Hell was let loose today at the Unity Fountain in Abuja as a government-sponsored #ReleaseOurGirlsNow protesters used axes, machetes and cudgels to disrupt the rally of a group led by former Minister Oby Ezekwesili that is demanding more serious action by the Jonathan administration to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls abducted April 14 from their dormitories in Chibok, Bornu State.
SaharaReporters had reported recently that the government-funded group of protesters was organized to undermine efforts by the Ezekwesili-led group that feels the Jonathan administration has done too little, too late to find and save the abducted girls. The mandate of the government-sponsored group is to change the conversation by laying exclusive blame on the Islamist group, Boko Haram, that carried out the abductions.
Several eyewitnesses told SaharaReporters that the group organized by allies of Mr. Jonathan wielded dangerous weapons to intimidate those who were protesting government ineptitude alongside Ms. Ezekwesili, a former minister in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. In addition, the pro-government group destroyed chairs and smashed journalists’ cameras.
The #BringBackOurGirls campaigners led by Ms. Ezekwesili had gathered peacefully at the fountain early this morning to press their case for more focused action by the government. However, they got the shock of their lives when an armed gang from the rival group stormed the same venue came to interrupt them. The gangsters marched round the circle of the Ezekwesili group blowing whistles and chanting abusive songs.
Then, as a cameraman from AFP news agency recorded Ms. Ezekwesili’s speech to her group, the members of the government-created group attacked him, smashing his camera. They also broke chairs the protesters had brought, seized numerous mobile phones from their owners, and beat up some members of the Ezekwesili group. A source said anti-riot police who were at the scene turned a blind eye as the hoodlums carried out their attacks.
“The policemen were there and did nothing even when our attackers started smoking India hemp [marijuana] openly at the fountain right in front of them,” one of the protesters told SaharaReporters. He added that many of the protesters sustained various injuries.
Ms. Ezekwesili told a reporter that her group had sent a letter to the Inspector General of Police as well as the Commissioner of Police for the Federal Capital Territory to apprise them of their plan to hold a series of peaceful rallies to draw attention to the plight of the Chibok schoolgirls and their families. She showed a copy of an acknowledgement from the police, indicating that the group had received approval for their protests at the Unity Fountain.
The former minister expressed her displeasure with the indifferent attitude of the Nigerian police which allowed thugs from another group to attack members of her group. She pleaded with members of her group not to be deterred by the attack, describing it as the handiwork of detractors who were hell bent on scuttling their efforts.
The Ezekwesili group has scheduled another event for Thursday, May 29 to mark Democracy Day. The venue will be ThisDay Dome, a few meters away from the Unity Fountain.
SaharaReporters disclosed a few days ago that the pro-Jonathan group had been recruited from various villages and slums around Abuja and given a mandate to pose as patriots who contend that the government has risen to the challenge of finding the missing girls. The Chief of Defense Staff, Alex Badeh, and other top military officers, held a high-profile meeting with the pro-government group at the Eagle Square