President Muhammadu Buhari Monday said Nigerians are at liberty to freely express themselves in a democracy but the government will not tolerate any acts of hooliganism.
He said hooligans hiding behind lawful and peaceful protests will be dealt with decisively to ensure peace and stability in the country.
The warning came amidst claims of a second wave of the #EndSARS protest being allegedly planned by youths in the country.
In October, the protest against police brutality and the excesses of the now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), were staged across major cities in the country, a development which resulted in the loss of lives and destruction of properties by hoodlums who hijacked the protest.
Declaring open the Chief of Army Staff’s Annual Conference 2020, President Buhari, who spoke in a virtual arrangement, commended the Nigerian Armed Forces for their efforts at swiftly restoring law and order in various states during what he described as “the large-scale criminality” that ensued in the wake of the #ENDSARS protests.
Reiterating Government’s commitment to the rights of citizens to embark on peaceful protests responsibly in accordance with the laws of the land, the president recounted that the #ENDSARS protests were sadly hijacked by hooligans to cause wanton damage to lives and property in many cities across the country.
The President described the Year 2020 as a very challenging one, citing the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative impact on almost every aspect of national life.
“Despite this, I am pleased to note that the Army remained resolute in the discharge of its Constitutional roles and in keeping the wealth and welfare of our soldiers a priority.
“The Army’s support of Civil Authorities in the management of the COVID – 19 Pandemic is a case in point.
“Also, the peaceful elections conducted in Edo and Ondo States would not have been achieved without the high level of professionalism displayed by all security agencies, including the Army,” he said at the conference themed “Human Capacity Development in Sustaining Professionalism and Responsiveness of the Nigerian Army in the Discharge of its Constitutional Roles.”
The president commended the Nigerian Army for its unwavering commitment towards curtailing the activities of insurgents, armed bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers and other violent criminals through ongoing exercises and operations in different parts of the country.
Notably, he said the Exercise SAHEL SANITY launched a few months ago in the North West states to rid the Katsina-Zamfara corridor of marauding bandits had recorded commendable progress.
“I have also been briefed about the tremendous successes that have been achieved by troops during the ongoing Operation FIREBALL in the North East,” Buhari said.
“I charge you all to sustain these efforts until the full restoration of peace and security in the nation is achieved,” the President told members of the armed forces at the conference which provides an avenue for the leadership of the Army to re-assess its preparedness and operational readiness in carrying out its Constitutional roles.”
Buhari also used the occasion to pay tribute to men and women in uniform who have paid the supreme sacrifice in the defence and security of the nation, commiserating with their families, comrades and friends.
“As we pray for the repose of their souls, we must strengthen our collective resolve to address those issues that will make every part of our country a safe and secure place to live and carry out our normal business,” Buhari said.
He pledged that his administration will not relent in its efforts to take adequate care of families of fallen heroes who had paid the supreme sacrifice in the fight against insurgency and other forms of crimes across the country.
In what appears to be an attempt to forestall another round of #EndSARS protests, armed policemen and soldiers have been deployed in the Lekki toll plaza, Lagos.
Several motorists informed said that the security operatives were deployed around midnight.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, did not respond to calls on Monday morning.
However, both the military and the police authorities had warned several times last week that they would not allow another round of protests to take place.
Despite warning by the police and President Muhammadu Buhari, protesters on Monday hit the streets in Osogbo, capital of Osun State.
Holding placards, they demanded the release of all detained protesters and unfreezing of their accounts by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
After streaming through the streets, the protesters marched to the Osun State House of Assembly and the State Secretariat, Abere.
At the assembly they demanded an audience with the speaker.
They also converged at the Ogo-Oluwa area.
The placards read: “We are not fighting for any political party”, “#End Bad Judiciary in Nigeria”, ” #End fake judicial panel of Inquiry in Osun”, “Unfreeze all the frozen account”, ” We are Nigerian youths” among others.
The Ogun State Police Command, on Monday, warned youths and residents of the state against staging fresh #EndSARS protests.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Abimbola Oyeyemi said in a telephone interview that the Command will not tolerate any ‘#EndSARS Phase Two protest’ as the country is just recovering from the October #EndSARS protests.
Oyeyemi said policemen have been deployed in strategic locations in the state to forestall any gathering in the name of a protest.
He said, “Our men are presently at Panseke, NNPC, Abeokuta, and other strategic points in the state. We got information that some youths want to stage protests across the state today.
“There is nothing to warrant any so-called #EndSARS Phase Two Protest because SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) is no longer in existence. Can you stage a protest against an outfit that is no longer in existence?”
The #EndSARS protests, which took place in October, were hijacked by hoodlums leading to the destruction of properties and loss of lives across the country.
The demonstrations also turned bloody in Lagos on October 20, 2020, when men in military uniform allegedly opened fire on young protesters at the Lekki toll plaza, an epicentre of the protests in Lagos.
Thousands of prisoners were also set free during the riots that followed.