#EndSARS protesters, the Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond, human rights groups and lawyers on Sunday warned the Federal Government against deploying troops to stop Nigerians campaigning for police reforms.
They warned the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), that such an action would backfire.
Campaigners, demanding the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, among other requests, have been holding rallies across the major cities of the country for the past 12 days.
The Nigerian Army had on Saturday said it would begin Operation Crocodile Smile aimed at tackling cyber warfare and insurgency.
#EndSARS protesters and other groups interpreted this as a move by Buhari’s regime to deploy troops to quell demonstrations against SARS.
However the Army, in a statement titled, ‘Exercise crocodile smile VI has nothing to do with #EndSARS protests whatsoever’ said the operation was not targeted at the protesters.
We won’t allow descent into anarchy, says FG
A few hours after the Army issued its statement, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, also said no government would fold its arms and allow anarchy.
Mohammed, in an interview with the Nigerian Television Authority, said that while the original conveners of the protests might have meant well, it was obvious that they were no longer in control of the initiative.
The minister said a peaceful protest was an integral part of democracy, adding that that was why the Federal Government had treated the protesters in a very civilised manner.
He stated, “But if you look at what happened to the governor of Osun State, it has gone completely beyond a peaceful protest against excesses and abuse of power by the police.
“There is nowhere in the world where a government will fold its arms and allow the country to descend into anarchy.
“We are no longer dealing with #EndSARS but a volatile situation that can lead to anarchy if the government does not take some very firm steps to protect the lives and livelihood of innocent Nigerians.”
Minister cautions protesters against breaching national security
Also on Sunday, the Federal Government cautioned anti-SARS campaigners against breaching national security.
The Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retd.), gave the warning when the National Coordinator, Buhari Campaign Organisation, Danladi Pasali, led the executive members of the group on a courtesy visit to him at the Ministry of Defence, Abuja.
This was contained in a statement, titled, ‘Defence minister cautions protesters against undermining national security,’ issued by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mohammed Abdlkadir.
The statement stated, “The Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (retd.), has cautioned #EndSARS protesters against breaching national security.”
Soldiers will join our protests, we won’t stop, #EndSARS campaigners dare FG
But, the #EndSARS protesters said that the deployment of troops would not stop them from continuing with their daily rallies and demand for police reforms.
They said any move to deploy military force would backfire.
Speaking to The PUNCH on Sunday, a leading member of the #EndSARS movement, Deji Adeyanju, said the Federal Government could not stop people from protesting.
He noted that the military had no constitutional authority to interfere with the rights of Nigerians to freedom of assembly and speech.
He said, “In a democracy, the army has no locus to interfere with freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press. They have no single role to play. But if the President wants to truncate democracy by inviting the army, then, we will know he has suspended the constitution. You can’t stop the people from gathering in a democracy.”
He insisted that the government had not done anything on police reforms, and dismissed as false, claims that the police authorities had disbanded SARS.
Adeyanju, who is the Convener, Concerned Nigerians, said, “Protests are not stopping even if they deploy the army. They would further ensure that more people come out for the protests.
“The more force they use, the more people would join the protests. If the President deploys the troops, you would be surprised at the number of military officers that would join the protesters in solidarity. They are just going to worsen the situation.”
On the claim by government that it had acceded to the protesters’ five-point demands, the campaigner stated, “It’s one week after the purported ban and by now, we should be seeing the specifics of the reforms in the police. As far as Nigerians are concerned, the government has not done anything.”
“The DPO of the police station in Ogbomoso that supervised the killing of a protester is still in charge of the station. He is still holding sway there.”
We will drag Buratai to ICC if soldiers kill protesters – Falana-led group
On its part, ASCAB led by a human rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN, vowed to drag the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, to the International Criminal Court in The Hague if any of the #EndSARs protesters was killed by any soldiers.
The group, in a statement by Falana titled, “#EndSARS: Kill protesters, face International Criminal Court, ASCAB cautions Buratai,” urged the Federal Government to withdraw the plan to use soldiers to quell the protests.
The ASCAB, said, “Buhari should not invite soldiers to resolve a purely democratic issue that calls for dialogue and constructive engagement.”
It noted that protests had common features across the world as seen in Hong Kong, the United States, France, South Africa, Belarus and Sudan.
The group added that in no instance were soldiers deployed to suppress the protesters. “Nigeria wants to set another ugly precedent in world history,” the group said.
