THE non-release of over 200 abducted female pupils of the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, topped the agenda of the Workers’ Day celebrations across the country on Thursday.
There were protests by various groups which attended the Workers’ Day ceremonies across the country.
In Lagos, a clash between the police and Save Nigeria Group protesters over the missing girls almost marred the celebration.
Heavily-armed policemen accosted the protesters at the popular CMS Bus Stop in central Lagos, firing tear gas at them in an attempt to disperse the march to the Onikan Stadium venue of the workers’ celebrations.
Fela’s son and police
The protesters, in Lagos, led by Seun, a musician-activist son of the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, defied what they called “police harassment” and insisted on staging the protest.
They carried placards and sang to demand action by the Federal Government and the military to secure freedom for the over 200 girls, who were abducted from their hostels 17 days ago by members of the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
Seun, while wielding a placard, which read, “Biggest economy: How does it affect my daily bread, shelter and clothing?”, had assembled with others at the CMS Bus Stop along the Outer Marina from where they planned to proceed to the Onikan Stadium.
The police were said to have told them not to protest at that point but when they refused to leave, tear-gas canisters were fired at them.
One of the protesters, Adeyinka Oloye, who is also Seun’s manager, described the incident as an attempt by the police to intimidate them.
Oloye berated the government at all levels, attributing insecurity, unemployment and lack of infrastructure to failure on the part of the government.
He said, “We went to protest for the release of the 200 girls abducted in Borno State as well as the strike embarked on by staff of polytechnics and Colleges of Education. We had assembled peacefully at the CMS from where we would proceed to Onikan Stadium when policemen told us to leave.
“We explained to them that we were marching peacefully to the stadium but they did not listen. They fired about five tear gas canisters at us. They would have even shot at us if not for the intervention of the Area ‘A’ Commander.”
The commander, Imohimi Edgal, however, warned Seun and the others to respect the state’s directives on protests.
Edgal said, “No one is saying people should not protest but the arrangement that was made was that everyone should converge on Onikan Stadium. Protesting at the CMS is very unfair to other people who are not involved in the protest. It would also cause traffic congestion for motorists.
“Also, the protest could be easily hijacked by hoodlums at CMS and the protesters’ security would be at risk. Anyone who wants to protest should only do so at places designated by the police.”
The SNG protesters later joined a larger band of protesters at the Onikan Stadium, where members of different human rights groups, including the Change Movement Nigeria, Education Rights Campaign, Joint Action Front, Civil Liberties Organisation and the Nigeria Labour Congress, among others, demanded better governance.
Some of the protesters wielded placards, which read, “I am Chibok, I give a damn”, “Stop chasing shadows, bring back our girls,” “I am a grandma, I feel for the mothers, please bring back Chibok girls,” “Hike of LASU fees by Fashola/APC is the peak of wickedness. Reverse it now or else…”
A delegate to the ongoing National Conference, Femi Falana, said the release of the abducted girls should be the government’s priority assignment for now.
He said, “We don’t want the security of this nation to be taken likely. You can imagine the trauma the parents of those girls are going through? We want security to be our major concern now.”
Kwara protesters storm workers’ rally
In Kwara State, members of a coalition of Civil Society Organisations protested the girls’ abduction at a rally organised by the state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress to mark the Workers’ Day at the Metropolitan Square in Ilorin.
The protesters, who stormed the Labour rally midway, carried placards to campaign for the release of the missing girls.
Some of the placards read, “Where are the Chibok girls?” “Where are our sisters?” “Chibok girls: please find our daughters.” “President Jonathan, please stop playing with our lives.” And “Mr. President, our youths are dying.” Others read, ‘Mr. President, where is our $20bn?” “Masses are dying at the expense of few,” and ‘If one of us is unsafe, none of us is safe.”
In a statement by Shuaibu Fari and Basambo Abubakar on behalf of the protesters, they urged the Federal Government to find a solution to insecurity in the country.
The statement read, “On behalf of the civil society organisations in Kwara, the coalition expresses concern over the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Borno State and why government has not sufficiently and tactically carried out action that will lead to their rescue.
“The coalition demands that a secret force should be set up and deployed to rescue these innocent and vulnerable girls from the terrorists’ camp.
“Our dear President, the first duty of a president is to have a heart for the people, to treasure his people, love them and have a desire to give them his best all the times. That is what makes a good president and that is what politics is all about.
“Saving our girls right now and stabilise the security of this country should be of utmost priority that goes beyond giving rooms for distraction from political opponents or giving more attention to the pursuit of personal aspiration.”
Chairman, NLC, Kwara State chapter, Mr. Farouk Akanbi, in his address at the workers’ rally also decried the non-release of the schoolgirls and other forms of insecurity and violent crimes.
Borno workers not in mood to celebrate
In Borno State, protesters who all wore black aprons and led by the Borno State Chairman of the NLC, Titus Ali Abana, marched from the NLC secretariat to the Government House in Maiduguri, where they registered their displeasure over what they termed the government slow pace in rescuing the abducted girls.
