Civil rights ag­i­ta­tions as path­way to state-backed at­tacks

Re­peated at­tacks on civil so­ci­ety groups, be­lieved to be spon­sored by gov­ern­ment, gives cause for con­cern, ADE­LANI ADE­PEGBA reports

The Punch - - PANORAMA -

LAST Mon­day’s at­tack on a coalition of civil rights ac­tivists by hood­lums at the Na­tional Human Rights Commission in Maitama, Abuja has given rise to con­cerns over at­tempts to sti­fle the free­dom of speech in the coun­try.

More wor­ri­some is the fact that po­lice­men, who were present at the scene of the at­tack, only watched and did noth­ing, as the hood­lums phys­i­cally as­saulted the ac­tivists for protest­ing the il­le­gal de­ten­tion of #Revo­lu­tion­now con­vener, Omoyele Sowore by the Depart­ment of State Ser­vices.

Jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing the event were not spared the ire of the hired thugs, who also ex­tolled the regime of the Pres­i­dent, Ma­jor Gen­eral Muham­madu Buhari(retd.).

The ac­tivists had gath­ered at the NHRC to present a let­ter to the Sec­re­tary of the commission. While they sang and bran­dished plac­ards with in­scrip­tions, such as ‘Stop si­lenc­ing dis­sent­ing voices,’ ‘save our democ­racy,’ and ‘NHRC must pro­tect our rights,’ the pro-gov­ern­ment thugs sud­denly emerged from a side street and dis­rupted the rally, chant­ing ‘Sai Baba’ and threat­en­ing fire and brim­stone against Buhari’s per­ceived en­e­mies. They also car­ried a large ban­ner with the in­scrip­tion, ‘Sup­port Buhari, say no to sabo­teurs.’

The thugs pounced on one of the coalition lead­ers, Deji Adeyanju and two other mem­bers, and as­saulted them with sticks and other ob­jects. Adeyanju, who sus­tained some in­juries, was even­tu­ally res­cued from his as­sailants and taken to a hospi­tal for treat­ment. By that time, he had lost his phone and other per­sonal be­long­ings dur­ing the at­tack.

The Con­vener, Free Nige­ria Move­ment, Ralph Ade­bayo, who wit­nessed the at­tack, said the at­tack­ers were spon­sored by the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment.

Warning that Nige­ri­ans must de­fend their con­sti­tu­tional rights and save the na­tion’s democ­racy, he said, “This is not a bat­tle for ac­tivists alone. Ev­ery cit­i­zen of this coun­try must de­fend his or her con­sti­tu­tional rights. What hap­pened is very sad and un­for­tu­nate. The po­lice stood by and watched the mis­cre­ants at­tack us. This in­ci­dent should be in­ves­ti­gated by the po­lice au­thor­i­ties.”

Adeyanju said he was in­flicted with in­juries on his hands, legs and back. He also had com­pli­ca­tions in his kid­ney area where he was kicked and punched re­peat­edly.

Ac­cus­ing the DSS of mas­ter­mind­ing the at­tack, the human rights ac­tivist noted that the thugs were specif­i­cally hired to dis­rupt the peace­ful rally.

He said, “The DSS are be­hind the at­tack. After they failed in their at­tempts to bribe me, they de­cided to fin­ish me off by con­tract­ing mis­cre­ants. They hired one Ali from Kano, who in turn en­gaged the tout that led the thugs who at­tacked me.

“They hired the same peo­ple to protest dur­ing Sowore’s court trial and planned to launch a sim­i­lar at­tack in the event of a failed at­tempt to re-ar­rest him. The present lead­er­ship of the SSS is the worst in the his­tory of Nige­ria.”

But Ibrahim Dal­lah, who led the sus­pected mis­cre­ants, de­nied or­der­ing his boys to at­tack the coalition mem­bers. Dal­lah, who de­scribed him­self as the co-con­vener of the Cen­tre for Lead­er­ship and Devel­op­ment Ini­tia­tives, ar­gued that the at­tack was a re­ac­tion to the ver­bal in­sults from the ac­tivists.

