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The Physically Challenged Empowerment Initiative, Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, and Justice and Empowerment Initiative have condemned the Wednesday arrest of some persons living with disabilities during a protest in Lagos.

In a statement Wednesday, the groups called for the “frivolous charges” against the arrested persons to be dropped and for the governor to respond to the petition of the protesters.

Those arrested include Mohammed Zanna, Abubakar Umaru, Shehu Daiyanu, Mustapha Bello, and Yunusa Mohammed.

“Still in shock, we condemn in no uncertain terms the attacks on peaceful protesters and the arrest and frivolous prosecution of leaders of the PLWD community in Lagos, who are meant to enjoy the highest forms of protection in line with the Lagos State Special Peoples’ Law, 2011,” the groups said.

“By contrast, they have now suffered violations of their rights to freedom of assembly, to freedom of expression, to physical integrity, and to liberty, on top of the other rights already violated by the blanket Keke ban.”

The state government, on February 1, began the enforcement of its decision to restrict the activities of commercial motorcycles and tricycles from major roads and bridges in the state.

Although the decision resulted in untold hardship to citizens, the government has refused to back down from its decision.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) stormed the Lagos State government house to protest the restriction of tricycles in some parts of the state. The protesters vowed to remain there until they get an audience with the governor. They said they had been ignored in an earlier protest to the governor’s office.

‘Not aware’

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the Lagos State police spokesperson, Bala Elkana, on Wednesday afternoon about the arrest of some of the protesters, he said he is unaware of any arrest. He would make efforts to confirm if there was any.

Gboyega Akosile, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, also told this newspaper that the state government did not order the arrest of any of the protesters.

“I’m not aware that anybody was arrested,” Mr Akosile told PREMIUM TIMES.

“The state government did not order the arrest of anybody. We saw them at the gate yesterday, hundreds of them, but we are law-abiding citizens, nobody touched them.”

“Our government does not discriminate against people, protesters are entitled to peaceful protest. Nobody was arrested on the order of the state government, nobody,” Mr Akosile said.

‘#OccupyAlausa’

During Tuesday’s peaceful protest, the Physically Challenged Empowerment Initiative (PCEI), a network of persons with disabilities, said its members are in a desperate situation as a result of the restriction.

Expressing the effects of the ban of tricycles on their livelihoods, the group vowed to remain at the government house until they are given an audience by Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos state.

They tagged their protest #OccupyAlausa.

Mr Zanna, the spokesperson of PCEI, said the sufferings of persons with disabilities have increased since the enforcement of the restriction.

“We condemn the blanket ban; the latest anti-poor policy in Lagos, and call for an immediate repeal while suitable, pro-people regulations are developed.”

Mr Zanna said many of PCEI members were formerly street beggars whom they have supported to enter into Keke driving business as a dignified and legal alternative to street begging.

He said the “implementation of a blanket ban on Keke and Okada across Lagos State, with ruthless and illegal enforcement activities,” has created more problems for the group as many of the riders had their motorcycles impounded even while they were not moving on the restricted routes.

“The ban has witnessed several of their Kekes seized on 1 February 2020 from within a taxi park where they were parked respecting the ban.”

Mr Zanna added that the impacts of the restriction have been worse on PCEI members since many of them are practically trampled in the rush for buses and have been unable to either move themselves using their network’s Keke fleet or move long distances self-propelled.

“This amounts to a severe assault on their right to mobility and, more so, their right to dignity,” he said.

The group had earlier held a peaceful protest and delivered a petition to the Lagos State governor on February 7, but no response was received.

In a fresh petition written to the state governor on Tuesday, PCEI said that despite that persons living with disabilities registered en masse with the Lagos State Office of Disability Affairs (LASODA), they enjoy no protection, support or benefits.

PCEI said the enforcement of the restriction has unleashed untold hardships to persons living with disabilities who are hardworking and find means to fends for themselves.

The group demanded that the government repeals the restriction or find alternative means of livelihoods for PLWDs.

“We are ready to work with the government to find workable alternatives through appropriate regulation of Keke, special permits for PLWDs to use our Keke for the transportation of our members, or real and immediate support for alternative livelihoods through skills training and support for PLWDs to start new businesses,” the group said.

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