Nigeria is a signatory to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
“The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental principle in a democratic society and, like the right to freedom of expression, it is one of the foundations of such a society.
There’s no doubt that protest is a viable tool for political and social change. But while the right to peaceful Assembly is enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, we must also learn from the mistakes of other countries.
For example, the Arab Spring was a wave of pro-democracy and anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that took place in the Middle East and North Africa beginning in 2010. It began in response to oppressive regimes and a low standard of living, starting with protests in Tunisia.
The protests were first driven by the demands of millions of people disenfranchised by autocrats and dictators. They wanted a say in running their countries, an end to corruption and greater opportunities in economies stalled by cronyism, fraud and bureaucracy. And their anger, once unleashed, was enough to topple some strongmen and seriously threaten several more.
But in most places it was not followed by the hoped-for reforms. Instead the uprisings spread war and chaos across the region.
At the last count, countries like Syria and Libya were left in ruins. Many that are still alive and partook in the protest in Syria and Libya are today regretting their actions.
Therefore we must not allow Nigeria to become Libya and Syria. Enemies of Nigeria have devised so many ways in the past to cause the disintegration of the country but they continued to fail. It is by the special grace of God and the prayers of many well-meaning Nigerians, both Christians and Muslims, that Nigeria is still standing today. If God wants to destroy Nigeria, it won’t take Him more than a second to do so. But He has already answered our prayers long time ago. The sufferings encountered by citizens during war is far greater than the sufferings from government bad policies. ‘Once there’s life, there’s hope’, says the poor man prayer.
If the problem in Nigeria is the government and its policies, Nigerians have another opportunity in 2023 to elect people that will serve them well and wipe away their tears. And when the time comes, you that is protesting today should reject their money and vote in credible and competent people into government.
Yes. We are at war with terrorists and some anti-Nigerian forces. Nigerians are right to demand an end to police brutality and killings in the country. But we must be very careful so that these struggles are not hijacked by the same forces that plunged Syria and Libya into war.
I do not think there’s any further need for the ongoing protest, which is already bringing untold hardship to Nigerians. I also do not think we should destroy our hard earned democracy. Instead, Nigerian youths should use their ballots to send away the bad politicians out of government come 2023. I repeat- We must not destroy our hard earned democracy.
Christopher Godwin Akaba is a public policy analyst, peace advocate and social media commentator, and can be reached on :(Christopherakaba9@gmail.com)