Before last week’s anti-government protests, inspired by popular artiste, Innocent Idibia [aka Tuface], were held, several ploys were used by the All Progressives Congress-led government to stop the rallies. This week, pro-Buhari rallies held across the country without any hindrance, writes JESUSEGUN ALAGBE
Just a week after some anti-government protests held in some cities across the country, a coalition of pro-government organisations, under the umbrella of Citizens Support for Good Governance in Nigeria, held its own series of rally in support of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The anti-government rallies had been held on February 6 and 7 to protest against the President Buhari-led administration’s “poor governance and general non-performance.”
Backed by Innocent Idibia, a popular artiste also known as Tuface – in conjunction with a civil rights and democracy advocacy group, Enough is Enough Nigeria – the protests were meant to garner the attention of the Federal Government in the face of worsening economic crisis that has seen the costs of goods and services skyrocket, with many families struggling to survive.
Operating under the aegis of the #IstandwithNigeria Coalition, the anti-government protesters had accused Buhari of protecting corrupt people in his government while demanding the removal of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, for alleged corruption.
The protesters had also demanded the full disclosure on the “secret” recruitments by the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, among others.
The planned protests had gained traction with several Nigerians and civil society groups who had pledged to be a part of it.
Even though the protests eventually held, several ploys were initially employed to prevent them from taking place by the government and security organisations.
On September 10, 2016, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, had said that the Nigeria Police Force recognised the rights of Nigerians to embark on peaceful protests anywhere in the country and, particularly, the Federal Capital Territory.
At that time, the IGP was reacting to a near-clash between the police and the Bring Back Our Girls group in Abuja when the alarm was raised that the police were hindering peaceful protests by the BBOG group.
In a statement by the then-Force Public Relations Officer, Donald Awunah, the IGP stated clearly that peaceful protests were an integral part of democratic norms inasmuch as they conform to the rule of law and public order.
According to Idris, “the Nigeria Police Force recognises the constitutional right of every law-abiding citizen to express his or her view through public protest/procession and other legitimate means.”
It was, however, surprising that on Friday, February 3, 2017, three days before the planned anti-government protests were held, the police issued a statement cum threat to Tuface and others that they should shelve their planned rallies.
The statement was issued after several earlier signs that the police were against the rally and that the protesters would need to get a police permit before having their march.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, said, “The attention of the Nigeria Police Force has been drawn to publications in the media on the planned protests slated for February 6 and 7, 2017 in Lagos and other states by different groups, one to be led by the popular musician, Innocent Idibia, aka Tuface, and other opposing groups.
“Consequently, members of the public, parents and guardians, religious/opinion leaders and other interest groups are strongly advised to prevail on their children and wards, followers and adherents not to allow themselves to be used by any group to cause disturbance of public peace and breakdown of law and order.”
Hinging on the “excuse” that the police got intelligence that some groups were planning counter-protests on the same day and at the same venues, Moshood said the events could turn violent and, therefore, the anti-government rallies should not hold.
It was believed that these “threats” made Tuface to back out of the protests.
“Dear Nigerians, due to security concerns and public safety consideration, I hereby announce the cancellation of the march,” the artiste said in an Instagram post.
Meanwhile, on Monday, February 13, 2017, a coalition of pro-Buhari organisations, under the aegis of Citizens Support for Good Governance in Nigeria, announced that it was holding rallies in support of the President from February 14 to 16, 2017.
Tagged “I Support President Buhari,” the pro-government march held across Abuja, Kano, Lagos and Kaduna.
The co-convener of the rally, Mr. Moses Abdullahi, said it was held in acknowledgement of the achievements of the President since he got into office.
What, however, didn’t happen this time around – as observed by political observers – was the Nigeria Police Force not issuing any statement against or warning the coalition from holding its pro-Buhari rallies.
“Actually, I was surprised. I thought the police would come out again to say the pro-Buhari rally shouldn’t hold due to ‘intelligence’ received on counter-protests. That was strange,” an Abuja-based political scientist and social commentator, Dr. (Mrs.) Bisola Oduoye, said.
