Criticisms trail clampdown on EndSARS protesters

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EndSARS protesters

The clampdown on the promoters and organisers of the #EndSARS protests has been widely criticized by lawyers and civil society organisations. The federal government should therefore take necessary action to stop these illegal and unpopular actions of its agencies in order to save whatever is remaining in the huge distrust between it and the people

By Anayo Ezugwu

DESPITE ordering state governments to set up judicial inquiry to investigate police brutality across the country, the federal government is determined to criminalize EndSARS protesters by all means. The government has started arresting and taking legal actions against those they perceive as leaders of the #EndSARS protests.

So far, the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has frozen the bank accounts of about 20 protesters. The Federal High Court in Abuja recently ordered the CBN to freeze their accounts till January 2021. The request was granted by Justice Ahmed Mohammed and was filed by the CBN on October 20.

Some of the affected individuals include Bolatito Racheal Oduala; Chima David Ibebunjoh; Mary Doose Kpengwa; Saadat Temitope Bibi; Bassey Victor Israel; Wisdom Busaosowo Obi; Nicholas Ikhalea Osazele; Ebere Idibie; Akintomide Lanre Yusuf; Uhuo Ezenwanyi Promise and Mosopefoluwa Odeseye. Others are: Adegoke Pamilerin Yusif; Umoh Grace Ekanem; Babatunde Victor Segun; Mulu Louis Teghenan; Mary Oshifowora; Winifred Akpevweoghene Jacob; Victor Solomon; Idunu A. Williams, and Gatefield Nigeria Limited.

The court order, which was addressed to the head offices of Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, First Bank Nigeria, Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank of Africa, and Zenith Bank, directed the banks to freeze forthwith all transactions on the 20 accounts on the list annexed to the CBN’s application as Exhibit A and all other bank accounts of the defendants/respondents for a period of 180 days pending the outcome of investigation and inquiry currently being conducted by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The federal government told the court that the funds in the accounts might have been linked to terrorist activities. This is according to a written address in support of a motion ex parte filed by the CBN. The written address read in part, “My lord, the nature of the transactions undertaken through the defendants’ accounts are of suspected terrorism financing in contravention of Section 13(1)(a)and(b) of the Terrorism (Prevention)(Amendment) Act, 2013 and Regulation 31(2)(a)and (3)(b) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism Regulations, 2013.”

Apart from those, their accounts were frozen by the banks, the government has started clampdown of other protesters. For instance, Eromosele Adene, one of the protesters, was arrested on Saturday, November 7 in Lagos by the police for distributing flyers and asking people to come out for a resumption of the protest.

Onomene Adene, his sister, said: “He has been moved to Abuja and I think they decided to move him because they would not be able to control the outrage in Lagos. He was detained for over 48 hours without bail. He was first taken to the CP’s office in Lagos, and then moved to Panti. When the noise started, he was moved to Area F and on Monday morning, when the lawyer visited the place, we were told he had been moved.”

Obianuju Catherine Udeh, professionally known as DJ Switch, is another protester wanted by the government. But she has reportedly fled the country, following a series of death threats. Likewise, Modupe Odele, a member of the Feminist Coalition, was stopped by the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, from travelling out of the country.

As the development unfolds, some analysts are uncomfortable with the latest move of the federal government, as they seek to exact vengeance from the protesters. They are even more disturbed that the CBN would be dabbling into the politics by freezing bank accounts of protesters.

To protest in a democracy cannot be a crime. It is indeed a measure of how tolerant Nigerians are that the EndSARS protests took so many years in coming. Testimonies from state judicial panels are heart rending. A woman had her three sons killed by SARS operatives. A man had his tooth brutally removed with scissors. Another woman had the nozzle of a gun inserted into her private parts.

Many Nigerians, lawyers, Civil Society Organisations, and social media influencers have criticised the federal government’s clampdown on the organisers and campaigners of the EndSARS protests across the country. Joe Abah, a social media influencer, in his tweets on Tuesday, November 10, insisted that peaceful protest is a constitutional right. He said it is important to have clarity on the issue of EndSARS, because so many people are muddling up so many different issues.

“The EndsSARS protest was concerned with better policing, better governance and a better country. The EndSARS protests were peaceful. Perhaps the most peaceful was the one at the Lekki Tollgate. The military action against the Lekki Tollgate protesters, even before the commencement of the curfew, was, therefore, unnecessary and uncalled for. The jail breaks, arson, looting and mayhem around the country before and after the Lekki Tollgate military intervention were not carried out by the peaceful EndSARS protesters, who were demanding for better policing, better governance and a better country.

