June 12: Protesters beaten, blindfolded in C’River, as mixed reactions greet rallies in Abia, Edo, Bayelsa, Imo, Delta

[From ANIEKAN ANIEKAN, Calabar; CHRIS EZE, Yenagoa; BONIFACE OKORO, Umuahia & JONATHAN AWANYAI, Asaba]

Saturday’s nationwide protests in commemoration of the Democracy Day of June 12 as called by civil society organisations, human rights advocacy groups, secessionists, religious and labour movements received mixed reactions across several states of the federation.

The protesters

Oracle Today Correspondents who monitored the response by Nigerians says while some states hosted appreciable protest marches, others were calm as residents went about their businesses as normal.

Rights groups had opted to use the occasion of the June 12 Democracy Day celebration set aside by the Federal Government to celebrate democracy icon, late Chief Moshood Abiola,  as also a date to press home their calls for better governance and improved security in the country, in addition to addressing the economy on the part of government.

Earlier, Saturday, the police in Imo had assured of unhindered movement of goods and persons on Democracy Day.

State Commissioner of Police (CP), Abutu Yaro, who gave the assurance in a statement by the Command’s Public Relations Officer, Bala Elkana on Friday in Owerri, the state capital, urged residents of the state to go about their lawful businesses on June 12, as there would be no restriction of movement.

The CP, who spoke at a security meeting with hoteliers and other business owners, rejoiced with them over the improved security situation in the state.

“Some of the security measures we have put in place include visibility policing and robust vehicular patrol within the metropolis and its environs.

 ”This is to ensure that night life which the people of Imo state are known for is returned in full scale“, he said.

In calabar, the Cross River State capital, the protest which was scheduled for the Freedom Park in Calabar did not hold as heavy security personnel were seen patrolling around the premises.

Besides this, a combined team of security personnel were seen at strategic locations across the city.

The security personnel were also seen driving around and city in a show of force and this apparently discouraged protesters from turning out for the exercise.

The Government had earlier warned against any form of gathering and procession threatening to deal with anyone who flouts the directive.

Meanwhile the Secretary of the State Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee has faulted the action of the government against some protesters who gathered at the Cross River Watch premises.

Ibor said they duly obtained permission for the gathering but they were assaulted and teargassed by agents of the governor.

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We announced our venue to the police and they approved the Cross River Watch Office for us.

“The Commissioner assured us that he will send police protection so as to avoid the unknown gunmen.

“While there, the governor’s convoy passed twice and during the third time they stopped and asked us to run, we refused and they threw tear gas at us and began to assault us.

“The protest was legal, the SSS was there infact the deputy director of SSS was standing by my side.

“The DPO of Akim Police Station was standing by my side, the DCP was there but some riff-raffs from the Government House disrupted our meeting and tear-gassed us. They are government sponsored terrorists”, Ibor said.

He said they were severely beaten, arrested and blind folded by agents of the Cross River State government.

He deplored the action of the government and said they will take the government to court and challenge the infringement of their fundamental human rights by the state government.

In Bayelsa State, calm, however, prevailed as there was no incident of protest or ceremony whatsoever to make the day look different.

The state capital, Yenagoa was particularly peaceful, shops and other business premises were open and everybody going about his or her business without let or hindrance.

As at Friday, the state Police Public Relations Officer,  Asinim Butswat  said that the police was on top of their game to ensure that nobody engaged in any unwholesome activity.

 He said: “We are not expecting the protest in Bayelsa and we are in touch with relevant youth bodies. There is no indication that there will be a protest in Bayelsa.

“However, if there will be any protest, we will be able to deploy so that the protest will be conducted peacefully.

Abilade Ekerefe, spokesperson of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) said that the organization was adopting a wait and see attitude. “We are not planning to partake for now. Let us study as the thing unfolds first.   

Meanwhile, Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, has said that there are no cattle grazing routes in the state.

Governor Diri spoke on Saturday in Government House, Yenagoa, during his maiden media chat that was broadcast live on all Yenagoa-based radio stations.

