Lekki tollgate: Outrage as police arrest 40 protesters

By AdvocateNews on 14/02/2021

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#OccupyLekkiTollGate protesters arrested
#OccupyLekkiTollGate protesters arrested

There was widespread anger on Saturday following the arrest of 40 persons who protested peacefully against the reopening of the Lekki Tollgate Plaza in Lagos State.

The peaceful protesters were arrested on Saturday and locked up in standby Black Marias.

Police consequently brought them before a mobile court in Yaba for conspiracy, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace and violation of COVID-19 protocols.

The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing police brutality and alleged killings of #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at the Lekki Tollgate, had ruled that the tollgate be handed back to its operator, Lekki Concession Company, after forensic experts submitted their report on the October 20, 2020 incident.

Four out of the nine members of the panel had faulted the report of the forensic experts hired to comb the scene for evidence and rejected the application by the LCC to take possession of the facility, which had been shut down since the probe of the shootings started.

The four members who rejected the forensic report are the two representatives of the civil society – Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) and Ms Patience Udoh; as well as the two youth representatives on the panel – Rinu Oduala and Temitope Majekodunmi.

They contended that the LCC denied the forensic experts access to its servers and failed to provide them with information on who ordered the extraction of CCTV footage; the date and time of extraction of the footage; the method used for the extraction, among others.

But the chairman of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi (retd.), and four other members of the panel acceded to LCC’s request to repossess the tollgate.

The chairman was backed by Segun Awosanya (popularly known as Segalink), Oluwatoyin Odusanya (Director, Citizens Rights), a representative of the police, DIG Taiwo Lakanu (retd.) and Lucas Koyejo from the National Human Rights Commission.

Subsequently, hashtags #OccupyLekkiTollgate and #DefendLagos trended on the social media for and against the reopening respectively.

Lagos State and the Federal Government as well as the police had warned the protesters to shelve the demonstration but some of them defied the warning and came out on Saturday to protest against the reopening.

The demonstrators at different times in the day came to the tollgate in units and small groups, expressing their displeasure at what they described as injustice on the part of the government.

The majority of them, including the popular comedian, Debo Adedayo, well known as Mr Macaroni, were hounded by armed policemen, thrown into waiting Black Marias, vans and whisked away.

Some people walking along the tollgate were also accosted by the police and taken away. Their attempts to explain where they were heading for were rebuffed.

Later in the day, 40 protesters were arraigned for allegedly conducting themselves in a manner capable of causing a breach of the peace.

The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, confirmed the arraignment in a statement, adding that they were granted bail.

He said, “The command has arrested 40 suspects at Lekki Tollgate Plaza, Lagos State, on Saturday, February 13, 2021, for conspiracy, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace and violation of COVID-19 protocols.

“The suspects had gathered at the Lekki Tollgate Plaza creating tension and behaving in such a manner that could cause a breach of the public peace without due regard for COVID-19 protocols major of which are the use of nose masks and social distancing.

“The command had, however, arraigned the suspects at the mobile court at Panti, Yaba, accordingly but they were granted bail by the court. They will appear in court on the next date of adjournment, March 2, 2021, with the certificate of COVID-19 test.”

But one of our correspondents who covered the protest observed that the arrested protesters conducted themselves peacefully.

We were unjustly harassed, dehumanised – Protesters

The protesters were at different points picked up by the police together with LCC security men the moment they arrived at the spot, while some people who claimed to be passersby were also apprehended.

Some of the demonstrators spoke to Sunday PUNCH from inside Black Marias, lamenting that they were unjustly harassed and dehumanised.

One of them, Joseph Anjorin aka J.D Boy, said, “I am an artiste; I sing. I came for the protest. Protesting is not a crime. I didn’t commit any crime. I came here to make a peaceful protest. We are not fighting anybody. Things are not going well in this country.

“Three of my friends were killed last year here while they were protesting and nothing has been done about it. I was there that day. The way things are going on in this country is not right. They (the police) have just collected my phone. This is tyranny. We have the right to protest in our fatherland yet we are being harassed.”

Another protester, Ayo Oluwasegun, a resident of Victoria Island, queried his arrest for protesting, maintaining that his right had been trampled upon.

He stated, “Didn’t I have a right to protest? Why should they arrest me? They didn’t find any ammunition on me. It is unfair the way police arrest citizens. It is dehumanising.

“We have the right to say our mind. We are not fighting. We just want to protest to let the government know our feelings. I never expected they would arrest me.”

One Christopher Ogboji, who identified himself as a civil engineer, said he was going to work when policemen apprehended him.

