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Some civil society groups have said the arrest and dehumanisation of some protesters by the police at the Lekki Tollgate during #OccupyLekkiTollGate is ‘unacceptable’.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how some youth were arrested while protesting against the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel for the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) to reopen the tollgate where soldiers opened fire on unarmed #EndSARS protesters on October 20, 2020.

Pictures and videos trending on social media show how the protesters were harassed and dehumanised.

The police have since charge them to court for breaching public peace and COVID-19 protocol, amongst other allegations even as some activists alleged that the detained protesters have been denied access to lawyers.

The Nigerian constitution permits peaceful protests.

Simmering anger

The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in a statement by its Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said the video footage showing some of the arrested protesters “crammed in a Black Maria and being derided by the police in scenes is reminiscent of the military era when Nigerians’ right to converge and free speech was trampled underfoot”.

“We saw video footage of the shameful display of bestiality by the police. It is disheartening to know that we have descended this low as a country and a people to stifle peaceful protests.

“Through their repressive tactics the police have not only violated the rights of these citizens to protest but also exposed them to the coronavirus by clamping them into the poorly ventilated Black Maria. This is totally unacceptable and unimaginable.”

Mr Oluwafemi said: “the Lekki tollgate remains a crime scene and should remain shut. This is the demand of the protesters and it is within their rights to demand this without molestation.

“We are using this medium to demand the unequivocal release of the protesters, a probe of the response of the police to this incident and full apology by the Lagos State Government for permitting this anomaly on its soil,” the group said.

Another group, the Youth Rights Campaign (YRC), condemned the arrest of the protesters saying that peaceful protest is a right, not a privilege.

“This right cannot be suppressed under the false pretext and specious argument of preventing the destruction of public and private properties. We note that this false hysteria over alleged threat ‘to burn Lagos’ or ’cause destruction’ has become the default response of a supposedly democratic government and its hirelings each time citizens decide to exercise their freedom of speech and assembly,” part of the statement signed by Adaramoye Michael, the National Coordinator of the group, read.

“This in our opinion is a sign that the Buhari APC government has morphed into a special type of dictatorship – a civilian capitalist dictatorship which uses the power of the state and its private allies to suppress, dis-inform, sow tension and fear in order to keep the oppressed masses in a state of inertia and thereby unable to act to fight for their interests.

“We know for a fact that the thugs and hoodlums who attacked EndSARS protesters last year and destroyed public and private properties did not act on their own. Rather they were sponsored and deployed by the state in order to put a break on the EndSARS protest and force protesters to abandon the streets which they had occupied for days. So in the final analysis, it was the Lagos state government and its hirelings that burned Lago, not peaceful EndSARS protesters.

“Moreso, even if there were legitimate concerns about violence, this is not enough to suspend the right to protest. Arresting peaceful demonstrators has nothing at all to do with preventing violence and destruction.

“Notwithstanding these dictatorial antics, we shall not relent in organising and mobilising, or supporting legitimate actions, against the anti-poor policies of the Buhari capitalist government and all the equally anti-poor state governments across the country. We hereby reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of protesters.”

In the same vein, the former Commissioner for Information in Rivers State, Austin Tam-George, in a statement personally signed by him, said the arrest of peaceful protesters is “wrong, illegal and dangerous for the future of the country”.

 

“Citizens must be free to assemble and peacefully protest against any public policy or government actions with which they disagree. To deny citizens this important right to protest is to reduce them to slaves.

“We cannot build a nation by locking up and clamping down on those citizens who have a different point of view. I call upon the Inspector-General of Police to direct the immediate and unconditional release of peaceful protesters in unlawful police custody.”

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