the contrary, the police will only allow indoor and virtual events in commemoration of the #EndSARS anniversary and will provide adequate security at the venue(s) if known. This is in recognition of the rights of every Nigerian to express his or her interest.

“We wish we could permit such street protests. However, intelligence at our disposal has revealed plans by some faceless groups or individuals to stage an anti-#EndSARS anniversary protest in the state on the same day.

“In view of the conflicting interest between the pro and anti-#EndSARS anniversary groups and threat to cause mayhem, the command once again warns both groups against any form of street protest between now and October 20, 2021 and beyond.”

Police warn against unlawful assembly, protests in Osun

Similarly, the Osun State Police Command, on Tuesday, warned against any unlawful assembly or gathering in commemoration of the #EndSARS protests anniversary in the state.

The spokesperson for the command, Yemisi Opalola, said intelligence available to it indicated plans by some youths and groups of people to embark on protests.

Opalola said the state Commissioner of Police, Wale Olokode, had given a marching order to area commanders, divisional police officers and tactical units to be at alert and nip in the bud any act capable of truncating the peace of the state.

She said the commissioner also advised parents and guardians to warn their children and wards to be law-abiding and desist from protests and public gatherings, adding that the police would arrest and prosecute anyone who acted contrary to the directive.

#EndSARS panels dash victims’ hope, says Amnesty

Meanwhile, global rights group, Amnesty International, has said despite promises of reform, police impunity is continuing even as it accused investigation panels set up to probe police brutality of dashing victims’ hope of getting justice.

Amnesty said this in a statement titled, ‘Nigeria: No justice for victims of police brutality one year after #EndSARS protests’.

It said no one had been brought to justice for the torture, violence, and killings of peaceful protesters, while reports of human rights violations by the police continue.

Amnesty insisted that at least 12 persons were killed on October 20, 2020 at the Lekki tollgate and Alausa in Lagos.

“Amnesty International was able to establish that pro-government supporters instigated violence at many of the demonstrations, providing cover for the police to use lethal force against peaceful protesters. The organisation also found that detained protesters were tortured and refused or denied immediate access to lawyers,” it said.

The rights group stated that a year on and despite the gravity of the human rights violations, “not a single member of the security forces has been prosecuted, while judicial panels of inquiry set up to investigate abuses by officers have made little progress.”

Amnesty said the President must fulfil his promise of reforming the police to end the reign of impunity that Nigerians had been protesting against for many years.

It said under the pretext of restoring order, horrific injuries were inflicted on hundreds of people and at least 56 persons were killed, among them dozens of young people, as Nigerian security forces used unnecessary and excessive force to disperse peaceful protesters across the country.

“It is unacceptable that despite overwhelming evidence, the government continues to deny the use of live ammunition on protesters at the Lekki tollgate exactly a year ago,” said Amnesty International’s Country Director, Ms Osai Ojigho.

It said after reviewing videos and photos of the protest sites, it found that in nearly 21 incidents where violence occurred between peaceful protesters and pro-government supporters, security forces not only failed to take preventive measures to avoid peaceful assemblies from being disrupted, but they also failed to protect protesters from violent attacks.

“In many instances, the police and other security agents watched as apparently government-backed armed thugs attacked peaceful protesters. In some cases, these thugs were brought to the protest sites in government vehicles. On at least two occasions, these attacks resulted in the death of protesters,” Ojigho added.

Amnesty also documented numerous cases in which the police denied or delayed access to lawyers and medical care by detainees. This was despite repeated requests from detainees to see or call a lawyer – and repeated requests from lawyers at places of detention to have access to the detainees.

It said investigative panels set up to look into police brutality had so far been marred by prolonged adjournments, intimidation of witnesses by police lawyers and the failure of police officers to appear as witnesses.

It said some panels had failed to sit in some states and had taken indefinite breaks.