It reminded the Federal Government that Operation Crocodile Smile had been declared illegal by a Nigerian court with competent jurisdiction following legal actions filed by Falana.
It added that efforts by the chief of army staff to challenge the order by approaching the Court of Appeal failed.
The coalition said, “Every bullet that goes out from the barrel of the gun is owned by the people of Nigeria. It is a crime under international law to release these bullets with the hope of taking human life.
“It is unfortunate that the Nigerian government is sending a signal to the military that it has a role to play in a purely civil matter.”
The group said it was already monitoring and compiling lists of all rights extra-judicial killings associated with the protests and that Buratai or any soldier involved in any killings would be held personally responsible at the international court.
It further said, “The plan to deploy soldiers is dangerous. It will push Nigeria into the red light district of global reckoning.
“Sending soldiers after school children and leaders of tomorrow shows what future we anticipate for the teeming population of young men and women who have taken to the streets to protest against a system that buries their dreams and shatter their potentials and aspirations.
“Nigerian authorities said on Saturday that soldiers would be deployed this week to bring an end to the weeklong demonstration over police brutality.
“We urge President Mohammadu Buhari not to use soldiers to quell a peaceful, civil protest.
“The protesters have been lawful. The few cases of violence were associated with armed thugs disrupting the protests coupled with the shooting of protesters by security operatives.”
ASCAB said the protests were against symptoms of a system defect, institutional corruption and political exclusion, adding that the earlier the tiers of government addressed the problems the better.
It said, “The political class is isolating Nigerians from governance. State resources are squandered by a few corrupt people who over the years have failed to address institutional rot that continues to fuel anger and desperation of the toiling people.”
The group added that at the bottom of the crisis of nation building and insecurity in Nigeria was corruption, mismanagement of public funds and incompetence at all levels of governance.
13 protesters, victims of extrajudicial killings – 30 human rights groups
The News Agency of Nigeria reported on Sunday that a group, the Coalition Of 30 Human Rights Groups, condemned what it called “the use of violence” on #EndSARS protesters.
The coalition made this known at a news conference on the state of the nation on the violent repression of peaceful #EndSARS protesters across the country.
One of the conveners, Idayat Hassan, alleged that so far, the group had confirmed that at least 13 persons had been extra-judicially killed in the course of the peaceful protest.
She alleged that Oyo State recorded four deaths; Edo, two; Ondo, one; Osun, two; and Lagos four, in addition to attacks on peaceful assemblies in Oyo, Lagos, Edo, Plateau, Anambra, Kano and Osun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
Two lawyers, who spoke to The PUNCH, urged the International Criminal Court to hold the minister of information and culture responsible for any military attack on protesters.
One of them, Inibehe Effiong, said Nigerians had the right to freedom of expression under section 39 of the constitution and the right to freedom of assembly under section 40 of the constitution.
“I hope the international criminal court is also watching what is unfolding, because if any life is lost, on account of attack, either by the military or the police, Lai Mohammed and others should be held responsible,” he said.
Another lawyer, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, who is the immediate past president of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, also said Mohammed would be held responsible for any military attack on the protesters.
Oyo creates platforms to report police brutality
Meanwhile, following the decision at the National Economic Council on Thursday, more state governments on Sunday set up panels to investigate police brutality.
Recall that the Kaduna State Government on Saturday set up a committee to investigate rights violations by the police.
On Sunday, the Oyo State Government said it had created an email account and a section on the state’s website for residents of the state to report police brutality and rights violations.
The state government, in a statement, the Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Taiwo Adisa, said plans were in place to set up a judicial panel to look into the various forms of abuses and violations.
It added that names of members of the panel would soon be announced.
In a statement on Sunday by his media office, the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, said he had set up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate complaints against police brutality and related extrajudicial killings by SARS.
The governor was quoted to have announced the setting up of the panel on Saturday, when he addressed the protesting youths of the state at the Government House, Enugu.
Oyedepo endorses #EndSARS protests
Also on Sunday, the Pastor and founder of Living Faith Church, Bishop David Oyedepo, endorsed the #EndSARS protests.
Protesters barricaded the road leading to the church in Ota, Ogun State on Sunday.
In his sermon, Oyedepo stated, “We have been having spates of protests across the nation. Every man has a right to express his displeasure and pain.”