Blam­ing the ac­tivists for the in­ci­dent, he said, “We would not al­low for­eign mer­ce­nar­ies and op­po­si­tion to come and sab­o­tage the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari.

“We are here in sol­i­dar­ity with the mil­i­tary for what they are do­ing in com­bat­ing Boko Haram, ban­ditry and other forms of in­se­cu­rity. No­body asked any­body to be vi­o­lent. It (the at­tack) hap­pened be­cause they (the ac­tivists) were in­sult­ing our peo­ple and they also have the right to protest, they are Nige­ri­ans.”

It could not be con­firmed if the po­lice had acted on a pe­ti­tion writ­ten by Adeyanju on the at­tack, but it is doubt­ful that it will yield pos­i­tive results.

A few weeks be­fore the Maitama in­ci­dent, some DSS op­er­a­tives had on Novem­ber 12, 2019 as­saulted human rights ac­tivists who were protest­ing Sowore’s de­ten­tion. With­out a mod­icum of self-re­straint, the se­cu­rity men had pointed guns at the peace­ful protesters, fired sev­eral gun­shots in the air and al­most ran them down with a truck and mo­tor­cy­cles.

The op­er­a­tives also as­saulted an uniden­ti­fied lady and beat up a jour­nal­ist with The Guardian news­pa­per, Richard Olu­dare, who at­tempted to as­sist her.

Olu­dare claimed that he suf­fered lac­er­a­tions in his face, hands and back, as well as a con­cus­sion and mi­graine, which lasted sev­eral weeks after the at­tack. He is al­ready taking steps to drag the DSS to court for vi­o­lat­ing his fun­da­men­tal human right.

A time­line of events shows that spon­sored at­tacks on Nige­rian cit­i­zens and crit­ics might be a favourite strong-arm tac­tic of the Buhari regime meant to in­tim­i­date the op­po­si­tion. In Novem­ber 2017, when Ma­jor Gen­eral Buhari was away in Lon­don on med­i­cal tourism, pop­u­lar artiste, Charly Boy, Adeyanju and other mem­bers of #Our­mu­mudondo coalition were at­tacked in Wuse mar­ket for de­mand­ing Buhari’s re­turn. Al­though Charly Boy man­aged to es­cape from the scene of the at­tack by a whisker, his car was van­dalised by the at­tack­ers.

A few days be­fore this, the po­lice had re­port­edly ha­rassed mem­bers of the #Our­mu­mudondo coalition at the Unity Foun­tain, Abuja. They un­leashed their dogs at the protesters and doused them with wa­ter can­nons. When this did not work, an ob­vi­ously spon­sored counter-protest was held by some youths who at­tempted to pro­voke the #Re­sume­or­re­sign cam­paign­ers. Buhari con­se­quently re­turned to the coun­try.

In the mean­time, Buhari, like Pon­tius Pi­late, has washed his hands of the vi­o­la­tions of cit­i­zens’ rights by goons loyal to his regime. Speak­ing, while re­ceiv­ing the new United States Am­bas­sador to Nige­ria, Mary Leonard, last week, he said his con­science was clear about the human rights sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try.

Buhari said the re­cent list­ing of Nige­ria for human rights con­cerns by the United States had cre­ated the im­pres­sion that some peo­ple were be­ing un­fairly treated or marginalis­ed in the coun­try.

“I know that those with ac­cess have cre­ated the im­pres­sion that they are marginalis­ed. I sit here with a clear con­science. I took an oath and I am hon­our­ing the of­fice,’’ he claimed.

