#ENDSARS: FCT MINISTER, BELLO UNDER FIRE FOR BANNING PROTESTS

Olalekan Adetayo, John Alechenu,  Friday Olokor, Adelani Adepegba, Ade Adesomoju and  Oladimeji Ramon

#EndSARS  protesters,  human rights organisations and  lawyers on Thursday took a swipe at the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Mohammed Bello,  over the ban on street protests in the FCT.

Leaders of the movement campaigning for   the disbanding  of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police, in separate interviews with The PUNCH, dared the FCT administration, saying they would continue the protests despite the ban.

Also, human rights groups and lawyers condemned the ban and described it as unconstitutional, null and void.

But the Northern Governors’ Forum on Thursday said northern states  were  not opposed to SARS. The Plateau State Governor and Chairman of the forum, Simon Lalong, in an interview with State House correspondents in Abuja, said the squad had been useful in tackling insecurity in the North.

On its part, the Nigeria Governors Forum, in a communiqué issued after its meeting on Wednesday, supported the plan by the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to reform the police.

It, however, asked   the police to fish out operatives of the disbanded SARS  whose actions caused injuries or death of innocent citizens.

A few hours after the governors met,  the FCT Administration,  in a statement by the minister’s Chief Press Secretary, Anthony Ogunleye,   announced the ban on #EndSARS protests in Abuja for alleged violation of COVID-19 protocols.

The administration said it was concerned that despite the scrapping of SARS by the IG on Sunday, the demonstrations had continued, causing inconveniences to law-abiding citizens.

According to the statement titled, ‘COVID-19: FCT Security Committee prohibits street demonstrations,’  the decision was reached at a meeting of the FCT Security Committee chaired by the Minister

The administration said while it recognised the rights of citizens to freedom of association and movement as enshrined in the constitution, it had observed that “the unruly conduct of the crowd was in violation of the COVID-19 safety protocols which were put in place to safeguard the lives of citizens.”

It added that the COVID-19 guidelines included physical distancing, temperature checks and the use of face masks.

“All these guidelines were flouted by the protesters. Consequently, the committee directs that due to the dangers posed by COVID-19, all street demonstrations, protests and processions will not be allowed anywhere within the FCT,” the FCTA stated.

But the protesters said they would continue with the street rallies.

Speaking to The PUNCH, a leader of the #EndSARS protesters, Raphael Adebayo, described the directive banning protests as insensitive.

He queried the rationale for the decision, noting that the FCT minister would not have issued the order if he had the interest of the nation at heart.

Stating that youths were fighting for their  survival, he noted that the protesters were not worried about the COVID-19 infections just as he pointed out that political parties had organised campaign rallies amidst the pandemic without the government stopping them for violating the COVID-19 protocols.

He said, “Their statement speaks more to the culture of impunity that we are talking about that has permeated our system. It makes no sense that in the last couple of months, we have seen a number of political parties holding rallies and campaigns and inviting people in their thousands to their campaign grounds and rallies without adhering to the COVID-19 protocols.”

When asked if the protests would continue in the FCT, the activist replied, “Absolutely; Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. The Nigerian youths have decided that their time for liberation is now and in the words of Che Guevara, ‘there is no liberator anywhere, only the people can liberate themselves.’ So, the Nigerian people have decided to liberate themselves.”

FCT minister has no power to stop protests —Aisha Yesufu

Another  leading member of the #EndSARS movement, Aisha Yesufu, argued that the government and police had no right to stop the protests, adding that there were several court orders to support her stance.

She advised the FCT minister to focus on the security challenge facing the nation’s capital, noting that the rising cases of abductions in the satellite towns should be his concern.

Yesufu said, “People are being kidnapped in satellite towns close to Abuja, he (the FCT minister)  has never said anything. The constitution allows protest and he cannot stop it. In 2014 when the police said we could not protest in Abuja, the #BringBackOurGirls movement went to court and won the case.”

The activist also called for the removal of the IG, saying “he has lost control of his men and the best thing is for him to go.”

The Executive Director of the Centre for Public Accountability, Olufemi Lawson, said “The purported ban on peaceful protests by the FCT Administration is unconstitutional, illegal, invalid, null, void and of no effect whatsoever and should be disregarded in its entirety.

“Only the President can invoke the Quarantine Act under Section 4. While FCT is under President’s control, its minister cannot stand as a surrogate to invoke Quarantine Act.”

Also,  a former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, described the FCTA’s statement as unconstitutional and ill-advised, noting that Nigerians have right, under Section 39 of the Constitution, to protest.

Reverse ban on protests or face legal action, lawyer warns FCT minister

Also faulting the FCTA, a  lawyer, Mr Pelumi Olajengbesi,  issued a 24-hour ultimatum to the minister to reverse the ban on protests.