Abana said the workers used the opportunity of the May Day to mourn victims of insurgency in the state and the abducted girls of Chibok.
He said, “Today is the 1st of May, which is a day set aside for workers across the world to celebrate the Workers’ Day. Unfortunately workers in Borno State are in no mood to celebrate as the uncertainty of our lives and the fate of our abducted schoolgirls continue to hunt us.
“In labour creed, an injury to one is considered an injury to all and in this regard therefore, we empathise with the parents and relatives of these girls and also sympathise with the schoolgirls themselves as we cannot begin to imagine what they might have passed through this past two weeks in the hands of their heartless abductors whose stock in trade has been senseless murders and untold carnage.”
Women in black on the street
In Kaduna, hundreds of women in the state, under the aegis of “concerned women” protested the abduction of the female pupils even as some other women threatened to march naked to the Sambisa forest, where the girls were believed to have been kept by the Boko Haram insurgents.
The Kaduna protest, which started at about 10:00am at the Murtala Muhammed Square, heightened tension in the state.
The protest, meant for only women, was hijacked by some men who claimed that they were also playing the role of fathers to protest the abduction of the girls in Borno.
The state Commissioner of Police, Shehu Umar, was spotted talking to some of the protesters on the need to be orderly.
The women, made up of both Muslims and Christians, walked round the expansive Murtala Square, shouting and wailing, demanding the immediate release of the girls.
There was a mild drama as the women, who sat on bare floor, became angry when they were asked to move to the podium for the Chief of Staff to the governor, Alhaji Yahay Aminu, to address them.
“This is not Peoples Democratic Party rally, don’t come here to play politics with the lives of the missing girls. If you want to address the women, come down to them and not them getting closer to you at the podium,” one of the men said.
The leader of the protesting women, Hajiya Sa’adatu Hama, who addressed newsmen shortly after the protest, blast the government for being insensitive to the plight of the abducted girls.
She said, “Even if these girls are spirits, government should have secured their release by now; we cannot just imagine government saying that it needs the help of foreign powers before it can secure the release of over 200 schoolgirls.
“This is not good enough, but if one person dies in Abuja today, the whole government functionaries will converge on Abuja. But, where are our daughters? Government must bring them out for us.”
‘We’ll march to Sambisa naked’
Meanwhile, a mother of one of the abducted girls, who gave her name simply as Ajoke , speaking to the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Corporation, monitored in Kaduna on Thursday said the parents would soon march naked to the Sambisa forest on a search-and-rescue mission since security agents had failed to return their children.
“We are not comfortable with the government, if not, how can our daughters be locked in the school, then all of a sudden some people would appear with their vehicles and packed our daughters like goats, run away with them without anyone raising the alarm,” she said.
Another woman, Hayija Asmau Joda, told the BBC that the government was not living up to expectations and they were disturbed by what was happening to the girls.
She said, “Two weeks have gone with no trace of the missing girls and the government is not saying anything about it. We’ve not seen the government making any effort because no single girl is returned to her family. Only those that were lucky to escape, those that had the courage to jump and run away from the abductors. Some even had fractures; therefore we know it was not the government of Nigeria that saved those girls.
“We are gathered here to show the government how sad we are, because they are not concerned. We want to beg them to wake up and find our daughters. It is unusual to see women staging a protest, but since men are unable and women have come out to protest from many parts of the country, it is our hope that the government will now take the issue, much more seriously.”
The Defence Headquarters, however, has said that all enquiries on the abducted girls should henceforth be directed to the Borno State Government.
The Director of Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, in an electronic mail on Thursday, enjoined the Commissioner for Education in Borno State, who had been speaking on the incident to continue to give updates.
Olukolade, who promised that the military would continue with the efforts to recover the abducted girls, stressed that the Borno State Government was the appropriate body to continue with the regular briefings on the issue of the abducted girls.
He said that it was in line with standard globalbest practices for the Borno government, in whose facility the abduction took place, to ensure the necessary flow of information on the incident.
Olukolade’s statement read, “While the military efforts at recovering the girls are continuing, the Government of Borno State whose Commissioner for Education has been giving regular updates on the incident at the initial stage is enjoined to continue in order to satisfy the necessity for information flow.
“The Borno State Government in whose facility the incident occurred is appropriately placed to continue with regular briefing as the state Commissioner for Education has been doing. This is in line with best practices in other climes more so as all agencies of every tier of government are expected to continue functioning in the state.
“Accordingly, security agencies on ground in Borno State will continue to interact and support the state government officials in their efforts to inform the public on the Chibok incident and progress in the search without any prejudice.”
He said that the military would ensure regular flow of information in all its internal security operations in the country.
Olukolade said that while the security agencies had received a lot of information in the bid to retrieve the abducted girls, most of the information was given deliberately to cripple the military operations against the insurgency in the North-East.
He said that some of the information had been publicised to inflict more pain on the country in accordance with the expectations of the terrorists.
“A lot of information has been received in the efforts at securing the freedom of the girls. The Armed Forces assure all Nigerians that it will continue to appraise every information received during this operation accordingly,” he said. (Punch)