by Stanley Azuakola
It’s obvious that Nigeria’s democracy is not short of lovers, saviours and defenders these days. When Northern governors decided to have series of meeting across different states with several leaders, they named the shuttle, “Save Democracy Initiative”; and yesterday when civil society groups decided to protest in Port Harcourt, the Rivers capital over what they viewed as the attack on democracy and the rule of law in that state, they named their rally, “Defending Democracy rally.”
But the police would not let them “defend democracy.”
In another instance which critics of the Rivers police commissioner, Mbu Joseph Mbu, will definitely cite as his partisan disposition to happenings in the state, the Rivers Police Command prevented the civil society groups from going ahead with their protest. They deployed surveillance helicopters, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and patrol vehicles all in a bid to frustrate the moves of the protesters. The Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, saw a large contingent of police officers deployed there apparently in a bid to prevent the activists coming in from other states to get to the venue, according to the organisers.
But the police were outsmarted – temporarily.
The Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition (NDCSC) led by Anyakwee Nsirimovu and other members of the coalition were aware that the police would attempt to stop them, so in whereas the letter which they sent to the Police Commissioner to provide minimal security, they had stated that the venue of the protest would be the Isaac Boro Park, Port Harcourt, the organisers later converged on the Liberation Stadium.
As early as 6 am, battle-ready, riot and regular policemen, backed by APCs, sealed off the Isaac Boro Park while the coalition’s members were already gathering at the Liberation Stadium for the rally that would have taken off at 9 am. The policemen, having waited till 9 am without seeing any activist, rushed to the Liberation Stadium with two APCs and many patrol vehicles when they got the hint of the venue change.
According to reports, the main gate of the stadium was immediately sealed off by the policemen with two APCs and many vans. Passers-by were made to frog-jump, having been mistaken for members of the coalition. The police also asked the invited activists and members of the coalition from the nine states of the Niger Delta, to disperse immediately.
The activists however regrouped at a nearby private multipurpose hall on Stadium Road where they addressed reporters.
The Police, through its spokesperson, Angela Agabe, said that the rally was stopped in order to prevent a breakdown of law and order. The activists however disagreed with her claims.
The chairman of the NDCSC said, “Impunity and abuse of the rule of law will not be allowed in Rivers State. Police are not neutral in Rivers crisis. Commissioner of Police Mbu Joseph Mbu must be immediately redeployed – in line with the resolution of the National Assembly.
“We planned a peaceful rally, but Mbu’s policemen took over the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt – in a show of force, intimidating law-abiding citizens, who fought for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria. It is a bad day for democracy in Rivers State.
“Freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly are guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but jettisoned by Mbu’s policemen. The need for peace, security and participatory democracy in Rivers State cannot be overemphasised.
“Police permit is not needed before protesting or having a rally in a democracy. Mbu allowed Niger Delta militants to recently protest on the streets of Port Harcourt. Why did he ask his men to intimidate the members of the civil society coalition and law-abiding citizens?”
Other activists who spoke also denounced the police for their actions. The Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Debo Adeniran, who came in from Lagos, as well as Nankin Bagudu of the League of Human Rights who came in from Jos, said Nigerians were worried about the ugly development in Rivers State, especially with five of the 32 members attempting to impeach Speaker Otelemaba Dan Amachree.