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Wednesday 18 April 2018

Editorial: Shi’ites Versus Police Clash: The Ilegality Of The Nigerian State Actors

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…Nigeria, practising democracy but using the ingredients of militarization

By Chukwuemeka Chimerue, Chief Editor, The Biafra Times

April 18, 2018

According to available reports, scores of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, otherwise known as Shiites, were injured on Monday in Abuja during a clash with policemen at the Maitama area of the city.

It was gathered that the police arrested about 115 Shiite members who were protesting against the continued incarceration of their leader, Shiek Ibrahim El-Zakzaky by the Federal Government.

It was further gathered that as the protesters made way to relay their complaints and grievances at the National Human Rights Commission, the police swooped on them, firing teargas canisters to break up the protest. The Shiite members in turn, threw stones at the policemen, injuring about 22 of the Force men, damaging many parked vehicles and injuring passersby and motorists.

In the escalation of the scenario that ensued afterwards, the cops opened live fire at the protesters, hitting the building of the Nigerian Communication Commission and other offices in the vicinity. The security operatives also scalded the mob with hot water from their cannon trunk.

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Recall that El-Zakzaky was arrested by the Nigeria Police Force and being kept in detention by the Department of State Services, DSS, since December 2015 despite court ruling ordering for his release in December 2016; the sole reason hundreds of Shiites were on the street, protesting and demanding for his release.

One wonders at what point did the Nigerian State got to this level that we have a confrontation coming from Shiite members, throwing stones to police officers and the officers in return, dispersing the protesters with teargas, live bullets and water cannons.

For the Shiite members, the Constitution guarantees them the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly. They absolutely have the right to protest just like every other person or group and according to the law, no one should deprive or take that away from them. The only thing that is clear here is that Section 45 of the Constitution frowns against protests which possess the strenght to obstruct public security, breach of public peace or violence.

However, as can be seen in the evidential videos and pictures of the protest available online, the violence can be said to be orchestrated or caused by the rude manner members of the Nigerian police intervened during the protest. The police arrived the scene of their procession, trying to break them which got them irritated and caused the peaceful procession to go violent.

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Not forgetting that already there is an aggression and grouse harboured by the protesters, the police proceeded to handle them in a very poor and despicable manner. The police officers who engaged the Shiites, lacks proper training on protest management and best practices of their counterparts in the civilised world on handling of protesters, hence, we witnessed the engagement of costly activities that caused casualties as a result of the poor handling of the protesters by the police.

Like earlier stated, they should be training on how to conduct and interact with people who are protesting. Of course, the era of teargassing people should be over by now; hot water cannons should rather be introduced. Apart from the fact that it is not good for one’s health, teargas is an irritant that encourages and emboldens people to be on the defense and may do things that are detrimental to public lives and properties.

It was the introduction of tear gas that made the protest more violent to the extent that they began throwing stones which torched on not only the security personnel but innocent people and public properties around. The police in trying to find a way to manage the situation should have peacefully engaged with the protesters by safe guiding them and ensuring that other people go about their normal businesses and not interrupting them or trying to break up the protest. Nigerian security personnel should stop the increasing habit of violent confrontation or engagement with peaceful protesters in the country.

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It has been severally noted that the Nigerian security operatives, in the course of discharging their duties, further creates more security challenges and breakdown of law and order in the country which is an illegality. For crying out loud, protests are one of the rudimentary of democracy in every sane society and it is not only our constitutional right but an inalienable right of every citizen to engage in protests so long as you operate within the ambit of the law. One wonders why the Nigerian situation is different from what is obtainable in every country of the world. We have witnessed uncountable scenarios where the Nigerian security personnel, particularly the police and army in their illegality, descend or gun down anti-government protesters while they shield and provide adequate security for pro-government protesters.

But looking at the remote cause of what brought about the situation, it is the fact that El-Zakzaky was granted bail by a Federal High Court since December 2016 and up till this moment, he is yet to be released and this is a replay of history. Each time Gen. Muhammadu Buhari assumes the leadership of this country, Nigeria, the case is always like that.

