zombies. Protest, just like opposition, is a given under a democracy.
Every step taken by government or its agencies to curtail such a fundamental right has often been shot down by the courts. It is for this reason that the courts in Nigeria have long held that the provisions of the anachronistic Public Order Act which purports that citizens should apply for police permit to organise public protest is unconstitutional and therefore a nullity.
FCT. He claimed to have banned the protest because it was becoming a source of “security risk”.
Thankfully, Mbu was immediately overruled by the office of the Inspector-General of Police who in a statement said the police were bound to a responsibility to apply “democratic policing” and as such the members of the group were within their rights to continue with their protest. At some point in their protests, the BBOG even faced threats of molestation from a counter group but all that waned off, more so when their regular protest location eventually had visible police presence to ensure order and ward off miscreants.
It seems however that our security agencies are back to their beat of trying to curtail our rights while hiding under the term “security reasons”. They have since upgraded the expression though to what is now called “credible intelligence report”. Last Friday, the police threw up that and said they had uncovered a likely unsavoury outcome including breakdown of law and order if the protest planned for today by some citizens and groups and spearheaded by musician Innocent Idibia, popularly called 2Face or 2Baba, was allowed to go on. They therefore advised the organisers to shelve the protest.
In their statement late on Friday, the police said they were fully aware and recognised the constitutional rights of every citizen to assemble and move freely in any part of the country. Yet, in another breath, they claimed awareness of “credible intelligence report” of moves by a parallel group to organise a counter protest on the same day and places/cities as the 2Face group. The police believed that if these various planned protests/ demonstrations were held as scheduled, there might be a breakdown of law and order, with attendant loss of life and property.
On the face of it, it makes sense. But a deeper analysis of the situation will lead to serious concern about the apparent use of state might to crush the citizens and deny them their fundamental rights which the police already acknowledged. If, as the police claim, they have credible intelligence report of a parallel plan that could lead to a disruption of the protest or a clash/confrontation between counter groups, it would seem plausible to expect the police to move to either stop the parallel group or direct them to use alternative dates or venues for their rally. The police can also choose to be effectively on the ground to prevent such a clash by both groups. And we have had experiences of this in the past.
In 2010, I was part of the organisers and participants in the Save Nigeria Group demonstrations which demanded the transfer of executive power of the president to then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as acting president following the ill-health of President Umaru Yar’Adua who was abroad for treatment. Our rally in Abuja was largely successful. We had adequate security cover, all through the route. In fact, somewhere near the Eagle Square, we met what seemed like a counter protest; a ragtag group of persons with banners and placards carrying counter messages to ours. They were obviously rent-a-crowd kind of “demonstrators”. With the security operatives on the ground, there was absolutely no untoward incident. This is what the police should have explored in the present case, rather than force 2face to abandon his plans, as he has now, even though the other groups involved say they will go ahead with the protest.
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I am deeply concerned that the Nigerian security operatives are increasingly breaching the rights of the citizens, even when the government of the day whose interest they think they represent, is a beneficiary of citizens’ power over time. It was the same point I made about Mbu’s misinformed order in 2014 as he apparently did not know of the power of citizens’ action in 2010 that made the push for Jonathan. Here we are again with another government that rode to power on the back of citizens’ dissatisfaction with the previous (Jonathan) administration, part of which dissatisfaction was expressed as far back as 2012 during the famed January Uprising.
Very recently, I wrote about what I saw as a continued attempt by the security agencies to trample on civil rights. That was in relation to their attempt to hijack the authority to determine election dates by hoodwinking us with the now over-flogged “credible intelligence report”. Since the security agencies are managed and controlled by the Federal Government and given our country’s experience, it is so easy to believe that whoever controls the agencies is the one using them to suit their political interests.
It is clear that the police would not have given this advisory if this planned demonstration was pro-government? So, what really is anyone afraid of, if Nigerians protest today and in the days ahead? Wouldn’t the country be better off by allowing citizens to express themselves, openly and exhaustively, rather than allow bottled-up anger to well up more to a boiling point, which outcome we may not be able to contain?
The truth remains that across the country, there is discontent over the terrible state of the economy with the country not only in recession but without clear direction of a pathway out of the quagmire. There is also the problem of many failed if not impossible promises of the government. The difficulty of the government to communicate to the citizens the clear steps it is taking to bring a turnaround to the recession is not helping matters either. There is lull in the land and the government is too slow to react to many emergencies and urgency, thus risking even more complicated problems and consequences.
One good example of the above is the nagging question of the failure, refusal or neglect of the President to forward any name to the Senate to confirm as the Chief Justice of Nigeria after the expiration of the tenure of the last CJN. Even though Justice Walter Onnoghen’s name, as the highest ranking justice of the Supreme Court, has been proposed to the President for nomination, he has failed to forward the name; instead he appointed Onnoghen as ‘acting’ CJN. Unfortunately, that acting capacity would lapse on this Friday (February 10) thus risking an unnecessary constitutional impasse.
Perhaps, we all have been too pliant, too quiet and too relaxed to act in whipping a seemingly tired and bedraggled government into action. Whether or not today’s protest is pulled up is beyond the point. The greater lesson this must bring to us all is that as citizens, we occupy the most important office and we must assert that power in our relationship with government, lest we lose our grip of our country to a small group of power mongers whose main weapon of hijacking our space is mere reference to “credible intelligence report”. A government voted in through popular and massive loss of faith in a prior incumbent government should know better than try to suppress the views of the masses.
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