Enabling an Atmosphere of Protests?

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

Dissent is an integral part of any democratic space. Democracy unfortunately means that though the majority will always have their way, while the minority is never denied their say. Although Nigeria’s democratic experience is relatively young, there seems to be is a growing culture of protests.

It is not as if Nigerians are JJC’s to protests. Certainly not! The protests against the annulment of the June 12, 1992 Presidential Elections are a case in point. However, it seems that we are currently going through an explosion of long pent up bile.

In 2010, when late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was ‘wife-napped’ into an unofficial excursion to the deserts of Arabia, Nigerian poured into the streets asking for their president. The Enough-is-Enough rallies were both unprecedented and effective. We knew how the story ended. Although no cause and effect relationship can be deduced, neither can one claim that those protests were ineffectual.

Nigerians Protesting in Lagos over Yar’Adua. Photo credit: Slyva Eleanya

Fast forward to early 2012, Nigerians were granted an unsolicited and bitter New Year gift – a la the cessation of subsidy on PMS. Nigerians not only talked but also walked their talk. The social media has been credited for igniting the Nigerian Harmattan Storm. People said no to the subsidy and government not only heard but were stunned by their reaction. After labour assented (or sold out) to the establishment’s new pump fuel prize, there was yet another protest by Lagosians demanding the withdrawal of military troops in their city.

Currently, students of the former University of Lagos (now Moshood Abiola University Lagos) are on the streets. They do not want a new name and they are demanding that the president rescinds his Democracy Day Gift.  The government seems to be unmoved and have declared that this gift is eternal. Ping-pongs continue on the legality or other wise of the government’s action and across the divide are many for and against the new baptismal name.

UNILAG (now MAU) Students protesting on Third Mainland Bridge (Courtesy: http://blog.tariere.com)

Whatever happens, one thing is quite clear, we should expect more protest in the future. Nigerians have tasted the power of having their voices heard beyond the traditional hushed up private conversations. Nonetheless, this new power comes with an enormous responsibility. While it is the norm in any democracy, we should not taint this privilege with the ‘Nigerian factor’: Our ability to transform nobility into absurdity.

To protest is a right. However, it is an abuse of freedom to inflict pain on innocent people who have say in or hand in the issue being protested against. Those who protest should properly choose their target and venue. I cannot understand why protesters would inhibit others from going about their normal duties. Does the right of the un-protesting public not to be molested fall no longer under the definition of rights? Or should the majority be made to suffer for every fart that emits from Aso Rock which some have deemed a worthy cause for protest? Let’s not abuse this privilege! As the saying goes, to whom much is given…

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