As I write this piece, there is outrage all across Nigeria over the withdrawal of subsidies on petrol, which has translated into higher fuel prices, which in turn has caused the cost of transportation, to in many places, double. It is just a matter of time before other necessities of life such as food items and housing shall experience price inflations, which in the end, will be passed unto the final consumer, who is expected to pay for all this without an increase in how much he earns.
I have previously written two articles on this blog about how I am opposed as to the manner and timing of the withdrawal of fuel subsidies, and frankly, that viewpoint has not changed. But it also seems that government has also made up their mind that no matter what, there is going to be no reversal in that policy. Obviously, Nigerians are not taking this lying down as youth groups and labour are already strategizing on how to let their displeasure be known.
But even more infuriating with how government has gone head-on despite all the opposition to do something widely perceived as anti-people is the attempt by this same government to clamp down on protests. A small protest in Abuja yesterday, which attracted about 200 people, had anti-riot policemen who not only tear-gassed them but also manhandled some of them. It was even said that there were soldiers there were from the Brigade of Guards, the elite military force with the duty of protecting the President, now reduced to preventing the freedom of speech and Nigerians from exercising their right to peaceful assembly. As though that was not enough, some of the protest leaders, Dino Melaye, Martin Obono and Eze Nwagu were arrested.
Also, the Federal Government, through the telecoms regulator, the National Communications Commission (NCC) was planning to compel telecoms networks shut down Blackberry Services, which most young people use to access the internet, and also use social media to organise their protests. Had it not been that the citizen journalism site, Sahara Reporters’, got wind of it and reported it, they wouldn’t have pulled back from making such a move. All these events make you begin to wonder whether our democracy was moving forward or sliding backward into total anarchy.
As long as this country upholds the constitution as the supreme document in the land and that constitution has stated explicitly that Nigerians have the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of movement and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, no government or its agents has any right or authority to prevent such from happening. It is illegal and unconstitutional. As far as I know, no law of this land has been broken by these protests, nor is there any law that we intend to break. It will be pushing us too far to not allow us to be able to express ourselves. As a matter of fact, we expect that the security agencies should be responsible enough to allow us to hold protests and even guard us, and in so doing, also make sure that no one goes out of line to take advantage of the situation in order to disrupt law and order.
This government should keep in mind that young Nigerians are angry. They have seen what their peers have been able to achieve in Tunisia and Egypt, and they are gearing to inspire such a change. Any clampdown would only make it worse. Also, no matter what they do to shut down the internet, we will find a way around it. Not only are we younger and more daring, we are also more technologically aware and we will definitely find our way around these barriers, with more negative publicity for the government.
If these protests are not allowed to take place, it will be setting a bad precedent and taking us back to the darker days of military rule. This government might think they have scored a victory, but it will be only pyrrhic. A government that views every opposition as something to be crushed is not only unpatriotic, but also grossly undemocratic. We are all Nigerians and we do what we do because we love Nigeria, maybe even more than those in government do.
Even if this government has made up its mind and carved its heart out of granite and has no intention to reverse its policy, the least it can do is to allow Nigerians to protest peacefully, either physically or verbally and let us exercise these freedoms which the constitution, the document which public office holders swear to uphold, allows us.
A Word is Enough for the Wise!!