Hoodlums, led by an ex-militant leader, Tuesday, harassed and wounded protesters from different parts of Niger Delta region, who stormed Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, to protest the controversial allocation by the state government of 1,200 hectares of land to Fulani herdsmen for cattle grazing.
Though the state governor, Hon Seriake Dickson, had defended the allocation, Niger Delta campaigner, Ms Annkio Briggs, who got to Tombia Junction, the take-off point of the protest in Yenagoa before 9.00 am, was addressing the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in the area and his men on the purpose of the protest, when thugs, who seemed to have official backing, pounced on her and others.
National presidents of Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, National Security Watch Organization of Nigeria, NSWON, Messrs. Austin Ozobo and Dickson Bekederemo, Comrade Harrison Kpikpi, Ojugo Christy, Preye Dressman and other leaders, who were at the venue, were also assaulted by the thugs in the presence of security agents.
It was learned that policemen and other security agencies, which were also there to abort the protest, fired teargas and shot indiscriminately into the air, forcing the protesters, who were not prepared to confront security agents, to vote with their legs.
Briggs, who spoke to Vanguard about one hour, 30 minutes after she was whisked away from the attackers, said: “It was quite a violent scene, I was addressing the Divisional Police Officer and some of his men the purpose of our protest, which is strictly on the allocation of 1,200 hectares of land to herdsmen when the thugs, who were lurking around pounced on us.
“The police know them; they ripped my identity card from my body, forcefully took my phone and manhandled me, they attacked and wounded many of us, the security agents were there watching and did nothing. They only chose to fire teargas and shot indiscriminately into the air,” she said.
When Vanguard visited the area, battle-ready security operatives, backed by seven patrol vans and a military armoured personnel carrier, were sighted at the Edepie roundabout, also known as Tombia roundabout.
An eyewitness said: “What happened is a slap on our democracy; people have the right to protest so long as they are peaceful in their conduct. The protesters were peaceful in their conduct and do not deserve what happened. It is a shame that the security men could not stop those hurling dangerous objects on the gathering.”
The Ijaw People Development Initiative, IPDI, in a statement, by Austion Ozobo, said: “It was sad and disgusting when thugs, police, army and Civil Defence Corps manhandled protesters, who assembled at Tombia Junction to express their disapproval over the allocation of 1,200 hectares of land to marauding herdsmen on February 14 in Bayelsa.
“The thugs assaulted Annkio Briggs, Barr Dickson Bekederemo, Comrade Harison Kpikpi, Ojugo Christy, Preye Dressman and others. This was followed by continued shooting of over 100 gun shots and canisters of teargas by police officers to disrupt and dislodge the protesters.
“The military stationed two armoured tanks at the Tonbia junction, the police and Civil Defence Corps equally drafted over 20 patrol vans to intimidate and beat up protesters in Bayelsa, as if they are fighting war.
“We are disappointed at Governor Seriake Dickson’s cruel action against fellow Ijaw people. This cannot happen in the north and southwest, Hausa man or Yoruba cannot do this to their people. It is about a peaceful protest and the people do not deserve this kind of unholy treatment,” the group said.
The group stated: “The right to protest is a civil right of Nigeria citizens. Dickson action is in human and repressive. Seeing what herdsmen are up to, no reasonable persons would welcome them to their domain. It is a pity that Dickson is fighting to protect animal rights, instead of human rights. It is a pity that animal life has more value to Dickson than the rights and safety of Bayelsans.”