SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT: HOW FAR CAN WE TRAVEL?
The hall mark of democracy is free speech and free association. Implicit in this,is the freedom of dissent or the right to protest against anything that the government has done or did not do as long as such protests are held in line with lawful conduct. When a government becomes intolerant of lawful protests or criticisms by citizens of the Country, that gives a dangerous signal. And it will not be morally right for men of goodwill to keep quiet when our democratic freedoms are being trampled upon.
Some Nigerian citizens who were frustrated that our President had been out of the Country for over about 100 days on his second medical vacation this year, decided to express their frustration by holding some protest rally, first at the Unity centre in Abuja. Operating under the "Our Mumu done do" coalition, the protesters who were generally few in number gathered at Unity Centre, singing and requesting the President to 'resume or resign'. The first sign that our government was unhappy with any protests and would wish that we all remain as 'mumu' was that they sent the Police to tear-gas the peaceful protesters and to ruffle them. Reports had it that the co-Convener of the movement, Mr Charles Oputa( aka Charly boy), fainted from suffocation caused by the tear gas.
When that did not stop the " Our mumu don do" group, the Government went low to go and organize counter demonstrators called "Pro-Buhari " groups who challenged the right of the Charly Boy's group to complain that the President had stayed away too long. They abused the group and confronted them at the Unity Centre. The Presidential spokes persons berated the protesters as "busy bodies" They said that the President had not broken any law and so he could remain outside the Country for the next two years if he wished, perhaps only to return to stand for re-election in 2019! In effect, these men were outlawing every protest, except the Court decided. Because by our constitutional provision, only the court can determine that a law has been broken!
When the Charly boy's group, felt that they were not making much impact as they were apparently overwhelmed by the "Pro-Buhari" group which actually should have gone by the name" Our Mumu never begin" group, they went to Wuse Market perhaps to see if they could recruit more sympathizers or supporters and that was where they met their Waterloo. How it was organized, I could never know, but they met a very stout and violent resistance that created havoc and pandemonium, with many bloodied including journalists who were doing their jobs. A Guardian Newspaper reporter escaped being lynched because one of the leaders of the Wuse Market resistance coalition came to his rescue, directing his army of cudgel-bearing and stone-throwing counter demonstrators to let him alone. Charly boy had to escape on a motorcycle, abandoning his car at the market. The next day, Charly boy and his sparse group came to the Unity centre to announce that they were calling off their protests. With that The Government achieved its aim of suppressing dissent.
Perhaps a 'congratulation'will be appropriate here for the government machinery that worked very hard to drown the voice of dissent and to drive away "trouble makers and busy bodies" from the Unity Centre. My special 'congratulations' go to Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu. I am waiting for Femi Adesina to finish his tenure and return to the Private sector and begin to sing as his predecessors Olusegun Adeniyi,Reuben Abati and Femi Fani-Kayode( before he got born-again)who in their time promoted and defended Governments' efforts to stifle the voice of dissent. What government office can do to otherwise normal citizens! Until a few days ago, Steve Bannon, the erstwhile Chief Strategist of Donald Trump supported and defended every thing-good or bad which Trump said or did. Few hours afters after he was fired he tweeted" The Trump Presidency which we campaigned for and won is over!". The Presidency 'is over ', just because he has been fired! That is the calibre of many people who find themselves in the corridors of power. Because of the need for influence peddling and stomach infrastructure and patent opportunism, they defend the indefensible, but as soon as the supply is cut off, they begin to sing or tell cock'n'bull stories. God Help us!
What would have happened if these spokepersons, had welcomed the protesters, acknowledged their rights to raise the issues they were raising and explained to them that the President had heard them and that all things were being done to get the President resume soon. Would they have lost their jobs? Would it not have enhanced their standing before the public and even before the President, who thanks be to God, has returned home and resumed duty this week. The tendency to be over zealous in 'protecting' the President from his constituents is frought with danger. It actually damages the relationship, because in pretending to love or own the President more than the citizens they further alienate him. I just wish these men and others like them would understand.
My disappointment is worsened by the fact that these same people and their Principals presented progressive credentials when they were seeking for power. When the Nation found itself in similar situation with Umaru Yar'adua, they were so vociferous in 'defending' the People's right to know everything about Yar'adua's health. Some of them actually called on Yar'adua to resign! Now they feel that it is an act of treason for citizens to demand that their President resumes work, especially after many Nigerian Political leaders and office holders had undertaken the expensive pilgrimages to visit the President in his 'winter home' in London and reported he was now healed, hale and hearty. The President of any nation is not a private person, and the people who employed him have unquestionable rights to demand accountability from him on any issue including his health and work ethic. How many employers will allow their employee stay out of work for about 150 sick days in less than a year without knowing the name of the sickness?This can only happen to conquered people!
My counsel to the government is that history has taught us repeatedly in Nigeria and globally that suppression of dissent is wrong strategy. You only force the people to suppress their feelings and frustrations and some day, they may just explode! It is usually a wrong road to travel, because governments come and go, but the People are always there. And usually they have the last laugh. Welcome home Mr President and may your return bring better tidings to our beleaguered Nation.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR