Ahead of today’s planned protest tagged #OccupyLekkiProtest at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, the Federal Government has deployed policemen and over 150 men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to maintain law and order and possibly stop the protest.
This is as some people under the aegis of #DefendLagos have also vowed to organise a counter-march against the #OccupyLekkiProtest demonstrators.
The Federal Government and the police had earlier warned youths who planned to protest at the Lekki tollgate on Saturday (today) to have a rethink and shelve the protests.
But the young Nigerians, under the aegis of #EndSARS Season 2, vowed to defy the government’s order.
They said their action was informed by the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry allowing the Lekki Concession Company to reopen the Lekki tollgate.
The #EndSARS protests had spread across the country in October 2020 to register the youths’ grievances against the alleged atrocities of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force.
The protest, which gained massive international attention, came to a halt on October 20, 2020, when heavily armed soldiers allegedly shot protesters at the Lekki tollgate.
After about four months of investigating the Lekki shootings, the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry decided to allow the LCC to resume toll collection at the tollgate – a development that has generated a flurry of reactions among youths.
Speaking to Saturday PUNCH on Friday, the NSCDC spokesperson in Lagos, Seun Abolurin, said the corps commandant in the state, Aiyeni Kolawole, had deployed intelligence and surveillance officers at the Lekki tollgate, adding that about 120 armed men of the corps had been placed on red alert.
He said, “We have enough men on the ground. We have our men on standby, although the protest has been cancelled. If we get any signal, our men are on the ground to move. About 50 of our intelligence and surveillance officers have already been deployed since Friday morning. About 120 armed personnel are on standby in case there is an emergency.”
On whether the protesters would be arrested if the demonstration holds, he said the command could not predict but would uphold fundamental human rights.
He added, “We are civil in nature. We cannot predict until tomorrow (today) comes. Tomorrow (today) will unravel it all but it is advisable for people to do everything within the confines of the law since it has been outlawed for tomorrow.”
Also, the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, told Saturday PUNCH that the police and the state government had made their stance against the protest known, insisting that the demonstration would be stopped.
He hinged the stance on the aftermath of the violence that stemmed from the #EndSARS protests, saying that the affected people were still groaning in pains.
He said, “The panel of enquiry set up by the government to look into this is on and the governor has approved a certain amount of money for compensation. The basis upon which the so-called organisers want to arrange protests again is not known. They misinterpreted the pronouncement of the panel and they have been enlightened. The panel asked LCC to go and assess the Lekki tollgate plaza. It is not to commence operations.”
Adejobi acknowledged that people had the fundamental right to protest, but said no right was absolute, claiming that intelligence gathered by the police indicated that the protest would be hijacked.
He said, “We have gathered intelligence and done threat analysis on the proposed protest. We got information that the protest will still be hijacked and cause more mayhem than the previous one. The command is not afraid of anything but we should be able to assess and see beyond our noses. We would not fold arms this time round and allow violence to happen. Every sector was affected during the last violent #EndSARS protests.
“Also, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has declared that the virus in Nigeria has variants which makes it more deadly. How can they gather and still maintain COVID-19 protocols? It is not possible. We have told those who want to listen that the so-called protest is uncalled for and the command has made it known that nobody will be allowed to hold any protest.
“We have warned parents and guardians not to allow anybody to mobilise their children. We are going to resist any violent protest in the state within the ambit of the law. We will be duly professional about our rules of engagement tomorrow (today).”
The PPRO stated that policemen had been mobilised to the tollgate and other parts of the state, noting that “the command will deploy our available resources to make sure there is no breakdown of law and order in Lagos State.”
Asked if the police would arrest the protesters if they defied the command’s order to shelve the protest, he responded vaguely saying, “when we get to the bridge, we are going to cross it.”
In a viral video on Friday, Armoured Personnel Carrier, trucks, and ambulances belonging to the Rapid Response Squad of the police were seen deployed in the tollgate area.
#OccupyLekkiTollgate, opposing groups mobilise for today’s protests
Nevertheless, some young Nigerians, under the aegis of #EndSARS Season 2, on Friday, said they had started mobilising other protesters ahead of Saturday’s (today) mass demonstration against the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry to reopen the Lekki tollgate.
Kunle Ajayi, one of the promoters of the protest, confirmed to Saturday PUNCH that mobilisation for the protest was underway.
Also, when asked if the protest would hold as planned, he said, “Of course.”
He noted that the protest would begin at 7am adding, that it was ‘the people that will determine how long it lasts.’
Speaking on the Federal Government’s threat to deploy armed security personel, Ajayi said, “The government is wrong. It is against the constitution because the constitution is supreme.”
