• Fashola, ACN, CNPP demand withdrawal
• Soyinka condemns action
• ‘Why crisis was resolved quickly’
“EVERY one of us, or at least majority of us who hold public office danced and sang before these same people when we were seeking their votes. Why should we feel irritated when they sing and dance in protest against what we have done? For me this is not a matter for the military. The sooner we rethink and rescind this decision the better and stronger our democracy will be.”
With these words yesterday, Governor Babatunde Fashola openly condemned the Federal Government’s deployment of soldiers in Lagos to disrupt the popular protest against removal of petrol subsidy. He called for immediate withdrawal of the troops from the streets.
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, also condemned the deal reached by the government and Labour and the deployment soldiers in Lagos. He said the action was to intimidate the populace.
According to Soyinka, the action is a “gross violation of the rights of citizens to congregate and give expression to whatever grievances bedevil their existence. “We demand the immediate and unconditional removal of these soldiers. Until they are removed, Nigerians as a whole should understand that the present civic action is not over and prepare to mobilise and defend their liberty,” Soyinka said last night in a statement titled “Gross betrayal.”
Others that condemned the deployment of soldiers, which they described as an aberration in a democratic setting, include the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) and Campaign for Democracy (CD).
They spoke as the Nigerian Army explained that its men are patrolling the Lagos streets to ensure that security of life and property is not undermined in the commercial city.
Speaking to The Guardian on telephone yesterday, the Commander, 9 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Brig.-Gen. Sanusi Muazu said it was apt for the Army to patrol all the streets of Lagos to avoid a total break down of law and order.
“Our work is to ensure security and that was why you saw our men all over Lagos. We have to come out to ensure that all abide by the law of the land. Since the strike has been called off, all protests have become illegal, so, that is why we came out.”
Soldiers were seen all over the metropolis yesterday especially at Ojota, venue of the protest rally organised by the Save Nigeria Group.
Muazu urged Nigerians to go about their businesses as adequate security has been put in place to ensure that criminals molest no one.
And in what made the Federal Government’s action seemed directed at both the protesters and supporters of petrol subsidy removal, security agents in Port Harcourt, Rivers State yesterday foiled a planned protest by Ijaw youths in support of the Federal Government’s deregulation in the oil sector.
Governor Fashola, in a statewide broadcast on the issue yesterday, said “irrespective of the fact that many people gathered in several parts of Lagos, they have largely conducted themselves peacefully, singing and dancing while they expressed their displeasure at the way that some decisions have been taken that affect them and this should not be a justification for sending our soldiers to a gathering of unarmed citizens.”
He argued that since the protesters who represented diverse interests, had not broken any law, the sudden presence of soldiers on the major streets of Lagos was unnecessary, noting that if the protesters had broken the law, “it is the Police that have the responsibility for restoring law and order, if civil protests threatens the breach of the peace.”
He saw the protest as providing an avenue for public discourse. “If anything, this is a most welcome transformation of our democracy in the sense that it provokes a discussion of economic policies and this may result in political debate.”
Fashola, however, cautioned the protesters to note that the right of free speech and protest is not absolute, noting that such rights impose the duty not to break the law, breach the peace, endanger human life or destroy property whether public or private.
Such rights, he added, also impose the duty to respect the rights of others not to support a protest and indeed to support what one opposes “because at the end of the day, it is a contest of ideas in which the most persuasive will get the endorsement of the majority of the people we serve and expressed conviction that Nigeria’s democracy is mature enough to accommodate it.”
Soyinka maintained that it was an “intolerable act of provocation that has taken underhand advantage of the willingness of the people to negotiate and give the government a breathing space. It makes absolute nonsense of the Belgore machinery for resolution that was set up, even before it has commenced work. It has turned future dialogue into negotiation under the gun, which is nothing but a charade and will only be challenged at no distant date. Let Nigerians understand that repression of a part is repression of the whole. Labour and civil society must boycott further talks until the soldiers are withdrawn.
“Lagos is no hotbed of Boko Haram, nor is it the state of this very incumbent president where leaders and comrades for whom we have the deepest respect, and with whom we still share common cause, have called openly for secession of their part of the nation and called upon others to join them. Lagos is not where heavily armed vigilantes have taken over oil wells. Clearly these forms of freedom of expression, even of the armed kind, are in order, since Jonathan has not seen it as the duty of his office to invade such territories. The occupation of Lagos does no credit to this regime and must be reversed, Soyinka declared.
In a statement yesterday, ACN described the Federal Government’s action as one of the most egregious and anti-democratic taken by President Goodluck Jonathan since assuming office. According to the party, Jonathan even outdid the brutal military dictators of the past by using the military as an instrument to suppress a peaceful protest by unarmed citizens.
Also in a statement yesterday, the CNPP said, “it is on record that throughout the country the protesters conducted themselves peacefully and the Police to a large extent conducted themselves professionally; therefore we are at a loss what stimulated the level of desperation which made the C-in-C (Commander-in-Chief) to deploy troops on the streets.”
Meanwhile, facts emerging from the dramatic end of the weeklong fuel subsidy crisis yesterday indicated that fear of losing almost 13 years old democracy largely shaped the discussions that led to resolution of the logjam.
The Guardian learned last night that the discussion began at the Armed Forces Remembrance celebrations ground when President Jonathan left the venue with the security chiefs for the Presidential Villa where he told them that the issues to consider were “peace, security and democracy.”
This development came about, according to a source, after the president was said to have received security reports from top sources that indicated that democracy and peace could be lost in Nigeria. The Guardian learnt that diplomatic sources too reinforced the reports that there had been serious moves by some anti-democratic forces inside the country to mobilise men and resources to make the country ungovernable for a condition that could lead to possible change of government.
It was gathered that the president reiterated the intelligence reports to the governors when he met them that same Sunday night where he was said to have specifically told the South West governors how careless they had been with national security concerns in their states where protests had been most rife and successful.
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