While Nigerian youths are in a state of chokehold under ruthless commercial politicians and deadly police force, we are witnessing something new in other states down the liberal south where governors have become emperors in burning empires. From the arrest and incarceration of journalist Agba Jalingo for doing his job in Cross River and the intimidation of journalists in Akwa Ibom, an ugly trend is growing in Rivers where the governor, Nyesom Wike, a lawyer and the husband of a high court judge has become notorious for banning protests. This is despite the fact that his party was on the streets in so many cities including the nation’s capital protesting the nullification of the election of Emeka Ihedioha by the Supreme Court a few months ago.
Wike’s two-faced approach is well noted. He does not care for the youths that watched day and night, were maimed, killed, and imprisoned to get him elected and re-elected, the reason he does create jobs for them. Now, he does not want them to protest being killed by the same Special Anti-Robbery Squad that gave him sleepless nights. To Wike, everything is politics, and then tyranny. He likes to be noticed, to always be in the news, and to trend. The protests that are about President Buhari and the police that Wike always complains do not do their jobs have all of sudden become Wike’s headache. He will find a way to sandwich himself in-between every issue and make it about himself.
These dictatorial tendencies have to stop. The right to protest is enshrined in the constitution even though we are witnessing sustained attempts to trample on the same constitution by the same persons elected to protect it. But this is not new as the leaders have believed the led are capable of taking anything they dish out. If the governor is not proscribing youth groups which is against Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), and Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights Act, Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”, he is banning protests, something he has no constitutional right to do.
It is every Nigerian’s fundamental and constitutional right to protest and organize rallies. This right is guaranteed specifically in Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provided for and guaranteed this right when it stated that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely, and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union, or any other association for the protection of his interests”.
It is an inalienable right that cannot be lightly taken away by anyone. When such rights are infringed on, every citizen of Nigeria has the right to head to the courts to ensure the enforcement of such rights.
Wike, who has been urging the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to fight corruption under the ambit of the law due to the perpetual injunction obtained by a former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, which barred the EFFC from investigating the state is subverting the same law by asking people not to protest.
The security implication of such is noted but it is the responsibility of the police to ensure that such protests remain peaceful even if the protests are against them.
The Public Order Act provides that the convener of a protest should obtain a license from the police 48 hours before the actual date of the protest. The license would only be granted if the protest is not likely to cause a breach of peace.
This position was challenged in the Court of Appeal in the case of ALL NIGERIA PEOPLES PARTY V. INSPECTOR-GENERAL OF POLICE (2008) 12 WRN 6, where the court ruled that the right to stage rallies and protests is a fundamental right and can be carried out without obtaining a police permit/license.
The killing by SARS officers of which Wike used to complain of because he was begging for re-election and his sudden volte face is nothing but hypocritical. When the governor spoke again, it is to threaten the citizens who are at the receiving end of this cruelty and calculated brutality of the police not to exercise their franchise in a participatory democracy.
Such public protests are the hallmark of a free, democratic society, whose logic demands that the voice of the people be heard by those in power and decisions be reached after proper discussion and consultation. For this, the right to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly are necessary. Any arbitrary restraint on the exercise of such rights shows the inability of the government to tolerate dissent. It shows not the propensity of people to riot but rather the incapacity of the government to discuss, deliberate, or listen. An unreasonable limitation on protest is an affront to the very people in whose name a government is allowed to temporarily govern.
One must be grateful to the courts for having reiterated that the right to protest is a fundamental right. Democracies everywhere are founded on two core political rights. The first, the right of every citizen to freely elect their government and when dissatisfied with its performance, to vote it out of power in a legitimately held election. This remains the only proper constitutional procedure to get rid of a government and rightly so. Indeed, the peaceful transfer of power is one of the great strengths of democracies. But short of displacing it, and as long as it is done peacefully, any form of public action to challenge the government’s proposals or decisions is also constitutionally legitimate, forming the second core political right: to politically participate not only during but between elections.
The right to protest, to publicly question and force the government to answer, is a fundamental political right of the people. If so, one is left speechless at the way in which the Wike’s government sidesteps issues, blocks reasonable questions, and wilfully obstructs any attempt to discuss.
The Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mukan must ensure that every protester is protected and goes back home alive and safe.
The habit of taking decisions secretively, foisting them on an unprepared people and then, when challenged, to campaign in order to retrospectively justify its opaque, midnight decisions must stop.