Special Editorial: The government cannot wave away protesters as opposition party members

Despite the withdrawal of music star Tuface Idibia from the nationwide protests he had been calling for against the Federal Government to voice the frustrations of Nigerians on the state of the nation, hundreds of protesters in Lagos, Ibadan and Abuja still came out to protest.

Admittedly, the crowds would have been much larger if Tuface had not announced that the protests were postponed but his decision not to hold the protests did not dissuade many others from doing their own protests.

The government might think it has gotten away with avoiding a potential large-scale protest against it with all the attendant negative international publicity, but it cannot claim that it does not now know how Nigerians feel about the current administration.

It cannot continue to wave away those protesters as opposition party members (as though that makes them unqualified to also protest as Nigerians), hire hordes of people to protest in support of the government or to intimidate people who are in the forefront of these organizing as they seem to have done with Tuface.

The government must listen to and take the grievances of Nigerians seriously and do everything they can to change the situation. They should also acknowledge the frustrations of Nigerians not by trying to spin the narrative of our reality, but to admit its existence and outline clear steps they are taking to make the change.

One thing these protests have shown is that Nigerians are willing to be more than just passive participants in this democracy only to be needed during elections and discarded after until the next one. They are also willing to demand good governance and to express themselves even in protests.

This is despite the fact that there was palpable fear that the protests might turn out to be violent, considering the utterances of security agencies like the Lagos State Police Commissioner, and also that protesters like members of the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and the Shiite group, Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) have been met with deadly force from the police and military while on peaceful protests.

However, these protests also show how shifty the opinions of many Nigerians and politicians are depending on their political allegiances. It is absurd to see many people who supported and participated in the Occupy protests against fuel subsidy removal in 2012 be quick to label these ones as the work of political opposition.

While everyone is free to hold an opinion as he or she deems fit, it is wrong to try to silence opinions we do not agree with. Whether opposition party members or not, every Nigerian has a right to express himself on how he sees things in the country.

We hope that moving forward, we shall learn to see protest marches as a legitimate form of expression in our democracy and that our government and security agencies will not try to clamp down on these, even if the protests are against them.

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