• Charley Boy collapses, others sustain injuries • Police defend action
From Iheanacho Nwosu and Molly Kilete, Abuja
Security agents, yesterday, brutalised protesting members of civil society coalition and agitators, including socialite and musician, Charles Oputa, popularly known as Charlie Boy, who are calling for the resignation of ailing President Muhammadu Buhari.
The protesters who operated under the aegis of “Concerned Nigerians” and “OurMumuDonDo” had camped at the Millennium Park opposite the Unity Fountain, Maitama, Abuja.
The civil society coalition group had on Monday marched to Aso Villa, but were stopped by security operatives.
They demanded the resignation of President Buhari who is currently in London on medical vacation. He has been away since May 7, after formally handing over to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
Charlie Boy and other protesters arrived at the park at 8.30am flaunting placards with different inscriptions and chanting that “freedom comes by struggle. “
However, no sooner had they settled under a tree in the park than police threw canisters of teargas at them ostensibly to disperse them. The initial reaction of the agitators was to pull off their shirts to cover their noses, but the effect of the smoke forced some of them to seek refuge in some corners.
Unrelenting, the security agents moved to force the protesters out of the park leading to a clash, as the protesters put up resistance. One of the protesters was injured and rushed to a clinic at the Federal Secretariat.
The atmosphere became more feisty as police barricaded the entrance to the park, barring scores of people who wanted to participate in the protest from accessing the park.
The situation came to a head when Charlie Boy stormed out of the park with bruises in his face. He claimed that a mobile policeman hit him with the butt of his gun.
“They hit me near my eyes with the butt of their gun. They also unleashed security dogs on us, threw canisters on us. It was unbelievable.
“We have nothing against President Buhari, but we cannot all keep quiet when things are not going right. You can see the number of policemen and security agents that came after us. We were only few but the entire security agents were unleashed on us. They brutalised us, beat up journalists and went after anybody who tried to participate in the protest.”
One of the participants in the protest, Jide Kol, added: “I don’t know why those in authorities would continue to treat us like animals.
“They released their dogs on us, threw canisters at us and came heavily on us. Protest is allowed everywhere in the world, I don’t know why our own should be different.”
Inspite of the attack, Charlie Boy vowed to continue the protest.
“We are continuing tomorrow (today). The nation belongs to all of us, we must continue to ask questions on how we are governed.”
Initially, a senior police officer who pleaded for anonymity denied manhandling the protesters.
“I don’t know how anybody can say we manhandled him. We only told them to leave the park. Our mission is not to brutalise anybody, we were gentle on them. We want everybody to follow the law of this country, what they are doing is unlawful.”
But the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police command, in a formal statement by the Police Public Relations Officer, Anjuri Manzah, said it men used force on the protesters to avert a breakdown of law and order and breach of public peace in the nation’s capital.
Manzah said the police brutalised the protesters and journalists who were covering the event after hoodlums, miscreants and other criminal elements infiltrated the group and took over the protest to cause havoc.
He reiterated the determination of the force to deal ruthlessly with any person or group that tried to disrupt the peace in the nation’s capital.
The police spokesman called on members of the public, parents and guardians, religious/opinion leaders and other interest groups to prevail on their children and wards, followers and adherents not to allow themselves to be used by any group to cause disturbance of public peace and break down of law and order.
While noting that the police had on Monday provided the necessary security for the “Our-Mumu-Don-do Movement” to safeguard public safety, public peace and protect their rights to freedom of expression, rights to peaceful assembly and association, and right to freedom of movement as provided for in sections 39, 40, and 41 of the 1999 constitution as amended, he, however, lamented that the group at its resumed sitting yesterday, allowed miscreants and hoodlums to hijack the protest.
“The miscreants, hoodlums and other unruly individuals who infiltrated the protests, started blocking the major roads adjoining the Unity Fountain, obstructing traffic and preventing movements of other innocent citizens from going to their means of livelihood, and thereby exhibiting unruly behaviours and other violent acts very likely to cause the breakdown of law and order and disturbance of public peace.
“The Police personnel intervened at the point that the concerned Nigerians Group lost control of the crowd and prevented miscreants, hoodlums and other criminal elements from hijacking the protest to cause mayhem and chaos.
“It is pertinent to state here that the FCT Police command is fully aware and recognises the constitutional rights of every citizen including “Our Mumu Don-do group” to assemble and move freely in any part of the Federal Capital Territory, but the command will not allow any protest under any guise to turn violent and jeopardise the prevailing peace, law and order currently being enjoyed in the FCT.”
The command assured residents and visitors of adequate security and protection of lives and property of everyone, including those who chose to express their constitutional rights of protest with decorum.