The Nigerian government has begun a massive crackdown on protesters demanding a reversal of the New Year removal of subsidy on petrol.
On Tuesday, twelve activists were hunted down and arrested in Abuja after a peaceful inaugural signing of petitions against the subsidy removal.
Signing the petition marked the beginning of a series of planned protests against the subsidy removal, a policy the government has vowed to implement at all cost.
The activists were arrested and whisked away by armed policemen as the protesters dispersed with a plan to regroup the following day.
The activists, including a former member of parliament, Dino Melaye and a Journalist with Daily Trust, were taken to Wuse Zone 3 Police station and later transferred to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad office in Garki, on the orders of the Abuja police commissioner.
The arrests have been condemned by human right activists, describing it as a greater affront on the rights of Nigerians. They police say the arrested activists will be charged for conspiracy, inciting violence and treason.
“We all own the right to protest,” said activist Itodo Samson. “The government and the security agencies are reminded that the right to organise and to assemble together with the aim of addressing issues of common concern is a human right”
Rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly are enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria and protected by international and regional human rights treaties to which the country is signatory.
“The government must respect these rights,” Kayode Ajulo, a human rights lawyer in Abuja, said.
“The arrest of young Nigerians who were lawfully exercising their fundamental right is totally unacceptable and condemnable. Consequently, we hereby demand their immediate release,” Mr Itodo said.
Organizers of the protest have vowed to continue the protests despite police harassment. Activists say the Tuesday protests which kindled lightly across the nation is a tip of other massive protests planned by organized labour unions.
They have also warned the police to restrain from any further attempt to prevent peaceful demonstrations against removal of fuel subsidy or any other issue of concern to Nigerians.
The Tuesday protest in Abuja was marred by police who had earlier attempted to restrain protesters from using the venue where the register was signed, while armed soldiers maintained a distance behind the police line.
Some of the activists arrested includes: Martins Obono, Abdulwasiu Hassan (Daily Trust), Eze Nwagu, Nasiru Lawal Magaji,and Kalid Ismail. According to Daily Trust, their reporter has been released after its management made several contacts with the police. Meanwhile, Chidi Odinkalu, chairman of National Human Rrights Commission has visted the police to press for the release of the remaining detainees.