Yesterday (Saturday, February 4), the media offered the nation a space of relief when it carried the expected news of a mutual accommodation reached by the organisers of the demonstration planned for tomorrow Monday, February 6th. The theme in summary: public discontent with the state of the nation and its governance. From the beginning, the organisers had cited quite an extensive list of such areas of concern and demands for urgent attention.
To my personal consternation, today (Sunday) the same media countered that announcement with a stiff repudiation from the apex of the Police command – the office of the Inspector-General. It is such a huge disappointment, and a disservice to the cause of democracy, tolerance of dissent, and principle of inclusive governance.
An unnecessary but important reminder: the battle for the right of lawful assembly of citizens in any cause, conducted peacefully, has been fought and won several times over. It is time that this contest is gracefully conceded. It must be consolidated by its routineness as a choice of action at the front of any people’s democratic participation. This battle has been won legally, constitutionally, and even morally. It enjoys near global acceptance as one of the means of actualising the protocols of a people’s Fundamental Human Rights.
It comes therefore as a deep embarrassment, and a national shame that this latest attempt at denial of these protocols rears its head at a time when one of the largest gatherings of humanity is taking place in one of the former totalitarian states of Eastern Europe – Romania. Its size has been assessed as the largest in former Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall. It was triggered by the state attempt to water down the criminal code against Corruption, and has brought out hundreds of thousands of people into the streets and stadia, day after day, until the much awaited announcement of the withdrawal of the obnoxious decree. This should resonate within the current Nigerian governance that has made the anti-corruption crusade its mantra.
The Police attempt to reverse the hands of the democratic clock is even more appalling at a time when open demonstrations are taking place all over the world against the policies of a recently elected president of the United States, whose democratic formula this nation allegedly serves as Nigeria’s adopted model. Across numerous states of that federated nation, ongoing at this very moment, is the public expression of rejection of a president’s policy that has also pitted the Executive against the Judiciary. We have heard of no preventive action by the police, nor arrests of demonstrators.
Again and again, efforts, both under military and civilian orders, have been made to stifle the rights to freedom of expression by Nigerian governments – Buhari, Babangida, Obasanjo, Abacha, Jonathan…. and now again, Buhari? These efforts have been, and will always be resisted. It is a moral issue, as old as settled humanity. It has been settled in other parts of the world. Nigeria cannot be an exception, not as long as her citizens refuse to accept the designation of second, even third-rate citizens.
I have sent a message to the Inspector-General of Police, through the Commissioner of Police, Lagos state, urging both to respect and safeguard the constitutional rights of the people. I hope that, even at this eleventh hour, legality and the democratic imperative will prevail. Finally, I shall be less than honest if I do not add the following, mostly directed as warning to the very polity on whose behalf the democratic war is joined, again and again:
Minus a minuscule but highly voluble minority, mostly of pitiably retarded polluters of the common zones of public interventions, I do not know of any citizens of civilised community who do not subscribe to the fundamental Right of the Freedom of Expression in any form, as long as it is peaceful, and non-injurious to humanity. I would hate to conclude that the security agencies, or the government they serve, at this stage of national development and recent history, would choose to align themselves with such an unteachable minority.