While protesters in Calabar, the Cross River state capital were being arrested for ‘disobeying’ an order by Governor Ben Ayade to ban all “public gatherings and processions in the state”, top politicians held rallies, uninterrupted in various locations across the state with huge crowds in attendance.
The Governor had in an announcement on 11th June 2021, many considered was targeted at the June 12th Protest, and signed by Christian Ita, Special Adviser, Media, and Publicity to the Governor reiterated that “the ban on public procession and gathering in the state is still very much in force.”
The Governor held that the ban was “due to the prevailing security situation in the country” and that they “will not permit any procession or gathering under any guise.”
June 12: Tear gas, arrest for protesters
On the morning of the Democracy Day celebration, there was palpable fear amongst residents in Calabar, as sirens and the shouting voices of heavily armed security operatives filled the air.
The Calabar office of activist and journalist, Agba Jalingo, one of the organizers of the June 12 protest, was already flooded with uniformed policemen and DSS operatives.
Jalingo who had spent hours the day before detained at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) for alleged gun and bomb running, an accusation he insisted was manufactured to shut him up, said he showed up to his office only to see that the place had been taken over by security operatives.
The protesters numbering less than 20 decided to hold their protest in front of CrossRiverWatch’s office when according to Jalingo, officers attached to the Governor arrived on a convoy and started harassing them.
“The special forces in Governor Ayade’s convoy planted two rounds of ammunition in a pack of Benson cigarette and alleged that they recovered them from our office.
“They blindfolded all four of us; Agba Jalingo, James Ibor Esq., Akwagiobe Undie, and Jonathan Ugbal. Stripped us of our clothes and tied Jonathan’s hands to his back, kept hitting us with all manner of cudgels, repeatedly sprayed a choking gaseous substance into our noses and necks, (we still don’t know what the peppery gas substance was), they cut off all my hand beads, then took us to Operation Puff Adder, at the SCID were we were handed over.” Jalingo wrote in a Whatsapp message to our correspondent.
The protesters have all been released with Jalingo saying he was asked to leave town by the police.
One rule for protesters, another for politicians
As Christian Ita sent out his press release reiterating the ban on public gatherings and procession in the state, 126 KM away at Mkpani-Agoi in Yakurr Local Government Area, stood a huge crowd of APC supporters, with security operatives on the ground to offer protection as Mr. Eteng Jones Williams, the Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly officially defected to the All Progressive Congress, APC.
Local blogs reported that thousands were at the rally, while hundreds were confirmed seen in pictures shared by the speaker’s media team.
On June 12, while protesters in Calabar were cooling their heels in police cells, Dr. Betta Edu, the State Commissioner of Health, in direct violation of the Governor’s ban on public gathering, held a rally in her village of Adadama, in Abi Local Government Area.
The Sun reported over 5000 persons were in attendance at the rally including Okoi Obono Obla, a former presidential aide, once declared wanted by the ICPC.
Mr. Richard Onoyo, Country Director of Citizens Solution Network, who was part of the protest said he felt “terrible” that a peaceful protest could attract such angst from the government on a day meant for the celebration of the country’s democracy.