The Cold War between the Bring Back Our Girls advocacy group and the Nigeria Police may linger for as long as the over 200 school girls who were kidnapped from Chibok in Borno State last April 14 remain missing.
Last Wednesday, an Abuja High Court handed down a restraining order barring the Nigeria Police; the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Abubakar; and the Abuja Commissioner of Police, CP, Joseph Mbu; from arresting members of the group who have been on the streets of Abuja for over one month protesting against the Federal Government’s perceived shabby handling of the abduction saga.
A former lawmaker, Dino Melaye had gone to court on behalf of the group to file a legal action to halt the Police from barring public-interest protests. This followed a ban on further protests by the group that was announced by the Commissioner of Police incharge of the Federal Capital Territory, Mr Joseph Mbu. Mr. Melaye, who has been in the frontline of the #BringBackOurGirls protest in Abuja, filed a 10-count suit against the respondents following an initial ban on the protest to demand the rescue of the abducted Chibok Girls as announced by Mr. Mbu.
Justice Abubakar Talba who handed the order also gave a consequential order to the police, Mr. Abubakar, and Mr. Mbu to publicly apologise to Mr. Melaye in any national newspaper.
Days before the order was given, leaders of the group which had applied for Police protection told Vanguard Metro, VM, that they were ignored. The group had applied for Police protection following the the Inspector-General of Police directive reversing the ban that was announced by Mbu on June 2, 2014. The group had also decided to ask for Police protection apparently in response to the the advice of the Inspector-General that they should all groups wishing to embark on protests within the FCT should consult the police for advice.
The reversal of the FCT Police Chief’s ban order and the advice given to protesting groups within Abuja was announced by the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters Public Relations Officer Mr Frank Mba. According to him: “The notice was issued to guide the citizens to apply caution in rallies, particularly in the FCT, based on intelligence reports on current security challenges facing the nation.”
He said the reports indicated that the peaceful protests over the kidnapped Chibok school girls were about to be infiltrated and hijacked by criminal elements linked to the Boko Haram insurgents.
Mba quoted the Mr Mohammed Abubakar, as advising organisers of such protests to seek advice and guidance from the police before embarking on rallies “to avoid any unpleasant circumstance.”
Despite the directive of the Police boss on June 3, the group had insisted on pressing on with its legal action at the Abuja High Court.
Speaking to Vanguard last Tuesday in a telephone interview, the spokesman of the advocacy group Mr Rotimi Olawale had said the group refused to withdraw the suit to prevent the police from ever infringing on the rights of Nigerians to Protest in the future.
Earlier on, radical Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) had been appointed by the group as its lawyer for the case.
In a press statement issued and signed by Oby Ezekwesili and Hadiza Bala Usman, the group said: “We wish to remind the Commissioner of Police Mbu that he cannot take any action that violates our constitutionally-guaranteed rights as citizens, particularly our rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, amongst others as enshrined in Chapter Four (Section 40) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended).”
Ezekwesili and Usman further declared that: “Our movement is legitimate and lawful and cannot be arrested by the police whose responsibility is to enforce, not betray the law.”
The statement concluded by stating that: “We, the members of the #BringBackOurGirls Abuja Family, remain resolute and will persist in using all lawful means to sustain our peaceful advocacy for the safe rescue of the Chibok Girls. We therefore encourage all those in Nigeria and other nations that have similarly taken a stand for the cause of the girls to continue to do so with the clarion call: ‘Bring Back Our Girls Now and alive’”.
Indeed, Mbu had penultimate Monday, banned the group from continuing with its daily protests over the fate of the abducted girls. He had explained that the action was taken to prevent terrorists from infiltrating the city and using the cover provided by the protesters to bomb government buildings and public installations.
The fears of the Abuja police boss may have been heightened by some ugly incidents which occurred last week. Penultimate Wednesday, there was fracas between the #BringBackOurGirls group and another group which christened itself “Release Our Girls” at the Unity Fountain, Abuja.
VM learnt the fracas occurred as a result of rivalry between the Bringbackourgirls group and the “Release Our Girls” group. The BringBackOurGirls group later alleged it was attacked by thugs who broke some of their chairs and destroyed some other items.
It was learnt that the Release Our Girls group who were believed to be mostly Abuja-based market women also destroyed some of the belongings of the #Bring Back Our Girls group. VM learnt that the intervention of the Nigeria Police brought sanity to the venue of the protest. The group finally decided to relocate to another venue after the clash.
Commenting on the incident near the Maitama Amusement Park while speaking to VM last Monday, a member of the group, Dr. Emma Usman Shehu, who is also Chairman of the Editorial Board of New Telegraph Newspaper said: “We decided to leave the Unity Fountain after we were attacked and relocate to Maitama Amusement Park.”
Narrating that the group’s experience had revealed that some unseen hands were still at work to frustrate its members, he said: “We were here for the first time last week Thursday. On that day, we were allowed inside the park.”
Instruction from minister
However, when the group assembled at the park the following day, they met the gate locked. According to Shehu: “But a representative of the management later let us in and told us that he had been warned not to continue to allow us into the park. He said the instruction came from the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Alhaji Bala Mohammed.”
He said the Minister warned that the Park’s Management would face sanctions if they failed to comply with the directive.He continued: “So, what they have been doing since last Friday is to lock their gate as soon as we arrive the place for our daily sit-out. But when we leave at about 6pm, they would open the gate again for their customers.”
He explained that this is the reason “we have chosen to be sitting along the road. It is even better for us because it gives us more visibility.”
He continued: “So, we will continue with our protest until the girls are brought back.
Our consistency is not going to stop. Definitely, the protest is attracting more and more people who have realised that for once as Nigerians they must not keep quiet.”
In response to concerns expressed in some quarters that members of the group may have been forced out of the Unity Fountain due to their inability to keep the place clean he said :”Nobody asked us to leave the Unity Fountain. We chose to leave the place to avoid confrontation with rival ReleaseOurGirls group. Nobody ever told us anything about environmental issues. Apart from that, we always made sure we cleaned up the place after each day’s activity. If you stay with us till the end of today’s sit-out, you would see us clean up everywhere in case things are littered about.”
He accused the government sponsored group as being responsible for littering the Unity Fountain.
”The Government should therefore address their sponsored group over the problem of littering and deduct whatever expenses they incurred in cleaning up the place from the money they have been paying members of their rented crowd,” he said.