The #EndSARS protest in Edo and Delta states went awry yesterday, as no fewer than six persons died, while one life was also lost in Abuja, bringing total deaths to eight.
Six of those killed resulted from the clash between suspected hoodlums masquerading as protesters and armed personnel at the Benin Correctional Centre and Oko Medium Security Prisons, as the hoodlums attacked the prisons and freed hundreds of inmates.
The casualty in Delta was a 12-year-old protester who fell from the lorry he clung on to and died instantly, while that of Abuja was a young protester stabbed on Saturday by some hoodlums but died yesterday from injuries sustained in the attack.
This came on a day #EndSARS and pro-SARS protesters clashed at the Central Business District in Abuja, propelling the Commissioner of Police FCT Command, CP Bala Ciroma, to appeal for calm between both parties.
This is even as President Muhammadu Buhari, in his reaction to the ongoing #EndSARS protests, said yesterday it is the right of youths to protest and make certain demands from their leaders.
Also yesterday, soldiers were deployed to all strategic points in Abuja where the protesters usually converged as well as all government assets, including the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, National Secretariat, among others.
Police stations attacked, arms carted away
Besides the prisons attack, hoodlums also attacked police stations at Ugbekun, Idogbo, and Oba Market where they made away with arms and ammunition.
It was also learned that the Benin prisons have a capacity for 700 inmates, while that of Oko had a capacity for 1,300, 120 of whom are condemned criminals.
Vanguard gathered that four inmates were killed while trying to escape at Oko, while some escaped with gunshot injuries.
Two persons were also said to have died of gunshots as the protesters engaged prison guards in gunfire in Benin prison.
The surging protesters at Oko were said to have overpowered the five armed guards at the Oko facility and had a free day looting all shops along the road leading to the prison. They reportedly carted away valuables from the offices of prison officials.
It was gathered that immediately after the attack on Benin Prisons, security was alerted at Oko but calls to the Nigerian Army and the Police for reinforcement were not heeded hence the ease with which the suspected hoodlums overpowered the prison guards.
A prison source said: “They came in their thousands and their mission was to free inmates. They have been communicating with the inmates because even before they broke into the facility, the inmates were already rioting inside the place.”
At press time yesterday, the management of the Edo Command of the prisons is yet to issue an official statement.
Obaseki imposes curfew
As a result of the violent turn of events, the state government yesterday imposed a 24-hour curfew in the first instance to check the excesses of the hoodlums masquerading as protesters.
A statement by Secretary to State Government, SSG, Osarodion Ogie, said the curfew was to take effect from 4 pm yesterday.
“This decision has become necessary because of the very disturbing incidents of vandalism and attacks on private individuals and institutions by hoodlums in the guise of #ENDSARS protesters.
“While the government of Edo State respects the rights of its citizens to undertake legitimate protests, it cannot sit idly when hoodlums have taken laws into their hands to cause mayhem on innocent citizens and the state.
“By the directive, schools and businesses are to shut down activities accordingly. Those who cannot move safely are to stay put between now and 4 pm till calmness is restored.
“Parents are advised to rein in their children, youths, and wards to forestall further breakdown of law and order.
“The responsibility of government is to protect lives and property and maintain law and order. Therefore, anyone found outside in violation of the curfew would be dealt with according to the law.”
The protests shut pupils and students out of schools, following blockades mounted on streets which prevented vehicular movement and parents from accessing schools in the Edo State capital.
Consequently, most schools failed to open, forcing some pupils and students who found their way to their schools early to return home.
Similarly, residents, workers, and traders are having difficulties leaving their homes, even as many motorists and commercial drivers are off the roads for fear of being extorted by hoodlums who have clearly hijacked the initially peaceful protest.
Activist cautions government over jettisoning #EndSars demands
An activist and Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, Rev David Ugolor, condemned the hijack of the #EndSARS protest by suspected hoodlums and called on security agents to fish them out.
He, however, cautioned the government not to use the situation to jettison the legitimate demands of the EndSARS protesters.
He said: “We are condemning the hijack of the legitimate protests but the government should separate this hijack from the genuine demands of the protesters and respond to them because we need the movement to protect our democracy, they are the voices and institutions we need.”
