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
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