But for the prompt intervention of officials of Lagos State Police Command, Lagos could have been thrown into a major political crisis yesterday when some political thugs allegedly working at the behest of national leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, attacked and disrupted the peaceful demonstration of some civil society groups operating under the aegis ‘O to gee’ (Free Lagos Movement.)’
Both groups were already at daggers drawn when the State Police Command deployed armed officers, who quickly doused the tension, even as the entire Ikeja axis was already convulsed in a traffic snarl for several hours.
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Zubairu Muazu, however explained that the ‘free Lagos’ campaign at Ikeja Airport Hotel was disrupted because the organisers did not notify the police about the gathering, describing them as faceless.
Organisers of the rally, Orange Movement, had alleged that policemen deployed to the venue had tear-gassed them, alleging they were hoodlums.
Among the conveners of the event were former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN); spokesperson of Afenifere Group, Yinka Odumakin, and Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, who were yet to arrive the venue at the time of the incident.
While some participants had already seated inside Oranmiyan Hall where the event was to hold, it was gathered that others were stopped by a detachment of armed policemen mobilised to the scene from entering the hall.
In the ensuing drama, the policemen fired several shots to disperse the crowd with people running helter-skelter within the premises.
At a briefing with reporters on Thursday evening, Muazu confirmed he ordered dispersal of the group. According to Muazu, the command had to take proactive measures to prevent an accident similar to the spontaneous celebration by hoodlums at Okokomaiko on Wednesday that resulted to violence.
He said that although citizens have right to organise peaceful protest, they are to notify the police in writing, adding that the Public Order Act was still being enforced.
The police boss said information was received that a rally the police were not informed of was taking place following Wednesday”s incident. He said: “It is against the law for anyone or group of persons to organize any public procession without getting approval from the police considering the tense situation in the state.
But the broad-based O to gee movement said their aim was to promote the advancement of peace, accountability, democracy and human rights in Lagos State, following what it described as the shenanigans and violence that characterised the presidential and National Assembly elections in some parts of the state on Saturday.
They were, however, attacked by the hoodlums and prevented from making any statement or advancement in line with their right to free speech, association and expression on the coming gubernatorial elections scheduled for March 9.
The movement, which comprises individuals in the professions, human rights organisations, trade groups, artisans and activists, led by Comrade Mark Adebayo, said it was deeply disturbed by the activities of some participants in the last election, including the actions of the police, saying, if this was not corrected it could undermine the conduct of the governorship and state assembly election scheduled for March 9, 2019. The protest was, however, frustrated when some thugs suddenly unleashed terror on them before the arrival of armed security personnel that dislodged both parties.
In a statement signed by Adebayo and addressed to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Mohammad Abubakar Adamu, the movement expressed concern over the relative ease with which the ruling party in Lagos brazenly deployed tacit threat of ‘sack and removal from office’ to intimidate traditional institutions (Obas, Aholus and their chiefs) and civil servants to openly campaign for the ruling APC party’s candidates when they are not supposed to be partisan while the police remained indifferent about the situation.
The group also flayed APC’s deployment of known thugs, cultists and street urchins to perpetrate violence at various polling units, particularly in areas populated by non-indigenes in Lagos like Surulere, Oshodi-Isolo, and Ikeja, known to be the stronghold of opposition, while police officers looked away and failed to arrest the culprits even when they are being broadcast intermittently on national television.
The movement also condemned the alleged complicity of the chairman and executive members of the councils and Local Council Development Areas (LCDA) in Oshodi-Isolo in employing the services of thugs on the day after the election to prevent the opening of shops and other places of legitimate businesses in areas where non-indigenes did not vote for their party, saying the police should be interested in bringing the perpetrators of the violators of human rights to book.
The group therefore demanded that public arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of the violence and disruption of voting activities witnessed last Saturday must be made, as it also called for immediate deployment of effective security presence in the identified areas to reassure residents and prevent voter apathy. It also called for immediate reversal of the directive of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that police personnel on election duties should not be armed at polling units.
According to the group, “this situation has tilted the balance of force in favour of sundry hooligans who are bent on committing crimes,” and suggested the activation of police intelligence units to sniff information on possible pre-election intimidation activities by persons, groups or governments.
In a similar manner, a former Deputy National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, also raised the alarm that Tinubu should be cautioned not to instigate harassment of Igbo residents in Lagos, saying such action could trigger serious crisis in the country.
In a statement, George frowned at the recent use of thugs and hired urchins to harass and unleash mayhem on the electorate in PDP strongholds in Lagos.
Meanwhile, Deputy State Publicity Secretary of APC in Lagos, Mr. Abiodun Salami, dismissed the allegation that the thugs are agents of Tinubu.
According to Salami, “O to gee’ is a movement created by APC to stop the domineering politics of incumbent Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, in Kwara State. It is therefore untrue that Tinubu who was part of the formation of the movement in Kwara would sponsor hoodlums to frustrate such in Lagos.”
Already, insinuations are being made that the development may not be unconnected to the ongoing subtle misunderstanding between the incumbent governor of Lagos, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, and the leadership of APC in the state following the disgraceful manner in which the governor was frustrated from getting a second term ticket in a rigged direct primary conducted on October 2 last years which produced Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the party’s standard bearer for the gubernatorial election.
There had been a series of allegations, counter-allegations and denials that the incumbent was collaborating with the opposition at the expense of the ruling party ahead of the gubernatorial election.
The result of the presidential and National Assembly elections where APC narrowly defeated PDP by a mere margin of less than 133,000 votes in Lagos despite the massive blockade, ballot box stuffing and wanton destruction of ballot papers in opposition strongholds must have sent warning signals to APC leadership ahead of the March 9 gubernatorial poll.