Unity Fountain: From ‘Tahir Square’ to Redline Zone
Unity Fountain: From ‘Tahir Square’ to Redline Zone
Like Tahir Square, the Abuja Unity Fountain, an initiative of the Mallam Nasir El-Rufai led administration, was originally meant to symbolize unity in Nigeria’s diversity.
Since its construction, the serene environment has served as meeting point for Nigerians, a place where people of all tribes and religion, gather to air their opinions on salient issues.
With several protests to its credit, the fountain gained global prominence with the activities of the popular Bring Back Our Girls, BBOG. The campaigners hitherto held daily meetings and sit-outs on the field.
The ancient Egyptian Tahir Square was originally called "Ismailia Square." It was named after the 19th century ruler Khedive Ismail, who commissioned the new downtown district's Paris on the Nile design.
After the Egyptian revolution of 1919, the Square became widely known as Tahir (Liberation) Square, but the Square was not officially renamed until the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which changed Egypt from a constitution monarchy into an autocratic republic.
Ever since, the Square has become the location and focus point for political demonstrations in Cairo that saw the resignation of President Mubarak in 2011, and the ousting of the first democratically elected President Morsi in 2013.
In Abuja, the Nigerian capital, the Unity Fountain was conceived in 2005 as a place that showcases the country's unity, with the various states depicted on the fountain in an alphabetical order.
There has been several protests held at the fountain that have made government react positively to the demands of the protesters, including the Not Too Young To Run bill that was recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Protest marches like the campaign for the release of the 109 Dapchi girls and even the clamor for the release of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheik El-Za-Zaky, have all taken place at the Unity Fountain.
Sadly, the Unity Fountain has now become some sort of conquered territory for men of the Nigerian Police, as officers and men of the force have condone off the garden to prevent protesters from gaining access.
The recent occupation of the fountain may not be unrelated to the violence that broke out from some of the Shiite protests.
Only recently the fountain hosted the National Day of Mourning, where stakeholders gathered to call for an end to the killings in the country, particularly in the Middle Belt region, which has sparked chains of protest across the country for government to protect lives and properties.
Speaking at the National Mourning Day, the convener of the BBOG, Obiageli Ezekwesili, “it is important for people to come out, the way we have today, it sends a strong signal to government, that the lives of the Nigerian citizens matter to us. It is very important for societies to have core values. The dignity of human lives brings us together regardless of our religion belief, tribe and language."
Also speaking at the event, Innocent Idibia, AKA, Tuface, said "it saddens me that people can just be killed in my country and the powers that be are not even acting as if this is happening, every day in the news you hear killings in villages. It is abnormal and it has gone beyond making speeches condemning the killings. Our leaders should have human feelings and understanding.”
The fountain has also become a center of political demonstrations, political parties also converge there to have meetings and rallies to promote their activities and candidates.
The presence of a several police officers, is now a common sight at the fountain. According to a police officer who does not want his name in print, the police invasion is to ensure that approved protests are not high jacked by hoodlums to perpetuate violence.
According to an activist, Adika Adika, the police officers are only at the Unity fountain to ensure that there is no anti-government protests. He said “That was what led to the clash by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, because they were protesting against government over the continued detention of their leader, Ibrahim El Zakzaky, after court had granted him bail.”
Ibe Ogechukwu said the Unity Fountain has been very symbolic for several successful protests that have moved government to act right, "if you can recall like the several of the Chibok girls are back home now with their families it was from here that we achieved that by protesting peacefully.”
Representative Smith, who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, told journalists in Abuja during the conference that the abduction of the girls has galvanized all stakeholders against terrorism, even as he reiterated that the American Congress is behind Nigeria in the fight against terrorism.
In 2014, a United States congressman, Mr. Chris Smith benefited from the fountain when he addresses a World Press Conference on the abduction of the Chibok girls and trafficking of humans in Nigeria.
“Last year September, I met with Boko Haram victims in Abuja and Jos and heard heartbreaking account of brutally. This year, some of the girls that escaped also give account of how they are traumatized. This is indeed worrisome," Smith stressed.
The U.S. Congressman also frowned at the high level of human trafficking in Nigeria, noting that his committee is deeply touched at number of vulnerable persons.