Wednesday, 31 July 2013 12:18
PORT Harcourt was once more the scene of a heated political row yesterday as security officials stopped a pro-democracy rally from taking place in the city under the pretext that it could lead to a breakdown of law and order.
Human rights and democracy activists has converged on Port Harcourt yesterday to express their opposition to the recent government crackdown on Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi. However, security forces were out in full force with surveillance helicopters, armoured personnel carriers and patrol vehicles to stop it.
There was also a heavy deployment of policemen at the Port Harcourt International Airport to prevent activists invited from other parts of the country to get to the rally venue. Although the venue of the rally was moved from the Isaac Boro Park to the Liberation Stadium as activists sough to outsmart the authorities, they were prevented from holding their rally.
Anyakwee Nsirimovu, the chairman of the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition, described yesterday as a bad day for democracy. He added that they had written to Joseph Mbu, the Rivers State police commissioner to provide minimal security for the event and it was sad that they were asked to leave.
Mr Nsirimovu said: “Impunity and abuse of the rule of law will not be allowed in Rivers State. Police are not neutral in the Rivers crisis.
“Commissioner of police Joseph Mbu must be immediately redeployed in line with the resolution of the National Assembly. We planned a peaceful rally but Mr Mbu’s policemen took over the Liberation Stadium in a show of force, intimidating law-abiding citizens who fought for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria.”
As early as 6am, battle-ready, riot and regular policemen with their vehicles sealed off the Isaac Boro Park while the coalition’s members were already gathering at the Liberation Stadium for the rally that would have taken off at 9 am. After waiting until 9 am without seeing any activists, the police rushed to the Liberation Stadium with two personnel carriers and patrol vehicles when they got wind of the venue change.
Immediately they arrived, the main gate of the stadium was sealed off and passers-by were made to frog-jump, having been mistaken for members of the coalition. Invited activists and members of the coalition from the nine states of the Niger Delta, who had gathered at the stadium, were then dispersed.
All the activists and their leaders were asked to leave immediately but they regrouped at a nearby private multipurpose hall on Stadium Road where they addressed reporters. Rivers police spokesperson Angela Agabe said they dispersed the activists to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
Mr Nsirimovu added: “It is a bad day for democracy in Rivers State. Freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly are guaranteed in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but jettisoned by Mbu’s policemen. The need for peace, security and participatory democracy in Rivers State cannot be overemphasised.
“A police permit is not needed before protesting or having a rally in a democracy. Mr Mbu allowed Niger Delta militants to recently protest on the streets of Port Harcourt, so why did he ask his men to intimidate the members of the civil society coalition and law-abiding citizens?”
Debo Adeniran, the chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, who came in from Lagos, said he and other activists were supporting true democracy and human rights. He added that allowing impunity would not be in the best interest of democracy, stressing that it could spread to other parts of Nigeria and that people’s will must be respected at all times.
Nankin Bagudu of the League of Human Rights, said Nigerians were worried about the ugly development in Rivers State, especially with five of the 32 members attempting to impeach speaker Dan Amachree. He added that politics must be on principle and not personal interests, while Emmanuel Ezeazu, the general secretary of the Alliance for Credible Elections, said the rule of law must reign.