NIGERIA’S federal government has taken the persecution of #EndSARS campaigners to new heights by labelling protesters as terrorists so the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) freeze their accounts on the Prevention of Terrorism Law.
Following a month-long nationwide protest against the brutality of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (Sars) police unit, the Nigerian government came under intense criticism. After being forced to scrap Sars, the government decided to end the protests forcefully, sending soldiers to shoot innocent protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, leading to international condemnation and sparking nationwide riots.
Reeling from the bloody nose it got during the protests, the federal government has since ordered a clampdown on protesters and announced plans to restrict the use of social media across Nigeria. Last week Monday, a meeting of the Northern Nigerian Governors Forum attended by traditional rulers, federal government officials and the senate president, condemned what it described as the subversive actions of the #EndSARS protest.
Clamping down as promised, lawyer, Modupe Odele, who had through her Twitter handle mobilised her 219,000 followers during the protests, was denied the right to leave Nigeria at the Lagos airport. Stepping up the attack on the organisers of the protest, the federal government has begun freezing their bank accounts, using the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to obtain court orders enabling it to do so.
Using legislation passed to fight terrorist groups like Boko Haram, the Nigerian government has been clamping down on anyone who supported the #EndSARS protests. During the second week of October, the CBN froze 20 accounts belonging to persons involved in the #EndSARS protests, telling the court that the funds might have emanated from terrorist activities.
Already, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has condemned the actions, saying it shows that the federal government was insincere. Dr Raps Nduka, the NBA publicity secretary, said that the #EndSARS protests were lawful and the demands of the campaigners were genuine.
Dr Nduka added: “The timing looks very suspicious. The protests are lawful and the demands of the protesters and the concerns they expressed are genuine.
“What has happened shows that the protesters were right to insist that they were not going to leave the streets because over time, the government would promise something and do the opposite. This action of the CBN lends credence to the position taken by the youth.
“Even if the government is right, who will believe it at this time? The government makes it look like it is trying to silence people from talking about the ills of the society. Why does the government appear to be doing that?”
Prominent Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, described the federal government’s tagging of the promoters of the #EndSARS protests as terrorists as unlawful, unconstitutional and insensitive. He said he found it hard to believe that the CBN made such a claim in the application filed to obtain the court order freezing the accounts, noting that the rights to protest were guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution.
Similarly, human rights lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said the profiling of the #EndSARS promoters as terrorists by the CBN was ridiculous, warning that the apex bank, which is not a security agency, must not get itself involved in politics at the risk of losing credibility. Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Tayo Oyetibo, said the right to protest was guaranteed by the country’s constitution and by no stretch of imagination could a protester be tagged a terrorist.