Activities of the protesters have continued to cause hardship for road users as the whole of Benin City was locked down. All major roads and adjoining streets were blocked as early as 6 am with bonfires and barricades. The few motorists who dared to drive had green leaves on their vehicles as a show of solidarity with the protesters.
Protests in Auchi, Igarra
In Igarra, headquarters of Akoko-Edo Local Government Area, the EndSARS protesters marched from Tomato Junction across the major streets of the town chanting #EndSARS slogans.
In Auchi, Etsako West Local Government Area, protesters armed with placards of various inscriptions, came out as early as 8 am and blocked the Okene-Auchi-Benin highway.
The blockage caused a major traffic gridlock from the popular Jattu junction along the highway and extended beyond the Auchi Polytechnic main gate.
Some of the protesting youths used the situation to extort amounts of money from motorists, ranging from N200 to N1,000, depending on the type of vehicle.
#EndSARS, Pro-SARS protesters clash in Abuja
In Abuja, #EndSARS protesters clashed with their Pro-SARS counterparts in the Central Business District of the city.
The clash came shortly after some armed policemen had used both water cannons and tear-gas to disperse the #EndSARS protesters who remained undeterred in the protest.
Confirming the clash and death of a protester who was stabbed by some hoodlums on Saturday, FCT Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Mariam Yusuf, said in a statement: “Preliminary investigation into the crash reveals that no life was lost.
“However, one vehicle was set ablaze during the clash. In view of this, the Commissioner of Police has ordered a discreet investigation into the incident.
“In another development, the Command wishes to outrightly condemn the violent attack on a protester by unknown hoodlums along Kubwa axis on Saturday, October 17, 2020.
“The hoodlums who infiltrated the ranks of the #EndSARS protest attacked one Anthony Onome Unuode and left him with various degrees of injury which eventually resulted in death.
“While urging protesters to be law-abiding, remain peaceful in their conduct and shun all forms of violence, CP Bala Ciroma wishes to reassure residents of his unflinching commitment to the protection of lives and property within the FCT.”
12-yr old dies in Delta
In Delta State, a 12-year-old boy believes to be part of #EndSARS protesters died from injuries he sustained after he fell from a moving truck believed to be heading outside Sapele.
The teenager, whose name could not be ascertained at press time, was said to have joined thousands of protesting youths who had stormed the streets in protest against the terror reign of the Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS.
“He jumped on a moving truck that was heading outside the town and the next thing was that he fell from the back of the moving truck and before we could rush him to the clinic, he died.
The corpse of the teenager has been wrapped with the Nigerian flag, placed at the back of the truck on open display at the Amukpe area of Sapele, causing massive traffic gridlock.
Meanwhile, the thousands of #EndSARS protesters who stormed the Sapele end of Warri-Benin Highway caused gridlock which rendered motorists and commuters stranded.
Youths have the right to protest, make demands — Buhari
Also yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari in an apparent reference to the ongoing #EndSARS protest, said it is the right of the youths to protest and make certain demands from their leaders.
The President also said the younger generation should be allowed to exercise their fundamental rights, but advised that they should not allow their genuine concerns to be hijacked by hoodlums.
Briefing State House correspondents at the end of his meeting with President Buhari, Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, said President Buhari appealed to #EndSARS protesters to give the Federal Government time to address their demands, noting that the team set up for the purpose had already gone to work.
The minister said he briefed the President on the protest against police brutality, adding that President Buhari at the meeting said the youths of the country have spoken and that he has heard and he had since gone to work for them.
He said: “This afternoon (yesterday), I met with Mr. President, with the Chief of Staff in attendance. I was afforded the opportunity to brief Mr. President about the younger generation which is the youth of this country. I was also afforded the opportunity to highlight some of their demands, expectations, and desire for reform.
“I also thank Mr. President for being responsive to the demands of the younger generation to END SARS but also the other demands to ensure we have deep-seated reforms, making sure that an investigation is conducted to bring to justice all those that have been responsible for the extra-judicial killings, extortions, human rights violations and torture of Nigerians.
“But more importantly, I was able to let Mr. President know that the youths of this country are law-abiding, they are brilliant and smart, they are young ones that love peace and also want an environment to pursue their dreams and career.
“I let him know that the youths believe in this country and that they expect the reforms that have been promised will be followed through.
