Written by Okey Muogbo, Taiwo Adisa, Idowu Samuel, Kolawole Daniel and Clement Idoko:
PROTESTERS under the aegis of Save Nigeria Group and other pressure groups stormed Abuja, again, on Wednesday in their hundreds, demanding for the activation of Section 144 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution to remove President Umaru Yar’Adua, whom they said had been “invisible”.
The protesters also demanded that President Yar’Adua, who returned to the country after receiving treatment in a Saudi Arabian hospital about two weeks ago for about three months in that country, should make a public appearance.
The protesters carried placards and a casket bearing “RIP, kitchen cabinet” and also through their addresses, demanded that the ailing president should speak to the country now.
The protesters first converged on the Unity Fountain Square and planned to match to the Aso Villa to register their demands, but the Nigerian Tribune gathered that words later reached them that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan had directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, to receive them and he did in front of the building housing the office of the Head of Service and some ministries.
Placards carried by the protesters had the inscriptions such as, “Turai, leave Nigeria alone,” “Jonathan, get decisive now,” “Dissolve Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF),” “Ministers are serving only the cabal,” “Interloper governors are dangerous, resist them,” “Greedy governors want to destroy Nigeria,” among others.
Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of operations, John Ahmadu, told the protesters that the force was ready to provide security for them and urged them to carry out the protest in an orderly manner.
Heavy detachment of policemen had barricaded the gate to the National Assembly from the Eagle Square, making it impossible for the procession to gain entry into the National Assembly to deliver their protest letters to the Senate President, Mr. David Mark, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Dimeji Bankole.
However, the letter to Acting President Jonathan was delivered to him, through Alhaji Ahmed, who received the protesters at exactly 10.47 a.m. because they were also not allowed into the Villa.
However, what would have been a tragedy was averted when a lady slumped but was quickly revived by the medical team attached to the protesters.
The letter addressed to Acting President Jonathan and dated 10th March, 2010, signed by Pastor Tunde Bakare, on behalf of the Save Nigeria Group, entitled “Petition From Save Nigeria Group,” demanded, among other things, for an end to the invisible presidency of Yar’Adua by the activation of Section 144 of the constitution to make Jonathan the substantive president.
They also asked for the immediate dissolution of EXCOF, which they said had largely collaborated with presidential aides to create the avoidable constitutional crisis the nation had faced in the last 100 days.
Another prayer of the group as contained in the letter as well as inscriptions on the various placards the protesters carried was a quick and thorough implementation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Report on electoral reform, starting with the immediate removal of Professor Maurice Iwu as chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the reconstitution of the INEC with persons of impeccable integrity and competence.
Part of the letter delivered to the SGF by Pastor Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly reads: “We, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), a coalition of pro-democracy and human rights organisations and patriotic Nigerians who desire the entrenchment of a truly democratic and accountable governance, hereby petition you on certain developments that can truncate democracy and security in Nigeria.
“We believe in Nigeria and are determined to fight to save the country from the control of groups and individuals that profit from the failure of the Nigerian system.
“For more than 100 days, Nigerians have not seen or heard from President Umaru Yar’Adua since he was evacuated to Saudi Arabia for treatment. For the three months he reportedly stayed in an intensive care unit of a Saudi hospital, several of his aides continued to claim that the president was getting better.
Some claimed he had started intense physical exercises. It is now more than two weeks since he was brought back to Nigeria in the dead of night. We have still not heard from or seen President Yar’Adua.
“The refusal of President Yar’Adua to resign from office on account of his deteriorating ill health and failure to transmit a letter of vacation on time as required by the constitution has resulted in a severe but avoidable constitutional crisis. This crisis has compounded other political challenges caused by an electoral system that is designed to aid electoral malpractices. This dysfunctional electoral system threatens democracy and good governance in Nigeria.”
The SFG, Alhaji Ahmed, commended the group for the peaceful manner it conducted itself and assured it that its demands would be looked into expeditiously.
He said: “When we received your request that you would like to hand over a letter to Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, he directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, in my own person, to come and receive it and I found it very good and natural to come and face you because yours is a demonstration of democracy in action in Nigeria.
“Democracy cannot survive if we do not hear the voices of everybody. What you are pursuing in your own perception may be the very right thing for you to do, but in democracy, you may have others with opposing voice, but usually, the superior reasoning takes supremacy in democracy.
“Your three basic demands are noted; one, you want to know the status of your president. It is because you love your president and that is why you want to know his status and you will not be denied. Secondly, you want us to take constitutional way of dealing with the issue. This government is a creation of constitution and we will abide by it. Thirdly, we are aware of your concern regarding credible election in this country. Only two weeks ago, the acting president handed over again the Uwais committee report unedited to the National Assembly.
“I would like to assure you that the National Assembly, which will do the necessary legislation in terms of reviewing the Electoral Act and the constitution in order to have accepted electoral process, is working to do that.
