We must defend our rights to peacefully protest

Nigerian protests

By Joanne Ike

 

 

On January 1, 2012, the federal government announced the removal of the fuel subsidy, sending the whole of Nigeria into a panic. Following this, the Nigerians suffered the domino effect of the spike in fuel prices. Transportation prices doubled. The cost of food, rent, electricity all increased. For a country where nearly all of its citizens live on less than $2 a day, life became unbearable.

And then something happened.

From this desperation and frustration rose the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ movement and with it, a new era of holding government accountable.

The protests held all over the country with protesters shutting down fuel stations and forming human barricades on roads. The movement also showed up significantly on social media with online blogs, Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger playing a significant role in the organization and increased awareness of the movement.

It was beyond fuel subsidy. It was the awakening of long-oppressed Nigerians. An outrage against corruption. A cry for better governance. A call for accountability.

Perhaps, this public call for change did not start with the Occupy Nigeria movement. Perhaps we were always on a path leading to this point. But we cannot deny the fact that the movement was a huge turning point for Nigerians. The conversations on issues of corruption and governance that the movement sparked just could not be silenced.

Since then, there have been numerous occasions of Nigerians standing together against poor governance. We cannot forget the 2014 protest over the government’s failure to rescue the school girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram in the town of Chibok or the 2017 anti-government protest in Abuja or the 2018 protest by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) for the release of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzazy. There are also the more recent protests such as those by the ‘Revolution Now’ group led by Omoyele Sowore.

Through all of these, the reaction of the government has been the same – criminalization of the protests often culminating in unlawful arrests and/or violence and even killings of protesters.

This goes against our rights as Nigerians. According to our laws, each person is entitled to their opinions and has a right to assemble freely to protect their interests. In other words, peaceful protest is legal. In fact, according to Muhammad JCA in a 2007 case, the conduction of peaceful processions, rallies or demonstrations is a right guaranteed by the 1999 constitution.

However, these rights are constantly disregarded by the government.

In 2012, soldiers were deployed to stop the protests against subsidy removal and in the process, over 15 people were killed and many more injured. In 2014, the same government dispatched armed officers to disperse the protesters who had dared to urge the government to do more to rescue the Chibok girls.

In 2015, the police fired tear gas at members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) who were peacefully calling for the release of their detained leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky. In 2016, the Nigerian security forces was reported to have fired live ammunition with little warning in order to disperse pro-Biafra protesters who were peacefully advocating the restoration of the Republic of Biafra.

In 2019, aside from firing tear gas at the ‘Revolution Now’ protesters, the protest leader, Owoyele Sowore was detained. Again, on August 5th 2020, over 40 people partaking in the ‘Revolution Now’ movement were arrested. And just days ago, on Saturday, after youths in Kaduna took to the streets to protest the killings in Southern Kaduna and the failure of the governments to curtail it, heavily armed men stormed the area and dispersed them.

Why? Why the arrests, why the violence, why the killings? Why must the government continue to disregard the rights of its citizens?

To defend their actions, they claim that the protests are acts of insurgency or attempts to overthrow the government. But despite their attempts, the people of Nigeria have refused to be silenced.

Again, today, #EnoughIsEnough is trending on twitter. Because we are tired, because we want change, because we want a better, safer, more inclusive Nigeria, we must continue to speak up.

Therefore, we stand against such hostile attempts to intimidate and stifle our voices. We continue to call out the government on these actions and defend our rights to peacefully protest.

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