The plans by youths to hold another round of protests fell through yesterday as they beat a hasty retreat as security agents, including military and police personnel, in preemptive moves, took over strategic locations in some states.
President Muhammadu Buhari had threatened to deal with any act of hooliganism under the guise of lawful and peaceful protests by the youth, who had been warned by the police that any form of demonstration would be crushed.
Organisers of the protests, who had raised awareness on the social media, had planned to mass on the streets from yesterday to demand, among others, the release of all protesters detained during the first action, removing restrictions on all accounts frozen by the Central Bank of
Nigeria (CBN) as a result of the earlier protest and conduct of a referendum.
In the first stanza of the protests in October, which later snowballed into an orgy of looting, arson, killings and vandalism of public and private assets, including police stations, the youth had demanded an end to police brutality typified by the operations of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The protests were, however, later hijacked by hoodlums to perpetrate criminality.
Based on the fallout of the October protests, the police, on Sunday, warned the organisers of yesterday's planned protests to desist from going ahead with the plans as the country was yet to fully recover from the last incident.
The police said the ban on gathering extended to #EndSARS, a decision that drew fire yesterday from prominent pressure groups, including the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and the Northern Elders' Forum (NEF), which cautioned the federal government and its agents against circumscribing people's constitutional rights.
The president, however, seized the opportunity of declaring open the Chief of Army Staff's Annual Conference 2020, in Abuja to warn hoodlums hiding under peaceful protests to unleash mayhem on the country, vowing to crush them.
The theme of the conference is: "Human Capacity Development in Sustaining Professionalism and Responsiveness of the Nigerian Army in the Discharge of its Constitutional Roles."
Buhari commended the Nigerian Armed Forces for their efforts in restoring law and order in various states when hoodlums hijacked the #EndSARS protests in October.
The president, in a statement by his media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, expressed government's commitment to the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful protests in accordance with the laws of the land.
The president lamented that the #EndSARS protests were hijacked by hoodlums, resulting in wanton destruction of lives and property in many parts of the country.
Buhari described 2020 as a very challenging year, citing the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative impact on almost every aspect of the country's national life.
He said he was pleased with the army for being resolute in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities as well as the maintenance of the welfare of soldiers.
He also commended the army for its support to civil authorities in the battle against COVID-19 and conduct of Edo and Ondo polls.
"I am pleased to note that the army remained resolute in the discharge of its constitutional roles and in keeping the health and welfare of our soldiers a priority," he said.
Buhari commended the army for what he described as its unwavering commitment to the battle against insurgents, armed bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers and other violent criminals through ongoing exercises and operations in different parts of the country.
The president urged the army to sustain the efforts until the country achieves the full restoration of peace and security.
Buhari also used the occasion to pay tribute to uniformed men and women whom he said had paid the supreme sacrifice in the defence of the country and commiserated with their families, comrades and friends.
He pledged his administration's dedication to the well-being of families of fallen heroes whom he said had paid the supreme sacrifice in the fight against insurgency and other forms of crimes across the country.
As part of the event, Buhari launched a housing scheme for next of kin of army personnel killed in active service, saying it will boost the morale of troops.
He told the gathering that he had been briefed on some of the major capabilities procured for the army that will soon be inducted into various theatres of operations.
He urged the army personnel "to make judicious use of these capabilities, even as we await the arrival of others currently pending shipment to the country."
Earlier, the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd), appreciated the president for always approving funds for military operations and assured him that all resources would be judiciously utilised.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, noted that the Nigeria Army was well poised to confront all security challenges, which include cyber threats.
Buratai recalled the state of affairs in the army in early 2015 which was characterised by low morale arising from the consistent setbacks in the counter-insurgency operations in the North-east, which the president charged service chiefs on the assumption of the duty to evolve a professional and highly motivated army capable of conducting the full status of military operations in a decisive manner.
He said this has been largely achieved with the army currently well poised to tackle contemporary and numerous security threats.
Police, Army Deploy Personnel to Enforce Ban on #EndSARS Protests in Lagos
Operatives of the Lagos State Police Command and soldiers from 81 Division Nigerian Army were yesterday deployed in strategic areas of the state to enforce the ban emplaced on the second wave of #EndSARS protests.
Although the planned protest failed to hold, THISDAY checks revealed the presence of armed security operatives, especially at black spots and known volatile areas.
The deployment of the military and police personnel was a follow-up to the warning issued on Sunday by the state command Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu, who warned that any gathering or procession with an undertone of #EndSARS remained banned.
Odumosu alleged that the second wave of the protest was sponsored by "some unpatriotic individuals and groups."
On the heels of the warning issued by Odumosu, the Ogun State Police Command also banned protest in the state, warning prospective protesters to desist from such action or face the full wrath of the law.
A statement by the command spokesperson, Mr. Abimbola Oyeyemi, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), said while the command recognises that it is the right of citizens to protest to express their grievances over issues of governance, "there is, however, nothing at present that calls for such a protest in the gateway state, except for those who see troublemaking as a lucrative business."
The army said the deployment of soldiers were nothing out of the ordinary but in continuation of their normal routine patrols.
The acting Deputy Director, 81 Division Army Public Relations, Major Olaniyi Osoba, denied claims that soldiers were deployed in Lekki Tollgate to abort the proposed protest.
He said: "We have soldiers in that axis on their routine patrol but they are not at Lekki Tollgate. Besides, the soldiers you saw were drawn from Operation MESA."
He, however, noted that the army would show up if they are called upon like they did during the first wave of the protest.
