Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Nobel Laureate and Activists Ask Obasanjo To Quit by Innocent Anaba & Evelyn Usman
NOBEL laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, and other prominent human rights activists who were brutalised by policemen at weekend’s rally in Lagos were back in the fray, yesterday, calling for the resignation of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
But the police insisted that they merely “persuaded” them (Soyinka and co) to leave the venue and that they were not injured.
The rights activists at a press conference in Lagos yesterday also demanded the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference to negotiate a new way of governing Nigeria, and declared that they would organise one for themselves if Obasanjo continued to resist the conference.
Said Soyinka: “We were tear-gassed after we had left the venue of the rally. It was a day of infamy. They deliberately tear-gassed us. I found this act cowardly and desperate. We in the Citizens’ Forum do not rule out civil disobedience in achieving our goal. The only thing we rule out is violence. Efforts are going on to ensure that the Sovereign National Conference is held with or without government. When dialogue is missing, you have monologue.”
He berated the police for denying arresting him alongside other activists, saying: “Why are our police not honourable. By saying that they (Police) did not arrest me is implying that I am lying. They should be able to tell the truth for once. The idea of corporate lies will not serve them any good. I was arrested and while they were doing that, I asked them if I was under arrest and one of them said no, but the other officer said yes, that I was under arrest. So, why must they come to deny arresting me alongside other activists. And they fired over 40 canisters of teargas on us.”
Chief Gani Fawehimni, who also spoke at the briefing, called for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, and accused the present elected office holders of not performing on account of pervasive corruption. “Corruption is too much in the country, right from the Presidency down to the local government level. Nigeria cannot develop unless corruption is checked.”
He said the police by using teargas and arresting and detaining protesters, had “only created an impetus to continue with the rally. If there is a demonstration by a kindergarten pupil, I will be there. If they say the rally is 4a.m., I will be there. It is only in Nigeria that those who fought for democracy are not in government. Can you imagine a South Africa leadership without Mandela? All those who are governing us today never fought for democracy. We are not grudging them, that is why we are going to fight until we have enthroned true democracy.”
Dr. Ransome-Kuti said: “We have never witnessed the kind of civil dictatorship we are experiencing in the country today. Saturday’s incident and that of May 3, at Abuja clearly explain it. I think things have got out of hand and it is our duty to check this trend. We call for the immediate resignation of Obasanjo and the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference.”
Mr. Femi Falana, citing the Public Order Act, said there was no section of the Act that says Nigerians must apply to the police before embarking on any rally or protest or have police permission, arguing that the right to protest was a constitutional one. He also wondered why the police were playing double standard on the issue of protest, noting that government allows pro-government protests to hold, but uses force to stop anti-government rallies and protests.
Mr. Bamidele Aturu called for the immediate resignation of Obasanjo, and asked the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to sanction the new Lagos Police commissioner, Mr Israel Ajao, for unleashing the police on the protesters. He said Ajao being a lawyer, should know that the constitution guarantees Nigerians' right to peaceful protest. He called for a judicial probe to investigate the circumstances surrounding the police brutalisation of the protesters and the use of teargas on them, alleging that most of the teargas used by the police had expired.
The speakers said the police action had strengthened their resolve to organise more rallies and protests. Mr. Chima Ubani said protests and rallies would be held in all the 36 states of the federation and in Abuja.
Police deny arrest
However, the Lagos State Police Command insisted yesterday that it did not arrest the rights activists.
It said they were only addressed on the need to always respect the laws of the land after which they left for their respective homes.
The command in a statement signed by its spokesman , Mr. Emmanuel Ighodalo, said: “On Saturday, May 15, 2004, as early as 0500hrs, officers and men of the Nigeria Police took strategic positions around Campos Square in central Lagos with a view to preventing an illegal rally by the Citizens Forum , Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) and others; thus enforcing the Public Order Act of 1979
At about 1100hrs, Prof. Wole Shoyinka, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Mr Femi Falana, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, Ms Ayo Obe as well as many other people, abandoned their respective cars some metres away and attempted to go into the Campos Square at Igbosere but could not do so because the gates were firmly locked by the police.
“They all stood by the road side and attempted to conduct an illegal rally in spite of appeals by the police to them to respect the laws of the land, especially, since there was no police permit granted for the rally. They left the Campos Square vicinity under the pretext of dispersing but rather moved to Sandgrouse market with a view to conducting the same illegal rally.”
The Police, according to Ighodalo, went on their trail and discovered that the rally had been hijacked by “miscreants, touts, hoodlums as well as university students from all parts of the country.”
In order to avoid the case from getting out of hand, he said the Police persuaded them to leave the venue, stressing that “Police never arrested Prof. Wole Shoyinka, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Mr Femi Falana, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, Ms. Ayo Obe and others who gathered for the rally and nobody was injured at all.”
Note: This article first appeared in The Vanguard newspaper of Nigeria
Tuesday, May 18, 2004