GOVERNOR Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, yesterday, received knocks for backing the freezing of #EndSARS promoters’ accounts and regulation of social media. Among those who tongue-lashed Akeredolu were Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Middle-Belt Forum, Nigerian bar Association, NBA, and Civil Society Organisations, CSOs.
Speaking on a day court granted bail to five #EndSARS protesters and a female journalist in Abuja; Governor Akeredolu backed freezing of bank accounts of #EndSARS promoters and asked those aggrieved to go to court and clear their names if they had nothing to hide. “Speaking very honestly, I don’t see anything wrong in it” the governor who doubles as the chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum, said yesterday on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily. “If for instance, my account was frozen, what would I do? All I would do is go back to court to explain. Even politicians, their accounts are sometimes frozen. You have to go to court and explain. And at the end of the day, the court will say, ‘leave the account. The account should be de-frozen’ and you take your money back”.
Akeredolu, who also endorsed calls for regulation of social media, said the protesters must explain the flow of funds into their accounts. “If your account is frozen, you justify why the money was there. You come to explain to what use you have put this money. It will be explained, people will know and the accounts will be de-frozen”.
Downplaying insinuations that the protesters were being charged for a treasonable offence. ‘’It is not a conclusion that those accounts were used for acts of treason.” Backing calls for the regulation of social media, he said: “There must be gatekeepers. Yes, you want to publish any news you like, there must be gatekeepers using technology that will be able to, at least, sieve what is right and what is wrong”.
He blamed fake news for the destruction of properties by hoodlums in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests, adding that no government would allow fake news to take over cyberspace. “When the hoodlums took over, a lot of fake news were fed to the public. People were reacting to it. It led to the destruction of properties in Lagos, Akure, everywhere. If we cannot be disciplined enough to be able to know that we don’t churn out news that can cause a lot of damage in the society, then the government itself must be proactive enough to find a way to control it”.
Akeredolu’s posture elicited a sharp rebuke from some CSOs leaders, who described him as a military apologist, and urged Nigerians not to be shocked by the governor’s stance.
Peeved at Akeredolu’s stance, some CSOs, yesterday, blasted him. Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, CDNDC, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said: “Governor Akeredolu served a military administration as the Attorney-General in Ondo State, he was the closest apologist of the military, but sadly, this trait has not left him as an enabler of dictatorship and anti-democratic forces. Nigerians should not be shocked by Akeredolu’s shameful support for the illegal freezing of the #EndSARS protestors’ bank account and the unconscionable call for the regulation of social media, he has never been a pro-rule of law person to the heart, even as NBA President”.
Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, said: “This is a very shocking statement if truly the Ondo State Governor said that he sees nothing wrong in freezing accounts of #EndSARS protesters and also supporting regulation of social media. It is really surprising that this is coming from a constitutional lawyer. Nigerians should be shocked because this is a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and he has made this kind of unbelievable comment and does not see anything wrong undermining and violating the fundamental human rights of Nigerians expressed through peaceful means to express their concerns and grievances. I think this is really sad and it is unfortunate because what goes up must come down. We had a situation where current leaders at various levels, when maltreated by previous regimes came out to protest, mobilize resources to defend their course and nobody froze their accounts, intimidated and arrested them. Now they don’t want other people to genuinely, democratically, responsibly, constitutionally raise their concern. This is really sad and this is not democracy, even during the military regimes Nigerians expressed their minds through peaceful protest. Protest is part of democratic culture in every part of the world”.
The Country Director, Global Rights Nigeria, Abiodun Baiyewu, said: “I think we are in dire times and we must recognize that government is becoming so desperate and increasingly unreasonable. Akeredolu, a SAN, ought to understand better the rule of law and what a basically decent society should look like. Apparently, he would rather be aligned to draconian governance than walking a straight path”.