“Mr. President assured that the demands of the protesters are being met in a timely fashion, some have been met already. He said he accepts their demands and that government is already responding at various levels.
“Mr. President said the youths of this country have spoken and he has heard and he has since gone to work for the youth of the country, not just as a President but also as a father of the younger generation.
“He said as a father to this generation of our youth, his desire is for them to be well protected and live in a country where they enjoy their freedom and do not suffer from any form of police brutality.
“So, on the whole, I got the assurances of Mr. President that the youth of our country are a great resource and not a problem. He appreciates the fact that they have brought the SARS issue to the fore through their peaceful protests.
“He recognizes that they have called upon the government to do what is necessary and that as a President and a father, he will ensure that the demands put forward are met and that he will work to ensure that we get the reform we want, ensure that our youths are no longer profiled but celebrated and supported for their vast potentials, skills and for the fact that the future of our country lies in the hands of our youth.”
Asked to speak on plans on engagement, Dare said: “First, Mr. President said that as far as he is concerned, it is important to allow the younger generation to exercise the freedom to protest but he did say that such protest must be in a peaceful manner.
“Of course he is worried about some of the exceptions to the peaceful nature of the protest. For him, it is important that these protests are properly guided. He said part of the demands made was to ensure those protesting are protected and any police officer that has in one way or the other attacked any protester be brought to book.
“So, Mr. President thinks it’s a fundamental human right, so long as the protest is peaceful and focused. He said he has been responsive to demands put forward by the protesters.
“On engagement, conversations with the Nigerian youth have since started, they were able to get their demands across to government. The President spoke directly on Monday, condemning the killings particularly the extra-judicial killings that have occurred before, police brutality and approving investigation and to bring the guilty to book.’’
Speaking in his capacity as the Minister of Youth, Dare appealed to the protesting youths that their security was important.
He said: “In the face of infiltration by miscreants trying to hijack these protests and give the entire protest a bad image, it’s important that I make this appeal that consideration is given by moving this protest from protest to action.
“Some of these demands will take time. There are processes that must take place, some of the demands need administrative responses, some of them need legislation, some of them need executive orders where necessary, all of these will take time.
“We live in a constitutional democracy, this process cannot be usurped or bypassed, it must take time. But I think that the youths of this country have been heard, the agenda is clear and the government has taken note, the government has gone to work.”
NHRC calls for prosecution of 35 indicted Policemen
Similarly, the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, yesterday called for the prosecution of 35 police officers indicted in a report of the Presidential Investigation Panel on allegations of human rights violations against the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS.
The call was made in Abuja when NHRC submitted the report to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, for implementation.
Executive Secretary of NHRC, Mr. Tony Ojukwu stated that the report, among other things, contained names of 35 policemen who served under the disbanded SARS.
“The commission expects the AGF to consider their prosecution in accordance with the law. The submission of the report to the AGF is a gratifying point to the commission which went round the six geopolitical zones of the country to listen to various complaints by Nigerians against the then SARS. There were discoveries and all were encapsulated in the report,” he stated.
In his response, Malami, who formally received the report, said the government will implement the report in such a way that justice will be served to all parties concerned.
He said: “Justice is not one-way traffic. We have a mandate to establish a constitutional order”, where the welfare and peaceful co-existence of citizens are prioritized against personal or group interest.
“The current administration had in the past put modalities in place to give the Police the support they need to improve their welfare and do their work professionally.
He added that the Police Act 2020 has provided answers to the various problems affecting the Police force, including their operations and welfare as captured in the Police Trust Fund.
Malami restated that the federal government had been mindful of the totality of the interest, welfare, security, and well-being of all citizens before the current agitations to reform the Police force.
According to him, the government will continue to ensure the security and welfare of all citizens.
Protests, the result of neglected agitation — Obasanjo
Reacting to the development yesterday, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo described the protest against police brutality in the country as a product of extensive agitation ignored by the government.
In a statement issued by the media aide of the Ooni of Ife, Moses Olafare, Obasanjo spoke during a courtesy visit to the monarch, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi at his Ile-Oodua Palace in Ile-Ife, Osun State.
Obasanjo said over 60 percent of the country’s population are youths, who were either frustrated by lack of employment after graduating from higher institutions or for lack of capacity to get educated.
He explained that the #EndSARS protester’s agitation needed to be attended to by the government.
