The protests held across the country on Saturday to mark Democracy Day were marred by low turnout, police resistance and arrests, especially in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory.
The Lekki area of Lagos, where a bloody ambush on #EndSARS protesters was recorded on October 20, 2020, was mostly calm on Saturday as residents shunned calls for protests.
The Admiralty Circle Plaza and Ikoyi Link Bridge toll gates were the scenes of shootings by soldiers, after hundreds of youths had gathered there to express their grievances over alleged police brutality and poor governance.
Sunday PUNCH reports that despite rumours of protests in some parts of Lagos, vehicles moved freely on Lekki-Epe Expressway amid the presence of security agents, while pedestrians were seen going about their business as shops and supermarkets were partially opened to attend to customers.
Visibly delighted about the near-calm atmosphere, a resident, Mr Emmanuel Ndubuisi, said the #EndSARS protests had taught Lagosians lessons they would not forget in a hurry.
He said the lessons learnt by residents of the area during the last bloody clash had made them to think twice before embarking on any adventure.
Ndubuisi said, “Many people with offices in the area recorded huge losses, so no one will want to experience such a crisis again. I am happy we are at peace in this part of Lagos now; this is how a sane society should be.”
Another resident, Mr Tosin Adeboyejo, urged youths to pursue peace at all times and develop themselves. Adeboyejo said, “The youth in our country are our future. Parents, guardians and even the government must invest in them. The youth themselves should also develop themselves by ensuring they get good education and skills, so that they can be useful to both themselves and society.”
Despite the peaceful atmosphere in the state, men of the Lagos State Police Command, on Saturday morning, fired tear gas canisters at protesters who converged on Gani Fawehinmi Park venue in the Ojota area of the state to demand an end to bad governance. Transport union workers also joined in to disperse the protesters.
They also fired canisters at peaceful protesters at the Ketu area of the state.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mr Hakeem Odumosu, later said five persons suspected to have participated in protests were arrested in front of park, though he added that the suspects had been released.
Odumosu, who spoke during a visit to the park, said, “As of now, no suspect is being detained in connection with the protest. I want to emphasise that no single person is in police custody as a result of the protest (as at 1.30pm). Five persons were arrested at Ojota, I ordered my men to release them. I thank God no one was injured, no vehicle was also damaged.”
The police commissioner noted that everywhere he visited was calm; adding that reports from officers showed that everywhere was calm in the state.
Odumosu said the police had nothing against protesters, as long as they provided prior information about their protest and ensured peaceful conduct in order to enjoy the protection of the law enforcement agents.
According to him, information sent out by the protesters on social media asking residents to sit at home created panic in the state.
The police commissioner added that his men were deployed to various areas identified as blackspots as early as 2am on Saturday, saying his directive to his men was that protesters had the right to do so peacefully.
The police boss also defended the gunshots fired by his men at the Ojota area of the state.
“I also advised the protesters to write to the state government to make use of parks for their protest. That way, they will not block the major roads and cause heavy traffic. While they have the right to protest, other road users have the right of free movement on the road as well.
“The police gunshots this morning at Ojota were as a result of some people blocking the roads leading in and out of Lagos at Ojota. I have the recorded video. The protesters may have good intentions, but criminally minded people blocked the road to commit crimes.
“I quickly ordered my men to appeal to the protesters to leave the road and use minimum force to liberate the road so that those going out of Lagos or coming in will not be held up in traffic, particularly this time where we have traffic robbery,” he said.
Gridlock in FCT, security agents disperse protesters
Meanwhile, motorists heading to the Abuja city centre from the Karu-Nyanya axis of the Abuja-Keffi Expressway had a tough time on Saturday as soldiers stationed at the Kugbo military checkpoint carried out a ‘stop and search’ operation, causing gridlock.
A combined team of policemen, soldiers, men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and others were also seen carrying out a show of force around Karu and Nyanya in a convoy of no less than 20 patrol vans, further compounding the traffic situation.
Following earlier threats by security agencies not to allow protests in the FCT, security men in Abuja dispersed youths taking part in the protest in some parts of the FCT using tear gas, with scores sustaining injuries.
Early on Saturday, the security agents cordoned off Unity Fountain, the site given to protesters as their convergence point, forcing them to move to other venues.
While some were sighted at the Gudu Park, others gathered around the popular AYA Roundabout holding placards and banners with various inscriptions such as “#BuhariMustGo” and “#RevolutionNow.”
At Gudu Park, the protesters demanded Buhari’s resignation, as some members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, popularly called the Shiites, seized the opportunity to demand the release of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife from detention.
Both husband and wife have been in detention since December 2015 despite various court orders that had ordered their release on bail.
Just as the protests were gathering steam at the two venues, combined teams of security agencies, including men of the police, Army and NSCDC, arrived and used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, who ran to safety, while some unlucky ones were arrested and their placards and banners confiscated.