The police also debunked allegations that a protest was held at Lekki Tollgate despite the ban.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Mr Olumuyiwa Adejobi, a Superintendent of Police (SP), said the viral but fake video of the purported protest was circulated to create tension and destabilise the security network put in place.
He said: "The command wishes to debunk the fake video that has been circulated to create tension and destabilise security network in the state.
"The video was one of the viral videos released during the recent violent EndSARS protest before the Lekki Tollgate plaza was set ablaze by the violent protesters on October 21, 2020.
"The command, therefore, urges the general public to regard the video as baseless and mischievous."
Police Warn Against #EndSARS Protest in C'River
The Cross River State Police Command also warned the public against participating in any fresh #EndSARS protest.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Ms. Irene Ugbo (DSP), said yesterday that the warning became necessary because "there were plans by some unscrupulous individuals or groups of persons to embark on another destructive and fierce #ENDSARS protest."
The statement said the police had actionable intelligence that certain individuals or groups had concluded plans to entice innocent citizens, especially youths, into their planned protest.
It warned those who might want to hide under #EndSARS protest to spark what the police described as another catastrophic impact with intent to cause chaos in the state to refrain from such a venture.
Protesters March on Osogbo, Demand Good Governance
The sabre-rattling, however, did not stop protesters from marching on Osogbo, the Osun State capital, to demand good governance.
The protesters, under the auspices of Face of #EndSARS Movement, converged on Ogo-Oluwa area of the state and marched on the state House of Assembly where they demanded an audience with the leadership of the house.
The protesters, led by a man identified as Mr. Emmanuel Adebisi, bore different placards with inscriptions such as: "We are not fighting for any political party; #End Bad Judiciary in Nigeria; #End fake judicial panel of Inquiry in Osun; Unfreeze all the frozen accounts; We are Nigerian youths."
The protesters called for the release of all detainees arrested during the demonstrations in October and also asked the CBN to unfreeze the accounts of protesters.
Afenifere, PANDEF, NEF Condemn Intimidation of Demonstrators
The pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, its Niger Delta counterpart, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) yesterday deplored attempts by the federal government and its agents to curtail people's constitutional rights to protest.
Afenifere's National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told THISDAY that instead of threatening defenceless youths, the president should face Boko Haram insurgency that is threatening to break the nation.
"They should go and flex muscles against Boko Haram If they have some strength to show. Real generals fight terrorists to a standstill but our general can only soak 'monkey and baboon' in blood," he said.
Also reacting, activist and former Chairman of the Friends of the Earth International, Dr. Nnimmo Bassey, described such a statement coming from the president as unfortunate.
"[It's] a very sad development if true. #EndSARS is a peaceful movement and threats of this nature will only galvanise and strengthen the movement. The most reasonable response of government would be to soberly reflect on the demands and respond to them. Those in power cannot play the ostrich and pretend not to know the state of things in the nation," he said.
Chief Akin Osuntokun, a former special adviser on Political Matters to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, said he wasn't surprised by the president's threat.
According to him, "You know, there is no misstep President Buhari can take that surprises me. Look at the mess they have made of the Boko Haram insurgency, not to talk of the bloody anarchy in the North-west and the Middle Belt bordering on violent implosion.
"This president is distinguished only in the penchant to reward failure with approval. Which other presidents would still retain so-called military/security services chiefs in the face of overwhelming failure?
"This is a president, who brandishes the hammer to kill a fly and a slingshot to confront an elephant. Fortunately, the critical mass in Nigeria has been bestirred and the international community is sensitive to what has become of Nigeria. What an informed president would do is to direct the security forces to ensure that the proposed protest does not get hijacked by hoodlums."
PANDEF decried the federal government's approach in handling the renewed attempt by #EndSARS promoters to regroup for another round of protests, noting that resorting to threats will not solve the problem.
National spokesman of PANDEF, Mr. Ken Robinson, in an interview with THISDAY yesterday, said the federal government mismanaged the October #EndSARS protest and is about to make the same mistake with the renewed agitation by the youths.
He, however, advised the federal government to engage the promoters of EndSARS in a dialogue instead of resorting to the threat "which is unnecessary."
He said: "We appeal to the federal government to forget the language of threat. The federal government should go into engagement with the promoters of #EndSARS and discuss with them."
He noted that though, PANDEF is not in support of another round of agitation because of the way the October EndSARS protest was mismanaged, it upholds the right of people to protest as enshrined in the constitution.
"As leaders in the country and looking at the situation of things, we will advice Nigerians to put off the planned protest. Protest now is not necessary," he stated.
NEF Chairman, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, also defended the rights of the people to protest within the confine of the law.
He, however, said Buhari may have reasons for threatening to deal with anyone who embarks on another protest.
He told THISDAY in a telephone interview, that people should be able to protest within the law as guaranteed by the constitution.
"We have no reaction (to your question), we were not participants in EndSARS protest.
"We have made our principles very clear. People should be able to protest within the law. A protest is guaranteed in our constitution, within the overall framework of the law.
"Government must have reacted according to the wishes of those who protested legally against SARS and the government took a decision to disband SARS and so on. I thought that was the response the government was making, more or less in response to the demands of the protesters...
"There were genuine protesters of EndSARS and there were hoodlums who hijacked the protest and were destroying property.
"Does protest allow you to destroy property belonging to somebody else?...
"I thought the government must be worried about hoodlums who did a lot of damage and who perhaps will want another opportunity to do more damage.
"To my mind, this makes sense to warn that people who were hoodlums and were destructive should not be allowed again," Abdullahi said.