November 14 2020 | Radio Biafra
The recent steps by the Federal Government to probe #EndSARS protesters, including the freezing of their bank accounts, have raised questions about the government’s sincerity towards meeting the demands of the demonstrators.
Several weeks after the #EndSARS protests have ended in cities across the country, its aftermath is still reverberating in Nigeria’s seat of power and key institutions.
Even though the Federal Government promised to look into the demands of the protesters, and urged them to sheath their swords, the country has in the past two weeks been awash with reports of arrests, passport seizure and freezing of bank accounts of the #EndSARS protesters.
In the protests which began around the first week of October, artists, social media celebrities and human rights’ activists mostly led the gatherings of youths, laid out a five-point demand before the government. They specifically anchored the demands on the urgent need to end police brutality in the country.
The #EndSARS agitators had demanded for the immediate release of all arrested protesters, justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families; setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reported police misconduct within a period of 10 days.
The fourth demand was on carrying out a psychological evaluation and retaining of all disbanded Special Anti-Robbery operatives before they can be redeployed, while the last demand was that the government should increase police salary and adequately compensate them for protecting the lives and property of the citizens.
To demonstrate that it showed commitment to the cause of the protesters, the Federal Government on October 13 through the Presidential Panel on Police Reforms said it had okayed the five demands made by the protesters.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, who stated this, noted that the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had convened a meeting with the stakeholders.
The meeting, organised by the Office of the Inspector General of Police and National Human Rights Commission, was attended by leaders of civil society organisations, activists and the #EndSARS movement organisers.
A communiqué issued after the deliberations, partly read, “Following the public protests regarding various forms of human rights violations by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and the consequent disbandment of the unit, there arose the need for stakeholder engagement to build trust and restore public confidence in law enforcement.
“The forum further notes that the proposed reforms should be anchored on the basis of the White Paper on the Report of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the SARS. Following the dissolution of SARS, the forum calls for the following immediate steps to be taken in restoring public confidence and trust in the police; an order by the IG to all state commands to halt the use of force against protesters.
“There will also be the unconditional release of arrested protesters and citizens; open communication and outreach to citizens to establish trust and confidence, and a roadmap for the implementation of the White Paper of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the SARS.”
Despite this stakeholders’ meeting, some divergent interests wanted the #EndSARS agitators to continue and they did, until hoodlums hijacked the demonstrations and embarked on a nationwide scale of arson of police stations and public and some private facilities. The hoodlums also engaged in killings, looting and destruction of private and government property.
After the country began to heal from the violence that greeted the protests, the government seems determined to deal a heavy blow on the #EndSARS campaigners, going by a number of its controversial actions.
At a time when the public expected the government to show commitment to its resolve to meet the demands by the protesters, which were representative of public outcries, the government appeared to be distracted by its desperation to get back at the protesters.
Notable among its controversial decisions was on November 6 when the Central Bank of Nigeria said it had obtained a court order to extend the freezing of the bank accounts of 20 #EndSARS promoters till January 2021. The apex bank had frozen their bank accounts.
The order, it added, was pursuant to a motion ex parte filed by the bank before a Federal High Court. The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1384/2020 listed the 20 defendants as – Bolatito Oduala, Chima Ibebunjoh, Mary Kpengwa, Gatefield Nigeria Limited, Saadat Bibi, Bassey Israel, Wisdom Obi, Nicholas Osazele, Ebere Idibie, Akintomide Yusuf, Uhuo Promise, Mosopefoluwa Odeseye and Adegoke Emmanuel. Others include Umoh Ekanem, Babatunde Segun, Mulu Teghenan, Mary Oshifowora, Winifred Jacob, Victor Solomon, and Idunu Williams.
The banks where the accounts are domiciled included Access Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, Fidelity Bank, First Bank, United Bank for Africa, and Zenith Bank. The lawyers representing the CBN were led by a former Attorney-General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa.
Justice A.R Mohammed ordered that the accounts should be frozen for the next 90 days subject to a renewal of the said order. In its defence, the Federal Government said the court order was necessary because the funds in their accounts might have been linked to terrorist activities.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, said in an interview with our correspondent that the government needed to revise its strategies in dealing with the fallouts of the protests, so as not to be misinterpreted by the people.
Ali said, “A number of socio-economic problems have been thrown up by the #EndSARS protests and I think it behoves the government to address the issues holistically; the problems of unemployment and police reforms.
“The government could use other means of tracking money laundering rather than resort to what people will easily misinterpret as clamping down on people who are clamouring for changes. For me, it is better that the people are allowed to express their views openly, rather than drive them underground.
“The danger that clamping down portends is that the people will then take other alternative measures to go underground and cause a lot of havoc on the society. I think the government will have to revise its tactics and the methodology of dealing with the issues. This is so that we don’t climb cracked walls and we now believe we are heading for a solution.”
He added, “Also, the #EndSARS promoters should remember that it is when we have a country that we can protest. We should not use the platform of protests to cause havocs mostly on innocent people. Most of the looted places were investments of people for which they took loans from banks, and other places. Now, they are back to nothing.
“It is the people who will suffer the brunt of it. So, we should just get our priorities right. When you loot big places, you are throwing many people into unemployment. So, this is a vicious cycle if it is not properly managed by the government and those who are promoting the issues of social and economic changes.”
On November 10, one of the #EndSARS protesters, Oluwarinu Oduala, who is a member of the Lagos State Panel of Judicial Inquiry and a victim of frozen account, described the government’s action as an unfair practice in a democracy.
