Amid protest and demand for good governance, equity and justice, Nigerians celebrated 22 years of democratic governance and the first year anniversary of the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day.
On Saturday, prominent Nigerians and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) expressed mixed feelings over the worsening state of insecurity, poverty and other critical challenges threatening the unity of the country.While some resolved to express their anger through protests, others chose to hold seminars.
However, protests that were to hold across the country were resisted by security agencies working on the order of the Federal Government.Last year, President Buhari signed into law an Act that recognised June 12 as Democracy Day instead of the May 29 chosen by the military to formally hand over power to civilian government in 1999. There were, however, mixed reactions in 2020, when June 12 was pronounced as Democracy Day as there were doubts if the gesture was actually meant to translate into good governance or bring about dividends of democracy to Nigerians.Eminent Nigerians like former External Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi and Chairman National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Chief Ayo Opadokun among others, made a strong case for poverty reduction and good governance, saying that it was only on that premise the purpose for which June 12 was recognised as Democracy Day, would be achieved.
On Saturday, when the country officially marked the first year anniversary of June 12 as Democracy Day, the sentiment shared by Professor Akinyemi, Opadokun and those who shared similar views seemed to resonate as Nigerians trooped out to express grievances over bad governance but the move was repelled by the government.
Protesters carried placards and banners marked with #Buharimustgo at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, Lagos, Oyo, Ondo, Port Harcourt, Ogun and Osun; they expressed anger over the rising insecurity and poverty across the country. They said the current administration has failed and must go. They also argued that the policies of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government are against the message of ‘Hope’, which the acclaimed winner of the June 12 1993 Presidential election, the late Chief M.K.O Abiola stood for in his campaign tagged: ‘Hope 1993’.On the other hand was the pro-Buhari group, allegedly sponsored and mobilised to counter anti-Buhari protests. The group carried various placards marked #StandingwithBuhari.
The message by the #Buharimustgo group was clear: democracy is under threat from rising insecurity and bad governance. The protests came as the Federal Government has been struggling to curtail terrorism, kidnapping and separatist agitations across the country.
Only recently, the Federal Government suspended Twitter usage in Nigeria because the social media pulled down an unfriendly message on the Twitter handle of President Buhari regarding secessionist groups in the country.The protesters criticised the Federal Government and described the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria as dictatorial and desperate to suppress freedom of expression.
Across states of Oyo, Ondo and Abuja protests began early but not without resistance from battle-ready security forces stationed at strategic locations. In Abuja and Lagos, security agents wasted no time firing tear gas and gunshots to scare activists, who demanded an end to insecurity and what they called systemic oppression.
Recalling the mayhem of the October 2020 #EndSARS protests, the Lagos State Police Command did not take chances, it mobilised armed policemen stationed at the Freedom Square in Ojota, where the protesters were forcefully dispersed. Lagos was like a ghost town on Saturday as commuters refused to operate until later in the day when tension subsided. Eyewitnesses also narrated how state security operatives in Abuja and Lagos seized banners and placards from protesters.One of the protesters described the reaction of the Buhari-led administration to their demands as a tactical return to military dictatorship, where peaceful protests for justice and good governance were repelled forcefully.
Reacting to how security agencies manhandled the protesters during the protests on Saturday, the National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralphs Nwosu and former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Tanko Yinusa, condemned the police action, saying it shows that Nigeria is no longer in a democracy but the autocratic rule.
Speaking on telephone with The Guardian, Nwosu said the government is no longer pretending to be democratic. He also condemned the deliberate silence of progressives in the ruling party, whom he accused of subjecting and suppressing tenets of democratic rule because of inordinate ambition for power.Nwosu said, “The only way out for Nigerians especially our youths is to ensure they get their PVCs to vote this government out of power. I appeal against agitation for secession because the unity of Nigeria should and must not be toyed with but we must vote APC out of power if at all we want peace and progress for this nation.”
Yinusa on his part chided the protesters for failure to obtain permission from the police before hitting the streets to protest. He, however, condemned police for the undemocratic manner it dispersed the protests. He said the action of the police was against the principle of democracy.
For a pro-democracy activist, Mr. George Akinola, Federal Government was wrong over the treatment meted to the protesters on Saturday. He also said the democracy Buhari celebrated was not the one Nigerians fought for from 1993 to 1999. He said the democracy in place today favours a particular section of the country, the Fulani, precisely and makes them look superior to other ethnic nationalities in the country.According to him, “Buhari keeps assuring Nigerians he will address insecurity challenges but if you look at the leadership of major security operations in the country, they are all from the Fulani ethnic group, so when they discuss they focus on the security of their ethnic group and not for Nigerians.”
As for the Yoruba, Akinola said his people are tired of being part of the country. “We have concluded arrangements to stage a peaceful protest in Lagos very soon, to express our displeasure over remaining with Nigeria. We are going to make our point clear that we no longer want to be part of Nigeria.”
But Buhari in his address to mark the first anniversary of June 12 as Democracy Day, assured Nigerians of his commitment to addressing the worsening state of insecurity. He disclosed that every incident, however minor gives him great worry and concern and that he always ordered security agencies to swiftly but safely rescue victims and bring perpetrators to justice.He noted that Nigerians elected him in 2015 to end insecurity, especially the insurgency in the North East, but that the unintended consequences of scattering insurgents in the North East pushed them further in-country, which is what the country is with. He said his government would by the Grace of God put an end to the challenges.
He said it was unfortunate, like in most conflict situations; some Nigerian criminals are taking undue advantage of a difficult situation and earning profit therefrom with the misguided belief that the administration’s adherence to democratic norms handicaps this it from frontally and decisively tackling them.
“We are already addressing these obstacles and we will soon bring some of these culprits to justice. We are, at the same time addressing the twin underlying drivers of insecurity namely poverty and youth unemployment.”Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere said the Democracy Day speech exposed the Buhari administration as one bent on taking steps that are not in the best interests of the majority of Nigerians.
The National Publicity Secretary of the group, Comrade Jare Ajayi, expressed their disappointment with the disclosure by the President that he had directed the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation to ‘re-open old grazing routes throughout the country.
In their reactions, Speaker Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Mudashiru Obasa, Constitutional lawyer, Kayode Ajulo and Convener Lagos4Lagos Movement, Abdulazez Adediran enjoined critical stakeholders to ensure Nigeria remained united, safe and developed for the good of citizens and the black continent.
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