SWITZERLAND, SEPTEMBER 20 – Towards the ending of July 2019, young, radical journalist and former presidential contestant, Omoyele Sowore called for a series of protests against the government, which he tagged ‘RevolutionNow’. The protests were slated for August 2 and they were meant to shake the country to its core.
The government would not allow it under their watch.
In a typical high-handed fashion, the Nigerian security forces cracked down heavily on the RevolutionNow movement, arresting its leader and charging him for treason even before the protests began and dispersing the protesters with sheer force right before they even finished rallying.
Elias Ozikpu was one of the protesters arrested on August 2. In this exclusive interview with Today’s Echo, the author and activist spoke extensively about why the protesters.
Some people say Sowore was paid to organize the protest by some foreign elements, is that true?
Those who propagate such stories are those whose self-esteem and sense of responsibility have been battered by successive governments in Nigeria. Why must anyone be paid first before they can do what is right for their country? If Sowore was paid, where is the transaction?
These stories emanate from people who grew up in a system that is extremely corrupt. A system where something is done only when money changes hands. In fact, it is the oppressors who fabricate such laughable stories.
Why and how did you join the RevolutionNow movement?
I joined because I want Nigeria to develop like the advanced countries of Europe and North America. We need uninterrupted power supply, a functional healthcare system, first-class education that can compete favourably with what is obtainable in the West and other infrastructural development in Nigeria. These things aren’t available at the moment, and with the mindset that is in power today, they definitely won’t happen. Not with a government that lacks direction like Buhari’s.
I had to join the RevolutionNow protests to press for these demands.
Are you guys really calling for a change of government?
(Cuts in) A change of government? How do you mean?
Do you want the Buhari regime to be toppled?
No one plans to topple a government and comes out to announce it. Besides, the protest in which my colleagues and I were illegally arrested took place in a stadium, not in front of the Government House. If we had any plans of toppling Buhari’s government, would we announce it?
#RevolutionNow was a protest and videos of it are online for all to see. There was no protester who came there with a weapon of any kind.
The truth is that this government is anti-democracy. It has a strong aversion to dissenting opinions, and that is permanently unacceptable.
What were the aims of the protest?
The government has a cardinal responsibility of providing security to Nigerian citizens. People must carry a sense of safety anywhere they are in this country. But as it is today, no one is safe in this country except the president and his cohorts in power – at state and federal levels.
Our demands include education, healthcare, distribution of resources in a fair and just manner, etc.
Are there any specific demands?
Implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage signed with Labour, transparent billing of electricity, security, a reliable healthcare system, education (already mentioned), etc were part of the demands that led to the protest.
Can you describe what happened on the protest day?
I decided to participate because it was a peaceful protest. But the law enforcement officials were not peaceful nor civil in their approach. They came fully armed, as though detailed to confront Boko Haram at Sambisa Forest.
Among these enforcement officers were soldiers, naval officers, Air Force, Civil Defence, even LASMA officials!
We were violently dispersed and one of the comrades was shot somewhere around his knee region. I was among one of the peaceful protesters arrested, beaten thoroughly and thrown into Black Maria like a criminal. In fact, at the time of the arrest, the police forcefully took my phone (HTC DESIRE 10 PRO) and have not returned it till date.
5th of August 2019 will go down the annals of Nigerian history as the day the funeral of Nigerian Democracy took place
What happened to you after you were arrested?
We were locked in a Black Maria all day, and were driven to State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, where we were locked up in a cell. We left the cell the following morning and were arraigned before a Magistrate Court in Yaba. We were granted bail at N100,000 and 2 sureties.
Is this the end or are you guys fighting on?
No! As long as this government or any other one continues with anti-people policies, Nigerians will continue to demand for their rights through protests that are peaceful. The right to peaceful assembly is our right and it is not negotiable, unless the people in power have turned this administration into a military regime. Even if that is the case, we will not stop mobilising for peaceful protests.
The only way this government can stop us from protesting is to stop the blood-letting in the country, the detention of citizens with dissenting opinions, the commencement of the fight against corruption that is devoid of all kinds of bias, the implementation of policies that are pro-people and other defects that affect everyday Nigerians.