It has become the norm to disperse non-violent protesters with arm-bearing police officers.
Hundreds of protesters marching against the state government’s new traffic law, Monday, in Lagos were turned back by armed police officers.
The protesters, made up of civil society groups and commercial motorcyclists, planned to march from the Nigeria Labour Congress’s Secretariat, Yaba, to the seat of government in Alausa.
The Joint Action Front, JAF, the organizers of the protest, said that the march was shelved as a result of plans by “outsiders” to take advantage of the protest and unleash mayhem.
“Our own intelligence report, there are people who are not part of us that will join us and cause police to tear-gas us,” said Abiodun Aremu, JAF’s Secretary.
Protesters vs Police
The mass action was to protest the restriction of commercial motorcyclists, popularly called Okada riders, from about 475 inner roads in the state, according to the organizers.
By 8 a.m, dozens of armed police officers had arrived and stationed outside the Labour House, where the match would begin.
Initial confrontation between the police and the protesters was averted after two executive members of the motorcycle union were arrested.
Simeon Aremu and Yusuf Oladimeji, Chairman of Ifako-Ijaiye branch of an okada riders union and State Secretary respectively were arrested by the police “for distributing leaflets.”
Mr. Aremu said that there is “no going back” on the mass action.
“There’s no law that states that police permission is needed before you can protest,” said Mr. Aremu, Secretary, Joint Action Forum, the organisers of the mass action.
“The first thing they want to do is to instill fear in all of us. We must conquer that fear,” he added
As more people arrived at the Labour House for the protest, more police vans bearing officers, armed with AK47 rifles, parked outside the building.
When the march finally began, and the protesters had moved about 100 metres from their take-off point; the police closed in.
A Deputy Commissioner of Police, Babatunde Sobulo, who led the police team appealed to them to shelve the protest.
“We are appealing, please let some delegates of the executive move to the police headquarters, meet with my CP (Commissioner of Police), discuss with him, if you are not satisfied, you can now go back and do whatever you want to do,” Mr. Sobulo, who is in charge of Police Operations, said.
The leaders of the protest refused. A heated argument ensued.
Mr. Sobulo said that commercial motorcyclists plying the expressway is suicidal.
Mr. Aremu retorted that Governor (Babatunde) Fashola smokes despite that tobacco kills.
Mr. Sobulo said that there is a high chance of the protest being hijacked.
“If that happens, I’ll use all means given to me by the law to disperse that crowd and I’m not mincing words,” Mr. Sobulo, who unleashed tear gas on octogenarian, Ben Nwabueze and others during a peaceful walk earlier this year, said.
After a brief meeting with other leaders, the protesters decided to call it off, adding that the mass action would be a continuous one.
“We want to go and re-strategise, we are going back for a meeting,” said Ayodele Akele, National Secretary of National Conscience Party.
“We are coming back massively. This is a warning protest.