The recent #ENDSARS peaceful protests that swept across the length and breadth of the country however revealed how not to protect peaceful protests by the government of the day in democratic country like Nigeria. Barely two months after the #ENDSARS protests ended, both government and individuals are still counting their losses occasioned by the infiltration of hoodlums who hijacked the peaceful protests due to the absence of the law enforcement agents, who retreated when they were needed most from protecting young Nigeria youths, who came out in their numbers across all divides and demanded cessation of SARS brutality in the society.
The impact of that protests and the message it carried would remain in the annals of Nigerian political history, having been adjudged “mother of all protests”, despite the serial denial of government on who did what to undermine and delegitimize the peaceful protests. That the international organizations, governments of other countries, including reputable media across the globe took interest on #ENDSARS protests, indeed demonstrated the fact that the organizers captured the minds of the people and may have woken the Nigerian government from its slumber. Again, that the federal government agreed totally on the initial five points demand of the protesters also legitimized the protests but unfortunately lacked the political will to act when there was still time to salvage the situation and saved the country from the embarrassment it is facing today locally and internationally due to the destruction of human and material resources, perpetrated by those that hijacked the process.
Peaceful protests is one of the characteristics of democratic government. It is also guaranteed in the 1999 federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution, as amended. Whereas protests is allowed, government is in turn expected to provide security whenever people protest to ensure that those who are out to foment troubles and ready to destroy properties are checkmated. But in the case of #ENDSARS, the Law Enforcement Agents completely withdrew and the peaceful protesters were exposed and left at the mercy of the criminals, either hired or sponsored who had a field day and went on looting spree as properties of both government and private owned that worth several billions of naira were completely destroyed, including human lives. Therefore, if security were provided by the government for the protesters, the panel of inquiry now sitting in almost all the state capitals across the country to investigate police brutality across board would have been prevented and precious time resources saved. Commentaries from the government quarters since the end of #ENDSARS protests have remained scary.
In one of the occasions, the Inspector General of police, Mohammed Adamu, declared that the police would not allow another protest and even urged police officers to defend themselves. In another breath, President Muhammadu Buhari also pointed that no responsible government would allow a repeat of #ENDSARS protests. These words have been viewed expressly and described as anti democratic by many Civil Society groups given that peaceful protests anywhere in a democratic setting is allowed and also puts government of the day on its toes to do the right thing. We think what the organizers of #ENDSARS set out to achieve was for us all to have a just society, where government and its agencies would be held accountable for their actions since Nigeria is a democratic country and not an authoritarian regime that is opposed to freedom of expression of any kind.
While we condemn violent protests of under whatever guise, foreclosing peaceful protests in a democratic society like Nigeria maybe a tall order, and if that happens, democracy in Nigeria may have been reduced to mere lip service which negates the principle of democratic government. We urge the government to imbibe the spirit of true democrat and stop forthwith, threatening the people, who ultimately power belongs to. Democracy they say is government of the people, by the people and for the people. Anything other than this would present Nigeria as a laughing