As of the time of filing this report, it was not clear the number of people that were arrested.
However, the Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, tweeted, “We have just been attacked by the police and SSS (State Security Service) as expected. #June12 protest”
The FCT Police Command defended the action in a statement by its Police Public Relations Officer, Yusuf Mariam, saying policemen had to disperse the protesters to prevent members of the proscribed IMN and others from “inciting public disturbance.”
Smooth sailing for pro-Buhari groups
As pro-democracy protesters were being brutalised, some youths who gathered in solidarity with Buhari were later granted access to the heavily guarded Unity Fountain for a rally.
The youth, some of whom wore T-shirts with inscriptions such as “I am for Buhari” and “I stand with Buhari,” were conveyed to the venue in buses and cars, as others were seen with machetes and sticks chanting, “Sai Buhari! Sai Baba!”
One of the youth leaders, Yunusa Yusuf of the All Progressives Congress Grassroots Forum, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH, said, “We are gathered at this solidarity march in celebration of Democracy Day and to show our support for the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“As we stand here today, we can boldly and proudly say that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has done more than any administration since the return to democracy in 1999.”
Also, the National President, Youth Coalition for Development, Aminu Aminu, claimed that only mischief-makers were protesting against the present regime.
We were promised N1,000 each, say pro-Buhari protesters
The pro-Buhari protest was, however, marred with violence as a fight broke out among members of the #IStandWithBuhari group, whose leaders were seen in a heated exchange over the disbursement of funds.
Some youths, who participated in the #IStandWithBuhari rally, said they were promised N1,000 each to participate in the rally.
In a video that has since gone viral, two ladies dressed in green branded T-shirts at the venue of the protest said they were still waiting to get their money, speaking in what appeared to be a mocking tone.
One of them said, “Baba Buhari brought us here for N1,000. They promised us N1,000 each. I have not collected my share. I came here for the N1,000.”
As they spoke, a male voice was heard telling them that they were not allowed to grant interviews and the conversation ended abruptly.
In a related development, a lone pro-democracy demonstrator, who took his protest to Buhari supporters at Unity Fountain, was beaten black and blue.
The protester, whose identity could not be ascertained as of the time of filing this report, had shown up at the venue with a placard with the inscription “Buhari must resign.”
Makinde, Shaibu join Oyo, Edo protests
Amid protests by angry youths in Ibadan, Oyo State, who bemoaned alleged bad governance by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), Governor Seyi Makinde joined the demonstration, driving a black car with armed security men in tow.
The protest was held despite the warning given to protesters by the police.
The youth, who were armed with banners and Nigerian flags, sang and chanted “Buhari must go!” amid the presence of heavily armed men of the police, Army and NSCDC, who simply stood by.
Makinde later got out of his car to address the youth but his voice, amplified by a megaphone, was frowned by the joyous youths who were hailing him. It was observed that the governor was without a sizeable number of his security details. After his address, he returned to his car and drove off.
Several Nigerians took to Twitter to commend the governor for bringing a fresh breath to governance in the state.
Similarly, Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, joined protesters in his state as they called on the Federal Government to provide good governance and adequate security.
The protesters, who began their match at Ring Road in Benin, were provided security by men of the police, NSCDC and the vigilante group.
Shaibu said, “The ineptitude of President Buhari has brought us to this sorry state. His nonchalant attitude has caused a lot of security problem. It has been difficult to combat Boko Haram, bandits and kidnappers. Nigerians now live in fear and nobody knows what will happen next.
“What we now hear is ‘unknown gunmen,’ who are killing people in the South-East, while other parts of the country are becoming unsafe to live because of insecurity. The prices of goods and services are moving up daily beyond the reach of the common man.
“In Edo State, the Benin/Auchi Road is still unsafe despite the effort of the state government, while we still have 14 elected law makers who are being shut out of the House of Assembly. This is not good for democracy.”
Agba Jalingo arrested in Calabar
An activist, Agba Jalingo; and a human rights lawyer, James Ibor, were among other protesters allegedly arrested in Calabar, Cross River State by the Operation Puff Adder outfit and taken to the state Police Command Headquarters, Diamond Hill, Calabar, on Saturday.
As of the time of this report, efforts were said to be ongoing to bail the protesters.
There was however low turnout in Calabar as protesters, who were prevented by the police from converging on Mary Slessor Roundabout, relocated to Rabana Roundabout, chanting solidarity songs and carrying placards with inscriptions such as “Buhari must go,” “Free all detained activists,” “Pantami must resign,” and “After 22 years, we are still out to fight for democracy.”
Show of force in Ogun, Bayelsa
There was anxiety in Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode and other areas of Ogun State as major markets and shops were shut, while traders and residents stayed at home for the fear of retribution by Yoruba Nation agitators.