“I was thinking the police would say the rally would be hijacked by people who have other motives and lead to chaos like they claimed when #IstandwithNigeria group wanted to hold its protests.”
Describing the police action as “overzealousness,” Oduoye said the police should not be seen as a tool that could be deployed anyhow by the government of the day.
She said, “I think some APC politicians, probably those close to the President, asked the police to shut down any act of protest, though they knew that would be impossible to do.
“Because they realised this fact, they were perhaps pressured to prevail on the anti-Buhari protesters by telling them that there was intelligence that some counter-protests would take place. Who is fooling who?
“All along, I’ve observed that the President hates criticisms. Those close to him in Aso Rock would likely not love criticisms, too. The protests were meant to criticise him.
“But since he was not around, his people would love to defend him. So they prevailed on the police. He might even be the one who gave the order from London, asking the police to warn Tuface and others against protesting.
“If you also examine the statement of the National Leader of the APC, Chief Bola Tinubu, about the anti-Buhari protests, you would also see that he didn’t want the protests to hold. That’s hypocrisy.”
On Monday, February 6, when the anti-government demonstrators went to his Bourdillon, Ikoyi home in Lagos, Tinubu had told them to shun protesting as it could not solve the country’s problems.
“What we are going through will be resolved. We are going through a historical phase of a country that is holding a promise for you. There is a leadership in the land and you have to live with that for now. Protests won’t solve the problem. Will it?” he had asked.
Reminding the protesters that the Peoples Democratic Party misruled the country for 16 years, Tinubu argued that it would be unfair to expect Buhari to fix the problems of the country in less than two years.
“We are just two years into the administration. To make those changes effective and positive eventually, we have to be patient. The damage of 16 years will go through the system. You cannot get water out of a dry well,” he had said.
Some public commentators, including Oduoye, however, described the APC chieftain’s action as hypocrisy, considering that he and his party also protested against the former President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration.
In November 2014, the APC had held a series of its “Salvation Rally,” aimed at protesting against the “incompetence and cluelessness” of the former president.
Then, the protests were led by key members of this government – Buhari; Tinubu; Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai; APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun; the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi; and others.
The event, which took place at the Eagle Square, Abuja, saw crowds of Nigerians cheering the national leaders of the APC as they marched to the Unity Fountain in Abuja, then to the office of the Inspector General of Police and finally to the Eagle Square.
Apart from the 2014 protests, the APC leaders had also supported the Occupy Nigeria socio-political protest movement that began on Monday, January 2, 2012, in response to the fuel subsidy removal by the Jonathan-led administration on January 1, 2012.
The protests – which took place across the country, including in the cities of Kano, Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, Lokoja, and at the Nigerian High Commission in London, United Kingdom – saw the APC leaders telling Nigerians to fight for their rights.
The spokesperson for the Ijaw Youth Congress, Mr. Eric Omare, said it was ironic that the Buhari administration, “which came to power after organising protests against the former President,” would now try to prevent Nigerians from protesting.
“It is even more troubling that a party like APC that has pro-democracy individuals like Tinubu, Fayemi, Babatunde Fashola and so on would have thought of shutting down the voice of the people,” he said.
Likewise, a Lagos-based social commentator, Mr. David Idowu, asked, “So how could the same Tinubu and some APC leaders operating behind the scenes try to discourage Nigerians from protesting?”
Idowu also referred to the statement of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt [1858-1919] in 1918, which says, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official.
“It is patriotic to support him (the President) insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country.”
In what he termed to mean that citizens should always be allowed to protest against the government when the need arises, Roosevelt went on to say that to declare that there must be no criticism of the President or that people are to stand by the President, whether right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but also “morally treasonable” to the people.
Asking the police not to interfere in protests, Idowu said, “Rather, they should see to it that rallies are held peacefully, whether people get police permit or not. Though our democracy is young, it is high time we nourished it.”
Meanwhile, political observers have commended Acting President Yemi Osinbajo for his display of “maturity” by acknowledging the grievances against the Federal Government.
The Acting President had told protesters, “You deserve a decent life and we are working night and day to make life easier. You have a right to demand a better economy and we are committed to seeing it happen.”