By Musa Sunusi Ahmad
The foremost Civil Rights Advocacy group: HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIS (HURIWA) has warned the minister of information and culture Mr. Lai Muhammed to stop threatening citizens planning to stage public protest at the Lekki Toll gates to protest its reopening.
The Rights group said the Federal government had used same tactics during the last nationwide protests by the ENDSARS PROTESTERS and shortly after such public warning by federal government officials, armed hoodlums emerged from nowhere and violently attacked protesters leading to dozens of casualties just as some of the armed hoodlums were caught on camera in Abuja being driven in black jeeps similar to those usually driven by the nation’s secret service police.
HURIWA has accused government of attempting to use same methods just as the Rights group said the organised civil society community in Nigeria should petition President Joe Biden in the United States of America to call his attention to the open threats made surreptitiously by the Federal government.
HURIWA has also told the Information Minister that he would be held accountable should any citizen be killed or attacked should those planning the demonstrations make good their threats just as the Rights group said the Minister of Information Lai Mohammed would be dragged before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, Netherlands in his personal capacity and charged for crimes against humanity should the security forces or armed hoodlums be motivated by his inciting and incendiary rhetoric against the aggrieved youths planning to hold peaceful legal and constructive protests at the Lekki toll gates or if these armed security forces or hoodlums are unleashed on peaceful marchers at the LEKKI Toll Gates Lagos.
HURIWA said: “Let it be made known to Mr. Lai Mohammed that in this age and times, officials of government can not hide under the cover of their offices to incite violence targeted at citizens who are only exercising their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms of association and peaceful assembly as specified under chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution”.
In a media statement by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director Miss Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA cited sections 39(1); 40, and 41 of the Nigerian constitution to affirm that the youths who planned to carry out peaceful protests at the Lekki Toll gates either in support or against the decision of the ENDSARS Judicial panel in Lagos to reopen the Toll gates, have the inalienable rights to so conduct peaceful protest.
Specifically, Section 39 (1), section 40 and section 41 (1) states thus; 39.-(1) Every person shall be entitle to freedom of expression, including freedom to opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
40. Every person shall be entitled to assembly freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests:
41.-(1) Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exist therefrom.
HURIWA recalled that the Nigeria’s information minister called on activists to drop plans for a protest in the commercial capital Lagos over the reopening of the site where demonstrators against police brutality were shot last year, saying it risked being “hijacked by hoodlums”.
Also, the Rights group said the protesters were shot on Oct. 20 by people witnesses said were soldiers at the toll gate in the affluent Lekki district of Lagos. Rights group Amnesty International said soldiers and police killed at least 12 protesters in Lekki and another district. The military and police have denied involvement.
HURIWA recalled that the protests against police brutality were largely peaceful until the Oct. 20 shooting, which spawned some of the worst civil unrest since the 1999 return to civilian rule in Africa’s most populous country.
HURIWA recalled that a judicial commission in Lagos is looking into the allegations that the army and police opened fire on protesters on Oct. 20. Social media campaigners said a demonstration would be held at the toll gate on Saturday in protest at its reopening before the commission had completed its investigation.
HURIWA said in response, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said the planned rally could turn violent because of “hoodlums”.
HURIWA however feared that some officials in government either in Abuja or Lagos may hire armed non state actors and hoodlums to infiltrate the peaceful protests and create anarchy to justify any future military or police crackdown. The Rights group said the information minister would be held responsible should hoodlums follow his ‘leads’ and actually attack peaceful protesters in LEKKI Toll Gates Lagos.