President and Founder Peoples Movement for a New Nigeria, PMNN, Yahaya Ndu, said: “A bad workman always quarrels with his tools and the #EndSARS protests is, as far as I am concerned, a tool that can be turned to public good. Why is it that it is easy for government to uncover and freeze accounts of supposed supporters of #EndSARS protests but the same government in five years has not uncovered and frozen the account of sponsors of Boko Haram?. I see the EndSARS protests as an indication or rather a confirmation that there is something fundamentally dysfunctional in our governance mechanism. If we look earnestly, we can see that universities are still on strike. Medical workers are also on strike in some states. These should serve as pointers that we need to rework our governance mechanism and make them mass participatory and all inclusive so we can move forward together as one. Akeredolu shouldn’t lend his voice to tyranny”
Reacting to Akeredolu’s position, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, warned the governor against throwing his weight behind tyranny. Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said: “The governor was a President of the NBA, who should not lend his weight to tyranny. He is backing illegal freezing of constitutionally recognized protesters accounts while the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Mr. Malami is asking the United Arab Emirates, UAE, to give him records of trials of Nigerian Boko Haram funders in UAE so he can determine whether justice was done. I don’t think Mr. Governor with his pedigree would say indiscriminate freezing of accounts like a junta is an idea of justice. “We expect his (Akeredolu’s) media people to say he was not quoted correctly as we don’t see him as one of these fascist elements riding roughshod over the country”.
The Middle Belt Forum, MBF, said Governor Akeredolu was working against the Nigerian constitution for endorsing the ongoing prosecution of members of #EndSARS protesters and supporters by the Federal Government. National President of the Forum, Dr. Bitrus Pogu, in a telephone conversation with Vanguard in Abuja, described the governor’s position as very sad and tantamount to what obtained in autocratic environment. His words: “Is he (Akeredolu) saying they should be prosecuted? That is very sad. It is sad; it means he is not even a democrat. He is not living in democracy. He is living in authoritarian government and not democracy. “In a democracy, we have a legitimate right to peacefully protest against the things that the government is doing that is not right. It is allowed in our constitution. Anybody going against the constitution of the country is going against our democracy, whether he is a governor or whoever he is. Linking protesters with acts of terror won’t stand”.
NBA Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Dr. Ralph Nduka, said though Akeredolu might have spoken from an informed position, many Nigerians doubt the government and its workers. “The Governor of Ondo State is cerebral. I believe that whenever he speaks, he speaks from an informed position. But then, the average Nigerian finds it difficult to believe the government and those acting on its behalf. The timing of all these actions speak volumes. People protested peacefully (which the law allows), the government gave an impression that they’ve heard the complaints of the protesters, the protesters were skeptical and demanded that concrete steps be taken. Up till date, nothing concrete has been set in motion to address their agitations, except to hound some visible protesters. Does it give an impression that our government actually listened to the issues raised by the protesters? Definitely not. The average observer will simply conclude that the government sees any raised voice as a dissident voice and thus will ensure that no voice speaks up against any wrong going on in the society. This is sad. This unfortunately cannot be explained away. Nobody will buy any story linking the protesters with acts of terror”.
The National Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and former military administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, (retd), advised the Federal Government to treat the #EndSARS protest issue with utmost care, regardless of what any governor or anybody says. Nkanga made the assertion yesterday while reacting to the statement by Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, that there was nothing wrong in freezing the bank accounts of #EndSARS protesters. His words: “Let’s be very honest. Some of the governors cannot stand up for the rights of their people in this country. They stand up and say things that will fester their nest. Maybe they have something they are looking for from the central government or from the party in the centre, so they have to play down the issue at the detriment of their people. And the destiny of this country I’m afraid is not in the hands of governors. If we leave it in the hands of the governors, we may have cause to lament. We don’t know how some of them got into power, so they have to play to the gallery sometimes. My advice is for the Federal Government to make sure they treat this issue with utmost care. Those young men that protested stated their reason, so the Federal Government should make sure it does what is right, regardless of what a governor or anybody for that matter says, so we don’t have a second wave of the crisis”.