But Nige­ri­ans are unan­i­mous in their con­dem­na­tion of of­fi­cial at­tempts to muf­fle crit­i­cal voices and choke dis­sent in the coun­try. The Con­vener, Coalition in De­fence of Nige­rian Democ­racy and Con­sti­tu­tion, Ariyo-dare Atoye, pointed out that the Buhari regime and some agents of the state were un­com­fort­able that ac­tivists and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions are weath­er­ing the storm amid the in­creas­ingly shrink­ing civic space.

“They see the mount­ing crit­i­cism of the regime by human rights groups, ac­tivists and pro-democ­racy groups as a dis­rup­tion of gov­er­nance and an anti-buhari cru­sade.

“This regime is in­ca­pable of en­gag­ing crit­ics and pro­vid­ing mean­ing­ful re­sponses to the con­cerns and yearn­ings of the peo­ple. Un­for­tu­nately, agents of the state have since em­barked on a dan­ger­ous al­ter­na­tive, while em­ploy­ing the ser­vices of thugs and mis­cre­ants to at­tack protesters and ac­tivists,” he noted.

Atoye said the in­tol­er­ance of the regime has threat­ened the foun­da­tion of civil rule and put the na­tion’s democ­racy in dan­ger. This, he said, is trou­bling and un­for­tu­nate.

He stated, “It is un­think­able that Nige­ria under a demo­cratic or civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion would get to a level where the po­lice would lit­er­ally give thugs and mis­cre­ants a free pass to at­tack peace­ful cit­i­zens protest­ing the ris­ing human rights vi­o­la­tions in Nige­ria. This wicked and bar­baric.”

He urged the human rights com­mu­nity to vig­or­ously chal­lenge “the grow­ing cam­paign of evil dis­guised as a counter-protest by agents of the state.”

The ac­tivist added, “This ugly devel­op­ment will not stop un­til there is a con­certed ef­fort to fight and chal­lenge it.”

The Executive Director, United Global Re­solve for Peace, Shalom Olaseni, be­moaned the in­volve­ment of law en­force­ment agen­cies in the re­cruit­ment of thugs to in­sti­gate vi­o­lence and trun­cate protests. He de­scribed the devel­op­ment as a char­ac­ter­is­tic of a to­tal­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment and a pre­req­ui­site to anar­chy.

Olaseni stated, “Nige­ria gov­ern­ment and politi­cians are not new to the use of spon­sored thugs to ha­rass, in­tim­i­date and si­lence op­po­si­tions. This is most preva­lent dur­ing elec­tions. The sad part of this is the com­plic­ity of law en­force­ment agen­cies.

“The re­cent at­tack on Adeyanju, which was not con­demned by the Pres­i­dent, only shows his en­dorse­ment of this shame­ful act. This is a pre­req­ui­site to anar­chy and civil un­rest.”

The UGRFP en­joined Nige­ri­ans not to lose their re­solve in fight­ing op­pres­sion and ex­press­ing their fun­da­men­tal rights while speak­ing truth to power with­out fear.

“Law en­force­ment agen­cies should hon­our their oath to the Con­sti­tu­tion by in­ves­ti­gat­ing this re­cent at­tack and pros­e­cute the crim­i­nals in­volved and their spon­sors,” Olaseni coun­selled.

On its part, the So­cio-eco­nomic Rights and Ac­count­abil­ity Pro­ject pe­ti­tioned the United Na­tions Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on the right to peace­ful as­sem­bly and as­so­ci­a­tion, Mr Cle­ment Voule, urg­ing him to “pub­licly ex­press con­cerns about the grow­ing human rights vi­o­la­tions and abuses in Nige­ria and call on the au­thor­i­ties to end vi­o­lent at­tacks on peace­ful protesters and to take ur­gent mea­sures to re­spect and pro­tect the rights of all Nige­ri­ans to protest any­where in the coun­try.”

•Se­cu­rity per­son­nel clam­p­down on protest­ing civil rights ac­tiv­i­ties. In­set: Hood­lums phys­i­cally as­sault­ing Adeyanju

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