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A protest, not a war: A lesson from the European Convention on Human Rights

Protests are often a means, a vehicle for citizens to make themselves heard. Therefore, the ability to protest peacefully (without violence) is essential for upholding democracy and ensuring the participation of citizens in political governance.

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Therefore, it is important to educate the youths in Nigeria on how to protest because protesting is not fighting or a war.

To do this, this paper will analyze the term protest and what it means to protest. The study will state the importance of protest according to the European Convention on Human Rights. The study will analyze two violent protests in Nigeria in order to suggest few steps for achieving a peaceful and effective protest that will yield results.

What is protest and what does it mean to protest?

Protest according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “an occasion when people show that they disagree strongly with something by standing together and shouting and carrying signs especially on the street or in open places”. From this definition, it is obvious that protest would not involve carrying weapons or whatsoever. Weapons can be as little as sticks, stones, cutlasses, knifes, guns, liquid chemicals etc. It is however, okay to sing or shout especially because you want to be loud enough and shouting together systematically is even better because it is louder but without having to hurt anyone. To protest, there must be a common interest. This interest or public anger or anxiety is then boosted by an individual (a motivational speaker) or a few group of individuals taking to the street and joined by others (with the same interest and who are motivated by the peacefulness of the protest).

Importance of protest in democratic states?

The Parliamentary Assembly reaffirms that “freedom of assembly and association, including unorganized and non-authorized protest, is an essential right in a democracy, safeguarded by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5 ‘the Convention’) and constantly upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in its case law” (Resolution 1947 (2013)).

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The Assembly calls upon the Council of Europe member States to safeguard the right to freedom of peaceful assembly enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as other human rights, including in the context of “spontaneous”, non-notified demonstrations. A  peaceful protest have a way of drawing the public’s attention to an issue or needs which would in the long run be of great benefit for upholding democracy and rule of law in a country. Also, Peaceful protest unite people in the face of adversity and democratic societies must ensure that government forces must not disrupt a peaceful protest therefore the aim is on how to achieve a peaceful protest in Nigeria.

Protest in Nigeria (2016)

The Vanguard news reports how “the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) killed nine of the protesters and injured 18 in Onitsha, the commercial city of Anambra State. Some argue that, the reason the military task force intervened was because, the protesters were carrying weapons and the intervention led to the death of nine persons and 18 injured. Also,

The premium times tells of how Nigerian college students burnt clinic, eight vehicles and some shops in a violent protest in the College of Education Gindirin, Plateau State (2018).

These two cases show a fault on the government forces and on the protesters. Why because Several Nigerians are accustomed to taking to the street to protest with the mindset of fighting this the reason for carrying weapons. The availability of weapons led to the involvement of government forces opening fire at the protesters.

Steps for achieving peaceful and effective protests in Nigeria.

Nigerian government need to educate the youths on how to protest. It should be made compulsory to teach about peaceful protest in school but at the college and university level regardless of the program of studies.

The movie industry in Nigeria can be a good medium for portraying movies that will teach people what protest means and how to carry out a peaceful protest. NGOs can also organize seminars for teaching and empowering the youths and teaching them the value of protest and how it can be done successfully.

Even religious institutions and other institutions can play a role in educating the youths but most importantly, the Nigerian government need to train the forces more on how to deal with mass protest.

The use on weapon should be criminalized both for protesters and both for forces managing protesters. If this is done, knowing that people would speak up against corruption and mismanagement of resources, there will be transparency in political parties and political elites would be accountable.

*Ene Gift Linus is a Post Graduate Student of International Relations at the Istanbul Aydin University, Turkey.

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