“Over 65 percent of our population is under the age of 35 who look up to the best in life, who struggle for education, some of them didn’t even get educated, while those who are educated get frustrated because of lack of opportunities.
“We must realize that the lid on the boiling steam would have to be removed. But I believe that there are windows of opportunity which the government can explore to show that it cares about the people, especially the welfare of the youth as the father of the country, particularly as the father of the youths.
“Fortunately by experience, the President has children and he knows how youths behave. I believe that the opportunities can still be taken to let the youths know that he as a father, understands their plight and his government understands their plight and he is ready to make life better for them,” Chief Obasanjo said.
In his remarks, Oba Ogunwusi told the #EndSARS protesters that it was time to retreat.
Ooni Ogunwusi, who described the #EndSARS struggle as a clear message to the government, said the youth have shown clearly their capacity to get things done in a coordinated manner, urging them to allow the government to fully attend to their yearnings.
“If you look at the #EndSARS protest, you will see that our youths have what it takes to rule the country. Since day one, they have shown leadership, accountability, and a huge sense of responsibility which have sent a clear message to the government.
“As a youth leader myself, I am proud that we all have communicated our ideas and it is heart-warming that we have been heard. Dear youths, it is time to retreat, particularly to prevent those with ulterior motives from hijacking the peaceful message of peace.
“The whole world is aware of our peaceful conduct and we must not let some bad elements tarnish this enviable integrity.
“Once again, I wish to urge our youths to stop the protest for now and give peace a chance. This would disallow the government from using force,” the Ooni admonished.
NEF demands end to protests
Meanwhile, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, has called for an immediate end to the #EndSARS protests across Nigeria, saying it now appeared that other interests had taken over these protests and were compounding the collective security of the nation.
In a statement signed by its Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the Forum said it was alarmed at criminal acts such as attacks on specific persons, emptying prisons, molesting innocent citizens, and attacking policemen.
The statement read: “We are very concerned that these acts of criminality suggest that other interests with criminal intent or subversive goals have taken over these protests,” the statement said. It further called on the Federal Government to take steps to protect innocent citizens and honor its commitment to serious changes in the manner it handles our security.
“We call on all leaders to take steps to lower tensions, engage young people to give them assurances that their cause is not lost, and close ranks to stop subversives from plunging the nation into deeper crises. We appeal once again to young Nigerians to salvage what they have achieved so far and prevented opportunists and criminals from hijacking the good work they have accomplished.
“Northern Elders Forum has closely followed the protests which began as a response to prolonged and widespread abuse by Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and related issues on the need for higher levels of accountability by leaders and state institutions. The Forum had released a statement a week ago in which it drew attention to the fact that there were genuine grounds for anger at accumulated grievances around the security and welfare of Nigerians, especially in the North. We had advised that governments must embark on far-reaching changes and reforms, and introduce policies that should improve the security and economic well-being of Nigerians.
“These protests have registered tremendous success, including acceptance of responsibility for the federal government to abolish SARS and undertake further action towards improving accountability of operatives and institutions. It was particularly noteworthy that young Nigerians led these protests in its early stages, and the Forum acknowledges the heroism of these young people who stood up to say, enough! We have also noted that tragically, some people have lost their lives in these protests.
“ Unfortunately it now appears that other interests have taken over these protests and are compounding our collective security. Like most Nigerians, the Forum is alarmed at criminal acts such as attacks on specific persons, emptying prisons, molesting innocent citizens, and attacking policemen. We are very concerned that these acts of criminality suggest that other interests with criminal intent or subversive goals have taken over these protests. If these acts continue, as they will unless we bring these protests to come to an immediate end, every law-abiding citizen, including protesters who are pursuing legitimate goals, are in danger. The Forum does not believe that this is part of the agenda of the overwhelming majority of protesters.
“ The Forum, therefore, calls for an immediate end to these protests across the nation. It further calls on the federal government to take steps to protect innocent citizens and honor its commitment to serious changes in the manner it handles our security. We call on all leaders to take steps to lower tensions, engage young people to give them assurances that their cause is not lost, and close ranks to stop subversives from plunging the nation into deeper crises. We appeal once again to young Nigerians to salvage what they have achieved so far, and prevent opportunists and criminals from hijacking the good work they have accomplished.”