The military has come under fire over what observers described as attempt to intimidate #EndSARS protesters. Some Nigerians, who spoke yesterday, slammed the military authorities following their threat to deal with those they called ‘trouble makers’ as the popular protests to end police brutality continued across the country. They reminded them that peaceful protest was part of democracy.
The Army in a statement by Acting Director Army Public Relations, Col. Sagir Musa, had warned those he described as “subversive elements and trouble makers” to desist from such acts or have themselves to blame.
It, however, reassured law-abiding citizens that it was “highly committed to the sustenance of peace, security and defence of democracy in Nigeria.”
The statement said: “The Nigerian Army (NA) wishes to reassure law abiding citizens that it is highly committed to the sustenance of peace, security and defence of democracy in Nigeria. As a responsible and law abiding organisation, the NA reaffirms its unalloyed loyalty and commitment to the President, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari and the constitution of the country.
“The NA hereby warns all subversive elements and trouble makers to desist from such acts as it remains highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost. The NA is ready to fully support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively. All officers and men are directed never to be distracted by anti democratic forces and agents of disunity.”
Apparently to militate the harsh criticism that followed, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ), a few hours later issued another statement, saying it would no longer tolerate the situation where peaceful protesters were attacked by thugs and miscreants.
The DHQ said the military working in conjunction with the security agencies has noted with dismay some violence-related protests across the country and warned those involved to desist from engaging in acts capable of derailing the peace in the country or face appropriate measures.
Coordinator, Defence Media Organisation, Major General John Enenche, who gave the warning, said the unfolding event against peace loving Nigerians would no longer be condoned even as he assured the public to go about their legitimate business without fear of being attacked.
Enenche, in a statement, said:
“The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies have observed with dismay some violence-related protests across the country, particularly the increasing number of attacks on peaceful protesters by thugs and miscreants. This unfolding event against peace loving Nigerians will not be condoned. Hence, thugs and miscreants are hereby warned to desist from engaging in violent activities against peaceful Nigerians henceforth, or face appropriate measures.
“Thus, the Military High Command duly encourages peaceful citizens to go about their normal activities without fear of intimidation or harassment as the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies are on ground for their safety. In clear terms, any attempt to undermine the democracy of our beloved nation under any cover will not be allowed. For emphasis, the Armed Forces of Nigeria remains subordinated to the civil authorities of the country with unflinching loyalty to the President Commander in Chief.
“Additionally, the Military High Command wishes to reassure law abiding citizens that it is highly committed to the sustenance of peace, security, and the defence of democracy in Nigeria. The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies hereby commends all citizens particularly those who genuinely express their concerns in an organised, patriotic and civil manner.
Human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), also condemned the brutality meted on protesters by police operatives. He also has asked the Federal Government to engage the #EndSARS protesters in the country, adding that there was genuine needs to address their concerns.
Reacting to the threat by the Army, former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife appealed to government to restrain not only the military but the police and other security agents from going to attack the protesters.
He said: “At a point in difficulty, the Igbo used to ask, ‘what is life for?’ People in Nigeria are almost getting to that point where they will ask such question. Once they reach that kind of a situation, they can do anything and I don’t want things to go out of hand in Nigeria.
“In the first place, the Army doesn’t have a role to play in that because they are supposed to defend us against external aggression. I am happy that the army didn’t take the laws into their hands.
“At a point, when people begin to ask what is life for; no politician can organise anybody, so let the government take it easy. I don’t know whether the people at the Villa know what is going on. Life is very difficult now for Nigeria. “Government increased VAT, electricity charge, petrol and others. Food stuff prices have hit the ceiling. Government should not put itself in a difficult situation that is avoidable because up till now, what is happening is still avoidable. Any provocative action by the government will attract too much response from Nigerians.”
Major Gen. Ishola-Williams (retd.), former Chairman of the Nigerian Chapter of Transparency International (TI), also faulted the Army on its reference to the #EndSARS protesters across the country as anti-democratic agents.
He said: “Protests are part of democracy; when you have a protest like this, it means that the representatives of the people are not doing their job. It also shows that there is a disconnect in the relationship between the representatives and the people. If the connection was there, there will not be any protests. It is unfortunate that many governments, especially in Africa allow protests to erupt over issues before they react.
“There must be a way for political authorities to listen to the people. If the political authority and the representatives were doing their jobs, they should be able to know things were going wrong. There is no way such a thing can happen spontaneously; there is no smoke without fire. I don’t see anything wrong with the protests, these people just want to show that they are loyal to the government, but they should not be.”
Former national scribe of NUPENG, Frank Kokori, said even though he didn’t have details of what the army said, no force in this world could stop the youths from the protest.
