Apparently uncomfortable with the momentum gathered by the ongoing agitation for the rescue of the 276 schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, the Federal Capital Territory Police Command on Monday banned further protests within the territory. Although the FCT police commissioner, Joseph Mbu, cited “security reasons,” his action is a clear and unacceptable attempt to deny the people their constitutionally guaranteed rights to peaceful assembly. It should be resisted by all legal means.
It is not surprising that the nefarious order is coming from Mbu, whose notoriety for violently clamping down on peaceful protests while holding sway as the Commissioner of Police in Rivers State led to calls for his redeployment. It is needless to say that such a clampdown on the right of citizens to freely express themselves has no place in a democratic dispensation such as ours. If not reversed, it will surely call into question Nigeria’s democratic credentials under President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.
The growing mass movement for the rescue of the schoolgirls who were kidnapped from their school premises in Government Secondary School, Chibok, on April 14, has assumed a global dimension. And, it is encouraging that the usually apathetic Nigerians have decidedly shown interest in peaceful protests until the girls are rescued. But Mbu and other government agents are not only interested in stopping the protests, they have also tried to discredit the protesters by branding them as “political opponents.”
Once again, Mbu has overstepped his bounds as a law officer. All Nigerians should join hands to support the #Bring Back Our Girls campaigners who have since vowed to challenge the order in court. The protesters should defy Mbu’s lawless ban, while the police authorities, who issued a face-saving statement on Tuesday to deny Mbu’s order, should sanction the CP severely for bringing the Nigeria Police Force into further disrepute. The Court of Appeal, Abuja, settled the matter in 2008 while ruling in a case between the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party and the police in 2003. The court had upheld the argument of the party’s counsel, who said, “Police permit, which is a relic of colonialism, has been annulled on the grounds of its inconsistency with the provisions of the Constitution (1999) and the African Charter of Human Rights…”
Mbu’s claim that the campaign to free the Chibok girls had become a security risk because “dangerous elements” were about to exploit it to “detonate explosives aimed at embarrassing the government” is dubious. His claim does not add up because it is perfectly legal to protest government’s action or inaction. And Abuja’s lethargic response to the captured girls’ plight has been deplored worldwide in still ongoing protests.
Mbu is simply up to the old, sycophantic games he played while serving in Rivers State before he was redeployed to the FCT last February. His peccadilloes in Rivers were legion. Chief among them was the way he usurped the executive powers of Governor Rotimi Amaechi. Things got to a head when the police gave protection to a set of thugs as they visited mayhem on a pro-Amaechi rally led by Senator Magnus Abe, who was later injured. The police also looked on as thugs pelted some governors, who were visiting Port Harcourt in solidarity with Amaechi, with stones.
Shortly before his exit from Rivers, Mbu had placed a ban on rallies in the state. As we noted then, under the Nigerian constitution, it is not in the power of the police to ban rallies: this is the duty of the executive arm of government. The police should, however, protect those who are protesting.
Mbu should be made to toe the line of civility. We agree with Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education and one of the arrowheads of the campaign, who said, “If Mbu’s daughter was one of the daughters of Nigeria held captive by terrorists and we came to stand for their cause, would he do this?”
The Jonathan administration and men like Mbu should realise that the campaign to free the Chibok girls has gone beyond being just a Nigerian affair. In many countries of the world, protests are being organised to force Boko Haram to free the girls. It is indeed curious that it is in Nigeria, which is feeling the pinch, the most, that the government is openly discrediting the rallies.
All along, Abuja had been irritated by the #Bring Back Our Girls campaign, which rightly portrays it as confused and clueless. Consequently, its supporters have been scheming behind the scenes to disperse the protesters by launching a rival, pro-government #Release Our Girls group.
According to media reports, this violent group recklessly attacked the protesters, even as the complicit police watched. When the aggressors did not consider this inhibitive enough, they launched hate campaigns in the media to denounce the activities of the Ezekwesili-led campaigners.
Labaran Maku, the Information Minister, turned logic on its head last week, when he said that 90 per cent of the campaigners were members of the opposition APC. This is devious of the government. His assertion confirms the allegation that many in government circles never believed the girls were abducted, an erroneous stance that made Jonathan to dither for three weeks before a rescue plan could even begin.
But Nigerians should not relent on a good cause in spite of the Gestapo tactics of the authorities. They should take courage in what has happened in places like Ukraine, Thailand and Venezuela, where protesters have expressed their grievances through rallies to a telling effect.
However, the President should not forget so soon what happened in 2010. At a time a vicious cabal held him and the entire nation to ransom by preventing him from becoming the acting President following President Umaru Yar’Adua’s incapacitation, Nigerians rallied and protested that he be allowed to assume the mantle of power.
It would be cruel for a man that enjoyed such elevation backed by popular mass rallies to now turn around to clamp down on the #Bring Back Our Girls campaigners.