Protests play an important role in the sociopolitical and socio-cultural life of a society.
Historically, protests have brought about positive changes at various times. Citizens through protests express themselves as a way to participate in public affairs. They express their views of disagreement and complaints, to expose defects in governance and policies and also to demand that the authorities are answerable and accountable to the citizens. It is through protests that interests that are poorly represented or marginalized are heard.
However, autocratic governments often regard protests as a threat to their authority or government, so they try so hard to stop or discourage that through high handedness and brutality.
In 1929, Aba women protested against the oppressive over-taxation of their husbands and sons and feared that head count carried out at the time by the colonial British government would mean more taxation which could make them poor. Their protest brought about the end of the warrant chief system. It was through protests and demonstrations by the Women’s suffrage that got women the rights to vote, and it was through protests and demonstrations that transatlantic slave trade was abolished.
Protesters are often regarded as provocateurs, rebels, disruptors, sometimes as terrorists and other times as threat, yet protests and demonstrations are a vital part of political engagement. These forms of engagement must be expected as part of democracy and should not be considered a threat to any democratic government. After all democracy is about the people as well as the government of the people.
In many democratic countries, people freely express themselves in response to the policies of the government to either applaud or protest them. They protest by embarking on strike action, sit-at-home, march on the streets or protest with placards or any other way they deem good.
It is freedom of expression and freedom of association which is a human right as well as constitutional right. Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
Since the coming of the Buhari Administration, there have been crackdowns on protesters even when he was also a protester prior to his becoming the president. A good number of people are either killed or injured in the cause of expressing their grievance to the government. When protesters are faced with such brutality, it only means that the government wants the people to shut up and not protest for their interests, it results in having the citizens subdued.
The Buhari Administration has used the security operatives to suppress and crackdown protesters who organise themselves in several peaceful protests but are brutally treated. Live bullets are used to disperse protesters.
October 20, 2020, is a remarkable day when protesters who protested to #EndSars were singing the national anthem, waving the Nigerian flag but were mowed down in horror. The authorities have since denied and shifted blame for their culpability.
In other lands, protesters are dispersed from the streets by the use of water cannons, rubber bullets and pepper spray. In Nigeria, live bullets are often used. Soldiers are drafted in a show of force to disperse protesters which often resulted in many casualties and deaths. People are killed for expressing themselves within their constitutional rights in a democracy. The intent is to shut the people up!
Leonardo da Vinci said, “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”
Buhari’s administration wants absolute authority on the people. Why will he want to suppress the expression of views by the people?
Elie Wiesel, a Romanian-born American Nobel Laureate and political activist said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Brutalising protesters as a way to shut them up, tramples on their constitutional and human rights.
The life of a Nigerian protester is so undermined that he is seriously injured or loses his life protesting the wrongs he or she feels about the government.
He has become a double loser, fighting injustice by protesting and losing his life in the process.
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