I was reading the last few pages of a book that had kept me awake throughout the night, when the phone rang insistently around 9 on Friday morning. It was Njideka Anyadike, my colleague on the television programme, Patito's Gang. She was quite strident, if not hysterical: "See what they are doing to defenceless women o. They are throwing tear gas at us. They want to kill us. Look at Marie Fatayi-Williams, they are trying to kill her with tear gas. Reuben, this is a woman who was allowed to speak in England and nobody molested her. In her own country, the police want to kill her. Eh Reuben, see them, they are cocking their guns. Please tell your people that the police are attacking Nigerian mothers !" 
Eventually, Njideka calmed down, and I was able to get the details of her story. A group of mothers under the umbrella of Concerned Mothers Of Nigeria (CMON) had decided to stage a procession between the OPIC Plaza in Ikeja, Lagos, all the way to Alausa, the seat of the Lagos state government, to express solidarity with all the women who lost their loved ones in the Saturday, December 10 Sosoliso plane crash and to deliver a letter to the Lagos Governor to ask President Obasanjo to do something about the aviation sector, about planes that keep dropping from the sky, killing so many people, and the Aviation Minister who in their reckoning should be fired.

The women had mobilised themselves and agreed to meet at the OPIC Plaza, beside Sheraton Hotel, and then start the procession from there. Leading the team was Professor Jadesola Akande, former Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University, and other distinguished Nigerian women. They carried no weapons. They did not threaten to overthrow the government. They only wore black T-shirts. Those that did not have black T-shirts wore other dresses. They were all united by their concern that Nigeria can be a much better place. Like the women of Athens and Sparta in Aristophanes' Lysistrata, they wanted to express their concerns about the gradual unravelling of Nigeria under President Obasanjo. They were not going to talk about Third Term or politics; they only wanted to ask that the carnage in the air and on land should stop. They wanted all the grieving women of Nigeria to know that they are not alone in their season of despair. The organisers had done a good job of mobilising the womenfolk.

By 9 a.m, about 1000 women had gathered. They came out of their cars, or parked their cars in convenient locations. But they probably did not imagine the extent to which the Nigerian state is unravelling. It was like old times all over again. A contingent of policewomen had been stationed in front of the OPIC plaza. As the Concerned Mothers arrived, the policewomen told them to go away. They threatened to deal with the Concerned Mothers if they refused to leave. The policewomen looked determined. They were obviously acting under instructions from above. A confrontation soon erupted between the policewomen and the Concerned Mothers.

One of the Mothers had told a policewoman: "What do you think you are doing? What if your own child had died in that plane crash?" To which the police woman replied: "this is federal palava, make una go back home to your husbands, federal palava no concern you." Federal palava? This policewoman may have sounded stupid but perhaps there was some sense to her point about "Federal palava". After all, there is already a federal character to the recent plane crashes: one plane crashed in the West, another one in the North, and then in the East. But the concerned mothers were not talking about such palaver; they wanted to express their grief.

The nature of their concern soon became clearer to me, in the evening of the same day. I was in Victoria Garden City, a lovely neighbourhood for the rich, to attend the 50th birthday party of Col Paul Edor Obi, former military administrator of Bayelsa state. And behold, I ran into Mrs Marie Fatayi-Williams. "Madam, someone called me this morning", I intoned, "to tell me that the police were trying to kill you and other Concerned Mothers. I am glad to see that you are still alive."

Mrs Fatayi-Williams had a story to tell: "Look, my brother, when this plane crash in Port Harcourt occurred, I told my husband and my daughters that I wanted to travel to Port Harcourt to commiserate with the women who lost their children. I wanted to see the woman who lost her three children. I wanted to talk to the woman who lost two of her children. I have been through that route before. My son, a 26-year old man died in a bomb blast, just like that in London. A lot of people will go to those women. They will tell them, sorry we understand. But they don't understand. They will tell them we know how you feel. Nobody knows how you feel. They don't know. So, I really wanted to see those women to counsel them. For a long time I have been mourning. I am just trying to pull myself together. So when I got the invitation to be part of the effort of the Concerned Mothers, I was very happy that some women were already thinking of reaching out to those women in grief. I was very anxious to be part of the procession to Alausa. So, I took out the very dress I wore when I made a speech at Trafalgar Square when my son died. I have been avoiding that dress. But I decided to wear it to the procession. When I got to OPIC Plaza, I saw many women. They just kept arriving. But then there were these policewomen who were already waiting for us. I thought they were there to join the procession as concerned mothers too. I later realised they had been given instructions to deal with us."

