Nigerian police ban protests over abducted schoolgirls
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Protests by supporters of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram have been banned in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, police said on Monday, as activists vowed to challenge the “illegal” move.
Police spokeswoman Altine Daniel confirmed the ban in a text message to AFP, saying the decision was taken “because of security reasons”.
Protest organisers questioned the legitimacy of the move and eyed a possible political motive, but police chief Joseph Mbu said the ban was imposed because of the threat of infiltration from “dangerous elements”.
“As the FCT [Federal Capital Territory] police boss, I cannot fold my hands and watch this lawlessness,” Mbu was quoted by the state-owned News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) as saying.
“Information reaching us is that too soon, dangerous elements will join groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosives aimed at embarrassing the government.”
Commissioner Mbu added that the venue for the Abuja protest, the ‘Fountain of Unity’ had become a place for “cooking and selling” by hawkers to the protesters, which he said was a “nuisance”.
Protesters hit back against Mbu’s comments and pledged to return to the streets despite the ban.
“There is no basis for and no power of FCT Commissioner of Police to ban peaceful assembly of any group of persons in... the city. None@ ALL,” protest leader Oby Ezekwesili wrote on Twitter.
Nine people were killed in an attack on Sunday when gunmen opened fire on a church service in a remote village in northeastern Nigeria.
A member of the congregation said people jumped through windows and fled into the bush to try to escape the attack in Attangara in the Gwoza hills - the main stronghold of Boko Haram militants waging an escalating campaign to carve out an Islamist state.
"As we were holding the service, we started hearing gunshots and everybody fled," Matha Yohana told Reuters.
“The decision to ban the protest is insane. We are going to court as soon as possible to challenge the ban,” added the group’s lawyer, Femi Falana.
“It is illegal because a court of competent jurisdiction has ruled in December 2007 that no police permit is needed to stage a peaceful protest anywhere in Nigeria.”
Bring Back Our Girls spokesman Rotimi Olawale said that the protesters were “unperturbed”.
“We have been peaceful in our protest. We don’t obstruct traffic or constitute ourselves to a public menace,” he added.
Nigeria has seen near-daily protests over the abduction and continued detention of the remaining 219 schoolgirls (57 have escaped) by the Boko Haram Islamist militant group, who were snatched from the remote north-eastern village of Chibok, near the border with Cameroon, on April 14.
The campaign has attracted worldwide support from ordinary people to US First Lady Michelle Obama and Pope Francis. Copycat demonstrations have also been held around the globe.
But officials close to President Goodluck Jonathan say the protests are unfairly directed at the government and security forces when they should be protesting against the rebels.
The unrest has shone the spotlight on Nigeria’s violent five-year-long Islamist insurgency, which has killed thousands since 2009.
The government has been repeatedly criticised for failing to protect civilians in the northeast. At least 530 civilians have been killed since the day of the girls’ abduction, according to a Reuters count.
The campaign to save the girls triggered pledges of international support to rescue them and US troops are currently operating in neighbouring Chad on a mission to find them.
But authorities say any attempt to rescue the girls would be fraught with danger, as they are most likely separated into groups. Freeing one group, even if they came out alive, would endanger the others.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)