NIGERIANS on Saturday staged protests and rallies throughout the country to mark the second anniversary of the declaration of June 12 as ‘Democracy Day’ demanding ‘Buhari Must Go.’
Over a thousand attended a protest in London along with protests in South Africa and the United States.
In the Nigerian capital Abuja, Nigeria Police protected and permitted pro-President Muhammadu Buhari campaigners to hold a solidarity rally without any form of harassment, but at the same time they disrupted the rallies organised by anti-Buhari groups in many parts of the country, with teargas.
A rally organised in support of the president trooped to Unity Fountain in Maitama, Abuja, to celebrate Democracy Day, was attended by dozens of youths drawn from the Youth Coalition for Development (YCD). They closed a section of the Shehu Shagari Road to traffic.
There was heavy security in place, including a helicopter, which hovered above to protect those at the rally.
That was in stark contrast to the riotous atmosphere at the Gudu area of Abuja, where activists, led by Omoyele Sowore, who were opposed to the Buhari administration, clashed with police who were sent to disperse them with teargas.
The police also attacked anti-Buhari marchers in other parts of the country, like Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Abeokuta.
The Federal Capital Territory Police Command defended its decision to disperse the anti-government protesters.
Many of those who showed up for the solidarity procession for the president were clad in branded white T-shirts with the inscription: ‘I Stand With Buhari, How about You?’ They also held placards bearing messages, like ‘#IStandwithBuhari’, ‘We are Indivisible’, ‘We stay as one, We are Nigeria!’
One of the president’s supporters also carried a placard declaring: ‘Protest is only about getting your voice heard not a means of changing the government’.
Speaking with reporters at the rally, the organiser, Aminu Aminu said the solidarity march was being held in recognition of the efforts of the ‘many people, who’d campaigned and laboured to institute a culture of democracy in the country since 1993.’ He lauded Buhari for recognising the importance of the day.
Aminu said: ‘June 12 is a watershed in the annals of Nigeria’s democratic history. It is a day to celebrate the beginning of a consistent and ideological struggle that eventually gave birth to a foundation for the democratic renaissance Nigeria is now building.’
Earlier, the police teargassed a group protesting at the Gudu area of the Federal Capital Territory. Sowore, the Publisher of Sahara Reporters, led the protesters comprising many young people. They said they were gathered to protest against the prevailing insecurity in the country.
The anti-Buhari rally began about 8.30am and was peaceful until the police stormed the area and started firing teargas to disperse the rally. The Gudu road was also cordoned off and traffic flow disrupted.
Protesters carrying placards bearing inscriptions, such as ‘Buhari must go’, ‘Say no to injustice’, ‘33.3% Unemployment Rate is Criminal’, ‘Digital Right is Human Right’, were forced to run to safety.
The FCT Police Public Relations Officer, Yusuf Mariam, in a statement claimed the police had to disperse the protesters to prevent members of the proscribed Islamic Movement of Nigeria and others from ‘inciting public disturbance’. Mariam added that calm had been restored around the area and nobody had been arrested.
In Yola, the Adamawa State capital, residents staged a protest and demanded a revolution to change the present leadership of Buhari, citing incompetence in handling the country’s affairs.
The protesters, who came under the banner of #Buharimustgo, defied heavy rainfall and continued their protest for about three hours, demanding good governance and a leader who would pull Nigeria out of its numerous challenges.
They also called on Buhari to step down, brandishing banners of #revolutionnow, demanding Buhari quit immediately.
Sporting black T-shirts marked with inscriptions, such as ‘Buhari Must Go’, the protesters chanted: ‘Freedom comes by struggle’ and: ‘We must come together to salvage our nation’.
Leader of the group, Tony Sudan Gompwel, told journalists that Buhari and other political leaders had failed the country.
Gompwel stated: ‘The kind of political leaders we have in our nation cannot give us the desired change,’ adding that bad leadership is the reason the country is bedevilled by insecurity and economic backwardness.
‘They are hardened, they are tyrants, they are bankrupt of ideas. That’s why great Nigerian youths are converging all over the nation to demand that they should leave the stage.’
However, while the protest against the Buhari administration proceeded all around the country, his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in Adamawa State read out Buhari’s scorecard to residents to mark the second year of designating June 12 as Democracy Day.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who was represented by Honourable Abdulrazask Namdas, commended the Buhari administration. Namdas, a member representing Jada, Ganye, Toungo and Mayobelwa Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, said the celebration was also the occasion to inform the citizens of the performance of the APC in the state.
At the event, held at Muna Hotel, Yola, the performances of all serving senators and House of Representatives members from the state, and that of Buhari, were read out.
In Lagos, it was quiet in most parts of the state even though there were reports of skirmishes between protesters and the Nigerian Police at the Gani Fawehinmi Park at Ojota.
At the Mile Two area of the state also, there were reports of violent confrontations, which were promptly put down by security operatives.
However, all was peaceful in known flashpoints in the state, like Oshodi, Ojodu-Berger, Ojuelegba, Fagba, and Ketu, as many residents celebrated the June 12 Democracy Day in their homes.
Protesters at Gani Fawehinmi Park in Ojota, Lagos state were peaceful initially, it was the attempt by the police to forcibly disperse them from the venue that resulted in a face-off, leading to the use of teargas by the police. There were no reports of casualties or injuries.
There were no reports of breakdown of law and order in any other part of the state, even though many businesses were closed.
In Iju, Agege, Ojodu, Ikeja, Abule Egba, and Ogba areas, many people were indoors as commercial buses also stayed off roads.
Security was normal in most of these places, as no police or other security agents were seen on the streets, and traffic was light.
Speaking on the conduct of the police, human rights lawyer Femi Falana, SAN, said even though he had to go and effect the release of some youths arrested by the police, he was glad that there were no reports of killings. He said the situation was much better than in previous months.
Falana alleged that last year, the Nigeria Police had no canisters of teargas to put down the protests so they resorted to the use of live bullets, as happened during the #EndSARS protest.
SARS is the Nigerian police force Special AntiRobbery Squad unit accused of serious abuses.
Falana, who spoke at the 25th Anti-Corruption Situation Room organised by the Heda Resources Centre, disclosed that it was the lack of teargas canisters that led to the killing of 99 people during the October 2020 protest.
Speaking on behalf of about seven groups of protesters and civil society organisations, Kola Edokpayi of the Talakawa Assembly, condemned the ‘nonchalant’ attitude of the president towards security of life and property had brought the country to its present unacceptable situation.
Edokpayi said: ‘The ineptitude of President Buhari has brought us to this sorry state. His nonchalant attitude has caused a lot of security problems. It has been difficult to combat Boko Haram, banditry and kidnapping. Nigerians now live in fear and nobody knows what will happen next.
‘What we now hear is “unknown gunmen” are killing people in the South-east, while other parts of the country are becoming unsafe to live in because of insecurity. The prices of goods and services are moving up daily beyond the reach of the common man.’