Lekki Tollgate: FG Speaks Tough, Deploys Police, Others As Groups Mobilise For Protests Today
••••Riot policemen, over120 armed NSCDCofficials ready to stoprally – Spokespersons
•••It’s unconstitutional for Federal Government to threaten us– Organisers
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.
“Also, these are people saying we are in a democracy. You went to a panel and nine people voted, five for and four against. Now, the people that lost at the panel want to enforce their will by using the power of the mob. So, we are compelling the government to act and protect Lagos infrastructure,” Owoeye stated.
On whether justice had been delivered for the victims of police brutality, he said, “#EndSARS is not a Lagos matter. It’s a national matter. It’s not the ‘Lagos State Police Force’; it’s the Nigeria Police Force that we’re seeking to reform.
“Why are they not focused on the people killed in Ogbomoso (Oyo State), Enugu, Edo or Anambra State? Why aren’t they asking the former Anambra governor who was in power when they were killed to appear before the panel? Lagos (protest) is not about SARS; it is political. It is about violent opposition seeking to terminate an elected government.
“Assuming the 5-4 vote was the other way around, what do you think we would be doing now? Would Lagos be able to forcefully hand over that tollgate to the owner of that place? But they lost; the only thing they can do is go back to court and appeal the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel.
“If we are democrats, once you lose, don’t resort to mob action. The government must enforce the law, get people arrested and jailed if they want to disturb public peace.”
Lagos begs youths, says state yet to recover from #EndSARS violence, destruction
Meanwhile, the Lagos State government has appealed to the youth to shelve the action, saying it has yet to recover from the losses incurred during the October 2020 #EndSARS protest.
The state government said although protest was a fundamental human right, anyone planning a protest at this time was not a friend of the state.
In an interview with one of our correspondents, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, stated that the government had appealed to parents and guardians to urge their wards not to protest.
He said, “We have been talking to parents and guardians, urging them to keep their wards at home. We’ve been talking to our young people, telling them that this is not the time for this kind of action. We have been to unions and civil society organisations that Lagos needs peace now more than any other time – that we don’t want to see the kind of carnage we saw in October 2020 again.
“Nobody prays for that kind of carnage again. Lagos people are known for their warmth, humanity and passion, but the carnage affected these; we don’t want it again. We want the passion back, we don’t want suspicion among Lagosians again. So anybody who is planning a protest at this time is not a friend of Lagos, and we are pleading with such people to shelve such an idea.”
On the recovery from the losses of the 2020 #EndSARS protests, Omotoso said, “I don’t think it can take Lagos less than between 5-10 years to recover in terms of the infrastructure destroyed and loss of relationship among our people.
“We had destruction on a scale beyond belief. And then people are saying we are going to recover. How do we begin to recover from this kind of thing? Lagos has never seen that kind of thing and that is why I believe that it was a war that happened in Lagos around that time,” he added.
On if the state government was behind the #DefendLagos group, Omotoso said it could never sponsor anyone to organise a counter-protest.
He said, “It sounds ridiculous. Do you need to sponsor people who have lost their businesses? Do you need to sponsor people who have lost their relatives? Do you need to sponsor even policemen who have lost their colleagues? Do you need to sponsor people who have lost their jobs?
“Millions of businesses were destroyed in Lagos; all those iconic buildings destroyed, people were working in them. People were working at Lagos High Court, City Hall, BRT buses, DNA laboratory. Do you need to sponsor them? People are angry.”
The commissioner appealed to the protesters to suspend their action, saying the government had responded to some of the demands made by them.
He said, “A panel was set up to look into what happened at Lekki. You asked for five things, and almost all of them have been attended to, yet you are still angry. If it is not your way, it has to be the high way, and the government is saying no, we need peace now, and you are now saying the government is sponsoring counter-protesters.
“We are not in a military regime; we are in a democratic regime and we have said it several times that the people have the right to protest, but what we don’t want is the disruption of the peace and livelihoods of Lagosians. Lagos State will never sponsor anyone to go and protest anywhere.”
Omotoso added that the resumption of the toll collection at the tollgate was because the company that owned it needed to resume so it could pay its over 500 employees, who were from different parts of Nigeria.
He said, “The LCC, the company that owns the tollgate, has the right just like the people who are protesting. If a landlord has a property where there was a fight and the police shut it down, and investigators found out what happened, and asked the landlord to return to his house, are you saying the landlord should not take over his property again so he can make income and pay his workers? ,,
“We can’t say the LCC should not take over its property again and pay the over 500 Lagosians/Nigerians under its employ because there was a fight. Life has to go on; there must be a closure to this matter. There is nowhere in the world where you will build that kind of road by loan and don’t collect a toll. How do you pay back?”
Youth rep, Rinu, pulls out of Lagos #EndSARS panel
Rinu Oduala, a youth representative on the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry, has stepped down from the panel.
She made the disclosure on Friday in a piece, ‘Let’s stay the course of justice, partial wins are not enough’.
The activist, who faulted the planned reopening of the Lekki tollgate, maintained that justice had not been served to victims of the Lekki shootings of October 20, 2020.
The panel, last Saturday, decided to hand over the tollgate back to its operators, LCC, after forensic experts submitted their report on the October 20, 2020 incident.
Four members of the panel including Oduala faulted the decision of the panel but the chairman of the panel, retired Justice Doris Okuwobi, and four other members of the panel acceded to LCC’s request to repossess the tollgate.
Subsequently, hashtags such as #OccupyLekkiTollGate and counter-protest hashtags such as #DefendLagos and #DemNoBornYourPapaWell trended online.
In the piece today, Oduala said, “My stand on the reopening on the tollgate is clear; the state government and the private organisation operating the toll have not been cleared of collusion with elements allegedly deployed by the federal govt to target citizens on home soil during a time of peace, without provocation.
“Justice has not been served, and as a representative of the Nigerian citizenry, my only recourse is to stay the course of justice.
“On 6th February 2021, we were ambushed with votes to reopen the tollgate. I participated because I do not believe in silence. It is clear where my loyalties lie.
“But at the end of the day, parties on the panel voted to reopen the toll, citing lost jobs as more important than justice for lost lives through a proceeding that didn’t form a proper quorum without the representatives who represent the youth constituency that birthed the idea of the panel, and on whose mandates the panels were set up.
“Coupled with the undue intimidation of peaceful protesters, the cyberattacks and many more, I will be stepping down from the Lagos Judicial Panel as it is now obvious that the government is only out to use us for performative actions.
“We must not forget the purpose of this panel: to address injustice and create accountability for the SARS brutality and for the heinous events on 20th October 2020.
“When calls for justice are subsumed by commercial concerns and vested interests, it calls into question the legitimacy and integrity of the entire affair and the impartiality of the proceedings. Without a final panel report or actionable steps, we are returning to the status quo.”