He said, “I committed no crime. I work with a construction company. The future is at stake. I cannot be a slave in my own country. Is this an arrest or abduction? I need an answer. Is it a crime to walk in my own country? They have collected my phone. Why are they harassing us? They should stop harassing us.”

A demonstrator, Helen Light, who narrowly escaped arrest, faulted the panel’s decision on the reopening of the tollgate and demanded justice for the victims of the October 20 Lekki tollgate shootings.

She said, “I am not afraid. Enough is enough. They are not supposed to open the tollgate today. The tollgate must not be opened without the lives of those killed accounted for. That is what we are demanding. They should lock me up. I am not afraid.”

A photographer, Abdulfatai Olusina, said he was looking for where to buy food around the tollgate when policemen waylaid him.

He lamented, “I work in Lekki Phase I and my ID card is in the office. I came out to buy food around the tollgate. A policeman came behind me and held me by the waist. I asked him what I did, but he couldn’t mention any offence.

“He was just dragging me. He injured me in the leg without committing any crime. My leg is bleeding. His colleague joined him and they pushed me into the Black Maria.”

A graduate, Ogene Mario, said he lost a friend, one Femi, during the last protest at the tollgate and urged the government to bring those responsible for the attack to justice.

He added, “I want change. I came all the way from Abraham Adesanya. I trekked down here. I am here to protest. Enough is enough.”

Meanwhile, Nigerian Bar Association, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, activists and human rights groups have condemned the arrest of the protesters.

The Nigerian Bar Association, in a statement by its President, Olumide Akpata, described the arrest of the protesters as illegal and unacceptable and demanded their immediate unconditional release.

The NBA President gave the association’s position on his Twitter handle on Saturday.

Akpata said, “The images and footages of the unlawful actions of the Nigeria Police at the Lekki tollgate, Lagos are truly shocking. The @NigBarAssoc condemns the brazen disrespect for the fundamental rights of unarmed citizens who were merely exercising their rights to peaceful protests.

“We are currently working together with members of our association to ensure the release of those detained. At the moment, we understand that the detainees are spread across Panti, Adeniji and Ikeja police stations and that they are currently being denied access to their lawyers.

“This is totally unacceptable and we call on the police to immediately release them or allow them unhindered access to their lawyers.”

Adegboruwa threatens to quit Lagos panel as Falana slams police

Also, human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa (SAN), who is a member of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution set up by the Lagos State Government to investigate cases of brutality by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, threatened to quit the panel following the clampdown on protesters at the Lekki tollgate on Saturday.

This was as another rights activist, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), berated the Nigeria Police Force for intimidating and arresting peaceful protesters instead of protecting them.

Adegboruwa made his position known in a statement on Saturday while reacting to the disruption of the #OccupyLekki protest which was done to stop the planned re-opening of the toll plaza.

His threat came barely days after another member of the panel representing the youth, Olorunrinu Oduala, quit the panel after accusing the state government of hypocrisy. Incidentally, both Adegboruwa and Oduala had voted against the re-opening of the tollgate last week.

In a statement titled, ‘The Arrest, Detention and Dehumanisation of Protesters at Lekki Toll Gate Are Unacceptable’, Adegboruwa said he was saddened and devastated by the turn of events.

He wrote, “I have been monitoring events at the Lekki tollgate since morning, and I am totally overwhelmed with the images, videos and sundry evidence of police brutality of armless civilians, who ventured to protest at the tollgate. In one particular video, I saw citizens of Nigeria being dehumanised, stripped half-naked and cramped together in a rickety bus. This is totally unacceptable.

“While we have yet to come to terms with the events of October 20, 2020, it becomes worrisome that the security agencies have not learnt any positive lesson from those occurrences. I commend the protesters for their peaceful conduct.

“I cannot in good conscience continue to sit at any panel of inquiry to heal wounds and end police brutality, when fresh assaults are being perpetrated with impunity. Consequently, I am presently consulting with my constituency within the civil society, as to my continued participation in the EndSARS Judicial Panel.”

While demanding the immediate release of the protesters, Adegboruwa said on no account should anything happen to any of them while in the custody of the police.

Falana, who is also the interim Chairman, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, in a statement titled, ‘Demand for Release of Arrested Protesters in Lagos,’ said the fundamental right of protesters to dignity guaranteed by Section 34 of the constitution was crudely breached by the police personnel who arrested the protesters and caged them inside a Black Maria.

The activist said by arresting the protesters instead of providing them with adequate security, the police engaged in a provocative contravention of Section 83 (4) of the Nigeria Police Act.

The statement further read, “ASCAB calls on the Lagos State Commissioner of Police to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of the protesters because they did not commit any criminal offence by exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.” -Punch

Posted 14/02/2021 05:35:31 AM


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