Asked if measures were being taken to ensure hoodlums do not hijack the protest as anticipated by the Federal Government, he said, “Sure, there have not been hoodlums hijacking protests except the government. The government has been the one.”
On whether he had received threats of arrest in relation to the planned protest, he said, “I wasn’t threatened with arrest but we have some persons who are part of the people that want to ‘defend Lagos’ sending threats, which have been (forwarded) privately to me.
“They have been sending messages on social media, saying they would kill, maim and destroy. Our own group will be as peaceful as ever; we don’t know about the police and others.”
Another promoter of the protest, Juwon Sanyaolu, told Saturday PUNCH that the protest would go on as scheduled, noting that COVID-19 safety measures had been prescribed to demonstrators.
Sanyaolu said, “Everyone has been asked to come with face masks to ensure COVID-19 compliance. We are acting in line with constitutional requirements. We are not bothered about the government’s irresponsibility and lack of respect for its citizens.”
Responding to concerns about the Federal Government’s warnings, he said, “No! It is a constitutional process. We are not concerned at all because protests are allowed by law. Section 39 gives us the right to free expression. Section 40 gives us the right to assembly, so we are covered.
“If you even look at the constitution, any law that is inconsistent with that provision of the constitution has been considered null and void. So, we are acting within the ambits of the law. The statement from the Federal Government or police (against the protest) is completely illegal and undemocratic.”
On whether if he was worried about the threats to deploy security forces to Lekki tollgate, he argued that deploying armed security men would be a violation of the constitution, but that it would not be new.
Sanyaolu said, “They are already doing it with lawlessness. They did it up till October 20 during the #EndSARS protests. Our agitation during the #EndSARS protests was against an expression of lawlessness by state forces. They continue to perpetrate this lawlessness; remember how they attacked and shot at Shiite protesters in Abuja. Remember what they did to students of UNIABUJA just about a week ago.
“That is the situation on the ground, but we will not submit our right to lawlessness and tyranny. In an atmosphere of lawlessness, what we need to do is courageously engage such lawlessness to restore the rule of law.
“At this point in time, our government is lawless and as citizens, we want to exercise our right to lawful assembly to call the government to order out of their lawlessness. It is quite unfortunate but we are not bothered. It is a government of anarchy and impunity. But it has never happened in history where tyranny wins. The will of the people always prevails.”
On the #DefendLagos counter-protest, he said, “It’s quite laughable. Of course, every group has its democratic right, but unfortunately, these persons are operating under the whims and payroll of the government.
“Where was #DefendLagos when people’s houses were demolished in Lekki a few years ago? Where were they when mayhem was unleashed in Obalende, right in front of a police station? The truth of the matter is that #DefendLagos is only defending the property and private interests of the Lagos ruling class, not the interests of Lagosians.”
Meanwhile, a lawyer, Dele Farotimi, who appeared on Newsday, a programme of Arise TV, on Friday, noted that he had appealed the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry.
He, however, alleged that the government had a history of using undemocratic means to prevent protests at Lekki tollgate.
Farotimi said, “It is dirty to the ear that, in a democracy, patently fascist tactics are constantly employed by the state in seeking to put down the grievances of a people. Every time there has been an attempt at protesting at the Lekki tollgate, there has always been organised resistance by the state, combining the use of thugs and the Nigerian police to break those protests.
“The first time it came to national attention was merely October 20 because the army was involved this time round. This one that a protest has again been called for Saturday and there are threats of violence, note that the threats of violence have come exclusively from those who are organising the counter-protest.
“I say without equivocation, the counter-protest has all the fingerprints of the Lagos State Government and we believe that if anything should happen to a single person in that place, we know who to face.”
But a #DefendLagos campaigner, Olusoga Owoeye, criticised the protesters and urged the government to intervene.
Speaking on the deployment of security forces at the Lekki tollgate, Owoeye said, “That is what the government should do. A lot of people don’t understand what we are saying. We are not saying that the #EndSARS protest was a protest; it was a riot and an insurrection.
“Those who think we are opposing protests don’t understand what we are saying. We are saying they are not protesters; they are rioters. They are hoodlums. They are people who want to destroy Lagos. They have done it before – N1tn worth of infrastructure was destroyed in Lagos. Why would those people come out and say, ‘We want to protest again’?”
He further argued that the Lekki tollgate was not in contention when the #EndSARS demands were listed.
“Lekki was just a venue. It’s like you want to get married and you rent a venue and after your wedding, you say the venue should not be used for business anymore, just because some people fought at your event.