From Adetutu Folasade-Koyi, Abuja, Lukman Olabiyi and Chinwendu Obienyi
As tension mounts over the planned protest by promoters and opponents of the #Occupy Lekki Toll Gate Lagos scheduled for tomorrow, the federal and Lagos State governments as well as the police have said it would not allow saboteurs to destabilise the country.
It claimed intelligence report has revealed that the protest would be hijacked and used to destabilise the country.
The response came on the heels of the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry to grant permission to Lekki Concession Company (LCC) to open and operate the toll gate, which led to opponents of the ruling planning ‘Occupy Lekki Toll Gate’ protest and a counter by another group, ‘Defend Lagos’.
At a press briefing, yesterday, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the Lekki toll gate is not a designated place for protests and warned that anybody who disregards the “no protest” warning would have to contend with the country’s security agencies.
“At this time, the chances that any peaceful protest will be hijacked are very high. Based on the intelligence at the disposal of the Federal Government, some Nigerian activists have linked up with others outside Nigeria, including subversive elements, with a view to destabilising the country. We cannot and must not allow this to happen. Never again will the Federal Government allow the kind of violence that was perpetrated across the country under the guise of the EndSARS last October. Never again will anyone or group be allowed to destroy cities or to kill and maim innocent citizens, including security agents, under any guise.”
Asked what would happen if protesters ignored government’s warning and gather at the toll gate tomorrow, Mohammed said: “Security will do the needful. It would be irresponsible for anyone to think the toll gate would not be used. This is a facility that the state government still owes and still needs money to repair. It is meaningless for anyone to bar the state government from the toll gate. There’s no concrete proof at the panel that anybody was killed at the toll gate (on October 20, 2020).
“The security agents are ready for any eventuality. A situation in which six soldiers and 37 policemen were murdered in cold blood by hoodlums will not repeat itself. The attack, looting and razing of 269 private and public property will not happen again.”
Police dare protesters
Lagos government and police while pleading with parents and guardians to call their children to order by shelving the protest as arrangements have been concluded to deal with protester.
The appeal and the warning were made yesterday by the Attorney General of Lagos, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, and Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu at a joint press conference.
While acknowledging the rights of citizens to a lawful assembly and freedom to express their feelings as guaranteed by Section 39 and 40 of the Constitution, it said the rights did not give any citizen the freedom to block highways and prevent other citizens from moving freely within the state.
Onigbanjo said the government would not allow any group to push the state, once again, to the edge of carnage, and advised those organising the “Occupy Lekki Toll Gate” and “Defend Lagos” protests to desist from the action.
Odumosu said intelligence gathered by the police indicated the “Occupy Lekki Toll Gate” protest and planned counter rallies would degenerate into a breakdown of law and order, stressing that the police would not allow any group to carry out the action. He said the police would resist the protest with necessary force.
“Premised on the available intelligence and due threat analyses carried out on the planned protest, the Police perceives such proposed protest as a calculated attempt to cause pandemonium and massive destruction of lives and properties under whatever guide; such will not be allowed to hold in Lagos.”
Reconsider planned demonstration – LCC, Adegboruwa
The management of Lekki Concession Company Limited (LCC) also appealed to youths to reconsider their decision to embark on another demonstration saying it has the potential of repeating the disruptions suffered in October 2020 as well as bringing sad memories to various families that were affected by the protest.
Speaking to newsmen in Lagos yesterday, Managing Director of LCC, Yomi Omomuwasan, said the company was distressed by the violence that resulted from the protests and the resultant disruptions to people and businesses while noting that it chose to be silent and not join the fray due to the fact that tempers were still high despite a lot of misinformation circulating, especially from social media.
Omomuwasan said the LCC as an organisation, has been a victim of the violent part of the protest that resulted into substantial losses to its operations and has brought about uncertainties to 500 people employed by the establishment and thousands of dependants who are also being severely affected.
He revealed that there was never a time the LCC took steps to disrupt the protest throughout the period even when it was conscious of the likely effects on its operations. He said in a bid to halt further losses to its operation, it approached the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry for permission to regain the facility which the panel obliged.
“We have been made aware of media reports that two different groups, #OccupyLekkiTollGate, #DefendLagos and #DemNoBornDemPapaWell, are planning to demonstrate at our already destroyed Admiralty Circle Toll Plaza on Saturday following the decision of the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry to hand the Toll Plaza back to us.
“We are distressed by the reactions the decision of the panel has elicited from some members of the public and we wish to appeal to well meaning Nigerians from across the divide to reconsider the decision which has potential of repeating disruptions we all suffered and especially bringing sad memories to the various families that were affected by the protest of October 2020.”
According to him, the LCC had nothing to do with the protest against police brutality and have been unlucky to have been caught in the protest which saw the company lose assets worth several billions of naira.
Omomuwasan said not allowing the toll to operate would have grave repercussions as to how international lenders would view doing business in Nigeria and would automatically heighten the risk profile of doing business in Nigeria which will impact negatively on the efforts of the federal and state governments to obtain long term loans for critical infrastructure development.
The LCC was incorporated as a special purpose vehicle to build, operate and maintain the Eti-Osa Lekki Toll Gate under a 30-year concession and is the first successful Private Public Partnership (PPP) intervention in road infrastructure in Nigeria. Though LCC is fully owned by the Lagos State Government, it should be noted that the assets and liabilities were also acquired alongside the business.
Similarly, senior lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, who is one of the panelists that voted against returning the control of Lekki Toll gate said the planned protests would be counter productive and could undermine the essence of setting up the Judicial Panel of Enquiry.
He said the Judicial Panel of Inquiry is still sitting and it is yet to make any finding or recommendations on the Lekki Toll Gate incident of October 20, 2020, beyond the majority and dissenting decisions of February 6, all of which are purely interlocutory.
“I am concerned about the consequences of protests and counter-protests, at the same location, in relation to security and likely violation of COVID 19 protocols, given the rising wave of the pandemic in Lagos State especially, where most economic, social, educational and other activities, are partially grounded, presently. The points made for and against interlocutory decisions of the panel have been noted and they will be collated for necessary action, in consideration of the final report of the panel.”