Nobel Laureate and Activists Ask Obasanjo To Quit by Innocent Anaba & Evelyn Usm
- Nobel Laureate and Activists Ask Obasanjo To Quit by Innocent Anaba &
NOBEL laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, and other prominent human
rights activists who were brutalised by policemen at weekend's rally
in Lagos were back in the fray, yesterday, calling for the
resignation of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
But the police insisted that they merely "persuaded" them (Soyinka
and co) to leave the venue and that they were not injured.
The rights activists at a press conference in Lagos yesterday also
demanded the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference to
negotiate a new way of governing Nigeria, and declared that they
would organise one for themselves if Obasanjo continued to resist the
Said Soyinka: "We were tear-gassed after we had left the venue of the
rally. It was a day of infamy. They deliberately tear-gassed us. I
found this act cowardly and desperate. We in the Citizens' Forum do
not rule out civil disobedience in achieving our goal. The only thing
we rule out is violence. Efforts are going on to ensure that the
Sovereign National Conference is held with or without government.
When dialogue is missing, you have monologue."
He berated the police for denying arresting him alongside other
activists, saying: "Why are our police not honourable. By saying that
they (Police) did not arrest me is implying that I am lying. They
should be able to tell the truth for once. The idea of corporate lies
will not serve them any good. I was arrested and while they were
doing that, I asked them if I was under arrest and one of them said
no, but the other officer said yes, that I was under arrest. So, why
must they come to deny arresting me alongside other activists. And
they fired over 40 canisters of teargas on us."
Chief Gani Fawehimni, who also spoke at the briefing, called for the
convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, and accused the
present elected office holders of not performing on account of
pervasive corruption. "Corruption is too much in the country, right
from the Presidency down to the local government level. Nigeria
cannot develop unless corruption is checked."
He said the police by using teargas and arresting and detaining
protesters, had "only created an impetus to continue with the rally.
If there is a demonstration by a kindergarten pupil, I will be there.
If they say the rally is 4a.m., I will be there. It is only in
Nigeria that those who fought for democracy are not in government.
Can you imagine a South Africa leadership without Mandela? All those
who are governing us today never fought for democracy. We are not
grudging them, that is why we are going to fight until we have
enthroned true democracy."
Dr. Ransome-Kuti said: "We have never witnessed the kind of civil
dictatorship we are experiencing in the country today. Saturday's
incident and that of May 3, at Abuja clearly explain it. I think
things have got out of hand and it is our duty to check this trend.
We call for the immediate resignation of Obasanjo and the convocation
of a Sovereign National Conference."
Mr. Femi Falana, citing the Public Order Act, said there was no
section of the Act that says Nigerians must apply to the police
before embarking on any rally or protest or have police permission,
arguing that the right to protest was a constitutional one. He also
wondered why the police were playing double standard on the issue of
protest, noting that government allows pro-government protests to
hold, but uses force to stop anti-government rallies and protests.
Mr. Bamidele Aturu called for the immediate resignation of Obasanjo,
and asked the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to sanction the new
Lagos Police commissioner, Mr Israel Ajao, for unleashing the police
on the protesters. He said Ajao being a lawyer, should know that the
constitution guarantees Nigerians' right to peaceful protest. He
called for a judicial probe to investigate the circumstances
surrounding the police brutalisation of the protesters and the use of
teargas on them, alleging that most of the teargas used by the police
The speakers said the police action had strengthened their resolve to
organise more rallies and protests. Mr. Chima Ubani said protests and
rallies would be held in all the 36 states of the federation and in
Police deny arrest
However, the Lagos State Police Command insisted yesterday that it
did not arrest the rights activists.
It said they were only addressed on the need to always respect the
laws of the land after which they left for their respective homes.
The command in a statement signed by its spokesman , Mr. Emmanuel
Ighodalo, said: "On Saturday, May 15, 2004, as early as 0500hrs,
officers and men of the Nigeria Police took strategic positions
around Campos Square in central Lagos with a view to preventing an
illegal rally by the Citizens Forum , Civil Liberties Organisation
(CLO), Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) and others;
thus enforcing the Public Order Act of 1979
At about 1100hrs, Prof. Wole Shoyinka, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Mr Femi
Falana, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, Ms Ayo Obe as well as many other
people, abandoned their respective cars some metres away and
attempted to go into the Campos Square at Igbosere but could not do
so because the gates were firmly locked by the police.
"They all stood by the road side and attempted to conduct an illegal
rally in spite of appeals by the police to them to respect the laws
of the land, especially, since there was no police permit granted for
the rally. They left the Campos Square vicinity under the pretext of
dispersing but rather moved to Sandgrouse market with a view to
conducting the same illegal rally."
The Police, according to Ighodalo, went on their trail and discovered
that the rally had been hijacked by "miscreants, touts, hoodlums as
well as university students from all parts of the country."
In order to avoid the case from getting out of hand, he said the
Police persuaded them to leave the venue, stressing that "Police
never arrested Prof. Wole Shoyinka, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Mr Femi
Falana, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, Ms. Ayo Obe and others who gathered
for the rally and nobody was injured at all."
Note: This article first appeared in The Vanguard newspaper of Nigeria
Tuesday, May 18, 2004