Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka has condemned threats by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to arrest protesters at today’s rally.
In a statement, yesterday, Soyinka said the police should take a cue from the world’s oldest democracy, the United States of America (USA) where the people are protesting, peacefully, against policies of their president and no security agency has threatened to bar them.
He added that Nigerians exercised their right to protest, even during military regimes and so, it cannot be different in a democratic administration.
His words: “…The battle for the right of lawful assembly of citizens in any cause, conducted peacefully, has been fought and won several times over. It is time that this contest is gracefully conceded.
“It must be consolidated by its routineness, as a choice of action, at the front of any people’s democratic participation. This battle has been won legally, constitutionally, and even morally.
“It enjoys near global acceptance as one of the means of actualising the protocols of a people’s fundamental human rights.
It comes, therefore, as a deep embarrassment and a national shame that this latest attempt at denial of these protocols rears its head at a time when one of the largest gatherings of humanity is taking place in one of the former totalitarian states of Eastern Europe – Romania. Its size has been assessed as the largest in former Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall. It was triggered by the state attempt to water down the criminal code against corruption and has brought out hundreds of thousands of people into the streets and stadia, day after day, until the much-awaited announcement of the withdrawal of the obnoxious decree. This should resonate within the current Nigerian governance that has made the anti-corruption crusade its mantra.
Soyinka described the police’s attempt to reverse the hands of the democratic clock as even more appalling at a time when open demonstrations are taking place all over the world against the policies of a recently-elected president of the United States, whose democratic formula this nation allegedly serves as Nigeria’s adopted model. “Across numerous states of that federated nation, ongoing at this very moment, is the public expression of rejection of a president’s policy that has also pitted the Executive against the Judiciary. We have heard of no preventive action by the police, nor arrests of demonstrators.”
“Again and again, efforts, both under military and civilian orders have been made to stifle the rights to freedom of expression by Nigerian governments – (Muhammadu) Buhari, (Ibrahim) Babangida, (Olusegun) Obasanjo, (Sani) Abacha, (Goodluck) Jonathan….and now again, Buhari? These efforts have been, and will always be resisted. It is a moral issue, as old as settled humanity. It has been settled in other parts of the world. Nigeria cannot be an exception, not as long as her citizens refuse to accept the designation of second, even third-rate citizens.”
He said he had sent a message to the Inspector-General of Police, through the Commissioner of Police, Lagos state, urging both to respect and safeguard the constitutional rights of the people. He expressed the hope that, “even at this eleventh hour, legality and the democratic imperative will prevail.”
“Finally, I shall be less than honest if I do not add the following, mostly directed as a warning to the very polity on whose behalf the democratic war is joined, again and again: Minus a minuscule but highly voluble minority, mostly of pitiably retarded polluters of the common zones of public interventions, I do not know of any citizens of civilised community who do not subscribe to the fundamental Right of the Freedom of Expression in any form, as long as it is peaceful, and non-injurious to humanity. I would hate to conclude that the security agencies, or the government they serve, at this stage of national development and recent history, would choose to align themselves with such an unteachable minority.”