Land Use Charge: Ogunlana Whereabouts Unknown as NBA Welcomes Buhari to Lagos with protest
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja Branch, has restated its resolve to embark on another round of protest on March 29 over the reviewed Lagos Land Use Charge.
The NBA Chairman, Adeshina Ogunlana, said at a media briefing on Wednesday that in spite of the reduction of the rates and levies under the Land Use Charge the protest would go on as planned.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that President Muhammadu Buhari is scheduled to arrive in Lagos Thursday on a two-day state visit.
Lagos State Government has declared Thursday as public holiday in honour of the president.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had earlier reduced the levies by 50 per cent following a protest that greeted the Land Use Charge, but the reduction did not go down well with some stakeholders who insisted the LUC returns to status quo.
A public hearing on the Lagos Land Use Charge organised by the Lagos State House of Assembly on March 27 had turned rowdy as Ogunlana led lawyers in a walk-out, insisting that the notice to submit their memorandum was too short.
Mr Ogunlana said: “The protest is far from being over as lawyers have declared their intention to embark on another round of streets protest tomorrow (March 29).”
The NBA chairman said that the protest was a response to “failure” of the state government and State House of Assembly to meet their demands.
He, however, warned some members of the public who, he said, were peddling negative rumours against the NBA to desist from it.
NAN also reports that the NBA had on March 13 staged a protest tagged, ” Walk The Talk” to reject the 50 percent reduction of the levies.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), civil society bodies and professionals had in solidarity joined the protest.
Others are the Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Joint Action Front (JAF) Medical Doctors Association the Human and Environmental Agenda (HEDA)
The protest was meant to kick against the Land Use Charge Law 2018, excessive litigation cost, borehole tax and car registration tax.
Mr. Ogunlana said : “The reduction is a sham and a calculated ploy to hoodwink the people of Lagos State.”
He also said the NBA objected to the House of Assembly’s setting up of a committee to review the Land Use Charge 2018.
“Come Thursday, March 29, the “Walk the Talk” protest must go on irrespective of the public holiday declared by the Lagos State Government in anticipation for the Presidential visit.”
Meanwhile, just few hours ago, dozens of armed police officers have laid siege at the secretariat of the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association over the body’s decision to stage a protest on Thursday.
“The 50 armed policemen have invaded Ogunlana’s office of the Ikeja NBA secretariat, saying that they don’t want the protest to hold tomorrow,” Mr. Ogunlana confirmed.
“Ogunlana said, “We told them that we are not interested in disrupting the presidential visit, our protest is not going to take place in Ikeja, and that there is no need for any alarm. We are not blocking any route.”
President Muhammadu Buhari is scheduled to arrive Lagos on Thursday for a two-day official visit.
After a march two weeks ago to protest the state government’s newly introduced land use charge, the lawyers had planned another round of protest to coincide with the president’s visit.
The police siege on Wednesday evening came shortly after police authorities issued a statement ordering the lawyers to shelve their planned protest on Thursday.
The statement issued by Chike Oti, the spokesperson of the Lagos State Police Command, said the police would not tolerate any protest from the NBA or any group during Mr. Buhari’s visit.
“The CP believes strongly that the planned protest by the NBA is the handiwork of mischief makers who are using the NBA as a launching pad to possibly compromise the security emplaced for the presidential visit,” Mr. Oti, a superintendent of Police, said in the statement.
“It must be recalled that on the 12th of March 2018, the Lagos State Police Command availed the NBA Ikeja branch its security assets and escorted them to the Government House Alausa to protest the increase in the Land Use Charge. At Alausa they were addressed and afterwards escorted back to their base.”
“It is curious that of all the NBA branches in Lagos, it is only the Ikeja branch that has been using the option of protest and civil disobedience despite several options available to it thus lending credence to the intelligence report that the Chairman of the NBA is a pawn in the hands of some disgruntled politicians. Please be warned.”
Mr. Ogunlana said he had summoned an emergency meeting of the Ikeja NBA branch in reaction to the police siege.
He also insisted that Thursday’s protest would hold at a location and time “far, far away” from the president.
He further promised to sue the Lagos police hierarchy for them to disclose the names of those allegedly using the Ikeja NBA against the state government.
Reacting to the police siege, the Education Rights Campaign, described it as “undemocratic and tyrannical.”
“It constitutes harassment of innocent citizens reminiscent of the dark days of military rule,” said Hassan Soweto, national coordinator, ERC.
“We hereby call for immediate lift of the siege and the recognition of the rights of Nigerians to protest any anti-poor policy.
“We condemn the statement issued by the Lagos state police commissioner where he justified the illegal action of the police on the basis of the need to ensure that the security of President Buhari who is scheduled to visit Lagos tomorrow is not jeopardized on account of the NBA protest.”
“While as law-abiding citizens we understand the need to ensure maximum security for the president even though poor Nigerians live in conditions of daily insecurity, we beg to disagree that the protest of the NBA scheduled much before the president visit was announced can cause a breach of security.”
A human rights activist, Femi Aborisade, also condemned the police action.
“The APC Federal Government should bury its head in shame for suppressing the NBA Ikeja branch from exercising a constitutionally donated or guaranteed right of movement and peaceful protest against imposition of harsh land use charge.”
“The Police should know that the right of peaceful protest cannot be subjected to the whims and caprices of the police.”
Mr. Aborishade accused the APC of muzzling opposition voices after coming to power on the wave of mass protests against the “ruinous economic policies” of the previous administration.
“We reject and condemn the undemocratic attacks on the right to peaceful protest.”