NIGERIAN officials have stepped up the persecution of #EndSARS protest organisers as part of a general clampdown with the Nigeria Immigration Service preventing one of the movement’s promoters Modupe Odele from travelling to the Maldives yesterday.
Following a month-long nationwide protest against the brutality of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (Sars) police unit, the government has come 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, the federal government has decided to clampdown on protesters and has already announced plans to restrict the use of social media across Nigeria. Yesterday, 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, Ms Odele, who had through her Twitter handle mobilised her 219,000 followers during the protests, has been denied the right to leave Nigeria. Being a lawyer, she had also offered free legal aid to persons who were unjustly arrested during the demonstrations.
Yesterday, Ms Odele said she was on her way to the Maldives to celebrate her birthday when she was accosted by immigration officers. She added that said she was detained while her passport was seized by the officers and she was made to miss her flight.
Ms Modele said: “For my birthday, I had planned a trip to the Maldives. It was really for a break as the events of the last three weeks have exhausted my mind and body in a way I have never been exhausted in my life.
“I went to the airport, passed through immigration and while I was putting my bags through the body and baggage scanner, the immigration officer who had previously cleared me, called me back and told me he had orders from above to detain me. Okay, at this point I’m like excuse me, my flight is in an hour. On what grounds are you detaining me?” He didn’t respond. Instead, he goes to his computer where he typed in my name and something that looked like a wanted poster popped up on the portal.
“He blocked my view so I couldn’t see most of it but I saw some of it and it read something like ‘This person is under investigation by XYZ Intelligence Agency. If seen, they should be apprehended on sight.”
After the protests, Ms Odele begun providing pro bono lawyers to victims of police brutality who wish to file petitions before the judicial panels set up by states across the country to investigate alleged incidences of police brutality. She added that she could identify the immigration officials who harassed her and would be taking the matter up later on.
Ms Odele wrote, “Since the #EndSARS peaceful protests started in Nigeria about three weeks ago, I and some super courageous women have been providing support to Nigerians as they came out to peacefully exercise their constitutional rights. I was specifically in charge of legal aid and so co-led www.endsarslegalaid.com where we succeeded in helping over 80 peaceful protesters who were arrested get released.
“It was back-breaking and emotionally tasking work but the joy that the family expressed when being reunited with loved ones made it all worth it. I’m not a full-time activist or human rights attorney, I am a corporate lawyer at the moment so dealing with police stations isn’t my area of expertise but I did what needed to be done in the face of gross injustice and had the support of over 800 wonderful volunteer lawyers.”
As part of the clampdown, the Nigerian authorities have started collating a no-fly list of hundreds of people they suspected of energising the #EndSARS movement. Nigeria’s interior minister Rauf Aregbesola is responsible for the controversial list.
Apparently, six people suspected of participating in the #EndSARS movement were prevented from travelling last week. A preliminary interior ministry no fly document included a man who was a key voice in #EndSARS movement, whose passport was issued in Atlanta in the US in February 2016.