Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Monday called for the immediate withdrawal of soldiers from the streets of Lagos, as there was no development that warranted such “huge” presence of the military men who were drafted to the state on Sunday night by the Federal Government.
Also speaking in the same vein, Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and a number of other activists have moved against military presence in the South-west and the North-west zones of the country in the wake of the protests against the increase of petrol price.
Fashola, who spoke in a statewide broadcast on the issue, said: “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.”
The governor added that irrespective of the fact that many people gathered in several parts of Lagos like Falomo, Ikorodu and Ojota, among other places, they largely conducted themselves peacefully, singing and dancing while they expressed their displeasure at the way some decisions had been taken that affect them and this should not be a justification for “sending our soldiers to a gathering of unarmed citizens”.
Fashola called for caution on the temptation to give negative connotation to the protest especially the carnival like style of the protest because, as he said: “Everyone 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?”
Fashola’s media aide, Mr. Hakeem Bello, in a statement quoted the governor as saying that 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 inevitable may result in political debate”.
In his contribution, Fayemi said: “We are, however, worried about certain developments especially the drafting, this morning, of armed soldiers like an army of occupation in Lagos, Oyo, Ogun in the South-west and parts of the North-west geo-political zone. If it was a pre-emptive security measure, it sends a wrong signal to an already tense population.
“We have not seen any reason to warrant this development. As a specialist in Civil-Military Relations, I know the dangers inherent in drafting soldiers into issues that are purely within the purview of the police and other law enforcement agencies. It does not only undermine democratic control of the military, but also promotes dangerous role expansion which will not augur well for the military in a democratic setting.”
Also protesting the deployment, a Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, said he was taken aback Monday morning when he was stopped by some soldiers on his way to the protest ground.
In a statement titled: “My Movement was Illegally Restricted by Armed Troops in Lagos”, he said: “At about 7.30 this morning, my movement was rudely curtailed at Maryland, Lagos by armed soldiers who claimed that they were under strict instructions ‘from above’ to prevent me from leading or joining fellow Nigerians to continue the popular protests against the illegal increase in the pump price of PMS or petrol.
“Shortly thereafter, the members of the Joint Action Front (JAF) who were on a peaceful march from Yaba to the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, Ojota were tear-gassed and dispersed at Fadeyi in Lagos by a combined team of armed goons without any justification. I have also received complaints of unwarranted harassment of other unarmed protesters in several parts of Lagos.”
Another lawyer, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), also expressed shock at the presence of soldiers on Lagos streets and other parts of South-west, describing it as unconstitutional.
Akintola, who spoke with journalists shortly after he addressed a mammoth rally at the Freedom Square, Mapo, Ibadan, said the militarisation of the South-west was a bad signal.
“I can assure you that the mass protest will continue and be sustained. They intend to intimidate us by deploying soldiers on our streets. If we could overcome military dictatorship, then no civilian can hold us hostage in our land,” he said.
In their reaction, the civil society groups (CSOs), which have been very active in the anti-subsidy removal protests, said: “We note with consternation the military occupation of numerous sites in our towns and cities by military tanks and hardware as if we are in a war. Of concern include the occupation of the military at Ojota (Gani Fawehinmi Square), Surulere, Maryland amongst others in Lagos; the Berger Roundabout and the Wuse II intersect by ASCON Filling Station Abuja; the Lugard House Roundabout in Kaduna; and the Nodule junctions in Kano; just to name a few.”
The CSOs also said the tone of the address of the president is reminiscent of the era of military dictatorship when the “political generals talked down on people, warned them and threatened to deal with them as if they were not citizens with rights and interests”.
“The form and substance of the address was to blackmail civil society and citizen groups of having a regime change agenda. Protests and opposition to a policy agenda unilaterally imposed by the president on the teeming millions of Nigerians suffering from effects were translated as enemy action that would be dealt with the repressive apparatuses of the state,” they added.