A Nigerian protest against silencing of opposition voices, human rights campaigners and journalists got chaotic in the capital Abuja on Monday as pro-government supporters clashed with rights activists leading to police intervention.
The rights campaigners who are a coalition of civil society organisations had earlier issued a two-week ultimatum to the Nigerian government to release some detained activists and journalists including Omoyele Sowore or face protests.
Monday’s protest was held after the expiration of the ultimatum. But not sooner had the protest begun when about 60 attackers descended on the group of around 40 protesters outside the government’s National Human Rights Commission in the capital Abuja, sending them running for safety.
The protesters were planning to deliver a list of demands to the Commission, including the release of prisoners such as activist Omoyele Sowore, founder of the Sahara Reporters online news organisation, a Reuters report said.
The attackers targeted a protest leader, Deji Adeyanju, chasing him before beating him. Police did not immediately intervene when the attack began and a spokesman did not respond to calls and text messages.
Adeyanju, a human rights activist who was imprisoned for more than two months this year, was taken to hospital for treatment.
A spokesman for the National Human Rights Commission also called on the government to respect court rulings.
“The position of the Commission has always been, and still is, that all law enforcement agencies, government and even individuals should act within the law, obey the rules of law at all times,” director of information Lambert Opara said.
A spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari declined to comment.
Isa Sanusi, a spokesman for Amnesty International, which helped organised the protests, said the incident showed that Nigerians “no longer have the right to come out and express themselves peacefully without being attacked”.
A government supporter, Ibrahim Kabiru Dala, said: “We are here to commend the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the security personnel … we will not allow any other foreign mercenaries or opposition to come and sabotage the government.”