Arrest of protesters and journalists over fuel hike is one other reason to discuss Nigeria’s democracy

The government needs to be reminded that peaceful assembly and freedom of the press are constitutional rights of the citizens. In a democratic society, certain rights belong to the citizens irrespective of sex, ethnicity, profession, religion, political affiliation or status. These rights are protected in a functional democratic society anchored on the rule of law.

The rule of law protects the rights of the citizens, preserves order in the society, and keeps a check on the government. However, with daily incidents of human rights violation including unlawful detentions, extra-judicial killing, press censorship, the violation of the right to peaceful assembly and free speech, you will have to question Nigeria’s democratic system. 

The recent arrest of journalists on assignment and citizens carrying out a peaceful protest is a case in point. It was reported that operatives of the Nigeria Police Force Thursday, arrested protesters expressing their displeasure over the recent increase in petroleum price and electricity tariff. According to reports, 18 persons were arrested around the Ojuelegba area of Lagos and the gadgets of four journalists were seized.

One of the leaders of the protest, Hassan Soweto, the National Youth Leader of SPN, said, “we have just been arrested alongside several members of the Socialist Party of Nigeria and journalists for protesting this morning against fuel price hike, electricity tariff, and deregistration of SPN. I am typing this message at the back of a police van taking us to Area C, Police Command, Lagos.”

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On the other hand, some others are of the opinion that a mass protest may be the solution that will yield the desired result.

It can be recalled how in 2012, during Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, there was a similar protest tagged “Occupy Nigeria”, over the removal of fuel subsidy that led to a hike in the price of fuel. The protest also led to the arrest of 19 people, leaving about 300 people injured.

The increasing cases of the violation of the fundamental rights of citizens is worrisome. Perhaps, the government needs to be reminded that peaceful assembly and freedom of the press are constitutional rights of Nigerians as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution.

Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says that: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”

On the issue of press freedom, Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution, clearly states that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information without interference.”

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