But the Concerned Mothers refused to be intimidated. They formed themselves into a three-line procession. Their plan was to go through the Opebi link road, beside Sheraton, all the way to the Opebi junction in front of First Foundation. They would then take the Oregun link bridge and go on to the Governor's office at Alausa. As they marched towards their destination, they intoned responsorially: "Jesus Christ, our Lord, be with us...Mary the Mother of Jesus pray for us..." The police women followed them, warning them to abort the procession or face the wrath of the law. The women kept marching: "Jesus Christ, our Lord, be with us...Mary the mother of Jesus pray for us...". It was a quiet display of female power in the early hours of Friday. The policewomen tried to disrupt the process, but their fellow women ignored them.

Jadesola Akande and her band of grieving women had hardly travelled 800 metres when from all directions, lorry loads of mobile police men suddenly showed up. The fierce-looking policemen jumped down, waving guns, cudgels and tear gas canisters. This special squad took over from the policewomen. Their leader ordered the women to disperse, or taste the full wrath of the law! The women having been surrounded decided to sit on the kerb and surrounding lawns. They were asked to move. They refused. The leader of the police team was seen making a call on his cell phone. When he finished the call, he signalled to his men. The policemen cocked their guns. The ones with tear gas canisters uncorked them and before the women knew what was happening, tear gas canisters had been thrown into their midst. A melee ensued as mothers, grandmothers, professionals, the wives of other men were surrounded by the acidic fumes of tear gas.

"I almost choked" said Marie Fatayi-Williams. "Within a minute my face had become swollen and because I am asthmatic, I suddenly started losing breath. I was helped into a nearby car. There was confusion everywhere. The road was blocked. People were running here and there. Someone gave me her inhaler and that was what saved me. I didn't mind using the inhaler although it wasn't my own. I just wanted to regain my breath. While all that was going on, some policemen came to the car and said I should get out of it. I tried to explain that I was having difficulty breathing, they said that was not part of their business, I should just remove myself from the car and get lost. I had to come out again, only to see Professor Akande asking the women to regroup and continue with the procession. She said the police wouldn't dare shoot us. So we regrouped. I think our resolve infuriated the policemen. They threw more cans of tear gas into our midst. Then they started pushing the women physically. They arrested some women and bundled them into their vans and drove away. At that point, many of us scattered. We wanted to get into our cars, we were not allowed to do so. The policemen kept insisting that we should just move away... It was very bad. And yet we were not carrying any weapons. We were not fighting Obasanjo...Some journalists who were there were also attacked by the police. They took their cameras from them by force and removed the tapes."

Now, is this sad or not? Is this not another sign of the times? President Olusegun Obasanjo has been reported as having expressed shock at the behaviour of his policemen. Clearly, what is on display is police brutality and how brazenly the state violates the rule of law. The Inspector General of Police later came to Lagos and he has been quoted as saying that the procession was illegal, and that the police acted rightly in defence of public order. He apologised however for his men's "overzealousness". But there is a recent Supreme Court ruling which upholds the right of the citizen to the freedom of assembly and specifically dismisses the issuance of police permits as unconstitutional. The women had reminded their assailants of this Supreme Court ruling and they had even duly informed the police about their procession. But according to the police, the application was submitted late.

The conduct of the police should not be surprising. A report released a few months ago by the New York office of Human Rights Watch had specifically accused the Nigeria Police of recklessness, brutality and lawlessness. Under Ehindero and as we move closer to the 2006 elections, the police and other security agencies are exhibiting oppressive tendencies which point to a move towards full-blown tyranny. Some of the policemen have even offered completely strange excuses. The IG declared that the President has set up a stakeholders forum, if the women have anything to say they should have gone to that forum. But who is the IG to dictate how a group of citizens with constitutional rights should exercise the freedom of expression? The Area F Commander of the Police ACP Joshak Habila was also quoted as having said of the women: "Their action is bad. Protesting will give the nation a bad image. How could these women just mobilise themselves to cause confusion?" This ACP's chauvinism is characteristic, he says "these women", but even worse is his comment about national image. Which is more likely to give the nation a bad image: a group of peaceful protesters or a murderous national aviation system?

President Obasanjo should do only one thing: he should put a leash on his attack dogs. They are giving him and his government a bad name. Recent incidents are so reminiscent of the past under the military that we can only wonder how far this government would go in violating the rule of law.

