By Adewale Sanyaolu Despite being a country with the second largest deposit of bitumen in the world, Nigeria, according to Foraminifera, a marketing and research firm, spends about N2 billion yearly on importation of asphalt, a derivative of bitumen. The occurrence of bitumen deposits in Nigeria is twice the amount of existing reserves of crude…
That was some self-praise by the Nigeria Police but we can cope with such self-indulgence. The agency emerged woefully wrong in its threat of hell and brimstone all along to contain the imagined break-down of law and order.
It was, therefore, an irony that the Presidency and the police indulged in undeserved praise. So sure of the non-violent nature of the protests that the organisers defied the police and forced the agency to allow the protests. If, therefore, any side deserved commendation, it should be the protesters, who, themselves, henceforth, must maintain non-violent conduct. The peaceful nature of the recent protest in various parts of the country can always be cited for such exercises in the future.
For various reasons, the pre-protest tension was unnecessarily simulated, especially by the police still under the illusion of having the power of life or death in all matters of public protests. This is all the more surprising in view of landmark judicial pronouncements on the inalienable rights of Nigerians on peaceful protests. The familiar pattern is predictable and boring. The lie is the claim of every planned protest being aimed at causing violence. At the same time, any pro-government procession is sure to be allowed and, indeed, always unquestioned by the police.
Such a pro-government procession suddenly emerged last time to counter the anti-government rally. The police piped down and allowed the protests only because the pro-government procession could neither be banned nor allowed solely unless the anti-government protest was allowed. Even under colonial rule, we enjoyed freedom to protest. Yes, some fatalities were occasionally recorded in particular cases, but such fatalities were not caused by protesters but the strong-arm tactics of colonial rulers, precursors of our local oppressors, promising utopia at campaign sessions. Whether such promises can or are to be kept is even immaterial. What the oppressors don’t always promise, to be fair to them, is deprivation of our human rights to assemble, move, live in any part of the country, criticise government, etc.
What is more, over the years, government has adjusted its strong-arm tactics to the reality that Nigerians are irrepressible. But our law enforcement agencies take it on themselves to unlawfully outlaw any protest or demonstration. In the latest instance, it was obvious that a decision to ban the protest marches was taken even without knowing government’s thinking. Certainly, the protest might not have impacted so much but for the fact that the police put its nose into the controversy and got badly bloodied by the defiance of the protesters against the ban.
Human nature is such that resists provocation. The police were hell-bent on reducing Nigerians to those Fela Anikulapo-Kuti derided as zombies, with the objective that whatever the situation in the country, Nigerians must not dissent, especially publicly. That is barracks mentality and ordinary citizens can never be so or allow themselves to be so regimented.
Clearly, the Presidency, well aware of its resultant reputation among Nigerians, overruled the police for the protests to go ahead. The result: Peaceful processions in various cities, much to the relief of the government, which pounced on the situation with the public concession that whatever public resentment had been noted. Would the government have been sufficiently acquainted with the frustration of the public if police had been allowed to ban the protests? Of course not. This is not to say that the government is completely responsible for the situation in the country. Unknown to Nigerians, the real culprits are in the private sector, manipulating government policy from one administration to another. Bankers are in a special category.
Only in Nigeria would so-called or self-acclaimed dollar billionaires be irritating the citizenry without any evidence of legitimate investment or payment of commensurate taxes as and when due. Hence, there is general dissatisfaction in the land and this cannot be suppressed with threats of or actual force of arms.
Then, there was the arrogance of the police, especially in Abuja, that the protesters did not obtain approval from the authorities, but a series of court judgements pronounced that nothing of such was necessary for public assemblies, meetings and processions. When did the police ever give approval for any anti-government protest? Instead, the routine sing-song has been that some hoodlums were trying to create anarchy and the police would “deal with them decisively.” That notorious adverb always released like from a robot.
The only obligation of organisers of such meetings or protests is to inform the police of the day, the time and the routes/venue of their event to enable the police force discharge its statutory function of providing security throughout the event, as was done for the recent exercise all along the route. Hence, the protesters were peaceful and police did not have to intervene.
