Bottle-wielding thugs said to have arrived in buses owned by supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan attacked the #BringBackOurGirls protesters at the Unity Fountain in Abuja on Wednesday, breaking their seats and forcibly confiscating their phones and cameras while a group of policemen ostensibly deployed to maintain order looked on, witnesses have said.
The daily sit-in is part of a worldwide campaign to force the lethargic Nigerian government into action that will expedite the release of the more than 250 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok 45 days ago by Boko Haram terrorists.
According to #bringBackOurGirls protesters, having lost their usual place of gathering to the thugs and women that came in over “30 Federal Government SURE P Buses” on Monday, they moved to a new spot in the park.
However, disturbed by the increasingly aggressive and provocative posture of the opposing crowd who branded messages in solidarity with the government, leaders of the #BringBackOurGirls protesters wrote a letter of complaint to the police authority asking them to be available to prevent the “government crowd” from acting provocatively.
“Unfortunately, what we feared would happen unfolded, and tragically with officers of the Nigerian Police Force looking on, thugs, hooligans, miscreants dressed in the red, yellow, and white t-shirts with the inscription: #ReleaseOurGirls Boko Haram” burst upon our group breaking chairs, and bottles on the heads of members of #BringBackOurGirls, Abuja, many of the women broke down,” reads a statement released by the leaders of the #BringBackOurGirls protesters.
A statement jointly signed by a former Vice President of the World Bank, Oby Ezekwesili, and another leader of the #BringBackOurGirls group, Hadiza Usman said the opposing protesters “snatched phones and handbags of ladies in our group and also attacked the local and international media correspondents, confiscating and breaking their cameras”.
“The police, at a point, arrested two of the ringleaders, but before our very eyes, released them barely 10 minutes after,” the statement added.
The group’s account of what happened was corroborated by the account of a witnessed who sent a message to PREMIUM TIMES.
She said, “Just leaving our usual sit in for the Chibok girls. The ‘release’ women had taken over our usual grounds so we found another spot and spread our mats and our chairs. The women then surrounded us singing and dancing ‘holy ghost fire, pursue Boko Haram.’ They attempted to drown our voices but we had a microphone and so we ignored them and continued our discussions. Suddenly, a group of thugs, reeking of alcohol, ran into us, snatching bags and phones. As the men amongst us attempted to retrieve our belongings, some of the thugs, holding sticks and broken bottles, began smashing our chairs. The police watched from afar. I approached them and asked why they were there. A few of them came over and arrested a few guys and then released them. The policemen withdrew again. We continued our meeting.”
The #BringBackOurGirls protesters say the physical attack they were subjected to was a violation of their constitutional guaranteed rights to protest peacefully without fear.
“We know that this is a violation of our fundamental right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association, but we remain resolute in standing with the Chibok girls. We invite every Nigerian with goodwill towards the abducted girls to our daily events.
“By this statement, we are calling the attention of the President, the Federal Government and the international community to the descent to anarchy against our group, which simply emerged as a women-led civil society group driven by a response to the plight of the abducted Chibok girls and their families.”
They say they remain resolute in their resolve to continue to demand action from the government over the abducted girls and Wednesday’s attack will not dampen that resolve.
They are therefore calling on Nigerians to attend a symposium organized as part of the campaign at the Thisday Dome in Abuja on Thursday.
According to them, the event would be televised live on Channels TV. The group says it will reconvene at the Unity Fountain of Friday in continuation of its daily peaceful sit-in until the girls are released.
Several Nigerians have reacted with shock over the news of the attack especially on social media. Former Governor of Kwara State and a chieftain of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), Bukola Saraki, described the attack as an act of cowardice and a new low for the government.
“Sending thugs to attack peaceful protesters acting within confines of our constitution is a new low even for this government. We should always put people over politics. Getting thugs to attack those protesting to #BringBackOurGirls is an act of cowardice,” he says via his Twitter account.
Mrs. Ezekwesili also took to Twitter to further denounce the attack.
“The descent to physical attacks of #BringBackOurGirls by Federal Government in responding to genuine Citizens’ led advocacy for #ChibokGirls reveals deep rot.”
The leadership and members of the opposing pro-government group could not be reached for comments.
Efforts to reach the spokesperson of the Abuja command of the Nigeria Police, Altine Daniel, for comments were also unsuccessful Wednesday night. Multiple calls to her telephones failed to connect.