Police foils planned rallies by civil rights' groups in Port Harcourt
The Rivers State capital, Port Harcourt, and its environs were yesterday under police siege, with surveillance helicopters, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and patrol vehicles deployed to prevent the 'Defending democracy rally' organised by a coalition of activists.
There was heavy deployment of policemen in Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa - apparently to prevent pro-democracy and human rights activists invited from other parts of the country to get to the rally venue.
Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition (NDCSC) Chairman Anyakwee Nsirimovu and other members of the coalition who planned the rally, however, outsmarted the police by changing the venue.
Nsirimovu, who described yesterday as a bad day for democracy, said that in the coalition's letter to Police Commissioner Mbu Joseph Mbu to provide minimal security, Isaac Boro Park, Port Harcourt was indicated as the rally venue, but they converged on Liberation Stadium.
The Police said they stopped the rally to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
As early as 6 am, battle-ready, riot and regular policemen, backed by APCs, sealed off the Isaac Boro Park while the coalition's members were already gathering at the Liberation Stadium for the rally that would have taken off at 9 am.
The policemen, having waited till 9 am without seeing any activist, rushed to the Liberation Stadium with two APCs and many patrol vehicles when they got the hint of the venue change.
The main gate of the stadium was immediately sealed off by the policemen with the two APCs and many vans. Passers-by were made to frog-jump, having been mistaken for members of the coalition.
The invited activists and members of the coalition from the nine states of the Niger Delta, who had gathered at the stadium, were dispersed. Nsirimovu and other leaders were asked to leave immediately.
But the coalition members and activists regrouped at a nearby private multipurpose hall on Stadium Road where they addressed reporters.
The policemen in APCs and vans continued to patrol the streets of Port Harcourt and its environs.
Rivers police spokesperson Angela Agabe said dispersing the activists was to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
Speaking at the multipurpose hall, the chairman of the NDCSC said: 'Impunity and abuse of the rule of law will not be allowed in Rivers State. Police are not neutral in Rivers crisis. Commissioner of Police Mbu Joseph Mbu must be immediately redeployed - in line with the resolution of the National Assembly.
'We planned a peaceful rally, but Mbu's policemen took over the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt - in a show of force, intimidating law-abiding citizens, who fought for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria. It is a bad day for democracy in Rivers State.
'Freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly are guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but jettisoned by Mbu's policemen. The need for peace, security and participatory democracy in Rivers State cannot be overemphasised.
'Police permit is not needed before protesting or having a rally in a democracy. Mbu allowed Niger Delta militants to recently protest on the streets of Port Harcourt. Why did he ask his men to intimidate the members of the civil society coalition and law-abiding citizens?'
Nsirimovu also described as 'really unfortunate' a situation where people who denounced violence were intimidated by the police not to participate in a rally designed to be peaceful.
The Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Debo Adeniran, who came in from Lagos, said he and other activists were supporting true democracy and human rights.
Adeniran said allowing impunity would not be in the best interest of democracy, stressing that it could spread to other parts of Nigeria and that people's will must be respected at all times.
An activist from Jos, Plateau State, Nankin Bagudu of the League of Human Rights, said Nigerians were worried about the ugly development in Rivers State, especially with five of the 32 members attempting to impeach Speaker Otelemaba Dan Amachree.
Bagudu added that politics must be on principle and not personal interests. He advised stakeholders to always give peace a chance.
The General Secretary of the Alliance for Credible Elections, Emma Ezeazu, said the rule of law must reign.