“What we observed at these panels is discouraging and clearly shows that there is no real commitment to ensuring justice for victims of police violence across Nigeria. These panels raised hopes of getting justice but in some states, this is quickly vanishing,” Ojigho stated.

Ensure prosecution of protesters’ abusers, HRW tells FG

The Human Rights Watch has lamented the failure of the Federal Government to hold accountable security operatives, who allegedly brutalised and killed #EndSARS protesters in October 2020.

The international human rights group said the victims were still awaiting justice a year after security forces violently suppressed protests calling for an end to police brutality in Nigeria.

The HRW in a statement on Tuesday titled, ‘Nigeria: A year on, no justice for #EndSARS crackdown’, noted that the prospects for accountability remained inconclusive and bleak.

It said, “Nigerian authorities should take concrete and decisive steps to ensure that those implicated in abuses against protesters are held accountable.

“In October 2020, young people across Nigeria took to the streets calling for disbanding an abusive police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and for ending brutality in a movement tagged: #EndSARS. Security forces responded with excessive force, including gunfire, which resulted in death and serious injuries.”

Nigerian researcher at Human Rights Watch, Anietie Ewang, advised the government to ensure justice for those abused during the nationwide protests.

“Failure to pursue justice will strengthen the culture of impunity and reinforce the perceptions that brought protesters to the streets in the first place,” she noted.

Between October 2020 and August 2021, the HRW said it  interviewed 54 persons, including victims and their family members, protesters, protest supporters, representatives of civil society groups, medical service providers, political analysts and journalists on how the crackdowns unfolded and how the victims had been affected.

The rights group also wrote letters to the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army to share findings and ask questions about officers’ conduct during the protests, but has yet to receive a response.

146 civilians harassed by police in 10 months – Investigation

No fewer than 146 civilians have been harassed by operatives of the Nigeria Police Force across the country between January 1, 2021 and October 16, 2021 with 15 allegedly shot, investigations by The PUNCH have revealed.

The PUNCH reports that the harassment and brutalisation of citizens have continued despite the #EndSARS protests, which rocked the country last year.

Despite the disbandment of the SARS, findings by our correspondents showed that the harassment and brutalisation of citizens by the police had continued.

Some of the notable cases during the period under review included the harassment of six journalists, including Solomon Odeniyi and Chidiebube Okeoma of The PUNCH, who were arrested and detained in the course of carrying out their official duties.

Others include the harassment of 10 protesters on February 13, 2021 during the Occupy Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, and the alleged shooting of nine persons on June 21 by a police inspector attached to Special Protection Unit, Base 9, Umuahia. Five of the victims were said to have died from gunshot wounds, while four survived.

Others are the harassment of 57 Shiite members on September 28, 2021, who were protesting the ordeal of their leader in Abuja; the brutalisation of a cameraman attached to the Edo State Government House and a certain Broderick Omeisan in Warri, Delta State.

However, Amnesty International said in a report in August that it documented 115 persons killed by the army and the police, and over 500 arrests made by the two institutions between March and June 2021 in the South-East.

The National Coordinator, Advocate for Peoples Rights and Justice, Giwa Victor, said the lack of punishment to serve as a deterrent to others had ensured that the scourge of harassment and brutalisation continued to thrive in the country.

He said, “Errant personnel are not being made to account for their actions. The fact that there is no punishment will make this scourge to continue to thrive in the country. How many have been dismissed and prosecuted this year alone?

“It is not enough to tell us they will be investigated, just like the IG has promised in the most recent case in Kogi; the action that should follow should be the one capable of deterring others. Not until they are seen to be punished they would continue with their heinous act and have the belief that they can get away with it.”

The Centre for Democracy and Development said it was displeased that despite the clear message that the protests sent, the government had not exhibited any iota of seriousness to address the trigger factors.

In a statement by its Director, Idayat Hassan, the group said if this continued to be ignored, it could reignite a similar experience in no distant time.

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