First, AIT/Raypower was proscribed for a day. Second, Bayelsa Radio was forcibly shut down for about two weeks. Three, a gang of policemen recently took over the premises of Channels TV and intimidated the staff. Four, a fortnight ago, the Catholic Secretariat organised a symposium on a Sunday evening, it later received a complaints from the SSS. Five, the police are now threatening to deal with anybody who organises a procession...President Obasanjo must do something about this descent into official brigandage. On Thursday, December 15 at a forum in Abuja, he said "my critics are not doing me, they are doing themselves". Thus, the President spoke Yoruba-English (awon ti won ro pe won nse mi, ara won ni won n se), but with policemen brutalising defenceless citizens, and security agents harassing groups and institutions, the President in his search for those who are "doing him" should please learn to look inwards.


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Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
Unregistered posted on 12-19-2005, 04:00:55 AM
Abati Reported: "This special squad took over from the policewomen. Their leader ordered the women to disperse, or taste the full wrath of the law! The women having been surrounded decided to sit on the kerb and surrounding lawns. They were asked to move. They (the women) refused. "... Reported by Abati.

I would like to state that I grief for the airplane accidents (coupled with loss of lives) . . . three of them in two months are not acceptable. The President has said that too. The Nigerian people have the right to make their objections to this horrible accidents heard. But it needs to be done within the confines of the law. The current law now is that groups that have cause to demonstrate should obtain police permit allowing them to demonstrate before undertaking the venture. Anything to the contrary is presumed to be in violation of the law. The essence of getting permits is to ensure that the police provide adequate protection for the women as well as the public. We know that they are women and would not intend to harm anybody but they could be harmed. But the Police should not be expected to create precedence which will weaken their future peace duties.

One other thing is that the police are the representatives of the government and constitution on the street. An order given by the police should and must be obeyed. That is the way it is all over the world.
Dennis O. Balogu
Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
Unregistered posted on 12-19-2005, 05:05:38 AM
This Denis must be living in another planet. How about an order of the court that states that permits are not needed for any protest? Is this Balogu real or another front for any Obasanjo apologist. Is he saying that the violation of the court order by the police is the norm in a democracy?

So, mothers protesting against aviation disasters have suddenly become anathema within the Nigerian system? And the police are supposed to tear gas the people they are meant to protect? I guess idioitic thinkers never cease to amaze in the sense that they must comment on anything, if when there is nothing positive to say? The police is wrong and that is the absolute truth.
Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
Unregistered posted on 12-19-2005, 05:07:01 AM
Dr Reuben Abati - This is cheap.
Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
EezeeBee posted on 12-19-2005, 05:46:02 AM
Everyone knows that Reuben Abati is a 'Friday' writer; it must indeed be a serious issue that makes him pull out his pen and write on a Monday!

It is disappointing to see such a crass example of legalistic posturing and pure wrong mindedness by Denis A. Balogu. Has he ever heard or been the receipient of STUPID orders? Common sense and decency would dictate that in the face of such national grief, certain 'orders' could be interpreted differently by the police.What harm was to be done by a group of grieving women expressing their solidarity with those men and women that lost their children. His acceptance of bad police behavior in an opinion piece like this contribute to heating up the populace and do nothing to reduce tensions.

Presumably Denis is literate so why did he not refer to the part of Abati's article highlighting Supreme Court rulings that protect the rights of Nigerians to assemble? Or is the Supreme court subordinate to his beloved President and police attack dog goons?

The irony is that I'm committed to protecting the rights of even a Mr. Balogu who is willing to cede his own fundamental rights to people just because they are wearing a uniform.

Obasanjo's tactic of expressing 'shock' whenever things go wrong is quickly growing old. If you are 'in charge' of a country, nobody suggests you can be everywhere at one time but leadership is a matter of infusing an entire organization with your outlook. If someone acts outside of your preferred course of action, what SANCTIONS do YOU utilize to correct that errant behavior. If the local Police official is not suspended then you (the leader) have effectively endorsed the behavior. Which of us here permits our children to behave in a manner that doesn't reflect our beliefs and get away with it? This is why the statement 'the buck stops here' is significant. If you keep passing the buck over to 'surprise at their behavior', the buck doesn't stop with you and you are no leader.

As I asked in another thread? Does he (Balogu) reckon that a permit would be provided for such a demonstration of solidarity with the parents of those who lost people in the crash?

Any right-thinking Nigeria should completely CONDEMN the police for their behavior in this and other instances where they display wanton disregard for the lives, safety and welfare of Nigerian citizens they are supposed to be PROTECTING!
Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
Evenkill posted on 12-19-2005, 05:55:00 AM
funny things how earthly policewomen or mobile police or whatever can overpower protection from you know who, whatever.
Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
Unregistered posted on 12-19-2005, 06:45:51 AM
We have been vindicated, the Obasanjo government is a visionless, purposeless one.
And a murderous regime too!
Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
EezeeBee posted on 12-19-2005, 07:37:11 AM
Shebi this is the behavior of someone who has 'confidence' in the air services in his country abi? This is the same person whose organization will go and teargas people! Nonsense!

