THE swift resort to brute force recently by the Nigeria Police Force to disperse peaceful protesters demanding that President Muhammadu Buhari who had been on medical vacation in London for over 100 days and still counting is a gross violation of their fundamental human right to peaceful assembly and association guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution as amended and antithetical to democratic norms and we totally condemn the attack on defenceless law abiding Nigerians.
Placard carrying demonstrators under the aegis of Our Mumu-Dondo led by musician and writer, Charles Oputa popularly known as Charly Boy according to report, during day two of their protest in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja suddenly got more than they bargained for when fully armed policemen unleashed water cannons, tear gas and other offensive means to disperse them at the Unity Fountain Abuja on the allegation that hoodlums had infiltrated the group and were bent on hijacking a peaceful protest.
In justifying the crackdown, the FCT Police Command claimed that the group “allowed miscreants, hoodlums and other unruly individuals to infiltrate the protests, who started blocking the major roads adjoining the Unity Fountain, obstructing traffic and preventing movements of other innocent citizens from going to their means of livelihood, and thereby exhibiting unruly behaviours and other violent acts very likely to cause the breakdown of law and order and disturbance of public peace.
They further contend that “Police personnel intervened at the point that the concerned Nigerians Group lost control of the crowd and prevented miscreants, hoodlums and other criminal elements from hijacking the protest to cause mayhem and chaos. It is pertinent to state here that the FCT Police Command is fully aware and recognizes the constitutional rights of every citizen including “Our Mumu Dondo Group” to assemble and move freely in any part of the FCT, but the command will not allow any protest under any guise to turn violent and jeopardise the prevailing peace, law and order currently being enjoyed in the FCT”.
But we wholeheartedly disagree with reasons adduced by the Police for this unfortunate incident which clearly in our estimation is not only shameful but gross violation of the Constitution and subsequently call on the group to challenge the attack in court. Rather than blame faceless hoodlums or miscreants, in our view, the crackdown to say the least is an open self indictment by the force which in the first instance had the full complement of personnel to deploy to have stopped the intruders having guaranteed maximum security to the demonstrators during day one of the protest.
The minimum we had expected of the Police, under the circumstance, was to sit it out with these protesters who carried no weapon, to forestall any breach or breakdown of public peace instead of mete out jungle justice, a development that had tarnished the relatively hitherto good record of the new Inspector-General of Police, IGP Ibrahim Idris who, while taking his oath of office had given the assurance that the “Police Force under his watch would police in line with democratic culture.”Certainly this action of the FCT Police which had also publicly acknowledged the constitutional right of protesters to peaceful assembly and protest cannot be in furtherance of that expressed promise. W e are not unaware that no such jungle justice has been meted to pro -Buhari demonstrators in the past and even those who staged a counter solidarity protest also in Abuja and even marched on the seat of rower, the Presidential Villa to counter the Charly Boy Group.
Regrettably but not unexpectedly however, the same personnel of the FCT Police Command gave maximum security cover for the latter campaigners to have a field day even when they openly poured venom resorted to name calling on the former group for daring to call for Buhari’s resignation if he is unable to continue in office which is why we suspect political motive to this ignoble act.
It is record also that no single hoodlum had been arrested and charged to court by the Police that raised the alarm that miscreants were on the prowl. In our view, there is nothing unpatriotic or illegal about conduct and demands by Our Mumudon-Do Group to have warranted the crackdown and if we may ask, what is criminal in citizens asking for full disclosure of the nature of ailment of the number one public servant who ironically had in years past called for same when then President Umaru Yar Adua was sick and away for medical vacation. This Group should be commended for standing up for what is right rather than be at the receiving end by the Police or vilified.
Sadly too, we disagree with the stand of the Senate to the effect that Charly Boy and his protesters are busy busy and attention seekers simply because Buhari had transmitted power to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. This position we note is lame duck and should not stand because Nigerians know better that the latter cannot take decision alone on all state matters which is perhaps why it took a while for ministers who had already been cleared by the Senate were not sworn in as required by the laws of the land until after Osinbajo travelled to London to confer with his Principal.
Unnecessary violence on citizens, also, is a sad reminder of the impunity by the Police and other security agencies during the dark days of the military era when the rights of the citizenry considered to be in opposition to the government of the day were trampled upon at will and without any provocation with some resulting in loss of innocent lives in some instances.
Again, it has brought to the front burner the hypocrisy of opponents of State Police who had been quick to point out that the country is not ripe for it on the ground that Governors will manipulate or abuse the force for selfish and ulterior motives as the recent action of the FCT Police clearly shows that even the Federal Police is not totally insulated from political manipulation under the All Progressives Congress, APC controlled government.
Therefore, we condemn brutality of citizens and demand that the National and State Assemblies immediately set the necessary machinery in motion for a fresh amendment of the 1999 Constitution to pave the way for creation of State Police not only to bolster national security but deal decisively with increasing insecurity in the land as the previous reason for its rejection is no longer tenable.
We further challenged the IGP to ensure that the force fully respect the fundamental rights of citizens to freely assemble and peacefully protest, irrespective of the subject matter of such actions and not abridge them at will as poor handling of same could degenerate into major crisis.
Above all, we demand that the force be more patriotic and discharge without fear or favour its onerous constitutional responsibility of maintenance and securing of public safety and public order as doing otherwise will not only wane public confidence but discourage well meaning Nigerians from volunteering vital information regarding the activities of criminals which is not in our national interest.
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