Nigerian Police Force have received “orders from above” not to allow any more of the #BringBackOurGirls protests, a senior officer told activists who gathered to continue their rallies demanding the rescue of the Chibok schoolgirls in Abuja yesterday.
The protesters have been holding their rallies starting 3pm at the Unity Fountain in Maitama for two weeks now, but yesterday a large number of armed policemen sealed the park earlier in the day, apparently to stop the protest.
When some leaders of the protest arrived, they were confronted by the police who told them not to congregate in the park.
An officer in mufti, who appeared to be in charge of the police detachment, said he was the commander, and ordered junior officers to disperse the crowd.
He said he had orders “from above” to ensure that no protest took place at the park.
One of the protest leaders, Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim, went up to the commander and pleaded with him to allow the protest to go on.
Newsmen was within hearing distance when the officer said he had orders not to allow the protesters gather at the Unity Fountain.
Meanwhile, as protesters continued to gather, former education minister Oby Ezekwesili confronted the police and defiantly told them she had the right to peaceful assembly and would not be intimated.
Newsmen at the scene observed that despite orders given to policemen to disperse the gathering protesters, the cops appeared rather cautious to confront the mostly women protesters.
By this time, several protesters had gained entry. So the policemen formed a cordon around the park to stop more people from entering.
But the women still pushed their way in and joined their colleagues in the middle of the park.
The protesters defiantly chanted solidarity songs and condemned the police for attempting to disrupt the protest.
Speaking to Newsmen, one of the protest organisers, Hadiza Bala Usman, said, “I feel it’s not acceptable and Nigeria police has no business disallowing us from having a peaceful arrangement. We have been coming here, we are going to continue doing this.”
Speaking to journalists, Mrs Ezekwesili also said, “One thing I know they should not be doing is dispersing peaceful citizens in their peaceful gathering; this is a democracy how can the government act like this?
“I never thought that I will live to see the day that a democratic government will try to violate my constitutional right for peaceful gathering in protest of the fact that we have not seen girls that were abducted out of our territory for so many weeks now.
“When we got here they were evacuating us, we simply resisted and said we were not going anywhere. I simply said to them I certainly am not going anywhere, if I have to have this meeting alone, in clear determination to assert my right as a citizen of Nigeria I will do it.”
She added: “I was beaten on the street of Lagos under the military. I will not take it in a democracy. We have the right to stand here and demand bring back our girls, we will continue to demand bring back our girls until the government act according to their responsibility.”
Former House of Representatives member Dino Malaye also spoke to Daily Trust, saying: “We feel very insulted as Nigerians. This is a peaceful assembly, but the police came here with machine guns, with hot water tankers and all sorts of ammunitions to stop us from assembling.
“They have no power to stop us, they cannot stop us and we will not be stopped. The battle to bring back the girls is a battle of no retreat no surrender. No amount of intimidation and harassment will stop us from this assembly.”
Newsmen attempted but did not succeed to get comments from the Police force headquarters spokesman CSP Frank Mba and spokeswoman of the FCT police command DSP Altine Daniel on why they tried to break the protest and who gave the “orders from above.”
Text messages and telephone calls to the two officials were not returned up till the time of going to press last night.
The bid to stop the Abuja protest yesterday came a day after the police blocked the #BringBackOurGirls protesters in Abuja.
The protests are being held to demand more action by the authorities to get back the over 200 female students of the Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, Borno State, who were taken by Boko Haram gunmen on April 14.
More coordinated protests are scheduled to hold in major cities nationwide today. It is not clear if the police would allow them to go on.