Olajengbesi, in a statement  titled, ‘The  ban on #EndSARS protest by the Security Committee of FCTA, an effrontery on the constitutional right of the Nigerian people,’ threatened to institute a legal action against the minister should he fail to accede to the demand within the stipulated period.

According to him,  the FCT minister “has no power whatsoever to infringe, restrain or constrain the will and determination of the masses especially in a time like this when the ship of the nation is sinking down a depth of no seeming return.

“Consequently, we therefore give the FCT Minister an ultimatum of 24 hours within which to reverse his stand on the issue and allow the people to demonstrate their displeasure and dissatisfaction against the official rascality and reprehensive character of the officers of Special Anti-Robbery Squad.”

In a related development, military authorities on Thursday,  threatened to deal with thugs and miscreants disrupting  peaceful protests by #EndSARS campaigners.

The Defence headquarters frowned on the violent attacks on the activists and warned the perpetrators to desist or face sanctions.

Recall that protesters were attacked and injured by thugs in Abuja and Lagos on Wednesday. About seven vehicles were also vadalised at the Berger roundabout, Wuse, Abuja.

But the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Major General John Enenche, in a statement,  stated that the military would not condone further attacks on the peaceful protesters.

The statement was titled, ‘Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies assured Nigerians of their safety and stability of the nation, warn against violent protests in the country.’

It stated, “The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies have observed with dismay some violence-related protests across the country, particularly the increasing number of attacks on peaceful protesters by thugs and miscreants.

“This unfolding event against peace-loving Nigerians will not be condoned. Hence, thugs and miscreants are hereby warned to desist from engaging in violent activities against peaceful Nigerians henceforth, or face appropriate measures.”

The Chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum, Lalong, said northern states were opposed to the scrapping of SARS.

He stated,  “They want SARS because SARS helps them. Borno said without SARS, it would not have been surviving today. Niger also wants SARS.”

According to him, rather than scrapping SARS, the police should be reformed and the process of recruitment into the force should be reviewed.

Governors demand sanctions for errant operatives, compensation for victims

But the NGF   called for compensation for all those who were victims of the excesses of the disbanded police unit.

This was contained in a communiqué issued to journalists on Thursday after the 19th teleconference  of the forum on Wednesday. The communiqué   was signed by its Chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State.

Fayemi said “Governors were unequivocal that all police officers who participated in the abuse or actions that might have led to injury or the death of innocent citizens must be fished out and brought to book while other Nigerians who have been adversely affected by police brutality or other actions that were injurious to them or their loved ones, should be compensated.”

The communiqué read in part, “Governors were unanimous in their support for the IGP and endorsed his plan to carry out far-reaching reforms geared towards greater effectiveness, accountability and transparency.”

Earlier, the IGP,  while briefing the governors,  was quoted as saying following dissolution of the FSARS, a new strictly intelligence-driven Special Weapons and Tactics Team would be constituted.

Meanwhile, the IG on Thursday warned all police officers across the country against the use of force on peaceful protesters.

The IG noted that the citizens had fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly and movement which must always be upheld and protected by the police.

He, however, appealed to protesters to “continually conduct themselves peacefully and guide their ranks against infiltration by criminal elements.”

This was contained in a statement , titled, ‘IGP warns police officers against use of force on peaceful protesters,’  issued on Thursday by the force spokesman, Frank Mba

50 SWAT operatives commence training Monday

The first batch of 50 members of the newly formed SWAT will commence training on Monday.

The PUNCH gathered on Thursday, that the men would go to  three training institutions designed for the exercise on Sunday.

The basic training which would hold for three weeks, will be conducted at the Police Mobile Force Training College, Illa-Orangun, Osun State; PMF Training College, Ende Hills, Nasarawa State; and PTS Nonwa-Tai, Rivers State.

The SWAT training schedule was contained in a memo dated October 13, 2020, signed by the IG.

The letter with reference number CB: 4770/IGP.SEC/ABJ/V22/156, was addressed to deputy inspectors- general of police, assistant inspectors- general of police, commissioners of police and commandants of police colleges nationwide.

The memo explained that the SWAT operatives would be specially trained in weapons handling and tactical operations and would also be oriented to operate within very high professional and ethical standards, rule of law dictates and best international policing practices.

Adamu said the SWAT Team would be intelligence-led and limited to response to robbery attacks, response to scenes of weapon-related crimes and rescue operations.

On the selection criteria, he said they must be between the ages of 25 and 40 years for operational elements and between the ages of 35 and 45 years for command elements.

The letter read, “The SWAT personnel must be certified as medically, emotionally and psychologically fit and will all as a critical pre-requisite undergo and pass medical examination, psychometric and toxicological screening for drug of abuse which will be conducted by the police medical services during training. Those found to be unsuitable shall be discharged.”

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