With the escalating tensions in the country arising from security breakdown, insurgency, food inflation, rising unemployment and, of course, the swift ban of Twitter that has gone beyond a week, the commemoration of June 12 as Democracy Day presented the perfect window for public demonstrations. The Buhari administration in 2019 had declared June 12 to affirm democratic values and principles, harking back to the supposed transition from military rule to civilian rule with Moshood Abiola emerging as the winner of the 1993 elections, which is still regarded as the freest and fairest election ever held in Nigeria.
But Saturday’s peaceful protests showed yet again that Nigeria’s democracy is only just a myth, and here are the three lessons we have learned from the event.
The police is anti-people
Enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution is the right to protest peacefully, but when have non-violent protests ever happened without violent disruptions from state? The June 12 protests over the weekend was met with state premeditation, in the utility of the police already in place to intimidate and instill fear in protesters. It’s worth mentioning that the actions of the police goes against their constitutional function in such circumstance.
The police had deliberately contravened Section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020 which provides that “Where a person or organisation notifies the police of his or its intention to hold a public meeting, rally or procession on a public highway or such meetings in a place where the public has access to, the police officer responsible for the area where the meeting rally or procession will take place shall mobilise personnel to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession”
Videos and images of the police subjugating peaceful protesters circulated on VPN-assisted Twitter, bringing back memories of the #ENDSARS demonstrations and the human rights violations. Protests as a method to bear mass grievances often has the police to contend with, and that’s because the police are weaponised by the state to protect its own private interests.
The ‘Judases’ among Us
It’s no longer surprising how the government employs specific demographics of Nigerians to do its bidding, for the purpose of staging counter-narratives. A Guardian report tells how a pro-Buhari rally group was paid N1500 to show support for the Buhari administration in marking of June 12’s Democracy Day. Oftentimes, these people are skirting around the poverty line with barely any economic means to survive. The stomach infrastructure syndrome is how the government uses poverty as a resource to stay in power.
But but there’s also a class of Nigerians who aren’t necessarily poor. They are educated and internet-savvy, selling their intellectual labour for a price or performing so. They often make revisionist, image-laundering comments about the current administration, finding no fault in the action/inactions that key political figures in the present party carry out. Some Nigerians outside of this camp have theorised that this is how lobbying for future political appointments is done. And if Nigeria must get close to any kind of progress, these turncoats must always be identified and ignored.
More protests is the only way
The material conditions of Nigerians are yet to improve under the present administration. With the economy in decline and insurgency ravaging the country, protests seem to be the only way to show public discontent. What was remarkable about the June 12 protests was that despite the initial anxieties about protesting, given the antecedent of violent, state-imposed disruptions, imprisonment and brutality, Nigerians still courageously came out. It’s showing an undying spirit and the promise for coaliton building.
Sure, there’s nothing in place to mitigate the violence faced by protesters but complacency isn’t an attractive option either. The 12 June protests is only one of many that will happen in the future, given the current systemic dsyfunction in the country.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies and reading comics and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.