Protest is important in defending and protecting democracy. It is a right that is very essential and offers a platform for people to express dissatisfaction with the situations within the system. It also offers the right to assert demands for social, political, and economic change.
Nigerians are tolerant people who are grossly affected by ethno-religious politics where things are done or executed with the consideration of who is affected, from where and what religion. At the same time, they are lulled to complacency given the level of spiritual handicap offered by the religious leaders to sedate the people from making any serious move to protest and to fight to express their dissatisfaction on how they are led.
Criticising the docility of Nigerians, Chibuike Amaechi, the former Minister of Transport said in a public function, “What is new to say, Nigerians don’t react to anything. Has any politician told you he is not a thief? Which politician told you he went to university, which politician told you she served in NYSC, and which politician told you he has his certificate? Nigerians know and still vote for them, so what is your problem? I say why should I speak when already there’s nothing new?”
Nigerians don’t react to anything indeed. A lot of people rue why there was no protest following the sham election and heist conducted by the Mahmood Yakubu led INEC. It was a travesty and usurpation of the rights of Nigerians to choose their leaders but as expected of Nigerians to pour into the streets, Nigerians did not react. Life is hard in Nigeria but they will not react. There are many situations in which if Nigerians reacted in a very serious and demanding manner, they would not be led by the crop of leaders that are managing the affairs of the people.
Kenya has had three sets of protests this year alone. They protested against tax hikes, against the soaring cost of living and against malpractice in last year’s presidential election. What happened in Kenya, also happened in Nigeria. While Kenyans made their voices of dissent heard, Nigerians went to bed in silence.
Nigeria’s democracy is practiced with autocracy. Even when the constitution in section 39 guarantees freedom of expression and association, the government does not wish to allow the people such freedom to a greater extent. That is why they often crack down on protesters.
But I cannot sweepingly say that Nigerians do not protest. They do but to what effect? Oftentimes, protests are seen as the design of the opposition and are treated as such just like in Kenya.
“These demos will not happen. Listen to me carefully. You cannot use extrajudicial, extraconstitutional means to look for power in Kenya. Wait for 2027. I will beat you again,” Kenya’s President Ruto said, referring to opposition leader Raila Odinga.
In 2012 during the subsidy removal, Nigerians, coordinated by the opposition at the time, protested which led to the Goodluck’s administration to walk back on the planned removal of subsidy on fuel and increase in the pump price. In 2023, it was revealed that the protest was purely politics to scuttle the successful removal of the cutthroat fuel subsidy.
The reason for protests, often not organically led, makes the government not to respect the rights of protesters and the essentiality of protest in the growth of democracy and development of the nation. Even the organically #EndSars protest was viewed as the handiwork of the opposition and interpreted as insurrection.
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After the demonstrations rocked the country for two weeks which led to the Buhari-led government agreeing to disband Sars police, judicial panels of inquiry were set up to investigate the widespread allegations of abuse by officers, things have gone back to the same with marginal gains.
The Constitution gave rights to freedom of expression through protests; it also took away such rights giving the government some backing to crack down on protests. The Constitution in section 33 declared that “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life…” It continued in 33 (2), “A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary -(c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.”
It is within this reason that every meaningful protest is infiltrated by hoodlums which presents the protest as a riot or insurrection depending on the degree of harm by the hoodlums. This section often protects the government’s human rights abuses and justifies the use of maximum force to crack down the protest through the use of tear gas and including the shooting of protesters.
When they crack down on the protests, they will renege in the implementation or resolving the reason for the protest.
While protests seem to fail in Nigeria, a number of protests have influenced positive outcomes in a number of ways. It is through protests although virtual that the intended shutting down of social media through the social media bills was abandoned.
A lot of people see Nigeria’s protests as a waste of time and avenue for some unfortunate people to be killed, that was why post-election results travesty and removal of subsidy, including the high cost of living were approached with silence. Even though the PDP organised some protests, it was greeted with scorn. Most protests end at handing over protest letters to the appropriate official.
As street protests are often infiltrated and cover given to the government to crack down on them, social media is a veritable tool to protest and will surely get results in a way if widely sustained.
What keeps Nigerian leaders on their toes is what the international community will think. They care so much about positive images. The social media protests will get the attention of that “international community” and also ensure to some extent, the gains of the protest no matter how little. It saves the lives of people as well. With that, failures will reduce.