Sunday PUNCH observed a handful of protesters armed with “#BuhariMustGo” and “#YorubaNation” placards on the streets of Abeokuta, while activities were grounded at Itoku Adire/Kampala market, Kuto, Sapon and Lafenwa, all in Abeokuta.
It was also gathered that major markets in Ijebu-Ode, Ilaro, Sango and others had scanty presence of traders over the fear of a clash between pro-government and anti-government protesters.
As early as 7.30am, joint security teams embarked on a show of force round the state capital and some parts of the state to curtail the activities of the protesters. One of our correspondents also sighted a police helicopter hovering over the Abeokuta metropolis.
A coordinator of Oduduwa Nation agitators, Mrs Sola Kogbodoku, and a Yoruba Nation agitator, Azeez Suleiman, told Sunday PUNCH that the protest was meant to tell the world that the Yoruba were ready for secession.
Meanwhile, armed security operatives embarked on a show of force across the Bayelsa State capital city, Yenagoa, amid the June 12 protests.
One of our correspondents observed that security was also beefed up around the Government House in the Onopa area of Yenagoa with the deployment of more security vans and armoured personnel carriers, stretching to the Lambert Eradiri Road and Road Safety Road.
This was despite the statement by the police command on Friday, saying it had no knowledge of any planned protest in the state.
The security operatives made up of men of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force, Nigeria Police Force and the NSCDC were seen patrolling Yenagoa and its environs in armoured personnel carriers and other security patrol vans.
Protest holds in Rivers amid tight security
The turnout in Rivers State was also low as the protest scheduled to begin at 8am at the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park did not commence until around 11am when other youths arrived. Only a handful of protesters were present.
As the protesters marched, security operatives led by senior police officers watched, while some cops took photographs of the youth. Operation Sting Operation vans were at the venue, though none of the youth was harassed during the one-hour march.
Chairman, Rivers State Civil Society Organisations, Enefaa Georgewill, said no amount of intimidation or threats could stop the CSOs from freely expressing themselves through protests or rallies.
The Commissioner of Police, Eboka Friday, who met the protesters midway, said after going round the state, everywhere was peaceful.
Osun CSOs accuse police of harassment
There was division among protesters in Osogbo, Osun State, as a group of protesters led by the Take it Back Movement of Omoyele Sowore pulled out midway when leaders told participants to move towards the venue of a lecture organised by the state government in collaboration with the Civil Societies Coalition.
But a cross section of protesters led by the state secretary of the movement, Victor Lijofi, declined and stayed back at Oke Fia, from where they moved round major streets in protest.
Business activities were totally paralysed especially in Osogbo, as people stayed indoors in fear of breakdown of law and order.
The Chairman of Osun CSOs, Waheed Lawal, in a statement, accused some policemen of beating two of its members at the venue of a lecture organised to commemorate the June 12 Democracy Day.
Meanwhile, youths in Akure, Ondo State, who also protested insecurity at the Post Office area of the capital city, started their peaceful demonstration around 8.30am, marching and chanting various solidarity songs.
While the protest was ongoing, it was observed that all the shops and stalls in the markets and streets were under lock and key, despite assurances by the security agencies that law and order would be maintained during the protest.
Gombe youths shun protest amid CP’s warning
The protest scheduled to hold in Gombe State was abandoned, as heavy security presence was seen at Rainbow Roundabout, the planned venue for the demonstration in Gombe State, with would-be protesters expressing fear.
Reps condemn clampdown
The Peoples Democratic Party PDP has condemned Saturday’s violent clampdown on peaceful Democracy Day protesters by security agents in different parts of the country.
A statement by the spokesman for the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, described clampdown as sacrilegious and a demonstration of the government’s aversion to democracy.
Also, the minority caucus, in a statement, said it was disturbed by the hostility of the APC-led Federal Government towards Nigerians protesting in commemoration of Democracy Day.
The statement by the Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu, said the “show of brute hostility and violent assault on Nigerians by the security forces is condemnable, unjustifiable and at total variance with fundamental democratic ethos of freedom of expression as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
Nigerians protest in US, UK
Nigerians in the United States and United Kingdom took to the streets to join the June 12 Democracy Day protest.
In a viral video, protesters were seen carrying a banner that boldly read, ‘Yoruba Nation America,” while some who had placards with ‘Yoruba Nation Now,’ and ‘1999 constitution is a fraud,’ among others marched on the streets of Washington DC for the protest.
A protester could be heard saying, “We have come to draw your attention to what is going on in Nigeria. Crimes against humanity are going on. Pay attention to Nigeria now before it is too late.”
Also, some Nigerians in the United Kingdom converged on the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square in London, in solidarity with their countrymen.
A video shared on Twitter by Enough Is Enough Nigeria showed the youths chanting protest songs and carrying placards with inscriptions, including “Say no government funded terrorism,” “We demand justice, God Is God all the time.” Some were also seen waving Biafra and Oduduwa nation flags.