Drawing inference from history, as a military head of state, Buhari set up a tribunal that tried perceived corrupt individuals such as Baba Ajasin who was tried three times but nothing indicting or incriminating was found on him, yet Buhari refused to release him. Today, he is back as a civilian president, the same scenario is playing out. The situation is not peculiar to El-Zakzaky, even the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki was granted bail by a domestic court and also the West African(ECOWAS) court. But until this moment, he has not been released and that is not democracy; it is an illegality and a brutal affront to the rule of law and justice in this country.

Similarly, in this current administration, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu was arrested by DSS operatives and granted an unconditional bail on two separate occasions which were flouted by Buhari’s government until the third but very strict bail conditions was handed down to him. Of course, he was later released by the government but where is he now? The president, it is certain to everyone including toddlers, hardly obeys court orders that goes contrary to his favour or expectations neither does he have the slightest regard for the rule of law nor upholds tenets of democracy.

The government detention facility where El-Zakzaky is currently being held in captivity is an agency under the Executive arm of government which President Buhari oversees. Was it not the agency of the government which the Nigerian military represents that violently invaded the hometown and residence of Nnamdi Kanu after the court granted him bail and since then no one has heard or seen him? Whether the government released him before and now invaded his apartment, we are no longer seeing or hearing him. It is the same executive arm of government which Buhari represents should be hold responsible for his whereabouts and not his lawyers or sureties or anybody for that matter.

Why is Dasuki still in police custody which is under the Executive? These and more are questions we should be asking because we cannot say we are practising democracy yet we are using the ingredients of the military and that was the major condition that provoked the Shiites and police clash situation today. If El-Zakzaky was been released, does it mean that the constituted court and the judge that granted him bail, does not know what they are doing? A situation that somebody was been granted bail by the judicial system and another arm of government is saying 'No' that they would not obey such order is not only an anomaly but also embarrassing. That is the situation we have been confronted with under this government and this has been dwindling the nascent democratic growth of the country.

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Therefore, the replay of history that is peculiar with the leadership style of President Muhammadu Buhari has been in course all these while he is in power. Once a court grants bail to an individual, the government is free to appeal the judgement but from my research, I have not seen where the federal government appealed against the ruling for the embattled Shiite leader to be released. Instead, they contine to keep him in their custody against the ruling of the court. Which sane country of the world does that? The government has failed to explain on what grounds they are still holding the Muslim cleric and when his people came out to demonstrate and plead for his release, the police descended on them. Does the government intends to keep him in detention indefinitely until the end of its tenure? Situations like this promotes lawlessness and corruption. Things are not done this way in developed countries. Two wrongs as they say, can never make a right. The government brazenly behaves in a wrong way that is condemnable and then expects her citizens to behave rightly. If El-Zakzaky was set free as ordered by the court, nobody would have come out to protest.

Going back to the Shiites’ protest on Monday, it was not handled in an appropriate manner even when a prior information about the protest was circulated days before hand. The police caused the quagmire that ensued because if they had allowed them to proceed peacefully as they were doing, without trying to break them, the issue of casualties and injury wouldn’t have arise. The injury those twenty two policemen sustained, no matter how minute, should serve as a lesson and deterrent from molesting a group of people protesting next time. The police authority should be up and doing. They are not dealing with a 1962 or 2002 protest. We are in a modern world where best practices of protest managment should be applied. It is important and necessary they look into the history of groups so as to determine the best approach to manage them. If they had been more humane and systematic in their approach and conduct, issues such as this would not have arose.

In conclusion, it is important to remind us that protest is not an offence or a breach to public peace neither does it constitute nuisance nor threatens the peaceful co-existence of a group of people. Every inhabitant or citizen of this country have the right to protest. When Nigeria’s foremost educator, author and social critic, Augustus Tai Solarin was alive, he used to engage on solo protests, putting on his placard and moving around. So long as it does not threaten the peace or hinder people from going about their normal duties, you have the right to protest. It is when you go out of your way and become violent or when the police or other security agencies tries to break you up that it becomes confrontational and violent. We have gone past the era when security personnel treats people like animals. The citizens wants their rights and must express themselves in many ways that is inalienable to them. We hope that this is going to be the last of bloody protest to be recorded in this country.


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