Section 33 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives rights to citizens of Nigeria to freely protest against all forms of irregularities or brutality. Protests, in this sense, is an act of expressing displeasure over a particular issue or expressing displeasure against those in power.
For Nigerians, particularly the youths, October was a revolutionary month for the year 2020 as persons not pleased with the activities of a rogue unit of the police force stormed streets across the country for weeks to protest against police brutality.
The angry youths under the banner of #EndSARS called for the disbandment of the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force. SARS operatives were notorious for extortion, abuse of fundamental human rights of suspects and extrajudicial killings.
While physical protests were going on in most states particularly, Lagos – the economic capital of the nation and the Federal Capital Territory – the seat of power, there were other influencers raising funds on social media, most especially, Twitter. What led to the continued protests according to some prominent individuals was the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to quickly address the nation.
Beyond this, protesters were not also pleased that those they were protesting against were even acting in a more brutal manner and no one was calling them to order. For instance, the police during the first week of the rally used teargas and live bullets to disperse the protesters. The incidents led to the death of Jimoh Isiaka, a student of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH).
Angered by the illegal actions of the security operatives, protesters retaliated. Violence erupted in many states. Protesters and police officers were killed. An unforgettable scene was at Lekki toll gate on October 20, where military men shot at protesters. For the state government, only two persons were killed but for eyewitnesses, hundreds of persons died.
Following this, the promoters of the protests took a back seat as hoodlums hijacked the agitation, killing more police officers and unleashing attacks on public and private properties, including police stations and prisons. The protest further degenerated to the looting of warehouses with COVID-19 food items. Many people have since been arrested and some are currently remanded in various correctional centres across the nation.
POLITICS NIGERIA in an earlier analysis, explained the problems that the prosecution of these looters will cause. Shockingly, the Nigerian government has begun a clampdown on major promoters of the protests. The federal government under president Muhammadu Buhari has been likened to 1983/1985. Political pundits said Mr Buhari is fast returning the country to the time of military junta following the response of the government to the protests.
The government appears to be using coercive financial measures to suppress protests through the central bank of Nigeria. Already, the CBN had got an order sent to the head offices of Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, First Bank Nigeria, Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank of Africa, and Zenith Bank to freeze the accounts of some #EndSARS protesters.
Those affected include Bolatito Racheal Oduala, Chima David Ibebunjoh, Mary Doose Kpengwa, Saadat Temitope Bibi, Bassey Victor Israel, Wisdom Busaosowo Obi, Nicholas Ikhalea Osazele, Ebere Idibie, Akintomide Lanre Yusuf, Uhuo Ezenwanyi Promise and Mosopefoluwa Odeseye.
To the surprise of many, the government also continued its attack on the press. Beyond the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission attempt to gag Arise Television and others, the CBN also freezed the account of Gatefield Nigeria Limited, owners of Gatefield – an advocacy group for supporting the media coverage of the protest by providing funds to journalists.
It would be recalled that POLITICS NIGERIA published how the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) seized the international passport of Modupe Odele, for providing legal services to those arrested during the protests. She was prevented from travelling abroad for her birthday celebration.
The return of military junta
For analysts, the latest development is a reminder of what took place under the administration of General Buhari (rtd) in the military days when he served as the head of state between 1983 and 1985. During that Period, his government with the backing of his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, was known for repression. Then, the duo disguised under “war against indiscipline” after they forcefully overthrew a civilian government headed by late Shehu Shagari.
The repression witnessed under General Buhari in the 80s was more prominent in Lagos and that was the fear of many people when he became a civilian president of Nigeria in 2015. Many argued that the “General” who turned “Mr” would remain authoritarian at heart, and that has been the case since then.
He has breached the concession reached earlier that no protesters would be victimised. The happenings in Nigeria currently is, unarguably not the first. As of the time of this piece, nobody knows the whereabouts of Dadiyatta and for several months in 2019, Omoyele Sowore was kept illegally in detention.
Even after he was freed, the notorious State Security Service (SSS) invaded an Abuja courtroom to abuse the activist’s fundamental human rights. This same administration is keeping the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, and his wife. For months, former National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki, among others were kept in detention, all in violation of various court orders.
Nigerians must remain undaunted
Speaking on the current happenings in relations to what was obtained in the 80s, a public affairs analyst, Kingsley Ndimele in an interview with POLITICS NIGERIA said the citizens of the country must never relent in their demands for a better nation.
“With or without Buhari, Nigerians must continue to demand a better nation. It is understood that the nation has a leader who derives pleasure in gagging all his constituents including the press.”
“The best solution out of the mess is however, continuous physical action. The masses elected the occupiers of the seats in Aso Rock and those in power at all levels must respect the electorates”
“In addition, the current incident in Nigeria would send great information to the people that 2023 must be a year of radical change of power to people with mission and vision for our nation”.