Wednesday, February 8, 2023

EXCLUSIVE: Federal government begins compilation of #EndSARS protesters on no-fly list

The interior ministry has started singling out key members of the historic #EndSARS movement for profiling, Peoples Gazette can report.

• November 3, 2020
President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

Nigerian authorities have started collating a no-fly list of ‘hundreds of Nigerians’ they suspected of energising the #EndSARS movement that loomed across the country last month, officials told Peoples Gazette on Monday, in a move that could drive a wedge of mutual suspicions in ongoing negotiations between the government and the protesters.

Three officials with distinct but corroborative knowledge of the government’s plans told the Gazette in separate interviews on Monday that the federal interior minister was responsible for the controversial list.

Officials did not immediately accuse the protesters of any crime, but the ministry started collating the list nearly two weeks ago, an official said, and the Gazette only became aware of its existence on Monday morning.

Two sources at the State Security Service told the Gazette that the interior ministry, under Rauf Aregbesola, requested from the secret police whether or not it had a profile of key supporters of the protests. 

The immigration office is domiciled under the interior ministry, and a senior official said the ministry planned to forward names of “hundreds of Nigerians” who should be targeted for overseas journey.

“We told the ministry that we have not started compiling a list of the protesters because we did not get a presidential directive to do so as of that time,” the official said. “But the ministry went on on its own to start collating a list for enforcement.”

Another SSS official attached to civil aviation told the Gazette that the list was yet to be formally circulated, but six people suspected of participating in #EndSARS were already prevented from traveling last week.

“I know six people have been prevented from travelling to Europe and Dubai because of the troubles they put the government through with their campaign against security workers,” the official said. “The immigration people are already doing their own work, but we have not received any list from the headquarters.”

A preliminary interior ministry ‘no fly’ document seen by the Gazette included a man who was a key voice in #EndSARS. His passport was issued in Atlanta, United States, in February 2016, but the Gazette has left out his name and passport number on legal advice. 

SSS Officers (Credit: Premium Times)
SSS Officers (Credit: Premium Times)

The two SSS officials and a senior interior ministry official who confirmed the compilation to the Gazette sought anonymity to discuss it. One of them described the compilation as “a matter of federal emergency,” on Monday morning.

On November 1, another key strategist for #EndSARS Modupe Chizoba Odele was prevented from travelling out of Nigeria. 

Ms. Odele, a law graduate of Columbia University with passport number ******60, said her passport was confiscated at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport while traveling to the Maldives for her birthday on November 2. 

Ms. Odele’s friends said she accused the Defence Intelligence Agency of being responsible for her botched trip, but the Gazette could not independently corroborate that claim between Sunday night and throughout Monday.

As a legal counsel to the Feminist Coalition, she initially asked that her matter should not be made public, but a newsletter she distributed on Monday night blew her ordeal on social media.

‘Subversive roles’ 

#EndSARS first became a rallying point against police brutality in 2017, when Nigerians used the hashtag to recount how they endured years of atrocities and corruption from the now-outlawed police special anti-robbery squad. 

But the campaign only shot to worldwide prominence on October 8 when citizens decided it was time to finally rid society of the deadly and corrupt unit. 

More than 150 million tweets were sent under the hashtag between October 8 and 23, promptly outstripping the prominent Black Lives Matter agitation in the United States.

President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to publicly disclose his personal estimation of the #EndSARS, but officials close to him have seen the movement as an attempt to force him out of power, the Gazette reported on October 22. 

On Monday, a meeting of northern governors, ministers and other allies of the president slammed #EndSARS as an attempt to force a regime change through the back door, emphasising the administration’s democratically-elected status.

Mr. Buhari also appeared discomfited about the protests when on October 21 his cabinet failed to discuss the Lekki massacre of Lagos protesters by Nigerian soldiers on October 20.

snapshot from footage of soldiers shooting the Lekki protesters.
A snapshot from footage of soldiers shooting the Lekki protesters

A senior interior ministry official told the Gazette on Monday that the government was looking into personalities behind the #EndSARS movement, which remained largely decentralised.

“We want to be sure of the real motive of those who led the protests and raised money,” the senior official said. “We suspect some people might have played subversive roles in the suspicious campaign against the government.” 

The official’s comments marked a sharp contrast from public statements of the government over the past three weeks. Senior administration officials, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, have publicly acknowledged #EndSARS as a dispassionate call for better policing.

Mr. Osinbajo also chaired a team of national economic council to look into all issues raised by #EndSARS protesters, days after he tendered a formal apology for police aggressions.

It was unclear whether or not the vice-president was aware of the controversial list being compiled by the interior office. A spokesman for the president did not immediately return a request for comments Tuesday morning.

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