272 views | Akanimo Sampson | November 13, 2020
Ohaneze Ndigbo says the EndSARS protest that rocked Nigeria was a legitimate weapon of complaint in a democracy.
The apex Igbo group is therefore joining other concerned citizens in condemning the recent freezing of accounts of peaceful EndSARS protesters, describing it as unnecessarily vindictive.
Before now, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had expressed concern about the on-going clampdown and freezing of bank accounts of EndSARS protesters by the Buhari government.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja on Wednesday, PDP said it was alarmed that bank accounts of some Nigerians who participated in “genuine and peaceful protests” against police brutality in various parts of the country were being frozen.
‘’it is distressing that government officials attempted to justify such action’’, which the party describes as gross violation of the Nigeria Constitution, adding that such action amounted to a deliberate effort to economically suffocate those Nigerians and their families for calling for good governance, respect for the rights of citizens and end to police brutality.
“Such action does not engender hope among citizens, especially the youth”, PDP said, adding that “it rather validates held view that government has already convicted the protesters.”
Ologbondiyan said it was strange to the PDP how the Buhari administration could be harassing unarmed and harmless citizens who merely embarked on civil protest over obvious societal ills, while insurgents and bandits continued to terrorise Nigerians across the country.
While counseling the administration to immediately stop the clampdown on Nigerians especially at the critical time of the country, PDP urged Nigerians, especially the youth, to remain calm in the overall interest of the unity, stability and good of the nation, particularly at these trying times.
The Buhari administration also came under severe criticism for tagging of EndSARS protesters as terrorists. Frontline citizens and groups are deploring the Central Bank of Nigeria’s action, which led to the freezing of the accounts of some of the campaigners.
Abuja succeeded in freezing the accounts of 20 EndSARS campaigners after telling a Federal High Court in the capital city that the funds in their accounts might have been linked to terrorist activities.
A written address in support of a motion ex parte filed by the apex bank froze 20 accounts in the second week of October and thereafter approached the court to seek an ex parte order to freeze the accounts.
In Suit Number FHC/ABJ/CS/1384/2020, filed before Justice A. R. Mohammed, the bank is however, making no mention of the fact that the 20 accounts were owned by persons involved in the EndSARS protests, but told the court that the funds might have emanated from terrorist activities.
Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said the blocking the accounts of EndSARS protesters on the pretext that they were terrorism suspects showed that Abuja was insincere.
NBA Publicity Secretary, Dr Raps Nduka, told The Punch that the EndSARS protests were lawful and the demands of the campaigners genuine, adding that the action of the Buhari administration through the CBN in blocking the accounts of the promoters of the movement showed that the government was insincere with its promise to address their demands.
“The timing looks very suspicious. The protests are lawful and the demands of the protesters and the concerns they expressed are genuine. What has happened shows that the protesters were right to insist that they were not going to leave the streets because over time, the government would promise something and do the opposite. This action of the CBN lends credence to the position taken by the youth.
“Even if the government is right, who will believe it at this time? The government makes it look like it is trying to silence people from talking about the ills of the society. Why does the government appear to be doing that?
“It tells us that the government may not be doing anything to ensure that the complaints are being addressed. It also tells us that that their original claims that they were standing with the youth were pretences. You cannot be standing with them and freeze their accounts. It does not work that way.
“Let us assume that the allegations are true, what happens to discrete investigation? Why should they block the accounts of persons because you are investigating them? Why don’t they be on the trail of the money going into the accounts, assuming the allegations are true? The time is very suspicious. It lends credence to the belief of the average Nigerian that the government is not being sincere”, Nduka said.
On his part, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, who describes the administration’s tagging of the promoters of the EndSARS protests as terrorists as unlawful, unconstitutional and insensitive, said he found it hard to believe that the CBN made such a claim in the application filed to obtain the court order freezing the accounts, noted that the rights to protest were guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.
“Who is saying that peaceful protests on the streets of Nigeria by Nigerians, who are constitutionally entitled under sections 37 and 38 of the Constitution to protest, to assemble, to associate, to move freely, to kick against bad government policies, to demonstrate on the streets peacefully, to sing, to dance and to hold rally, are terrorism? Who is the person saying that these amount to terrorism? What can this government not do to give a dog a bad name so as to hang it?
“So, the government does not know that the herdsmen are the real terrorists? The government does not know that Boko Haram members are the real terrorists? The government does not know that the rampaging kidnappers are the real terrorists? The government does not know that the bandits are the real terrorists? The government does not know that those in government stealing the commonwealth belonging to the people are the real terrorists?
“It is insensitive; it is immoral; it is illegal; it is unconstitutional; it is unlawful; it is wrongful for the government, through CBN or any agency, to tag peaceful protesters as terrorists. It is most unfortunate and saddening”, Ozekhome said.
According to him, the blocking of the bank accounts of the campaigners was an attempt by the Federal Government to intimidate the various state governments to express views contrary to its own via the various panels of inquiry to investigate the root causes of the protests.
Adding, he said, “what happens to the various judicial panels of inquiry set up by the various state governments like Edo, Lagos, Ondo, and Ekiti to look into the root causes of these protests and what can be done?
‘’The Federal Government is already intimidating the states by already condemning the EndSARS campaigners by blocking or freezing their accounts and tagging them as terrorists. Do you expect any state government panel to come with views that run contrary to the views of the government of Muhammadu Buhari?”
Former Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Dr Chidi Odinkalu, tweeted that the government regarded treasury looters as saints and EndSARS protesters as terrorists.
He wrote, “Reprisals: @cenbank says those who protested to EndSARS & those who supported them were terrorists. The SARS operatives who slaughtered young ppl & the politicians who loot our common patrimony are saints!”
However, Ohaneze Ndigbo is warning that if not properly managed, the clampdown on protesters could lead to another protest in the country.
The warning is contained in a statement by its Acting Secretary-General, Prince UcheAchi-Ogbaga, and Emeka Attamah, the Media Adviser to President-General Nnia Nwodo,
‘’The right to protest any perceived negative action of government or organisation is upheld in the constitution of the country. In fact, President Buhari himself led many protests against formerPresident Jonathan.
“The EndSARS protest was peaceful and legitimate until some hoodlums were sent to disrupt and make it violent. So, freezing the accounts of the alleged leaders of the protest is high-handed, ill-advised andunnecessarily vindictive.
“Moreover, it has the capacity of triggering off another wave of protest, the end of which nobody can fathom’’, Ohaneze Ndigbo says.