Indeed, there might be attempts by hoodlums to hijack protest marches but, after being informed of planned protests, processions or meetings, it is the statutory duty of the police to pre-empt such criminals from preying on law-abiding protesters. There are also cases of sponsored agents provocateurs hired to break up anti-government protests. Otherwise, the name of the game is professional policing, especially to earn our own peculiar claim that “the police is your friend.”
That is the desire of Nigerians, instead of the intimidating and deplorable spectacle of show of force days leading to protests, with heavily-armed men in police vehicles, driving at break-neck speed blaring deafening sirens to show their presence and determination for blood-letting, as occurred in Onitsha and Zaria-Kaduna Road. This is unacceptable.
Despite the peaceful nature and high success of the protest marches in various parts of the country, all in defiance (rather than the good conduct or grace) of the Nigeria Police, another opportunity was lost, instead of solving the issue. Are Nigerians slaves without rights of dissent or freedom to express critical views? If not, must the Nigeria Police stifle such rights?
There was also notable confusion. While the police in Lagos, on the eve of the protests, clearly allowed the exercise to go on, the police in Abuja was still arrogating to itself the power not to allow the protest unless an approval was obtained and that, in view of the threat to law and order, the protest must be called off. Well, the protests took place in various parts of the country without any ugly incident.
There should be total re-orientation of the police on the needless use of force to prevent or break up protests or demonstrations. Nigeria is too virile to be held down. If protesters do not court police trouble, police must also reciprocate. The protesters must have embarrassed the police by remaining peaceful throughout, as they always do, thereby not giving any excuse to unleash force.
Which way for Ibori?
Ex-Delta State governor, James Ibori, returned to Nigeria after his trial and conviction in London, United Kingdom. Luckily for him, throughout his ordeal, his people supported him. There was, therefore, no surprise that at his Oghara home town, Ibori was gloriously received and cheered by the locals.
Naturally, such must be expected to generate criticism. That is typical Nigerian. At 60-plus, added to the warm welcome accorded him, Ibori may regard himself as inevitable in future Nigerian politics. He may be missing the point. The present political atmosphere compels for him a cooling down by lying low. After all, the next political encounter is about two years ahead, which is not too far, compared to the six years of incarceration abroad.
Past, present and potential hangers-on may prod him to immediately resume ‘duties.’ In that situation, the best judge one way or another remains James Ibori himself and his immediate family. To his credit, Ibori was able to retain substantial political support among his people throughout his prison term. But that would be inadequate justification for large-scale involvement in politics so soon.
Whatever reservations exist, they must, however, not befog the fact that political elements worse that Ibori are freely parading the country. These are former governors, ex-ministers and bank chiefs of Ibori’s generation in politics who, among themselves looted Nigeria of trillions of naira and hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet, these fellows are either not prosecuted or have been facing prosecution for the past 10 years. They are today’s business/financial gnomes.
Also, there have been cases of ex-chiefs of government parastatals like the NNPC, NPA or NLNG charged to court for theft of public funds only for their ethnic groups and supporters to storm the court concerned that the accused “is our son and if he stole our money, we are not complaining.” That is oil and gas money.
Even Ibori would not like such acclamation. Still, the advice for him is that of different strokes for different people.
Indeed, there were many from Ibori’s political generation, who, despite looting their respective states’ treasuries, still found their way to the Senate, in commanding heights of governance in Nigeria. During their tenure, they took World Bank loans purportedly for road construction or water projects but stole everything. Such must not be made the standard.
In most cases, imprisonment of public figures enhances their status. Four top Africans are outstanding even though it must be clarified that their prison experiences were for political activities.
Kwame Nkrumah was jailed by the colonialists but he emerged to win the general election, leading to Ghana’s independence in 1957. Jomo Kenyatta was similarly jailed by British colonialists. He too emerged from prison to win pre-Independence elections in 1963. Obafemi Awolowo also emerged from prison, a more popular politician.
And, of course, Nelson Mandela was in a class of his own, a world leader, even while still serving over 25 years’ jail term for political activities.
It is, therefore, no surprise that Ibori’s supporters stood by him throughout. But on no account must he remotely elevate himself (James Ibori, that is) to the class of these four African leaders.