By - Tobi Idowu
There is this saying attributed to the former fearsome president of Uganda, Idi Amin, about the possibility of citizens not having freedom after exercising a right to freedom. “There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech,” he was said to have warned. And from all accounts, Idi Amin meant exactly every bit of his words. History is replete with the gruesomeness of his regime as he ranks so high in the annals of African despots who were first thought as revolutionaries by their people whom unfortunately became dupes of their treacherous cunning. Scarily, Nigerians are finding out the truism in the repetitive nature of history. Idi Amin’s ominous warning foretold four decades ago in a totalitarian regime is coming to past in a democratic Nigeria; in a democratic regime led by ‘a converted democrat,’ who had been a former dictator who toppled a democratically elected government.
In the early hours of Saturday, August 3, 2019, the men of the Department of State Services, DSS barged into the residence of Mr Omoyele Sowere, human rights activist and publisher of online newspaper, Sahara Reporters, and took him away. More than 24 hours later, DSS spokesman would say Sowere had been arrested over a statement he made which the security outfits argued amounted to treason. The Inspector General of Police too had laboured to explain what constitutes treason in Sowere’s speech; ditto the government squealers via the presidency.
Apparently, Nigerian government would not stand a citizen enjoying and exercising his constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms once it interprets the use of those freedoms and rights as irritating distractions it cannot put up with. As well as being irritated by Nnamdi Kanu, government got irritated by El-Zakzaky. Now it has got irritated by Sowere, and it may soon be irritated by more Nigerians. The pattern is now clear what usually follows such daring irritation. For the present government, protests and all forms of dissent, legitimate dissent, amount to a gruesome irritation, a subversion of government; the courts needn’t bother examining why they’re subversive, for it appears there is a coalescence of the three arms of government already, even if the oddities of executive are more pronounced.
So, according to the Nigerian government, its official spokespersons and social media unabashedly uncouth hirelings, by christening the protest he would be leading, ‘#RevolutionNow,’ Sowere is subverting the sitting government. What an irony. It is arguable that what made the presidency of General Mohammed Buhari possible in the first place, after three previous failed attempts, were protests, which began with the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protest of 2012. Does the phrase, Occupy Nigeria, not conjure up a revolution? That was a definitive trigger that former president Goodluck Jonathan government could have prevented and killed from conception. Jonathan government never recovered from the implications of that protest. But since Nigerian constitution grants citizens the right to a peaceful protest, so that protest happened, so did would-be candidate Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress’ ‘Salvation Rally’ in 2014.
2015 was thus a revolutionary year in Nigerian political history. If a defeat of a sitting government and the subsequent seamless change of administration that occurred that year were not revolutionary in the Nigerian context, what is? Of course we have since known that the hope we hinged on that change was a mirage. Worse still, some of the freely employed triggers, which made the revolution of 2015 possible, and used by the harbingers of that false change, are being denied to Nigerians in the ‘change’ regime. In fact the mere saying of the intention to employ those triggers is being criminalized.
Is the government now telling Nigerians that they cannot air their legitimate grievances over the parlous state of the country? Because that is exactly what it has come to since this administration was inaugurated in 2015. Like in a police state, this administration seems bent on hammering citizens into its desired conformity, and it seems woe betides any obstinate citizen who struggles to raise their voice after government has put a gag in their mouth.
But what negative indices has Nigeria not ranked highest in the last four years? Poverty capital of the world. Insecurity and insurgency. Out of school children. Downhill economy. Preventable deaths. Yet, Nigerians’ sensibilities are being insulted daily by a government whose best solution to the problems confronting the nation has not changed from blaming the previous government.
If Nigerians should complain about bad roads, It’s the previous government that should bear the brunt; wobbling health care system, it’s the previous government; continued oil subsidy scheme President Buhari once tagged scam, it’s the previous government; undefeated Boko Haram terrorist scourge, it’s the previous government; spiraling cost of living without commensurate improved standard of living, It’s the previous government, too! Never has this government accepted to shoulder responsibility and it is in its second term. But it does not want citizens to gather en masse in protest.
Moreover, it is becoming trite to accuse the present government of bias to a particular group who could threaten anybody or any group or even the nation if it senses its predilections are not being indulged. How many times have Nigerians woken up to a new set of boastful demands and threats by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, made on the Nigerian people and the government? The group always gets away with its explosive statements and even sometimes get them explained away by the government, which has even gone on to place its favourite group on the same pedestal with socio-political cum nationalist groups such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze, but not Arewa! That is how far down the slope Nigeria has tumbled, yet the men at the helm of affairs want Nigerians to look away.
It is worth restating that a nation of almost 200 million people, with multiple belief systems and cultural differences, could not have nor is it desirable to have a uniform view on governance. It is thus expedient that the Buhari-led administration accepts the fact that it cannot do without critics and detractors for such are allowed in a democracy. A country that purports to practice democracy does not take away the right to legitimate protest from its citizens. One could just imagine what the fatal lot of those protesters, that blocked new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s motorcade as he visited Queen Elizabeth, would have been had he been a Nigerian leader and the protesters, Nigerians. A case as an example? The Shiite protesters.
Furthermore, those in power should understand that mischievously misconstruing citizens’ statements in order to muzzle them and prevent supposed embarrassment of the government is at best a perversion of leadership. Nigerians must resist this government attempt to beat them into prostate subservience. We all cannot be Buharists and Nigerian constitution guarantees that!
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