“The acting president has asked me to assure you that any of your demands would be looked into with immediate effect. I am a messenger and I have received your letter and I will equally on my honour deliver that letter with all the sentiments attach to it.”
After presenting their petition to the SGF, the protesters then marched to the National Assembly complex but they were denied entrance from the main gate with legion of policemen and horse, preventing them from gaining access to the complex.
Having waited for sometime with no hope of gaining access to the complex, the protesters then decided to go batch by batch. It was until 12.54 p.m when those that had the National Assembly pass were allowed to gain entrance into the complex.
When the attempt by the protesters to gain entrance into the National Assembly was resisted by the police, Bakare told the pretesters to end the procession at the National Assembly gate, obviously to prevent bloodshed in the wake of any forceful attempt to enter the complex.
“The rally ends in this place before the whole world that the National Assembly is no longer representing Nigerians. They are now representing themselves and, therefore, their days are numbered. Whether by election or by divine intervention, the days of the National Assembly are numbered. Since they have refused to allow Nigerians, to whom the institution is to serve, not to enter their premises, they can die inside.
“Their days are numbered but Nigeria will flourish again. Nigeria will conquer its conquerors. God will save Nigeria from the hands of these strangers. They have lost touch with reality, they have lost touch with the aspiration of the Nigerian people,” Bakare said.
He added that “the Nigeria Police told us they want to guide us until we submit the letter to the Secretary to Government of the Federation and there is a rumour that others were coming with weapons in order to spoil the occasion. We are not afraid of them. But we are orderly people.”
However, the Senate said it did not order that the protesters be stopped from entering the premises of the National Assembly.
Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Anthony Manzo, who spoke with Senate correspondents, on Wednesday, said the Senate President, Mark, had no reason to shun the protesters who merely came to the Assembly to exercise their democratic rights.
“I am not aware the protesters were barred from entering the National Assembly, because we are ready to receive anybody who engages in any meaningful protest, provided that it is not violent. Why I used the word ‘meaningful’ is because what is meaningful to a group may not be meaningful to another.
“It is the beauty of our democracy, we are growing and I hope that time will come in which we will have like a speaker’s corner here like they have in the United Kingdowm, where people can come up and protest on anything. Non-violent protest, that is what we encourage and it is good, it is part and parcel of democracy and is very good for us.
“They were prevented? Hope you know that it is not by senators who were in the National Assembly. Are you telling me that they were prevented by the security services? The Senate President can never issue that directive. We are very open to receive any peaceful demonstration, that is why this is the parliament and it regrettable if that happened and I don’t have all the information to make a determination on that. You can take me on it next time,” Manzo said.
Falana, while commending the concerned Nigerians, including university students, who turned out en masse for the peaceful rally, said there was no going back until all the demands of the group were met so as to free the nation from the grip of the cabal.
He said the group would go back and re-strategise for the next line of action, saying that “we are only going back to regroup and re-strategise. We have started a forward march and we are not going back. I want to inform you here that the local and international media are fully with us. They have commended our orderly procession today, so let’s not end it on a sad note.”
Pro, anti-Yar’Adua groups’ clash averted
The Nigeria Police, on Wednesday, prevented a clash between the pro and anti-Yar’Adua groups in Abuja.
The police had, in the early hours of the day, moved to secure most strategic areas of Abuja, including the Eagle Square, National Assembly and the entrance to the Presidential Villa, where demonstrators had initially proposed to storm.
Members of the SNG were the first to take to the streets, but they were halted while approaching the National Assembly by men of the Nigeria Police, who had blocked the entrance to the parliament building.
The group thus settled for the federal secretariat, where members later converged to present their grievances.
The police had hardly stopped members of SNG when another group, which claimed to be in support of President Yar’Adua, stormed the Assembly premises in lorry-loads, chanting pro-Yar’Adua songs.
The group, which did not adopt any specific name, comprised hired men and women, all bearing placards with pro-Yar’Adua inscriptions.
They were equally prevented from entering the National Assembly, having been restricted to the outside gate of the arena leading to the parliament.
The pro-Yar’Adua group, led by Mallam Ibrahim Tofa Aliyu, however, resolved to hold its rally at the entrance of the National Assembly, as speakers after speakers addressed demonstrators in Hausa dialect.
The pro-Yar’Adua demonstrators were mostly from the northern states, as Nigerian Tribune learnt that they were mobilised from Katsina, Nasarawa and Kano.
One of the demonstrators, Aminu Gada, who could barely communicate in English, said their mission was to prevent the Bakare-led group from holding rally anywhere around the Three Arms Zone.
Mallam Tofa expressed dismay against what he described as the hue over the health of President Yar’Adua, whom he said deserved sufficient time to recuperate.
He lambasted the Bakare-led SNG as the mastermind of the hype on the health condition of the President Yar’Adua and described members of the group as agents of Western powers.
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