“I am not afraid—I am only disappointed that this country will treat us this way. We are the soul of this nation and no nation exists without her people. The funds in question here also include some of my personal hard-earned money of over N200,000. These funds were earmarked for disbursement towards the medical bills of injured protesters,” she explained.
But mixed reactions have continued to pour in over the Federal Government’s court action on the protesters, including from state government actors. The Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo, during the week, said #EndSARS campaigners whose bank accounts were affected could approach a competent court of law to upturn the apex bank’s action.
The same view was shared by the Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, who noted that the #EndSARS promoters, whose bank accounts were frozen, should approach a competent court to justify the “legitimate” source and use of funds in their accounts.
He noted that the matter was discussed last Sunday at the meeting of governors, traditional rulers and other stakeholders in the region held in Lagos in the aftermath of the violence that trailed the #EndSARS protests.
On Monday, the Presidency came out clear on its intentions, saying that those who allowed the protests to degenerate into the destruction of lives and properties in the country must account for their actions.
Mr Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), when he was asked whether his principal was aware of the actions taken against the protesters, said the buck stops at the table of the President.
He said, “This country has only one president and has only one constitution. President Buhari is responsible for his government. The buck stops on his table.” “We are a country governed by law. There is a constitution —under Section 33— that clearly defines the rights of citizens to freely protest in a peaceful way but where a peaceful protest turns into riot, violence and looting, there is a law-and-order duty to be performed.”
The Publicity Secretary of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, in an interview with our correspondent, warned that the actions taken by the Federal Government might lead to further tension nationwide.
Odumakin said, “We have a fascist government pretending to be a democratic government. When the government made that so-called promise that it would look into the #EndSARS demands, the people could not trust the government because of its antecedent.
“You have seen many actions taken so far by the government such as freezing of accounts, arrests and courts. This is the same government that is negotiating with surrendered Boko Haram terrorists. The CBN has even labelled the protesters as suspected terrorist. What about those who are funding the Boko Haram attacks? What actions have been taken on them? Does the bank not have same intelligence to go after them? We all know that the terrorists are sending money to their cohorts in Nigeria.
“What the government is presently doing, it may not be able to curtail it, because the government is underplaying what the protesters can do. These steps they are taking cannot solve the problems.”
Apart from the CBN’s freezing of accounts, another unfolding drama is the court action filed against at least 50 EndSARS promoters by an activist, believed to be working for the government.
On November 10, the activist, Mr Kenechukwu Okeke, filed a criminal complaint before a Chief Magistrate’s court in Abuja against 50 persons for their alleged roles in the #EndSARS protests.
Those listed as defendants included musician Damini Ogulu aka Burna Boy, David Adeleke popularly known as Davido, Folarin Falana popularly known as Falz; and social media comedians, Debo Adebayo aka Mr Macaroni, and Maryam Akpaokagi aka Taoma.
Other musicians sued included Peter and Paul Okoye, Innocent Idibia aka Tuface, Bankole Wellington popularly known as Banky W, Tiwa Savage, Michael Ajereh aka Don Jazzy and Yemi Alade.
The list also includes Senior Pastor, Daystar Christian Centre, Sam Adeyemi; former Super Eagles captain, Kanu Nwankwo; activist Deji Adeyanju, Yul Edochie and Uche Jombo.
The motion on notice was brought pursuance to Sections 88, 109 (a), 110 (1) (c) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. “That the 1st to 50th accused persons between the 3rd day of October 2020 and the 28th day of October 2020, using Twitter, an Internet web source with URL https://www.twitter.com within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did conspire amongst themselves to commit misdemeanour, to wit, promoting and acting in such a manner, with intent to assist in the promotion of #EndSARS and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 97(2) of the Penal Code Act, C53 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“That the 1st to 50th accused persons with intent to carry out some common purpose, assemble in such a manner or being assembled under the composition of #EndSARS as to cause persons in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to fear on reasonable grounds that such assembly needlessly and without any reasonable occasion may provoke other persons tumultuously to disturb the peace,” the charges partly read.
With that court action during the week came a heated controversy with some of the defendants scolding Okeke on same Twitter for such suit. “Who sent this guy to file this frivolous law suit,” Pastor Sam Adeyemi tweeted.
“I feel nothing short of pity for you, because you are so blind to common sense. Blind to truth; once again, you are a clown,” another commentator, Aproko Doctor, tweeted.
The Executive Director of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, a civil society, Mr Debo Adeniran, said in an interview with our correspondent that the protesters should brace for fight-backs from the government and be ready to prove their innocence in the destruction which happened after the protests.
He said, “The protesters should know that activism is not a tea party. It is a confrontation against the state, and the reason why they go on protest march is because they believed that they could ram their demands down the throats of the Federal Government, because there are other approaches.
“If there is any uprising, it is the duty of the state security to find out who funded it and how it happened. If the protest march did not have exit plans, it made itself vulnerable to being hijacked by people who had different agenda. Remember that the government in power has an opposition which may also not want the administration to finish its tenure.
“Since some people started the protest, they might be held responsible for it. It is now left for them to be able to prove that they didn’t participate in the violence that ended the protests. The conclusion is that the people have the right to protest and make demands from the government. The government also has the right to implement the laws and to protect its own administration but the court is the arbiter to determine if anyone has overstepped their boundaries during the protests or the government has become highhanded.”
The coming days will determine the sincerity or otherwise of the Federal Government’s promise to the youths on their demands and this may further decide if Nigerians will have faith in the words of their government in future or not.
However, the last is yet to be heard as there appears to be underground moves by the protesters to get back at the government.
Chibuike John Nebeokike
For: Radio Biafra Media