Canisters of tear gas were today fired at peaceful protesters in Lagos, who were demanding the pegging of the pump price of petrol at N97 a litre and the deployment of soldiers in Lagos and other parts of the country.
The protesters, numbering about 50, under the aegis of National Action of Coalition of Democratic Forces, led by former presidential aspirant, Mr Tunji Braithwaite, were attacked by a combination of the military and mobile police officers that were on guard at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Square.
The incident left a number of people injured with one person fainting as he fell on the ground just as the canisters were fired into the crowd. He was revived by some protesters who gave him medical attention.
Mr Braithwaite; an octogenarian, who led the protest with another agemate, Prof Ben Nwanbueze, were also not spared in the attack as the old men ran for dear lives.
The peaceful protest, for which the organisers got a permit from the Lagos state police command, commenced in front of the Lagos state House of Assembly complex at about 10:30 a.m., where the protesters were addressed by the Deputy Speaker of the House, Kolawole Taiwo.
Pledging his solidarity to the protesters, he urged them to be “peaceful” as “they exercise their democratic rights.” When asked to join the protest to the Freedom Square at Ojota as a sign of his confessed solidarity, Mr. Taiwo smiled back and urged the protesters to go ahead but refused to join them. He returned to his office at the assembly complex.
However, just as the deputy speaker finished addressing the protesters, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Tunji Shobulo, led a team of police officers, who ordered the protesters to cease the walk. But the protesters continued and promised not to retreat, chanting solidarity songs as they carried placards conveying their demands for good governance “at all levels of government” in Nigeria.
On getting to the highway by 7up bottling company, the protesters realised the military and police officers had cordoned off the road to Ojota, diverting the heavy traffic on the road and causing traffic on other routes. The protesters persisted until canisters of tear gas were fired at them, dispersing the peaceful walk.
Amongst the protesters were former Minister of Finance, Dr Idika Kalu; Professor Ben Nwanbueze; human rights lawyer, Festus Keyamo; broadcaster, Funmi Iyanda; constitutional lawyer, Dr Tunji Abayomi; and Wale Ogundipe.
A distraught Ms Iyanda expressed her disappointment at the failure of government to arrest members of Boko Haram and allowing one of them to escape from detention. “They could not stop the Boko Haram who escapes but they can stop unarmed protesters who are on a peaceful protest,” she said.
Also speaking to Premium Times, Mr. Abayomi said, “I am very disappointed at the reaction of the government to a peaceful protest which is just to express our anger about the poor governance of our country at not just the federal government but all levels of government.
“It is sad and this means we have not yet moved beyond the military mentality which means that we still depend on the military to secure our democracy and liberty,” he said, adding, “this is the tragedy of our time.”
The military has been patrolling the street of Lagos since Monday when the presidency quelled a protest against the removal of fuel subsidy in the country. The state governor, religious leaders and civil organizations have all demanded that the soldiers be withdrawn from the streets but the federal government insisted on Wednesday “they will remain until peace returns to the states”.
The protesters however vowed to persist with their democratic right and announced they would be joining the forthcoming “Victory Protest” at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Square on Saturday.
The Victory Protest is convened by the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and organisers have vowed to proceed to the now cordoned Freedom Square despite the heavy presence of armoured tanks and gun-wielding soldiers around the park.