Two civil society groups, the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) and Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), have called for an immediate end to the attacks on innocent citizens and activists by thugs hired by the Senate President, Mr. Bukola Saraki.
The call was made on Thursday at a jointly addressed press conference, which held in Lagos.
The two organizations expressed their displeasure at the use of terror by political leaders to silence protests against corruption.
“As civil society organizations, whose very existence depends on the protection of civil liberties, we cannot stand aloof and watch on while political predators unleash terror on innocent and defenseless citizens, with the goal of silencing dissent and protest against corruption and mindless plundering of national resources,” they said.
Specifically, the groups described, as emblematic of the trend, the attacks on sympathizers of online news medium, SaharaReporters, at the premises of the Kwara State High Court in Ilorin by thugs hired by Mr. Saraki.
They noted that activists, who went to witness the proceedings in case between SaharaReporters and Mr. Saraki, have been regularly assaulted and have had properties such as phones, electronic gadgets, and vehicles destroyed.
“In the last three weeks, these innocent citizens, who have merely expressed belief in the Nigerian state and its judiciary’s ability to fairly adjudicate on the case, have been visited with terror by thugs and miscreants, said to be sponsored by the Senate President and officials of Kwara State government,” explained the groups. They stated that Nigeria’s place among civilized nations will be further questioned, when the actions of the thugs, as video-recorded by citizen reporters, are made available to the international community. CHRICED and HEDA said one of the victims of the Senate President’s thugs, Mrs. Funmi Jolade, was severely beaten and her dress ripped at the court premises in the presence of policemen.
“We unequivocally condemn the mindless, wicked and criminal assault on the fundamental rights of fellow Nigerians to free speech and peaceful assembly. We make no mistake about the fact that the reason for these violent attacks is the resolve of citizens and activists to challenge the plunder of national resources and hold powerful politicians to account,” they maintained.
The civil society organizations wondered why student leaders, market women, artisans and journalists exercising their democratic rights were attacked at court premises and forcefully relieved of their personal belongings, adding that the country is gradually becoming a human rights sinkhole where impunity reigns unchallenged.
They warned that no group has a monopoly of violence and called on law enforcement institutions not to wait until innocent citizens being attacked decide to carry out reprisal attacks.
“The police and State Security Service must act now to investigate and prosecute those responsible for this sacrilegious defilement of a court of law. Unfortunately, in the face of these egregious violations of the rights of these activists, who converged at the court because of their faith in the rule of law, the role of the primary law enforcement institution, the Police have been ignoble,” said the groups.
According to them, the attacks are indicative of the contempt the country’s political leaders have for human dignity and rule of law. They stated that rather than arrest and prosecute the thugs, police officers, at the behest of the Kwara State government, either ignore the violence or arrest its victims.
CHRICED and HEDA warned that every form of lawlessness condoned incentivizes rights violators, adding that the use of thugs by powerful and corrupt political interests to subvert the rule of law could be a dress rehearsal for the 2019 general elections.
“This kind of system breeds unending violence. It is, therefore, not a surprise that ours is a country that has become a blood-filled theatre of the absurd. Impunity begets more impunity, and violence, if not checked by a firm application of the rule of law, would invariably result in a spiral of violence,” they argued.
The civil society organizations also warned that the unfortunate incidents in Ilorin should not be treated as a minor local irritation, as they carry a message that might is right. In addition, they said, the incidents show the tendency of the Nigeria Police Force to shirk its responsibility.
“We call on the relevant authorities, particularly the Police High Command, the Police Service Commission, the State Security Service and Office of National Security Adviser to investigate this criminal breach of public peace and sanction officers, who looked on while innocent citizens were being attacked by sponsored miscreants,” the groups demanded.
They noted that under the incumbent Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim K Idris, the record of the Police at arresting lawlessness in the country has been squalid.
CHRICED and HEDA warned that if the violence against SaharaReporters’ supporters continues unchecked, it will breed, in politicians, the belief that violence is the appropriate response to lawful dissent.