One of the essential ingredients of Constitutional Democracy is the existence of virile opposition where dissenting voices are not stifled. In the build-up to the February 6, 2017, protest against economic hardship in the country organized by Enough is Enough Coalition, also known as One Voice Nigeria, the police deployed all kinds of tactics to frustrate the protest which had hip-hop icon, Tuface Idibia as the brand artiste. The police was able to coerce the musician to back out at the last minute over public safety, but it failed to stop the event despite its insistence that a permit must be sought and obtained by the organizers.
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Fatai Owoseni, vowed that the protest march billed to kick off at the National Theatre and end at the National Stadium would not be allowed. Both the Force Public Relations Officer Moshood Jimoh and Federal Capital Territory(FCT) Commissioner of Police Mustapha Mohammed, made desperate attempts to stop the action in Abuja, including sustained pressure on the organizers , despite the Presidency’s clarification that it was not averse to citizens staging peaceful protests. The claim that an intelligence report of a counter pro-government rally slated for the same day might lead to security breach did not dissuade the planners.
The Police stance came against the background of the unprecedented wild protest in Washington D.C. United States on January 20, 2017, when President Donald Trump took the oath of office, and the absence from the country of President Muhammadu Buhari who is currently on medical vacation in the United Kingdom. Incidentally, this administration rode to power on the crestwave of several opposition organized protests against the regime of former president Goodluck Jonathan and they were not prevented from exercising their civil right especially the popular anti-fuel subsidy removal protest of January 2012, tagged Occupy Nigeria which held at the Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, Lagos. It is therefore untenable that the National Leader of All Progressive Congress(APC) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu said protests would not solve Nigeria’s problems.
The protests brought home a strident message to Buhari’s government that the masses are reeling under the crushing effects of the lingering inability of the regime to tackle the nation’s seeming intractable economic recession that foisted untold hardship on them. We commend the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo’s response that “we heard you loud and clear “. We call on the police to be mindful of Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution(As Amended) which guarantees to every citizen Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association and the Supreme Court’s pronouncement that a police permit is not required before holding a protest. It is the statutory responsibility of the police to pre-empt and prevent a breaches of public peace.