The NIS Protest: My Experience
I got into Abuja on the 2nd of April by 12:25pm for a training on Women Reproductive Health and Rights issues, organised by Ipas Nigeria. As a volunteer for the Stand to End Rape (STER) Initiative, I was particularly concerned about the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) bill and wanted to learn as much as I could and as such when the opportunity came, I jumped at it. I utilized part of my annual leave to ensure that my schedule was cleared. It is quite imperative to note that the protests were not my initial objective for coming to Abuja.
I first became aware of the protests when I went online as soon as my flight touched down. Seeing as the training proper was to begin the next day, I decided to seize the opportunity to embark on what I believed would be a peaceful protest. We were to deliver 17 coffins to the Ministry of Interior, a symbolic way to protest the deaths of Nigerians during the Nigerian Immigration Scheme exams which held on the 15th of March, 2014. I liked the symbolism and the departure from the pedestrian mode of protests in Nigeria.
On getting to the rendezvous point at Area 1 roundabout, I saw and met with a handful of young people including Japheth J. Omojuwa (for the first time) and a certain bright lady working with Enough is Enough Nigeria named Ijeoma. There was heavy security presence across including the NSCDC, the Police and the SSS. At this point, we were yet to begin as we were expecting others who were to deliver the coffins. Just as our numbers soared, we were approached by some NSCDC officials and politely told that their superior wanted to see the organiser of the protest. Omojuwa naturally was in the fore front. However, we were not comfortable with letting him go by himself so he told a couple of us to go with him. When we got to where the vans were packed, the officer in charge came out and had a civil conversation with us. He inquired about our gathering and the appropriate explanations were provided. He went on to explain that we couldn’t be around the junction as it may pose a security threat due to the unrest in the Nation. He also asked us if we had a permit for the protest and admonished us to leave the vicinity for peace to reign.
We thanked him and left. As we returned to our base, we pondered our options and arrived at the conclusion that it would be better to begin our walk to the Ministry of Interior and tell those bringing the coffins to meet us there. So we began, led by the bearer of the Nigerian flag. We walked for about 10 minutes, crossed the pedestrian bridge and began strutting towards our venue. All of a sudden, the NSCDC van cut us off from the other end of the road in a dare devil manoeuvre. It was like a scene from a Nollywood movie. All the officials got out and started shouting for us to go home. You can imagine the alarm. The protest HAD NOT BEGUN! There were no Aluta Continua chants. We kept asking why we couldn’t walk on the road anymore and they kept screaming for us to disperse.
The tipping point for the entire protest was when a certain female officer, by the name Prosperity Iluwa (or Inuwa), barked at Omojuwa telling him he must be mad, approached him and pushed him on the chest in what was evidently a power tussle. An untrusting and aggravated youth, a defence corps whose default setting was force and the cocktail for the perfect chaos situation was brewed.
Things degenerated quickly, insults were hurled back and forth, a journalist with Premium Times had her camera confiscated, NSCDC officials were pushing and shoving and the window for rational engagement was lost at that moment. The officer in charge, in a clear bid to break up the protest, then sent for Omojuwa to be picked. The officials jacked Omojuwa and led him to the van; we followed. The mutual distrust between citizenry and security operatives made it difficult to allow Omojuwa be taken alone. So they picked Omojuwa and I, shoved us in the van and started driving. They drove for a bit and came back to the exact spot under the bridge. It seemed like they didn’t know what to do with us. I thought that they were stalling, holding us off so they could disrupt the protest. Quite brilliant I dare say. Azeernah Mohammed (@Xeenarh) joined us at the venue. After pleasantries, she tried to take a picture with her phone and immediately the harassment from the NSCDC officers began. She was told to leave. She did. Or so we thought.
After a couple of minutes, we were asked to leave the van and head to a certain point where a crowd had gathered. The SSS and the NPF were in the midst of a brewing ruckus. Apparently, a German journalist with the Daily Trust, who I heard being called Flo, had been arrested for trying to take pictures and videos of the security officials. Azeernah who had been walking away from the scene of the incident had been dragged along and the security operatives were questioning her, as well as the German journo. At this point, the matter had left the purview of the NSCDC and had begun to escalate. Right before our very eyes, the SSS and the NPF got in a huge squabble on who should have jurisdiction to take the ‘suspects’ in for questioning. It was a shameful sight. They quarrelled loudly and went back and forth. After a while it seemed, the NSCDC officer in charge decided to take us in to see the commandant.
We were bundled into the pick-up van and driven to the NSCDC HQ in Gudu. At the office, every cover of subtlety crumbled like a pack of cards. In what was yet another power play, an officer would scream at us saying: “Do you know where you are? You don’t have rights here.” At some other point a female officer threatened to slap me simply because I hesitated when ordered to move out of the way. Such charming people! We were pushed and shoved. At a point an officer pushed Omojuwa so hard that he fell and started shaking. Their laughter and mockery echoed. We helped him up and then we got summoned to the office of the commandant.
In the midst of the madness and chaos, the silver lining was the meeting with the Commandant of the FCT command. Alhaji Aminu Abdullahi Kofarsoro is a gem. He handled the issue with the sensitivity it deserved. For the first time in about 5 hours, we were treated with some dignity. While we spoke for an extensive period of time, calls kept coming in from concerned stakeholders about our well being. Finally the commandant explained that we would be transferred to the SSS to see the rest of our colleagues and allow the matter reach an amicable resolution.
It was when we got out of his office that we saw Waziri Adio, the publisher of Metropole Magazine and Ohimai Amaize. En route the SSS, word came that Azeernah and the other apprehended folks were at the police command and thus we took a detour to the NPF office. In about 45 minutes, our issues were resolved and we were told to return the next day. Those who had gadgets confiscated by the SSS went to their office to retrieve them. I went back to my hotel room to savour the rest of what would be my most eventful birthday yet.
I have spent this time to articulate in fine detail the events of the day for posterity sake. There are some salient points to be noted:
1. The protest had NOT begun when we were picked up. We were NOT at the venue of the protest. Technically, we were young people walking down the road!
2. The officials of the NSCDC, save for a couple and the Commandant Alhaji Aminu Abdhullahi Kofarsoro, treated us in an inhuman way.
3. Apropos to the above, I have little doubt in my mind that these were preconceived efforts by the officials to disrupt the protests to hold Abba Moro, the Minister of Interior accountable. Let’s not get distracted.
4. While the treatment at the hands of the NSCDC officials was not savoury, we were not beaten in the real sense of the word but we were assaulted. However, I just need to clarify that the mental picture many have of us receiving a boot to the face and a bat to the knee caps didn’t happen.
5. Our release was expedited because of the pressure that was mounted largely by social media brethren. The calls, the people who left everything and appeared in a matter of minutes and showed up made all the difference. We may scoff at one another but understand one thing: We have POWER. Our critical mass is a force.
6. I joined the protests for one reason: It may not have been me or mine who died at the stadium that day. I may not be affected now but the truth remains that if we go mute against the injustices meted out to the voiceless, we create an enabling environment for the perpetuation of injustice. The vicious cycle would turn and we would be entrapped someday.
7. The officials who treated us with so much rancour are only victims of the same break down in good governance whose only language is force. The disparity in the behaviour between Alhaji Kofarsoro and his subordinates underscores the crucial need for adequate training for security officials all over.
8. Let us remain focused. Justice should be served for those who lost their lives and those scammed by the conduct of the examinations of the NIS.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who got involved and reached out. God bless you all. We remain undeterred in our quest for good governance.