That Nigeria is adrift today is no news, what with the near total breakdown of law and order. What is news though is that while there appears to be a state of collective stupor amongst the political elite, there are certain groups that have taken the challenge to stand and speak up, calling for an end to mass sacking of workers, fuel increment, and have urged the government of Muhammadu Buhari to adopt a pro-people policing plan to secure the lives and property of Nigerians.
One such group is the Conference of Non-Governmental Groups in Edo State. Just last week, from May 27-28, 2021, the CONGOs members left their sleep and comfort and organised a civil walk to the National Assembly in Abuja to draw attention to the state of insecurity in Nigeria. Part of their demands included that government take action against kidnapping, ‘killing of our children, raping of our daughters and to arrest unemployment’. Whilst the group was in Abuja, the police allegedly truncated the walk, and did not allow the peaceful protesters meet with the leadership of the National Assembly. Undaunted, the CONGOs undertook their walk nevertheless and made their case. They presented a protest letter to representatives of the NASS leadership.
In that letter to the National Assembly, CONGOs said that the level of insecurity in Nigeria has dangerously impacted on the lives of Nigerians individually. ‘It has regressed the GDP and GNP of our country. While kidnapping has become a recurring activity, armed robbery has grown in monumental dimensions. Travelling by Nigerians have been seriously constrained by the fear of being robbed or kidnapped. In nearly every part of the country, it is increasingly risky to go to farms. Every aspect of economic life has been constrained by the restrictions delivered by insecurity’.
Not done, the CONGOs participated in another protest march in Benin City, Edo state on the 31st of May 2021. Tagged Campaign against Insecurity May 31 National Day of Action against Insecurity in Nigeria, the Benin City leg of the ‘National Day of Protest’ was supposed to commence from Oando Fuel Station at New Benin, Benin City and to terminate at the NUJ Secretariat and the Office of the Governor of Edo State. But trouble soon broke out, and once again the walk was truncated. The Public Works Volunteers, PUWOV, a vigilante group uniformed and said to be armed by the Edo State government, and who claimed they were acting on orders from their superiors, trailed the CONGOs protesters to the NUJ Secretariat and laid siege, cordoning off the premises, armed to the teeth with all kinds of weaponry as though they were after a group of hardened criminals.
But the brave protesters managed to make their case and addressed the media. According Mr Osagie Obayuwana, a leader of the protests, PUWOV smashed laptops, banners and musical instruments for the road protest. ‘At no time in the history of Nigeria has insecurity been as terrible as it is today. From our assessment of the situation, we have seen that there is a direct relationship between insecurity and poverty. Where there is no justice, there cannot be peace, and where there is no peace there cannot be justice. We believe that providing security is a duty that government owes to all Nigerians’, Mr Obayuwana said.
Amongst the protesters, this reporter met with Sophia Omijie, an accountant with the Justice Development and Peace Commission, JDPC, in Benin City. She is pregnant, and held a placard with the inscription, Equality in dignity and rights. According to Omijie, ‘my participation in this protest of national mourning is a thing of life – for unborn children, those already born, and those that are yet unborn. If there’s no security in Nigeria, it therefore means there’s no place for my unborn child. Consequently, I take it as my responsibility to be here today to fight and protest for my unborn child. How do we bring up children in a country such as this?’ Omijie said.
Comrade Abiola Daisy, CONGOs president also shared her views on the national day of mourning on insecurity in Nigeria. ‘As a mother and as a wife, I am pained hearing about children being kidnapped and abducted for ransom, of men and women being slaughtered nearly every day. We need to get our voices heard, but individually are voices have no power and that is why we have decided to come out together with all other CSOs to speak with one voice. While we were in Abuja, our walk at the Eagle Square was very peaceful…but imagine in our own state, Edo, we are being harassed and tear-gassed. We are undaunted however, and we say enough is enough to banditry, mass poverty and kidnapping in Nigeria’, the Comrade said.
Many other Nigerians apart from the protesters were also attacked and harangued by the Edo State security volunteer outfit, PUWOV. They beat and tear gassed a group of protesters who came to the NUJ Press centre to express the extra-judicial killing of their loved ones by the police. While making a recording of the fracas generated by the PUWOV against the protesters, they seized the recording equipment of this reporter, and only released it when colleagues threatened to make a formal complaint to the Edo state Commissioner of Police. In Abuja as well, there were reports that Omoyele Sowore was allegedly shot at by a policewoman, further aggravating an already tense country.
A Human Rights activist who spoke with this reporter, but who declined to state his name said that government needs ‘quick action to nip these incessant cases of insecurity in Nigeria in the bud. Very soon, the problem will come right to their doorstep. They must begin to listen to protesters instead of fighting them and trying to stop protests in Nigeria’.
Other commentators said that the PUWOV is a statement against the formation of state police. ‘These are a group of already armed criminals registered with the Edo state government being used against Nigerians carrying out a legitimate civil activity and are considered enemies of the state. What will happen if there is state police and you have this kind of trigger-happy bunch as members of the state police force? Either they get proper training or let it be scrapped forthwith’, one commentator said.