A gale of condemnation, on Tuesday, followed the disruption of a protest by the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners in Abuja, who were stopped by security operatives and a group claiming to be supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari from seeing the President.
Among the human rights groups and individuals, who condemned the action of the police and the pro-Buhari supporters, were the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike; the Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran; the Civil Liberty Organisation; a security analyst, Ben Okezie; and the Publicity Secretary of pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Mr. Yinka Odumakin.
Ezike, while speaking with one of our correspondents on Tuesday, said the government had shown its lack of respect for the citizens and human rights by deploying the police to bar the BBOG protesters.
He said, “Even if it is one person who is protesting or demanding an explanation from the leaders or the government, such a person should be afforded the opportunity, how much more a group that has been campaigning for government to intensify effort to rescue these girls from the captivity of Boko Haram.
“The government not listening to them shows that we have not departed from the past. And for the police to harass them, it shows that there is no respect for human rights because the citizens have the right to protest activities of the government which they find not to be in consonance with best global practices.’’
Also, Adeniran described the government’s approach to the BBOG protest as a miscalculation, saying the police were making their cause more popular by stopping them from seeing the President.
Adeniran stated, “The police are just making the cause of the BBOG group more popular because if they had allowed them to get to the Presidency, somebody would have addressed them, knowing that the President himself was not available when they got there.
‘‘It is a miscalculation on the part of the government to have barred the BBOG group from getting to the Presidency; it is unnecessary; they don’t have to stop them. They have been there for more than two years; they have not fomented any trouble. There is no reason the police should stop them.”
On his part, the President, CLO, Igho Akeregha, said Buhari was becoming tyrannical.
He said, “The continuous clampdown on the BBOG by the Federal Government is a clear sign that the Buhari administration is increasingly becoming tyrannical and repressive.
“If the administration is unable to rescue the girls and resorts to jackboot intimidation of citizens, who are flustered by endless promises of the government to free the girls, the government may as well oil its guns and be prepared for the wrath of more Nigerians who will join the clamour to pressure the government to rescue the girls in the days ahead.”
Okezie said the government had no legal or moral justification to stop the BBOG protesters, noting that the failure of Buhari to rescue the girls prompted the protest in the first place.
He said, “If his (Buhari) children are among the abducted girls, will he not take every measure to get them back? When (the former finance minister, Ngozi) Okonjo-Iweala’s mother was kidnapped, did the security agencies not search everywhere till they rescued her?”
Odumakin stated, “I said it and I am saying it again: the remnants of #BBOG# should know that the outfit was a special vehicle created as part of the regime’s change agenda.
“Now those of them who are genuine about the cause should count the cost of their continued engagement with a security apparatus that may soon bear its full fangs.”
Tempers had flared on Tuesday as the #BringBackOurGirls members engaged security operatives, who attempted to halt their protest to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, in a confrontation.
Also, a group of protesters, who claimed to be expressing support for Buhari, confronted the BBOG protesters a few metres away from the President’s office, telling the Chibok girls campaigners to stop distracting Buhari.
Armed policemen, numbering over 60, mounted a barricade on the Shehu Shagari Way, Central Business District, Abuja, to prevent the campaigners from taking their fourth protest to the seat of power.
But the group breached the police cordon thrice to reach the access road to the Presidential Villa, where they pasted the pictures of the Chibok schoolgirls on the bridge.
The protesters, including Chibok indigenes, were earlier stopped from marching to the Aso Villa by the policemen and women, who formed a barrier by the Federal High Court headquarters.
Displaying pictures of the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls, abducted by Boko Haram from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014, the BBOG members had a standoff with the security operatives for some minutes, pleading that they be allowed to proceed with their march.
The BBOG Co-convener, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, approached the leader of the police team, identified as CSP Garba, and entreated him to allow the group to continue with its march, but the senior officer simply ignored her.
Miffed by the police personnel’s lack of concern, the protesters broke through the ranks of the policewomen and marched on, while the security operatives ran after them.
The operatives caught up with the campaigners around Bayelsa Guest House and quickly formed another barricade to stop the march.
The rowdy situation also paralysed vehicular movement on the road.
Ezekwesili berated the policemen for denying the coalition members their right to protest.
“Officer, will you allow me to proceed? I am a harmless citizen,” she said and breached the blockade again with other BBOG members following her swiftly.
The group was halted at the access road to the Aso Villa, where they had held three protests earlier.
The protesters were, however, confronted by a pro-government group, which had taken over the access road to the Presidential Villa, chanting pro-President Buhari songs.
But while the Chibok girls’ campaigners were harassed by the police, the pro-government group were given tacit approval by the police to protest at the access road to the Aso Villa.
The group, donning green and white T-shirts with the inscription, #IStandWithBuhari, and carrying placards, opposed the BBOG members, whom they branded as enemies of the country.
A member of the group, Amina Mohammed, denied being paid to attack the Chibok girls campaigners, stating that they were out to drum support for the President.
“We didn’t know the BBOG members are protesting today; we just wanted to drum support for President Buhari. I wasn’t sponsored to join this protest; nobody can sponsor me; I am doing it (protest) from my heart. All I want is peace,” she said.
The leader of the pro-government protesters, Idris King, told journalists that their protest was in solidarity with Buhari on his efforts to end Boko Haram insurgency.
He pointed out that his group was made up of Nigerians from all sectors, who had decided to tell the Ezekwesili-led group to allow the Federal Government work on the rescue of the girls.
King stated, “We are referring to whoever has been disturbing the government. Any responsible government knows that the issue of national security will not be disclosed to the general public. The reason is simple: it will make the government porous to the people. “When this government came in, in their own wisdom, they used their strategy. They never told us how they were going to stop the series of bombings.”
Ezekwesili told journalists that her group was not interested in meeting the President, noting that they had met him twice without any positive result or coherent decision from him.
The former education minister added, “We have not been coming out because we want to sit with Mr. President. No. We sat with Mr. President twice; he didn’t make any difference. We want to make sure that as citizens, we will continue to give the President no rest until he does what he pledged.
“He pledged that he would not consider himself to have defeated Boko Haram without the rescue of our Chibok girls and all other abducted citizens of this land.
“We don’t want a meeting; we want the President to know that we will continue to demand the rescue of our Chibok girls.”
Reacting to the attempt by the police to halt the protest, Ezekwesili argued that the campaigners had constitutional rights to the freedom of movement and association, which she noted, could not be taken away.
She said the government must take a decision in respect of the schoolgirls in the Boko Haram captivity, stressing that the issue should not be treated as an open-ended affair.
Ezekwesili said, “There are three options that the President and the Commander-in-Chief with his team of security people can take from. The President can decide a military action to rescue our Chibok girls or the President can decide to negotiate for the release of our Chibok girls or the third option, the President can combine the military operation with negotiation.
“Now, there is a fourth option. Unfortunately, it’s the riskiest of all the options. The first three options are risky. We are mindful of the fact that there are risks attending the three options but the fourth option is the riskiest of them all. It is the option of ‘do nothing’. They treat the captivity of our Chibok girls as an open-ended affair.”