The media interaction was part of activities to commemorate this year’s Democracy Day celebration

The governor explained that although he was not countering the federal government’s decision to resuscitate grazing routes, his administration had put in place a legal framework to ban open grazing and movement of cattle on foot.

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The Bayelsa governor also emphasized that the southern governors had adopted the same position on the issue as part of measures to check farmers/herders clashes across the country.

Diri maintained that his government could not afford to expose its citizenry to the looming danger.

“For us, there are no cattle grazing routes in Bayelsa State. Our people are traditionally and occupationally fishermen. The idea of cattle grazing routes in Bayelsa is very strange to us in this part of the country.”

Senator Diri, who pointed out that in a federal system of government, states have rights to enact laws to regulate the activities of its people, stressed that the prohibition on open grazing of cattle would be fully implemented in the state.

“There may be cattle grazing routes in the north but what is applicable in the north may not be applicable to us in the south. I don’t want to believe we are running a unitary system of government”, he wondered.

Speaking on this year’s Democracy Day celebration, the governor said democracy was about the people and that Nigeria had come a long way with 22 years of uninterrupted civilian rule, which he observed had not been smooth but worth celebrating.

In Abia, Umuahia, the state capital, remained calm as no protest of any nature was recorded.

The apprehension over security crackdown on people who dared to step out their houses today, fizzled out quite early n the morning as people went about their businesses without molestation.

There was no security patrol or security operatives stationed at strategic places except roads leading to security facilities which hitherto had been blocked because of the unknown gunmen attacks.

A human rights activist who chose to remain anonymity told the Oracle Today that civil society organizations did not plan any protest in the state.

He said such protest could disrupt the relative peace in the state, saying that given the security situation, it was better never to wake a sleeping lion.

Nwachukwu Ibemere, a Public Affairs analyst said though June 12 remains a watershed in Nigeria’s democracy worth celebrating, the security situation in the country and South East, in particular, as well as the economic hardship, which has exposed Nigerians to great hardship do not call for any celebration.

Izundu Ikechi, a civil servant, said no activity was slated for June 12 in Abia because the federal government has shifted Democracy Day celebration to Monday June 14, 2021. He said he was happy that there was no protest in the state, expressing fears that such protest march may provoke violence through a possible between protesters and security agents.

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However, in Edo State, residents took to the streets in Benin City to register their protest against the federal government, as they carried placards, a coffin and chanting “Buhari must go!”

Meanwhile, residents of Asaba, Delta State capital on Saturday shunned the Democracy Day protest planned by some Civil Society Organizations.

The Oracle Today monitored the planned protest around Summit, koka, Okpanam and Toll-gate area and observed that the areas were calm and peaceful.

There was free vehicular movement, except for a few shops that closed to businesses for fear of being attacked.

The ever-busy Nnebisi Road and Summit Road has the usual vehicular traffic just as the popular Ogbogonogo Market was opened to businesses.

However, the Benin-Asaba expressway was without the usual heavy traffic.

However, there were a few patrol vehicles and officers of the Nigeria Police Force at Inter-bau flyover and other strategic locations in the State capital.

In Agbor, the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Agbor Police Headquarters, CSP Rex Enweliku, led men of the various security outfits in Agbor to patrol communities in Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State.

The patrol, according to the police boss was a swift response to the order of the state Commissioner of Police, CP Ari Muhammed Ali, to ensure that no faceless sponsored protest was held in the area considering the End SARS saga where miscreants hijacked the process.  

Relatedly, Reps minority caucus has flayed the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government over hostility towards Nigerians protesting in commemoration of June 12 Democracy Day.

In a statement signed by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, the minority caucus holds that the show of brute hostility and violent assault on Nigerians by the security forces is condemnable, unjustifiable and at total variance with fundamental democratic ethos of freedom of expression as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Adding that ” as lawmakers, our caucus is disturbed that such violation of human rights and inexcusable assault on the foundation of democracy could happen even on a day set aside by the government to celebrate democracy in the country.” the statement read in part.

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