USING tear gas canisters and firing repeatedly into the air, operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS, on Tuesday forcibly dispersed protesters who camped at the security agency’s Abuja headquarters to demand the release of Sahara Reporters publisher Omoyele Sowore.
Sowore, also the convener of the Revolution Now campaign, has spent nearly 102 days in detention despite having been granted bail by the Federal High Court and fulfilled the conditions. He was arrested in August, according to the DSS, because he called for a revolution and “for threatening public safety, peaceful co-existence and social harmony in the country”.
The protest had gone on peacefully for close to one hour before the security agents interrupted, first by driving a black patrol vehicle into the crowd as Deji Adeyanju, convener of the Concerned Nigerians civil society group, was addressing journalists and protesters.
“Leave here,” one officer shouted at the crowd.
Seconds later, guns and tear gas canisters were fired and the protesters took off in various directions. The operatives continued shooting for several minutes and chased reporters and protesters on both lanes of the Maitama Avenue using patrol vehicles and motorcycles.
The law enforcement officers then set up a blockade on a part of the Murtala Muhammed Expressway which connects to Maitama Avenue where the DSS headquarters is situated, to prevent the protesters from regrouping.
It is not clear if any person was arrested or sustained injuries during the chaos.
“We were bribed with N1 million at gunpoint not to protest”
Adeyanju, during his first address to journalists, said his group was bribed with N1 million in cash in order to call off the protest. He declined to disclose the identities of those who offered it but added that they promised to pay more money at a later time and also secure favours from the government.
“We came here on Saturday to say they should release Sowore to us because they had by themselves told us that the reason they are not releasing him to us is that there was nobody to receive him, and we came and said give us our property. They refused and played all kinds of pranks with us,” he narrated.
“Since that day, some of us have received all kinds of threats. We are not new to these threats at all, but we were even offered money at gunpoint,” Adeyanju added as he held two sizeable bundles of N500 notes.
He said he deliberately would not provide the details of that encounter but hinted that he is ready to release proof if the bribe offer is denied.
“See, I’ve not mentioned any name. We are waiting for them to say we are lying, then just like we did to Charly Boy [Charles Chukwuemeka Oputa], we will also do it to them. If they like, they should kill us… We will never in our country be cowed by anybody. And to everybody who believes in the cause, these things may take time, but I can assure you that one day all this rubbish we are witnessing in our country will stop.”
The convener of Concerned Nigerians also said if those who offered the bribe do not accept it, the money will be given to Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria leading Sowore’s defence team “to augment part of the legal bills”.
“We will never compromise,” he emphasised.
“They have said we should not come out today. They made all kinds of promises to us at gunpoint, but we will not be deterred … And they have told some of us in confidence that they will never release Sowore. They will not release him. They give threats, they give money, they give all kinds of things. That’s the kind of government we have. I’m just giving you a tip of the iceberg.”
Protesters on Tuesday carried various placards stating, “DSS, obey the court”, “Release Sowore and Mandate now”, “End system corruption”, “An injury to one is an injury to all”, “End to killings and insecurity”, “Buhari, don’t kill democracy”, and so on.