Police avert pro- and anti-President protesters’ clash

Fidelis Soriwei, Adelani Adepegba  and Olaleye Aluko

The police on Friday prevented a violent confrontation between the #resumeorresign# coalition and pro-government protesters at the Unity Fountain, Maitama, Abuja.

The Charlie Boy-led protesters were observing the fifth day of their sit-out at the venue when members of the pro-government group, Centre for Fairness and Justice, stormed the garden and attempted to attack them.

But the police quickly formed a cordon around the #resumeorresign# protesters and shielded them from the adversarial move of the government supporters.

The hostile protesters accused the coalition members of clamouring for President Muhammadu Buhari’s resignation because they supported corruption.

The coalition members, who appeared unruffled by the averted violence, rounded off their sit-out shortly afterwards and left the garden for the pro-government supporters who danced for almost an hour singing, “Buhari kills corruption.”

The leader of the group, Goodluck Obi, said Buhari had not done anything wrong to warrant the demand for his resignation by the #resumeorresign# group.

He argued that the President had done well in the fight against corruption and should be supported by every Nigerian.

According to him, those calling for Buhari’s resignation are simply against the government’s pro-people programmes.

“Buhari has done well and he should be allowed to rest well before returning to the country. His war against corruption is not selective, even a member of his cabinet, I won’t mention names, who was indicted for corruption was charged to court, so it is wrong for anyone to ask the President to resign,” he stated.

About two other placard-carrying pro-government groups also registered their support for the government.

A lawyer, Pelumi Olajengbesi, had flayed the police for breaching the rights of Nigerians to peaceful assembly and movement, noting that the Tuesday attack on the #resumeorresign# protesters was barbaric and condemnable.

The activist, who is the Convener, Office of the Citizens of the Federal Republic, said the assault on the protesters was in breach of the constitution, urging the government to call the police to order.

SANs, others disagree on FG’s hate speech bill

Meanwhile, civil rights groups and two senior advocates of Nigeria have differed on the Federal Government’s plan to enact a law against hate speeches.

The Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd.), had on Friday said that the Federal Government would enact a law that would criminalise hate speeches.

Two SANs, Yusuf Ali and Emeka Ngige,  expressed opposing views on the hate speech bill proposed by the Federal Government.

In separate interviews on Friday, Ali said the bill would not tackle the source of the speeches which is the socio-economic deprivations and perceive injustice, while Ngige believed such deprivations were no excuse, applauding the government for proposing the bill.

Ali noted that the Federal Government must first combat the background issues responsible for the hate speeches.

He said, “I don’t see that bill as a solution to the problem. There are some problems that law cannot address. Of course, there are such problems. An example is the issue of bride price in the eastern part of the country.

“The issue is more of a socio-economic and political problem. We get to this point because of the perception of social, political and economic injustice. So we have to address these issues. The resources are too scarce for too many people, and because patriotism has not been part of our lives. I have said it before that we still do not have a person or an institution that is a rallying point.”

However, Ngige said, “The government cannot fold its arms and allow people to make hateful speeches. Nigeria must not find itself in an inter-tribal war on account of things spreading on the social media and the Internet. I think the minister is doing the right thing by bringing up the bill.

“While the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, it, however, prohibits making comments that can cause a breakdown of law and order.”

A group, Akin Fadeyi Foundation endorsed the move, noting that the government must however be careful not to abrogate people’s rights while pretending to curb hate speech.

Noting that hate speech could spark wars and violent crises, the Convener of the foundation, Akin Fadeyi, said the government had the mandate to keep the nation together, noting that the proposed bill could assist in actualising this.

He said, “We are totally in support of it (the bill), however, the executive must realise and understand the complexity of toeing the thin line between curbing hate speech and differentiating between cowering the public into submission under a rule of tyranny.”

He added, “The government must not or cannot curb freedom of speech, it also cannot also take away people’s rights to self-determination and dignity.”

The President of the Ijaw Youth Council, Mr. Pereotubo Oweilaemi, challenged the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, to ensure the effective performance of his responsibilities to avert crisis in the country.

He said that there were so many hate speeches and angry disgruntled elements in the society that it had become urgent for measures to be adopted to address the bitterness in the land.

He warned that a particular part of the country felt that they own the country more than others and that if the issue was not handled properly it could result in a disastrous end.

He said that in spite of the fact that some people had composed a spreading hate song in a part of the country, the government had not done anything about it.

He lamented that security operatives,  who manhandled protesters led by Charles Oputa aka Charly Boy, who were asking for the whereabouts and health status of President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, provided security for pro- Buhari protesters on Thursday.

“In all of this, the government of the day should sit up and call a spade a spade. Two days ago, Charly Boy and some people protested peacefully to know the whereabouts and health status of Mr. President and they were manhandled. Today some people protested in support of the President and they were being guarded and escorted by the same police that manhandled Charly Boy and his team.

“So what is playing out, to the best of my knowledge, is that some sections of this country feel that they own this country better than some people; that is the problem. And until this is addressed, it is going to lead us to a very terrible end. Some people are already feeling that they own Nigeria more than the other people. We are equal partners in the Nigerian project. The treatment that is given to the northerners should be given to the southerners; the treatment that is given to the westerners should be given to the easterners.

“When people commit crime, the law should be applied irrespective of where you come from. People are singing a hate song and it is everywhere and the government is not doing anything about it.”

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