On Sunday, 22nd April, 2018, I arrived the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park at Ojota, Lagos State to participate in the unveiling of the newly erected statue of late legal luminary and father of human rights advocacy in Nigeria, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, built by the Lagos State Government to commemorate the 80th posthumous birthday of the legal icon.
The event was slated to commence by 12pm and was opened to members of the public as advertised in the media by the Gani Fawehinmi family, the Lagos State Government and the Planning Committee. I arrived at the venue before 12pm.
After passing through the external gate that leads to Freedom Park, I found the entry point into the main arena of the Freedom Park where the statue is erected barricaded and heavily guarded by officers of the Nigeria Police Force attached to the government house and guards of DMS Security; a private security company.
To my utter dismay, I saw the security men discriminating against people who they felt were not worthy to enter the main arena where the statue is erected. I was asked to present my ID card and an Invitation Card before I could be allowed into the main arena.
I protested and replied that the event was opened to members of the public irrespective of status and that it was an insult to the memory of the Late Gani Fawehinmi on whose honour the event was organized, for people to be discriminated against at the event.
I noticed that people considered unimportant were given a different space away from the main arena where the event was actually holding to stay.
A certain plain cloth policeman who was in charge of the security team told me pointedly that he works for the governor of Lagos State and that the government has instructed them not to allow unimportant people into the main arena.
He asked me to identify myself or stay outside. I told him that I was a citizen of Nigeria and a disciple of Gani Fawehinmi and that it was not necessary for me to present ID card or Invitation Card since the general public was invited to the event.
At this point, the abrasive plain cloth officer declared that he was not going to allow me into the arena because I was “rude”.
Meanwhile, I observed that politically exposed persons and their entourage had unimpeded access into the main arena without any form of scrutiny.
I also observed that persons whom the security men considered as “VIPs” and those whose physical appearance satisfied their ‘standard’ were equally allowed into the arena.
Following my refusal to introduce myself beyond the fact that I am a Nigerian citizen and disciple of Gani Fawehinmi, a standoff ensued.
I NEVER forced my way into the main arena but only stood patiently explaining the impropriety of restricting people access into the main arena on account of status or social standing. I did not fight with, drag or touch any of the security men.
I only persisted in my decision not to reveal any further information about my person. There was no justification for giving preferential treatment to politicians, lawyers, journalists, activists and other dignitaries.
Gani Fawehinmi did not live for these classes of persons only; he fought and died for the Nigerian masses.
Therefore, the Lagos State Government violated the virtues that Gani represented by putting in place a discriminatory security protocol in an event that was supposedly meant to honour Gani.
I later walked away from the security men and was standing meters away from where the overzealous security men stood explaining what transpired to a reporter by name Raphael, when the plain cloth policeman left his position, walked up to where I stood, and ordered his subordinates and the private security guards to push me out of the precincts of Freedom Park completely.
Without hesitation, the private security guards from DMS Security and policemen attached to the government house swooped on me and forcefully pushed me out of the precincts Freedom Park.
See the video clip:
Several activists, comrades and journalists got wind of the ill-treatment meted on me and came out to protest against my harassment. The activists insisted that I must be allowed into the main arena. After a heated argument, I got access into the main arena.
The deputy governor later arrived at the venue to represent the governor. I stayed throughout the ceremony and later attended the 80th posthumous birthday lecture which was delivered by Prof. Wole Soyinka.
It is a sad commentary that in this 21st century and in a supposedly cosmopolitan state like Lagos, citizens are disrespected and secluded from events attended by public office holders.
The fact that a deputy governor attends an event with other government functionaries should not be the basis for secluding “ordinary citizens”, certainly not an event that was meant to honour a man who lived his life for the downtrodden.
By Inibehe Effiong; firstname.lastname@example.org