“Blaming the arson, looting and mayhem perpetrated by thugs and miscreants (some appearing to have been sponsored, others self-sponsoring) on the peaceful EndSARS protesters is disingenuous and an attempt to avoid the issues raised by the peaceful EndSARS protests. Peaceful protest is a Constitutional right. To arrest somebody for protesting, you must show in court that they were violent or incited violence. The Lagos State Government, therefore, rightly released many that had been arrested and plans to prosecute some for violent conduct.

“The issues that formed the basis of the peaceful EndSARS protests (better policing, better governance and a better country for all) still need to be addressed. Governance problems never go away until they are addressed. Hope these help to provide some clarity,” he said.

Reacting to the apex bank’s action, Mike Ozekhome, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, described the federal government’s tagging of the promoters of the EndSARS protesters as terrorists as unlawful, unconstitutional and insensitive. Ozekhome, who said he found it hard to believe that the CBN made such a claim in the application filed to obtain the court order freezing the accounts on Wednesday, November 11, noted that the rights to protest were guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.

“Who is saying that peaceful protests on the streets of Nigeria by Nigerians, who are constitutionally entitled under sections 37 and 38 of the Constitution to protest, to assemble, to associate, to move freely, to kick against bad government policies, to demonstrate on the streets peacefully, to sing, to dance and to hold rally, are terrorism? Who is the person saying that these amount to terrorism? What can this government not do to give a dog a bad name so as to hang it?

“So, the government does not know that the herdsmen are the real terrorists? The government does not know that Boko Haram members are the real terrorists? The government does not know that the rampaging kidnappers are the real terrorists? The government does not know that the bandits are the real terrorists? The government does not know that those in government stealing the commonwealth belonging to the people are the real terrorists?

“It is insensitive; it is immoral; it is illegal; it is unconstitutional; it is unlawful; it is wrongful for the government, through the CBN or any agency, to tag peaceful protesters as terrorists. It is most unfortunate and saddening,” he said.

Similarly, Jiti Ogunye, human rights lawyer, said the profiling of the EndSARS promoters as terrorists by the CBN was ridiculous, warning that the apex bank, which is not a security agency, must not get itself involved in politics at the risk of losing credibility. “It is ridiculous. The CBN has no statutory duty to profile anybody. The CBN is not a security agency or a law enforcement agency.

“The CBN is the banker to the Federal Government of Nigeria; it is also a regulatory agency in terms of ensuring compliance with fiscal policies. But it is not a body to designate or profile anybody as terrorists. What the CBN reportedly has done on this occasion is ridiculous and dangerous. This clampdown, violation of rights and profiling are unlawful and disconcerting. We live in a country that is talking now about rehabilitating known terrorists, who have taken up arms against the state, who are being rehabilitated or de-radicalised, but people who embarked on a protest are then tagged as terrorists; it is ridiculous.

“It is best for the government to calm down and engage in introspection. When you talk about incitement, if there is no fundamental lack, will it be possible for people to be incited? The more the CBN gets itself caught in the vortex of this very political action of the government, while it is supposed to maintain a degree of independence, the more people will treat it with derision and the CBN may suffer credibility crisis,” he said.

But Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, has insisted that those who promoted the EndSARS protests and allowed it degenerate into chaos must be made to face the law. Speaking on Politics Today, a Channels Television programme, on Sunday, November 8, Shehu said despite being entitled to the right to protest in a peaceful way, there is also a law that sanctions violent demonstrations.

He said the country had been seriously harmed by the EndSARS protests and the culprits must be made to face the consequences. “This country has only one president and has only one constitution. President Muhammadu Buhari is responsible for his government. The buck stops on his table. We are a country governed by law. There is a constitution that states clearly, under section 33, that clearly defines the rights of citizens to freely protest in a peaceful way, but where a peaceful protest turns into riot, violence, and looting, there is a law and order duty to be performed.

“Everyone witnessed the massive looting of public and private properties, particularly in Lagos, Calabar, Plateau, Taraba and some other states, even the FCT. Now, the laws of the country must be allowed to decide, to rule on wrongdoing on the part of just anybody. I am not particular about any celebrity or promoter, but this country has been harmed enormously and people should be prepared to account for what they did,” he said.

– Nov. 13, 2020 @ 17:45 GMT |

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