He said his conviction was informed by the fact that Nigerians have just realised that what people in other countries do, they can also do that.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) condemned the warning from the Army authorities on peaceful protesters, describing it as alien to Nigeria constitution.
The National Secretary of the CUPP, Chief Peter Ameh, told Daily Sun that the army should know that protest is part of the cardinal ingredients needed for democracy to thrive.
“It has just come to the notice of the coalition that the Nigeria army have issued out warning on protesters not to continue that they will not hesitate to assist the current leadership to stop the protest from going on. Forgetting that Army authority issuing warning to peaceful protesters in a democracy is alien to our constitution
Regardless, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) and Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), in their separate reactions condemned the statement and accused the Army of plotting to muscle Nigerians to submission.
Executive Director of CLO, Ibuchukwu Ezike, said it “tends to return Nigeria to the dark days of military dictatorship and a gross misnomer in democracy. It is highly condemnable as such comment has no place in a democracy. Moreover, protests are ingredients of democratic practice permitted by global laws for citizen’s ventilation of their grievances against their government.”
Spokesman of ADF, Chief Abia Onyike said that the peaceful protests did not require military intervention as according to him, that it was a mere civil disobedience.
Onyike cautioned: “What it requires is civil police engagement because this is a democratic dispensation. The Nigerian state is fond of applying force to solve simple problems because of its fear of revolution. But if the military is deployed, it may lead to an unpredictable clash, which may exacerbate the problem. Utmost care should be taken to avoid loss of lives.”
Even as Chairman, Board of Trustees of Intersociety, Emeka Umeagbalasi, described the position of the army as laughable, he added that seriously speaking, the Army has just reminded Nigerians that their protests against Police SARS and police brutality have fundamentally omitted inclusion of military brutality and terrorism.
According to him, the Army has drawn the attention that the protests should have included military terrorism and brutality.
“By its latest ranting, Nigerians can clearly see that the Army they pay heavily to keep and maintain is the Army that specialises in terrorisation of civilians and other defenceless residents and when it is asked and paid to combat real criminal citizens and entities, its personnel run away and disappear,” Umeagbalasi stated.
In his reaction, Dr. Paul Ananaba, SAN, admonished the Army to concentrate on their constitutionally sworn duties and maintain loyalty to the constitution.
He said: “There are more serious issues like the insurgence in parts of the north, so the Army should leave civil matters to the police and the paramilitary. The ongoing protest is civil, which is within the rights of the protesters and should not be twisted otherwise. I do not know the information available to the Army but the matter should not be trivialized.”
Unable to hide his anger, Mr Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director, International Press Centre, said the Army needed to be told that no democracy was under threat in Nigeria.
“As a matter of fact, what we have by way of #ENDSARS, #ENDSWAT is democracy in practice through the exercise of democratic rights by youths protesting injustice meted to them and other Nigerians by a lawless outfit like SARS that operated like a police within the police. In other words, it is any forceful suppression of the protesters that would amount to subversion of democracy by the army.”
Commenting, former Deputy Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly and immediate past Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Paul Ohonbamu, said the protests are natural things that go with democracy provided they are not hijacked by hoodlums.
“What is happening now is part of democracy. Law and order has not broken down irretrievably. The Army should concentrate on defending the country against external aggression and internal insurgency of Boko Haram,” he said.
Meanwhile, The Open Bar Initiative (OBI), a voluntary advocacy and justice initiative for lawyers, has set up a team to provide legal support to the protesters should anything happen, in view of the recent threat by the Nigerian Army against the EndSars protest.
According to Onu, those in the legal team included Esther Uzoma, Mojirayo Ogunlana, Clinton Biragbara, Clinton Biragbara, Ayibiowu Donald, Maxwell Opara, Monday Ubani, John Austin Unachukwu, Chukwuma Ezeala, Tee Lawson Akpata, Mayowa Owolabi,
Frank- Briggs, Joe Zabi and Leo Okey.
The Open Bar Initiative also called on other lawyers who wish be involved in their state of residence to indicate so on its Twitter platform, so that he or she can be captured in their database.
According to Open Bar Initiative the consultants for the teams include Prof Chidi Odinkalu, Dr Akin Onigbinde, Mike Ozekhome and Chris Uche.
Similarly, musician and actor, Folarin Falana, also known as Falz, said the primary duty of the Army is to protect the citizens.
The younger Falana stated this while reacting to a statement issued by the Army.
Falana, while agreeing that the Army was correct in pledging loyalty to the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, said the Army is truly meant to take orders from the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
Falana however said the primary duty of the Army is also to protect the citizens of the country. (Daily Sun)