Since the #EndSARS protests were quelled by armed soldiers in Lagos on the night of Tuesday, October 20, 2020, the federal and state governments have been doing everything to intimidate, gaslight, demonise and gag frontline members of the #EndSARS movement.
27-year-old Eromosele Adene was forcefully ejected from his Ikeja, Lagos home by over a dozen police officers on Saturday, November 7, 2020, for partaking in the protests. Adene is still in police custody.
Citizen journalist, Oluwatosin Adeniji, was arrested and detained at the Suleja correctional center for daring to cover the protests in Abuja. She was granted bail five days later.
The bank accounts of some #EndSARS campaigners have been frozen, with the authorities accusing them of terrorism financing. How anyone could paint a clarion call for widespread police reforms with the evil brush of terrorism is beyond us.
Some protesters have also had their international passports seized at airports.
The police command in Lagos and across the federation have also warned against future protests. “The command wishes to warn any individuals, group of students or any groups who might want to stage any form of protest, either peaceful or violent, or gathering whatsoever, to desist as the police and other security agencies will collectively and tactically resist any security threats or threats to public peace which might be triggered by protest or protesters in Lagos State,” blared Lagos police spokesperson, Olumuyiwa Adejobi.
There has been a sinister campaign by government talking heads and by the federal and state governments to discourage people from future protests by threatening them with arrests should they hit the streets to protest.
#EndSARS campaigners who took to the streets after soldiers shot into a crowd of peaceful protesters in the Lekki area of Lagos on October 20, have been arrested and hit with trumped-up charges.
Yet, the rights of citizens to stage protests is guaranteed by the constitution. Section 4 of the 1999 constitution as amended, provides for the freedom of assembly and association for all citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
By clamping down on protesters in a democracy, the Nigerian state violates their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. Quelling protests by deploying strong arm tactics also contravenes the letters of international charters to which Nigeria subscribes.
Protests are a fundamental part and parcel of democracy and of nationhood. Nigeria is neither a dictatorship nor a police state and the government should stop behaving like we are being ruled by autocrats in civilian garbs. The last we checked, Nigeria operates by the rule of law.
We understand that the #EndSARS protests were hijacked by hoodlums who went on to wreak havoc on the land by burning property and looting everything in sight. Those who have been apprehended for arson and for theft should be prosecuted in accordance with the laws of the land.
However, to pin the looting and destruction that engulfed the land on peaceful protesters is unjust and diversionary.
In any case, securing the land is among the primary responsibilities of government. It was the government's job to secure the country and prevent thugs from unleashing anarchy on the land, after curfews were imposed across the states and peaceful protesters were chased off the streets.
It is also the job of law enforcement to secure protesters and prevent rallies or demonstrations from escalating. We do not subscribe to a dereliction of duty.
We submit that going forward, the government should allow citizens carry out peaceful protests in any locations of their choosing, the police should stop threatening citizens who want to protest with sabre-rattling, the arrests of peaceful protesters should be discontinued immediately and attempts to change the narrative by tagging protesters as terrorists should be yanked off the playbook if only for how ridiculous and illogical it sounds.
In the broader scheme of things, intelligence agencies should be sufficiently empowered to do their jobs and prevent protests from being hijacked by fifth columnists and thugs who continue to do our nation a lot of harm.
*Pulse Editorial is the viewpoint of the editorial desk of Pulse. It does not represent the views of the Organisation Pulse.