From Nigeria's ThisDay Newspaper

Crash scare: IG abandons police chopper for NAF beetle?
From Omon-Julius Onabu in Benin City, 12.17.2005
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Fears about the technical condition of the police helicopter which was to convey the Inspector-General of Police (I-G), Mr. Sunday Ehindero, from Benin Airport to Lagos on Friday forced the police boss to settle for a light aircraft belonging to the Nigeria Air Force.

Ehindero, who was on a two-day working visit to Edo State, during which he flagged off the Edo State Armed Response Squad (EARS) including a fleet of 19 police patrol vehicles and hi-tech equipment, had to cut short his visit to personally intervene in the reported face-off between women protesting frequent air crashes in Nigeria and the police in Lagos.

However, on arrival at the Benin Airport at about 12.05 p.m. in company of his chief host, Governor Lucky Igbinedion, Ehindero was delayed for about half an hour as anxiety arose among his aides following rumours of detection of some technical problems with the police helicopter.

THISDAY gathered that Governor Igbinedion had to wade in, which made it possible for the NAF plane to be made available for use by Nigeria's current Number-One cop.

Ehindero had at the Government House explained that the \"call of urgent duty\" had prompted his hasty departure and appealed to the governor to convey his regrets to the Benin monarch, Omo N'Oba Erediauwa, who he was scheduled to pay a courtesy visit later that Friday.

However, when contacted on the subject, the Edo State Police Command spokesman, Mr. Peter Ogboi (ASP) denied that the police helicopter had developed any problems.

He told THISDAY the I-G had to fly the NAF plane which was already stationed there to take him to Lagos as a gesture of appreciation for the honour done him by the NAF which provided him their plane.

EEZEEBEE: DOES THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH EVEN MAKE ANY SENSE?!!!! He had to fly in the NAF plane because it was already there as a gesture of appreciation for the honor done him by the NAF.... What BALDERDASH!!!

In another development, a gang dare-devil armed robbers Friday afternoon practically held hostage residents and passersby at Adesuwa Road-Ihama Road junction GRA, where they reportedly raided the GNLD headquarters and carted away unspecified but huge amount of money.

It was gathered that the robbery operation began barely minutes after the I-G departed for Lagos with sporadic shooting that caused pandemonium in the area, which is just few metres from the office of the Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Zone '5', comprising Edo, Delta and Bayelsa states commands.

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Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
Kabikala posted on 12-19-2005, 07:50:14 AM
Whoever is this Dennis needs to be examined thoroughly to be sure that he is mentally balanced. Pray, from where did the people protesting in Bayelsa for Alamieyesegha's removal get their permit?
Actually, there is very little difference left between this government and that of Sani Abacha. The same Yes-men of those years (Ojo Maduekwe, Ibrahim Mantu, Tony Anenih etc) are still the same people goring on the President to take cruel and unjustifiable decisions. And when you have those kind of advisers, the quality of advice can only be imagined.
I sympathise with those who kept quoting the Supreme Court judgement as grounds to prevent the Police from insisting on the issuance of a permit to hold a rally. Has this government not been choosing which judgements to obey and which ones to disregard? Even the Chief Justice of the Federation expressed his frustration at this development.
My message to His Imperial Majesty is best captured in this Yoruba proverb which says, when a bata drum is emitting beats with a very high pitch, it is about to tear!
Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
EezeeBee posted on 12-19-2005, 08:22:15 AM
from where did the people protesting in Bayelsa for Alamieyesegha's removal get their permit? - Kabikala

Fantastic! Where was Dr Balogu when the police were surrounding Bayelsa State House? Why weren't they 'dispersed' with teargas? I guess because in that case, the all-knowing government felt that the protests served their interests, right?

Dr. Balogu, kindly weigh in on that. Thanks!
Re: .Concerned Mothers Against Police Brutality
Unregistered posted on 12-19-2005, 11:32:25 AM
"One other thing is that the police are the representatives of the government and constitution on the street. An order given by the police should and must be obeyed."

The ONLY sort of intelligence nigeria is capable of expressing very well. Ask people like Balogun to say something intelligent about the economy and you'll find him quite inane.
Nigeria is quite successful at repressing its citizens. If only Nigeria has equal conviction in other matters of healthcare, education and the emplyment....
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