Nigeria Police go dictatorial, ban rallies at Unity Fountain; say activists ‘constitute nuisance’


Sadiq Bello, the Abuja police commissioner, has placed an indefinite ban on daily sit-outs at Unity Fountain by pro-democracy and good governance advocates across Abuja.

Mr Bello told PREMIUM TIMES he took the decision because he sees the activities of the groups, including the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ movement, as public “nuisance.”

“All of them are in the same category, they’re disrupting people’s activities and infringing on their human rights by blocking the roads and other things,” the commissioner told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Friday night.

“They’re constituting a nuisance,” he emphasised.

Mr Bello’s comment was a confirmation of an earlier alarm raised by Charly Boy Friday afternoon. Charly Boy was at Mr Bello’s office to bail Deji Adeyanju, one of his comrades who was arrested during a sit-out at Unity Fountain around noon Friday.

Deji Adeyanju was participating at the daily-sit out for the release of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of Islamic Movement of Nigeria. The Nigerian government has kept the Shiite leader in custody since 2015 when his group had an encounter with the Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai, leading to the massacre of about 400 Shiite members, including Mr El-Zakzaky’s sons.

The Federal High Court has ruled that Mr El-Zakzaky should be set free, but the State Security Service declined to obey, saying the cleric was being kept in “protective custody” for his own good.

Three months ago, Charly Boy, Mr Adeyanju and other rights activists started exercising a daily-sit out at Unity Fountain under ‘OurMumuDonDo’, a coalition of civil rights groups.

Mr Adeyanju was later released around 4:00 p.m. Friday. It was after his release that the commissioner reportedly told Charly Boy to cease further protests.

The commissioner also placed a ban on all sit-outs at the garden as a precondition for Mr Adeyanju’s release, although Mr Adeyanju said he never agreed to such terms.

“The day I agree to such arrangement, then democracy is dead in Nigeria,” Mr Adeyanju told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Monday night.

The commissioner declined comments about whether Charly Boy or Mr Adeyanju agreed to his terms before setting the latter free.

Ensconced between Transcorp Hilton and National Park, Unity Fountain is one of the major landmarks in Abuja. The facility has served as a symbol of democracy and civil rights agitations since the return of civil rule in 1999.

The garden’s proximity to the Federal Secretariat, Eagle Square, Supreme Court, National Assembly and the Presidential Villa, has also made it a choice place for activists, who often use it as a kick-off point for processions into the residents and offices of the highest authorities in the land.

Since 2014, Oby Ezekwesili and other ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ activists have used Unity Fountain to demand total release of the abducted Chibok girls.

She told PREMIUM TIMES Mr Sadiq’s order will not stand.

“Please tell the commissioner of police to go into the archives and find out what happened to the former commissioner, Joseph Mbu,” Mrs Ezekwesili, a former minister of education, said. “He should go and study his constitution and he should meet us in court, because he’s not going to stand against our constitutional rights.”

Mr Mbu retired as an assistant inspector-general of police in 2016, after 31 years in service. While the police commissioner in Abuja, he placed a ban on ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ advocacy in July 2014, saying the group could be hijacked by terrorists who were plotting to bomb places in Abuja.

The group challenged the ban at the FCT High Court, which ruled that the police had no power to place such a ban.

The ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ activists have “fundamental rights to conscience, expression, assembly and association,” the court ruled on October 30, 2014.

Mrs Ezekwesili said the current commissioner appears to be the one constituting nuisance for failing to understand the principles of a democratic society.

“He’s a the real nuisance. He’s an embarrassment to a democratic Nigeria. We the citizens that are demanding accountability and good governance in our country will have the last laugh,” she said.

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